Sisterhood Blog

How Madonna Defines the Third Wave

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images
Madonna performs at the Super Bowl.

At a dinner party recently, a British journalist asked me to quickly define the difference between second- and third-wave feminism. I stumbled a bit, muttering about diversity and post-modernism and something about sexuality. But now I realize I should have just told him that the difference is Madonna.

To second-wavers, Madonna is all wrong. She is guilty of trading on her sexuality and has resisted what is known as “aging gracefully” at all costs. No, no Madonna wants to be a girl, a hot girl — as Elana Stozkman notes in her recent critique of the icon — something she proudly declares in hot pants and a crop-top in her new video.

To third-wavers, Madonna is a revolutionary pop star who taught us that we could be sexy and strong. She is a woman whose every move is guided by her own boundless ambition, and ultimately longs only to satisfy herself.

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Advice for the '$1.6 Billion Woman'

By Elana Sztokman

Getty Images
Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is about to become a very rich woman — and I’m really happy about it. The world needs more rich women, especially women who understand the importance of empowering other women.

The New York Times called Sandberg the “$1.6 billion woman,” based on the anticipated public offering of Facebook, where Sandberg is COO.

Sandberg, who has been a strong, vocal advocate for women’s advancement in the workplace, is actually one of the few women on top in Facebook. Tellingly, there are no women on the Facebook board, and Sandberg is the highest ranking woman in the company — number four from the top. Of the 10 most senior positions in the company, only three are held by women.

Certainly Sandberg has a reputation for promoting women’s successes at work — helping working mothers to find creative schedules and day care, encouraging women to be powerful and assertive, building a culture in which women’s real, complicated lives and concerns are welcomed rather than dismissed as signs of women’s lack of professionalism. But when it comes to women’s equality all the way to the top, the Facebook record remains mixed.

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The Shame Kittel

By Jacqueline Nicholls

The Kittel Collection is a series of clothing pieces that explores the different ways clothing is used as a vehicle for meaning and identity within our tradition and literature. The kittel is a simple, white, garment used as a burial shroud, and customarily worn by men on various Jewish holy days. Each month, The Sisterhood showcases, and looks at the meaning behind, a kittel from my collection. View images of this month’s kittel, the Soulful Kittel, after the jump.

Sometimes our identities are created from within our culture, and sometimes they are imposed upon us. This kittel focuses on the ways that clothing has been used to shame and disgrace Jews in some of the darker episodes of our story.

There is a long and grim history of yellow marks that Jews have had to wear on their clothing: yellow circles, stars, tablets of law, and yellow belts. In Medieval Christian art, yellow equals Jew. There are many theories posited by academics and scholars as to why this is so. Yellow has many associations, such as Judas, jealousy, urine and sweat. And it is the color of TB and syphilis, both were considered “Jewish” diseases.

This kittel takes its form from an etching by Goya “For Being a Jew,” which depicts Jews being rounded up and humiliated during the Spanish Inquisition. He has depicted them wearing a tabard-like tunic and a pointed hat.

(Slideshow below)

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Prime Ribs, Israel — The 'Kosher Camera' Treatment

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Women’s images continue to be at the forefront of the religious cultural wars in Israel. On a recent Shabbat, posters of famous art works featuring nude females were put up in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood in Jerusalem to provoke Haredi residents there. And as Purim approaches, the Uncensored movement is calling for a boycott of the Kfar Hasha’ashuim toy and costume chain because of its print ads that blur out the faces of little girls, and its bus ads that do not include girls at all.


One humorous response to this very serious matter is the Kosher Camera. The gag website states that this special camera has built-in facial recognition software that covers female images with either the Mehadrin Mask (a brown paper bag), the Glatt Blot (pixilated face), or Modern Modesty (black bar obscuring the eyes).


Natan Eshel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau chief, resigned from the civil service, amid accusations of sexual harassment.

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Why I Want You to Know I'm Pregnant

By Sybil Sanchez

Dan Sagarin
Sybil Sanchez

I am six weeks pregnant. This is my fifth pregnancy after four losses. I don’t know what my status will be tomorrow but I am telling you about it today. It’s a relief for me to share this as publicly as possible.

Not telling leaves the burden of my experience on me while allowing the pain of loss to remain politely hidden. I can no longer deny my struggles for the sake of social ease.

