Sisterhood Blog

Is 'Mad Men' Finally Poised To Tackle Race?

By Sarah Seltzer

AMC’s “Mad Men,” which returned last night with a two-hour premiere, is a show with a relatively small audience, but a disproportionately active one. Sometimes it feels that 99% of that viewership consists of media professionals who look forward to writing their own recaps and tweets the next morning — not to mention designing animated .gifs of the funniest scenes of the previous night’s episode. Remix videographer Elisa Kreisinger has taken the playing to a new, thought-provoking level, creating detailed remixes of scenes from the show’s seasons, including this feminist musical rendering of the women of “Mad Men”:

Mad Men: Set Me Free from popculturepirate on Vimeo.

“Mad Men” is tailor-made for the chattering classes because creator (and Member of the Tribe) Matthew Weiner uses enigmatic moments, historical events and symbolism to create buzz and speculation. Unlike other media-darling shows like “Friday Night Lights,” which is less polished, but whose characters feel like solid, lovable friends, “Mad Men” characters always feel as though they’re just millimeters beyond my grasp. I think I know what they’re up to but I’m uncertain enough that I have to check with my neighbors to confirm my reactions.

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Finding a Mate Without Getting a Facelift

By Gavriella Lerner

istock photo
Halberstam encourages young women to go to extremes to find a husband.

I had wondered whether Yitta Halberstam’s “Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shudduchim” [the process of dating for marriage], published recently in the Jewish Press, was really a Purim spoof, even if it did come out well after the holiday. Alas, no. Her suggestion that Orthodox women of marrying age should take any and all measures, including undergoing plastic surgery, to improve their appearance, is apparently one given in earnest.

As an Orthodox woman myself, that notion is beyond troubling. I have written here about the Jewish concept of modesty, which I believe is all about dignity. But raising our daughters with the message that they are more than their bodies — and then, teaching them that those bodies are all that matter when it comes to finding a mate — is the height of hypocrisy. What follows is my rejoinder to some of Halberstam’s most outrageous statements:

Halberstam writes: “Yes, spiritual beauty makes a woman’s eyes glow and casts a luminous sheen over her face; there is no beauty like a pure soul. Make-up, however, goes a long way in both correcting facial flaws and accentuating one’s assets.”

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Keeping Feminism Off the Style Pages

By Elissa Strauss

Sarah Hepola, in a recent — and ill-headlined — New York Times article explored whether feminists have and/or need a another leader like Gloria Steinem. Hepola writes that nobody has emerged to take Steinem’s place as feminist team captain, and she arrives at the conclusion that feminism has been replaced by feminisms — that feminism is now a diverse movement with diverse leadership. The Times titled the piece “Gloria Steinem, a Woman Like No Other,” but a much more indicative headline would have been something along the lines of “Does Feminism Need Gloria?”

I agree that the fact that no leader has emerged is, in many ways, a good thing — a result of a much more collective, and inclusive, approach to the women’s movement. The concept of liberation has become murkier ever since feminists fought against discriminatory laws — and won. With no central feminist agenda, we lack the need for a central spokeswoman, Hepola writes.

I like this read, but I worry it is a little too idealistic. A more depressing explanation as to why the era of name-brand feminists has passed can be found in the placement of the story.

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Why We Pay More for Deodorant

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Women pay more for health care, and just about everything else.

The debate over birth control has made many of us think about how much money we as women spend on our reproductive health care — between birth control pill co-pays, visits to the gynecologist, cancer screenings, and all the necessary pre-natal care. Because of issues attendant with our fertility and reproduction, insurance companies have regularly charged women more — a practice that’s supposed to end under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (but won’t, if it gets repealed).

Bryce Covert has been blogging about women and economics over at the Nation, and she breaks down the numbers here:

She writes: “A new report out this week from the National Women’s Law Center found that insurance companies have been charging women $1 billion more than men for the same coverage. In fact, in the states that haven’t banned the practice of jacking up prices for women — known as gender rating — women were charged more for 92 percent of the best-selling health plans. The difference can’t be explained by a higher cost of maternity care:…Why might insurers decide women are more expensive? Because they tend to use more services — like going to the doctor more often for regular check ups.”

