Hello, do you have mechitza-phobia? It's a relatively new ailment, taking into account thousands of years of Jewish history. Its name is derived from the Hebrew "mechitza," referring to the divider between men and women during a prayer service, and "phobia," from the Greek word meaning "fear." We can diagnose this phobia with the following checklist:
1. Cynicism or antipathy toward the divider
2. Inability to concentrate on the prayers due to wondering what your spouse/child/friend is doing on the other side
3. Frustration/resentment if failure to hear or see what's happening in the service takes place
4. Insignificance of the type of divider (front/back; side/side; balcony)
The mechitza derives from the set up of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (ca. 957 BC) where a "women's courtyard and balcony" were constructed so that women could join and see the spiritual events taking place there. Hence the source for men and women not to mingle during holy events. The original Temple did not even have a "divider" per se, as the construct was that a special balcony was accorded for the women - which still remains a popular architectural construction in Orthodox synagogues today. Personally, I find this the most satisfying solution since I can see and hear everything with an aerial view.
Most people seem to appreciate most the side-to-side set up, but only if they can appropriately hear and see what is happening. When I was a child, one of the synagogues we joined had a bullet-proof floor-to-ceiling mechitza. After one Purim, when I could barely hear the megillah being read, I asked my mother if we could switch synagogues. And she agreed!
While I am hardly a feminist (in the classical intent anyway), I feel comfortable in synagogues where I can see and hear. While that might seem obvious, it's important to discuss why. I am in synagogue for one reason: to talk to God. Whatever will enhance that experience, so long as it is within the confines of Jewish law, I would like to incorporate. I am not there to spend time with my husband, nor to spend time with my children, nor to catch up with my friends. I am there to talk to God.
I'm sure lots of you have moderate to strong opinions on the subject. Let the discussion begin!