With today’s technology, we can discover pregnancy earlier than ever. Miscarriage rates remain hard to define because early losses are sometimes mistaken for heavy or delayed periods. Still, an estimated 15% to 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, with most of those occurring during the first trimester. In women over 35 the miscarriage rate is even higher.

Pretending that this doesn’t occur by staying hushed during the first trimester, the most vulnerable time of a pregnancy, only increases suffering. Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner wrote recently about how the growing number of blogs chronicling illness demonstrate that we are sharing more of what used to remain private. So why is it still so hard to talk about pregnancy loss?

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Jon Stewart: Feminist in Bloom?

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Jon Stewart

Has Jon Stewart become a flaming feminist? After a week of watching his killer segments skewering the GOP’s “War on Women,” I’m wondering if his seeming conversion is indicative of a larger turning point, if the Republicans, after a full year of assaults on reproductive rights, have finally crossed the line that gets people on the sidelines to speak up.

When I was just starting to write feminist blog posts, I wrote one complaining about the lack of genuine, women-focused discussion of reproductive rights in “dude” political culture, particularly on “The Daily Show.” While Stewart’s and similar shows tackled war and torture, gay rights and religion, I felt there was a squeamishness which curtailed discussion of abortion and women’s sexuality — and too much fawning respect for male authority figures who oppose women’s rights. Stewart’s weak interview with Mike Huckabee, in which he failed to effectively refute Huckabee’s points on abortion, exemplified this.

Then 2010 Irin Carmon, in an epic moment of reporting, blew the lid off the guy-centric culture at the beloved late night comedy news show. Her piece in Jezebel contained interviews with former employees who revealed that the onscreen “bro” culture was reflective of the shows inner workers: “behind the scenes, numerous former female staffers tell us that working there was often a frustrating and alienating experience.”

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Keeping Gender News From Expectant Parents

By Renee Ghert-Zand

When I was visiting Toronto recently, an editorial with the purposely provocative title, “’It’s a girl!’ — could be a death sentence” by the editor-in-chief of Canada’s leading medical journal sparked a huge controversy. There were headlines in all the newspapers about Dr. Rajendra Kale’s call in the Canadian Medical Association Journal for waiting until 30 weeks gestation to inform all Canadian parents of their unborn child’s gender.

Kale’s concern, focused mainly on the South Asian community, was to prevent abortion of females, “discrimination against women in its most extreme form.”

The doctor’s main assertion was that thousands of female fetuses were being aborted by Canadian women of South Asian descent every year. Although this does not at all compare to the millions of female fetuses aborted in China and India, he still views this as a major problem and “evil practice.” Arguing that the sex of the fetus is not relevant medical information owed to the mother, he wrote it would be advisable to shift the practice of revealing whether the baby is a boy or girl (usually done at 18-20 weeks gestation) until after it is too late to have an unquestioned abortion.

I am not a proponent of finding out the sex of a child before its birth. Throughout my pregnancies with each of our three sons, neither my husband nor I knew that we were having boys. To us, the sex of the baby simply did not matter. Although we named our second son Hillel, we paid no heed to that great sage’s determination that to fulfill the mitzvah of pru u’rvu (be fruitful and multiply) one must have a son and a daughter. Nor were we thinking about following Shammai’s teaching that one must have at least two sons.

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American Parenting's Inferiority Complex

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Penguin
The author cut her teeth in Jewish journalism.

Let’s face it: an overwhelming number of the modern world’s greatest achievements have come from the United States. Behind all of those accomplishments are human beings, all of whom, presumably, have mothers and fathers. So I ask: If this is true, why are American parents — more specifically, American mothers — so insecure about the way they raise their children? Why are they so certain that somewhere else in the world, parents in other countries and cultures must be doing it better?

First it was Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” comparing American mothers unfavorably to their Chinese counterparts, and finding Americans terribly lacking when it comes to producing classical music virtuosos and getting kids accepted to Harvard. Chua made moms very existence did not revolve around schlepping children to study with the world’s top violinists, and drilling them in algebra and chemistry feel horribly lacking.