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Staying the (Jewish Feminist) Course

By Blu Greenberg

This is the sixth entry of an ongoing series exploring Jewish feminism.

How I became a feminist and why I have remained one for 40 years are two different stories.

In December 1962, returning home from the lecture circuit, my husband purchased for me Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” at an airport bookstore. This was my introduction to women’s lib, as we called it then, and I shuttled between three reactions: exhilaration, wide-eyed wonder and suspicion. Throughout the next decade, I watched — and grew — from the sidelines. Incidents of inequity that heretofore would not have given me a moment’s pause were now being played against a new canvas. Intellectually, I knew that feminism was about justice.

My husband figured prominently in the process. He may eat the same breakfast every morning, but when it comes to new ideas, he is the most open, adventurous, fair-minded person I know. As a young rabbi, he was not afraid to introduce to his congregants, myself among them, the heady idea of women’s equality within the boundaries of Jewish law, orhalacha — the definition of Orthodox feminism.

But still I watched.

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How Women's-Only Spaces Change Us

By Chanel Dubofsky

istock

During the winter of 1996, I told a Smith College admissions officer that I didn’t believe in single-sex education.

At the time, I was telling the truth. I could not imagine any merits to not going to school with boys. I had always attended coed schools, and had never thought about how having boys in the classroom impacted me. By the time I was a teenager, I already identified as a feminist. But the notion of being in a single-sex environment led me to believe that I would be unequipped for the “real world.”

In college (not Smith, but a giant university teeming with boys), I began to consider the value of women’s-only spaces. I was spending more time in those spaces — in gender studies classes, at the Jewish women’s events I organized through Hillel, at the workshops I was taking at the campus women’s center.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, while traveling in Nicaragua with a group of college-aged women, as one of two female leaders on a service-learning trip — a trip organized by my employer, American Jewish World Service — that I finally grasped the real power of women’s-only spaces.

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Jewish Feminism Means Reaching Out

By Elana Sztokman

This is the fifth entry of an ongoing series exploring Jewish feminism.

What is Jewish feminism to me?

It’s a mission. A calling. An identity. A life purpose. To borrow a French term, it’s my raison d’etre. Or to borrow a Buddhist term, it’s my swadharma, the ideal that connects the work that I do in this world with my divine spark. It is the key that fires the engine in my soul. It is the spiritual ideal that wraps up my entire being reminds me that I am here on this earth because God decided that I need to be here, in this person, in this identity. Jewish woman. That is everything to me. It is all that I am.

It wasn’t always this way. This is an identity in two parts, two parts that sometimes coexist, sometimes fight, sometimes mutually empower and sometimes mutually deflect. One part, the Jewish part, I was born into, without a say in the matter, while the other part, the feminist part, I chose as an adult, following a journey that included pain, struggle and discovery. One part is ancient but the other is relatively recent — in definition, at least, though not as an ideal. One part has definitive, authoritative texts and rules while the other has a different kind of textual heritage, the writings of women creating ideas out of their own lives.

Yet both are divinely inspired. And the place where the two pieces overlap is, in my opinion, the place where the shechina rests.

The Bible’s Ruth epitomizes that place for me, the place where the core of Judaism and the core of feminism overlap and melt into each other.

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IVF Babies Denied U.S. Citizenship

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

istock
Are those eggs USDA-approved?

For American-Israeli women like me, having a baby means a trip to the U.S. Embassy. Once you are home from the hospital, and once your newborn’s Israeli birth certificate is granted and health care benefits are in order, you head to the embassy to apply for U.S. citizenship on behalf of your infant.

With the U.S. passport (replete with a funny-looking newborn passport pic) in hand, you can relax knowing you won’t face visa headaches when it’s time to take your bundle of joy to America so the grandparents can kvell.

Convenience is, of course, only one of the reasons that American parents anywhere in the world want to quickly establish the automatic U.S. citizenship granted to kids with at least one parent who is a citizen. In a post-9/11 world, American citizenship and the ability to travel freely in and out of the U.S. is not something to be taken for granted.

