On the evening of Apr. 19, the Jewish on Campus community heard three trailblazing women talk about their experiences with gender and intersectionality. Blair Imani, Stephanie Kaplan Lewis and Miriam Ezagui answered hard-hitting questions posed by Jewish on Campus CEO Julia Jassey throughout the hour-long webinar.
For educator and content creator Blair Imani, her experiences with womanhood are in relation to her Black identity and commitment to Islam. For Her Campus Media CEO Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, and Tiktok creator and labor and delivery nurse Miriam Ezagui, their Jewish identities interact with their gender, creating a situation more nuanced than either of those aspects alone.
Stephanie Kaplan Lewis emphasized the point of not letting doubt — especially from a place of misogyny and an inclination to second-guess women — get in the way of progress and innovation.
“The train is leaving the station. Do you want to be on it or not?” Kaplan Lewis said of the mentality she developed when founding Her Campus at Harvard University. Entering the world of entrepreneurship, Kaplan Lewis found herself in male-dominated spaces that were at odds with her and her female-driven project. She drew on the feeling that women often feel pressured — or are expected — to shrink themselves and listen when men imply that they shouldn’t be taking up space.
“It doesn’t affect whether or not we’re doing this. We’re doing it. It’s happening,” Kaplan Lewis said of her philosophy of breaking into male-dominated spaces. “[Don’t tie] your fate to what others tell you they think of you or whether or not they give you an accolade or acceptance.”
Ezagui had a similar message about being authentic in one’s identity despite doubt from others. “I don’t fit in a box and I never have,” she said of her experience as a Hasidic woman with a proud voice representing her community online. The education she provides to millions of TikTok users by simply sharing her life — as mother, a nurse, and a Jew — sends a message that society cannot refine people to a fraction of their identity.
She spoke throughout the webinar of her firm belief that people are welcome as they are, no matter their identities or at what intersections they stand. Additionally, she stressed, as she does on TikTok, that “a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. One is not more Jewish than the next. We might have different customs of how we do things, but we’re all Jewish.” Ezagui’s belief in this principle echoes the sentiment that the variables in peoples’ identities and how they mix and match still deserve space to be heard.
An Orthodox Jewish woman, Ezagui shared her dedication to both Jewish tradition and feminism, confronting the misconception that the two are mutually exclusive. “I find that sometimes we’re trying to catch up to where men are and if you’re not doing things exactly the same way as a man is, then it must not be equal.” Ezagui shared things she does as an Orthodox Jew despite others’ insistence that practices must be oppressive if they are designated for women.
Ezagui, combining her feminism with her orthodoxy, reinforces the message that the aspects of one’s identity that keep them from being confined are special. She, like Kaplan Lewis, remains dedicated to her principles and her cause despite imposition.
Imani shared the same sentiment, talking about her experience in upholding her identity as a Black, Muslim woman despite pushback she faces. Despite criticism from others — which Imani tagged as “inauthentic concern” — she spoke about the genuine, actionable ways in which people can challenge the status quo.
“It’s not really about you when you make materials, when you do education work,” Imani said, “It’s about using your story as a vessel for change. If it’s not you’re story, you shouldn’t be telling it.”
Imani, who also expressed times when she was doubted or second-guessed for her identity and her educational work, echoed the message of the other women: do things authentically and proudly, not letting adversity from others get in the way of producing meaningful work.
Imani, who converted to Islam as an adult, told of her experience navigating various aspects of personal identity, how they interact with each other, and how they inspire her work. She spoke of how she believes her faith drives her work and related the idea to the experiences of Kaplan Lewis and Ezagui, whose Judaism has also played a role in their developing their respective niches.
Despite different backgrounds, each of these women imparted on the Jewish on Campus community critical knowledge of feminism and intersectionality in the modern world. Join us next month for another webinar.