Now, after the mommy brigade has barely recovered from Chua-mania comes “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” by Pamela Druckerman. The title alone turned my stomach with its implication that if French parenting is wise, the Americans version must clearly be unwise. The British publisher of the same book judiciously injected a little skeptical humor into the title, naming the book “French Children Don’t Throw Food” (because, really, would the British ever admit that the French possessed superior wisdom?)

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Message in a Mini-Dress

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

My colleague Elissa Strauss, in this Sisterhood post, asks why I focused on the way author Deborah Feldman is dressed in recent press photos promoting her memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots.”

As Elissa notes, I wrote in my Sisterhood post that Feldman seems somehow immature, that in photos she looks like nothing so much as one of the 13-year-old girls I see on the bat mitzvah circuit who wear super-high heels and super-short dresses. These girls look like they are playing a sexy version of dress-up.

Elissa observes, correctly, that Feldman is dressed no differently than countless other young women today, including herself, and writes: “Never did it occur to me, and I assume, to many of them, that dressing like this in 2012 would cause anyone to think of us as childish and therefore take us less seriously.”

Elissa continues: “Your assessment of Feldman…did tap into some of the same fears about a woman’s body and how it should be hid, to some degree or another, in order for the world to take us seriously… Why bring in the skinny jeans?”

I understand Elissa’s point, but it is not quite the one I was attempting to make in my post about Feldman and “Unorthodox.”

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On the Right To Dress Immodestly

By Elissa Strauss

Debra,

In your recent critique of Deborah Feldman’s new book,”Unorthodox,” you point to the clothes that Feldman has been photographed in as a sign that she lacks maturity. You write:

“Whatever the truth, something about Feldman still seems very young, though she is now 25 and the mother of a nearly 6-year-old son. In photos in the [New York] Post, posing in a sequined, sleeveless mini-dress, and in pictures on the ABC News website, where she sits on a park bench, wearing high heels, tight jeans and holding a cigarette in her hand, she looks like nothing so much as a young girl posing the way she thinks grownups are supposed to. … She reminds me of 13-year-old girls I see at some bat mitzvahs, teetering around on stiletto heels and wearing minis so short they can’t safely sit down.”

I took a look at the pictures in question, and in them Feldman looks no different than many young women I see on the streets of New York and in my Facebook scroll everyday — including myself. I am talking about women in their 20s and their 30s, who don’t think twice about throwing on a pair of skinny jeans or a mini-dress on a weekend night.

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Mikveh Photo Prompts Facebook Uproar

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Facebook
Ziv Koren

Ziv Koren, an award-winning Israeli photographer, is no stranger to controversy. But even he was unprepared for the flood of angry messages and comments that faced him when he checked his Facebook page a few days ago. The hubbub was prompted by a photograph he had taken in 2006 — a picture of a young Ethiopian woman, fully nude with her bare breasts exposed, as she was being immersed in the mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, at a camp for Falash Mura waiting to immigrate to Israel.

The photograph, part of a documentary project he had done at the camp, had previously gone unnoticed on the 42-year-old photographer’s website. But within hours of the photo’s appearance on Facebook, Koren was accused of callously compromising the Ethiopian woman’s privacy, and taking advantage of her vulnerable position. “It really became a circus of threats and accusations — a real crucifixion,” Koren told The Sisterhood.

Several of his commenters also expressed anger at the Jewish Agency, which currently runs this particular camp. But Jewish Agency officials clarified that the organization has been in charge of the camp only for the past year, At the time of Koren’s 2006 visit, it was operated by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry.

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Is Feldman's Story More Than 'Unorthodox'?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Simon & Schuster

There is something that seems slightly worrisome about Deborah Feldman. She has written a sensational first book, the memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots,” which is newly published by Simon & Schuster and grew out of an anonymous blog she kept while trying to work her way out of life as a Satmar Hasid. Now questions are being asked about her veracity.

Her story, which The Sisterhood’s Judy Bolton-Fasman wrote about here, is riveting: Left by her mother as a very young girl, Feldman’s father is developmentally delayed, and she is raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, by his parents. The confines of a Satmar girl’s life, particularly that of a girl whose family has neither money nor lineage to boast of, are rigid. She is married at 17 to a man she’s barely met and becomes pregnant as soon as they figured out how to consummate their marriage.