When I went through the process for my three Israeli-born children, my biggest worries were getting the diaper bag through embassy security and filling out the forms coherently on very little sleep. But mothers who had their babies using assisted reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, are now facing a much bigger and more serious problem: Many of these children are being denied citizenship altogether.

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On Segregated Buses, a Choice that Isn't

By Elana Sztokman

Wikimedia Commons
Limor Livnat, a Knesset member who heads the governmental committed to prevent women’s exclusion.

Dr. Hanna Kehat’s mother did not ride her local bus for three years. The 78-year-old lifelong resident of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood Mea Shearim lost her bus because Haredi extremists would stone the bus every time it rode down her street. So Egged simply stopped the route, forcing her and many of her car-less neighbors to walk distances to find a different bus.

“Women in her community are being completely neglected – they are at the mercy of the sikrikim,” Kehat told The Sisterhood, referring to one of Israel’s the most extreme ultra-Orthodox sects.

Today, however, the bus has returned to its route, thanks to one change: Police intervention.

The question about what role the government plays in protecting Israeli citizens from Haredi violence came to the fore last week, when the Interministerial Committee to Prevent the Exclusion of Women, headed by Minister of Sport and Culture Limor Livnat, released its findings. Among the most controversial conclusions of its three-month long investigation is the committee’s recommendation to support a 2011 High Court ruling that deems gender segregation on public transport a matter of “choice.”

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Insisting on a Jewish Prenup

By Hannah Scholl, Estee Goldschmidt and Marc Herman

U.S. House of Representatives
Rep. Dave Camp

In her Sisterhood post “On Agunah Issue, Pressure Rabbis, Not Rep,” Dvora Meyers takes on a grassroots campaign to pressure Michigan Rep. Dave Camp to condemn what we consider to be abusive behavior by his staffer, Aharon Friedman. In the past, Camp has called Friedman’s refusal to grant his wife a Jewish divorce decree, or a get, “gossip.” It is time for Camp to recognize this error and do what is right.

The facts of this case are not under dispute. Friedman married Tamar Epstein in April 2006. The marriage failed, and Friedman and Epstein were civilly divorced in 2010, after being separated for two years. For Epstein, an Orthodox Jew, civil divorce is insufficient. Jewish law mandates a religious divorce decree, or get, which must be consented to by both parties. But Friedman has refused thus far to give Epstein a get, and that shows a basic disregard for human decency. He’s been banned from his synagogue, and a prominent rabbinical court has issued a public declaration condemning his intransigence.

In effect, Epstein is an agunah, or a “chained woman.” She cannot remarry in a religious ceremony. And because Epstein is an Orthodox Jew, that effectively means that Friedman (also Orthodox) is deliberately preventing her from remarrying.

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Seeing Beauty in 'Making Trouble'

By Elyssa Goodman

courtesy of jwa
Gail Reimer, founding director of the Jewish Women’s Archive, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Gloria Steinem at JWA luncheon.

By fourth grade, I was already a troublemaker — taking on any boy who dared to challenge, in the classroom or on the playground, girls’ equality or worth. I learned from the best of the troublemakers, women who refused to take no for an answer when going after what they want: my mother and my grandmother. And from iconic feminists like Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

The Jewish Women’s Archive annual luncheon, held March 18 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan, was a place where making trouble — and, in the process, making history — was cause for celebration. Steinem, who has Jewish roots, presented awards to the renowned Jewish feminist (and Sisterhood contributor) Cottin Pogrebin, to Elizabeth A. Sackler, the founder of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and Rebecca Traister, the author of “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” about women’s role in the 2008 presidential election.

“Judaism…has informed who I am,” Pogrebin told The Sisterhood, to the extent that I think it contributed to what I have done. I was raised with a very, very clear and pressing sense of justice. If things are wrong, we’ve got to fix it. It’s up to the Jews.”

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Where an M.R.S. Degree Is a Course Requirement

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Avishai Teicher

Is marriage a legitimate prerequisite for a university course?

That is what some female students are asking at Bar-Ilan University.