It is a life most of us can hardly imagine. And as a result, Feldman has been getting lots of press. In addition to a spot on “The View,” the book has been reviewed in The Forward, and covered by The New York Post and ABC News.

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The Truth About Orthodoxy's Obama-Hatred

By Gavriella Lerner

Getty Images
President Obama

Jewish law takes a pretty liberal stance when it comes to birth control. Pretty much any rabbi will say it’s permissible for the sake of a woman’s physical, emotional or mental health, or the sake of a couple’s marriage, or the needs of a family. Furthermore, many rabbis consider oral contraceptives to be most preferable under Jewish law. That means if an Orthodox woman is using birth control, chances are she’s using the Pill.

So why did the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel ally themselves with the Catholic Church, and demand institutional exemptions on the grounds of religious freedom? What would make Orthodox organizations ally themselves with a faith group that holds opposing views on the issue of birth control?

Some have speculated that it’s about controlling women, but I believe the answer lies in something even more irrational that has been sweeping the ranks of American conservatives. It is an Obama-hatred so visceral that anything the man supports must be bad, wrong, and shot down. I say this as a Republican voter myself.

Yes, the OU (which, it should be said, welcomed the White House compromise on the issue of contraceptive coverage), and Agudath are not political institutions. But let’s face it, they represent constituencies far more likely than the American Jewish community as a whole to vote Republican.

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On That Satmar Sexual Polemic

By Judy Bolton-Fasman

Ben Lazar
Deborah Feldman

At first impression Deborah Feldman’s new memoir,”Unorthodox,” reviewed here in the Forward, feels like déjà vu all over again: Girl breaks away from her insular Hasidic sect after a youth of illicitly reading library books and sneaking into movie theaters. With subtitle like “The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” it’s tempting to consider the book as a sexier, 21st-century version of Pearl Abraham’s novel “The Romance Reader.”

But that would be a disservice to Feldman, 25, who has succeeded in writing a heart-rending sexual polemic.

“I’ve never felt more Jewish than I do now,” Feldman told me, as she nibbled on a scone at a whimsical Manhattan café called Alice’s Teacup.“I love mainstream Judaism. I’m still acclimating, but I love the diversity in a Modern Orthodox society.”

Her early life among the Satmar Hasidim was still exceptionally difficult. Her mentally unstable father was eventually matched with a hapless young British woman who had apparently been lured with gifts and promises of financial security. The marriage self-destructed soon after Feldman was born.

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Mothers Without Borders

By Ariel Katz

I am on the train, traveling south from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva. Three Bedouin women dressed in hijabs (headscarves) enter the train ahead of us, each with a toddler. They see there are no seats together, so they opt to sit on the floor, near the doors. I find seats for my daughter and myself. Across the aisle from us sits a man with a kippah. A Bedouin woman and her toddler sit facing him. The toddler is cranky; she is tired of sitting on mother’s lap. She wants to explore. Her mother holds her firmly, and tries to pacify her, as she squirms and whines. Because she is using simple Arabic, geared to a three year-old, I can understand every word.



It is one of those unpleasant situations that happens all the time, and usually is tolerated in silence, as if it were unnoticed. In this instance, the young man with the kippah reaches into his backpack and withdraws a completed Rubik’s Cube. He hands it to the mother who carefully twists the top row of squares to show her daughter it can move.



When the toddler realizes she will never find out what is inside the cube, she becomes cranky again, and the mother thanks the man, returning it. We sit with the toddler’s discomfort for a while.

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The Benefits of 'Internet Empathy'

By Gabrielle Birkner

The author and her dad.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my father’s and stepmother’s deaths, which I marked with the lighting of memorial candles, a good cry and, for the fourth consecutive year, a Facebook post. By the end of the day, the post, and accompanying photographs, had garnered more than three-dozen comments and “likes.”

Beth Kissileff, in a Sisterhood post published on the same day, comes out against this sort of virtual outpouring. She writes that those prone to expressing “internet empathy” may be fooled into thinking that “their quota of meting out kindness to another has been fulfilled, that they need not do more.”

It wasn’t my Facebook post that prompted Beth’s piece. Rather, it was the story of little Ayelet Galena, whose battle with a rare bone marrow disease was chronicled online by her parents, and followed closely by thousands around the world — myself included.