The controversy surrounds a course in “marital communications,” which we told you about here. It requires those who enroll be married for at least one year. The course is intended for those who want to become “bridal counselors,” the women who explain ritual Jewish law related to marriage to Orthodox and non-Orthodox. The course is offered under the umbrella of the university’s “Midrasha” — an advanced Torah study program for women, one of several Bar-Ilan programs that merge academic and religious study.

The university justifies requirement by saying that since the course is meant for the women training to be bridal counselors, it makes sense that experience in marriage is necessary. The problem with that answer is that the class is also open to female Bar-Ilan students who are not in the bridal counseling program, but who wish to receive credit for it toward the university’s Jewish study requirements.

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Gendered Text Doesn't Spoil New Haggadah

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Shotview photographers/gettyimages
Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander conceived of the ‘New American Haggadah.’

Kathleen Peratis wrote in this Sisterhood post that she seriously considered taking her 24 copies of “New American Haggadah” back to the bookstore, after she realized that the Passover manual doesn’t use gender-inclusive language. I’m clearly expecting fewer seder guests than is Peratis. I own one copy of the aforementioned Haggadah, and have every intention of keeping and using mine.

I wonder whether the fact that it is titled “New American Haggadah” is what troubles Peratis and other feminists. After all, the United States gave rise to women’s lib; it’s where Title IX is the law of the land, and where the widespread rabbinical ordination of women took root.

But for me, it is precisely because of the fact that this new Haggadah, edited and translated by leading (male) literary luminaries Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander, was published here that the use of the traditional male-oriented text is totally acceptable.

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Why I'm Shopping Around My 'Ex-Frum' Memoir

By Leah Vincent

Courtesy of the author
Leah Vincent

Gavriella, I understand from this Sisterhood post that you don’t like the questions you’re getting in the wake of the publication of Deborah Feldman’s memoir and Pearlperry Reich’s television appearance about leaving the ultra-Orthodox world. I understand that you may feel attacked, when these women criticize their communities of origin.

But to me, a writer who has left Orthodoxy and is, indeed, “shopping around my ex-frum story,” your post got me wondering: Is your version of Orthodoxy significantly different than the one these women were raised with?

If the answer is yes, how can you possibly determine what kind of response they should have to their experiences? If your brand of Orthodox Judaism is close enough to ultra-Orthodoxy that you feel attacked by their going public, then we have a bigger problem on our hands.

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Prime Ribs: Missing Waitresses and 'Taliban Women'

By Gabrielle Birkner

Where are the … waitresses? Not at one popular Jerusalem eatery, at least not on Thursday evenings. That’s apparently when yeshiva boys descend on Heimische Essen to get their fill of kugel and kishka. In an effort to secure the über-strict Badatz kosher certification, Heimische Essen has agreed to employ an all-male wait staff on that night.


In related news, a teenager from Dimona, deep in Israel’s Negev desert, was expelled from her religious school for working at a fast food restaurant. The franchise was kosher, but the job required her to work alongside men, an apparent violation of her high school’s modesty code.


Nose jobs, and tired, old “shiksa goddess” stereotypes get the punk-rock treatment, courtesy of the Miami plastic surgeon Michael Salzhauer. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is investigating the self-billed “Dr. Schnoz” for his new music video about a yarmulke-clad “beak like Jewcan Sam” keeps him from winning over the girl of his dreams. The music is courtesy of the Jewish punk band The Groggers.


Forget the Aspirin: Three years after winning FDA approval, the second-generation female condom has arrived in the Jewish state.

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Sandra Fluke and the Big Jewish Conspiracy

By Sarah Seltzer

getty images
Sandra Fluke

The latest salvo from the trenches of the extreme right against Georgetown Law student and contraception advocate Sandra Fluke is the most absurd yet, and matches the other slurs in offensiveness. Her latest crime is — wait for it — dating a Jew.

Yes, it’s not enough that Fluke had the gall to stand up for birth control coverage at her Catholic university. Based on a lot of online snooping, she’s apparently seeing (and, her detractors will immediately note, presumably using contraception with) Adam Mutterperl a member of the tribe, and therefore an adherent of, as blogger Brooks Bayne calls it, “the wealthy Mutterperl family’s long tradition of supporting the typical Jewish variant of socialism.”

Among Fluke’s sins in dating this seemingly nice Jewish boy are traveling with him to Europe and, um, the fact that his parents, despite being wealthy, are very liberal, and like many American Jews come from a nice long liberal tradition. In Bayne’s warped mind, there is a big Jewish conspiracy going on here, and it’s all muddled together with American progressive labor history, Barack Obama (of course), Brandeis, the Upper West Side, Karl Marx and more.

(video below)

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Second Edition Feminism

By Anita Diamant

This is the fourth entry of an ongoing series exploring Jewish feminism.

In the introduction to my first book, “The New Jewish Wedding,” I wrote, “References to the rabbi as him/or her do no more than acknowledge the decision to ordain women by the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements.”

That was 1985. When I revised the book in 2001, I couldn’t quite believe that I’d written those words. I suppose I felt the need to remind readers about what were, back then, relatively new facts on the ground. Even worse, I think I was worried about offending someone by telling a simple truth.

I left that sentence out in the second edition, as well as a few other apologetic asides that pointed out what has since become ubiquitous and obvious: Jewish women are leaders and teachers, rabbis and cantors, theologians and prophets.

For the first time in our history, women’s voices — not just singular and extraordinary characters, but a large and varied chorus — are part of the public discourse about everything: about God and halacha, about the governance of our synagogues, about marriage and how we educate our children, about our money, about the substance and fire of our lives.

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The Limits of Childhood

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
A memorial to Tyler Clementi

When is a kid not a kid? Perhaps when he’s old enough to carefully set up his computer camera to spy on his roommate in the supposed privacy of their college dorm room, and use texts and Tweets inviting friends to watch a live feed of the roommate’s gay sexual encounter.

The roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge a few days later. Dharun Ravi, who has been charged with invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and evidence tampering, is on trial in New Jersey. In closing arguments, his attorney defended Ravi as “an 18-year-old boy, a kid, a college freshman [who] had an experience…that he wasn’t ready for.”

Reading The New York Times account illustrates a serious problem: that an 18-year-old who has intentionally done such represhensible things could be reasonably described as “a kid” who didn’t mean it.

“Overindulgent parenting” has become a trope in popular culture and in scholarship, as outlined in this Lisa Belkin piece on the Huffington Post. And if overindulgent parenting means raising a child who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong, and Ravi does not seem to, then he was overindulged.

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On Shopping Around Your 'Ex-Frum' Story

By Gavriella Lerner

Ben Lazar
Deborah Feldman

Hasidim, and even more “garden variety” Orthodox Jews such as myself, are a people apart, and we will always seem strange against the backdrop of 21st century America. With all the press coverage over the last few weeks, I can’t even count how many of my classmates have asked me if I have any hair under my hat or if I shave it off. For the record, I keep it long. Still my answer doesn’t do much for the weirdness factor. But I guess we’ve been the weird ones for 4,000 years or so; it’s nothing new.

My problem is that people like “Unorthodox” author Deborah Feldman and Pearlperry Reich feel the need to go to the news media and to publishing houses with their stories.

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I'll Take My Haggadah Without Fathers or Kings

By Kathleen Peratis

Little, Brown & Co.

I bought 24 copies of “The New American Haggadah” sight unseen, based on the recommendation of a friend and the yiches of its creators, writers Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander. The aesthetic of the books is very Zen, very Steve Jobs: It’s light — literally, the paper seems nearly weightless — and spare, with monochromatic flying Hebrew letters.

I loved it at first touch. Then I read the first line: “You are blessed, Lord God-of-Us, King of the Cosmos, who has set us apart with his mitzvot, and instituted us to eliminate all hametz.” “Lord”? “King”? “His”? Oh no.

And then page after page of more of the same: male pronouns for God, and other words referencing a male God: king, father, etc. And the story of the four sons was the four sons, not even the four children. Women and girls are totally absent from the greatest story ever told in “The New American Haggadah.” I considered taking the books back to the bookstore.

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