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How Israel Sees Workplace Harassment

By Elana Sztokman

Channel 1, Israel
Ayala Hasson

Pretty women are like “candies” to their male bosses, and if they are sexually harassed, the pretty women should switch jobs rather than ruin the careers of high-powered men who can’t control themselves. This is the infuriating opinion expressed last week by leading Israeli current-affairs radio presenter Ayala Hasson.

The conversation took place during Hasson’s radio program in which Hasson described a case that took place at a leading government office in which a woman who was sexually harassed by her boss was “discreetly and quietly” removed from her position and given an alternative post. “He wanted her like a lovely piece of candy,” Hasson said. “Every time he walked by her, there was a little pinch on the cheek or something.” Hasson argued that this is an excellent solution because, this is the only way to protect the man from getting into trouble (histabchut).

This entire discussion occurred against the backdrop of new sexual harassment charges from the Prime Minister’s office. According to reports of the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, a woman known only as “Resh” was sexually harassed by one of the leading aides to Prime Minister Binyamin Netahyahu, Natan Eshel. The accusations are pretty serious: Eshel is said to have been obsessed with R., who was working directly for him, not only by stalking her and spying on her, but even strategically placing cameras where they could photograph under her skirt. Three members of the Netanyahu’s senior staff filed complaints with Lindenstrauss — apparently unbeknownst to one another — and another four staffers have already given testimony on these events.

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No Women on Congress' Birth Control Panel

By Sarah Seltzer

No women called to testify on panel on birth control.

The farce that is the controversy over the birth control insurance mandate just got even more farcical with a male-only Congressional hearing that prompted a group of female legislators to walk out.

Here’s what went down: This morning the Congressional Oversight Committee, chaired by Representative Darell Issa of California, held a hearing about whether mandating employers to accept insurance plans which cover birth control was intruding on religious freedom.

Never mind the fact that this plan had already been altered to remove religious institutions’ involvement in the contraception provisions. Today’s hearing went on, and even worse, among all witnesses called to testify (including Rabbi Meir Soloveichik) not a single one was female. Worse, maddeningly so, Issa also refused to hear from women who had used, provided or needed contraception, not even for medical, non-contraceptive reasons.

As a result, during the proceedings several Democratic women including Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C. and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, and Carolyn Maloney of New York, who had sought to call female witnesses to the stand, walked out of the hearing (some eventually came back). Holmes said it was reminiscent of “autocratic regimes,” as Sarah Posner reports at Religion Dispatches:

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Online Sympathy Is an Easy Way Out

By Beth Kissileff

ayeletgalena.tumblr.com
Ayelet Galena

If you want to show someone you care, you need to show up. Virtual empathy does not replace your presence; it is merely the easy way out of trying to be kind to a fellow human. Writing a few words on a website or tracking the progress of an ill person are certainly thoughtful gestures. The problem is that there are those who, having made those gestures, will believe their quota of meting out kindness to another has been fulfilled, that they need not do more.

This is where, for lack of a better term, “internet empathy” can be dangerous. Jewish tradition teaches that some things have no limit; kindness is one of them. So why am I worried about the supplanting of real chesed (loving kindness) with the virtual brand?

I’ve been following some of the articles — including one by Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner — that have appeared in the aftermath of the tragic death of 2-year-old Ayelet Galena to a bone marrow disease. The authors of these pieces write about how they have become better people by reading, along with 14,000 others, of the progress of this critically ill child. If the family chose to share their lives with others in such a public way, and get support from them, that is their choice. I hope it helps them to know so many take an interest in their suffering and tragedy.

Where I, and I hope others as well, become disturbed is not in the impact on the family but on the gawkers, who believe they are assisting.

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Single-Minded About Single Ladies

By Elissa Strauss

The Atlantic
An Atlantic cover story about single women.

Over the summer in The Atlantic, writer Kate Bolick looked into why smart, attractive women like herself may never get married. Through a heavy dose of anecdotes and a smattering of science, Bolick ascertained that the problem is that the more women achieve more the less they have in the way of marriage prospects. She boils her marriage choices down to two categories: the growing number of under-performing men (referred to as“deadbeats”), and the increasingly rare high-performing “playboys,” who have more power than ever in this era of male decline.

Bolick’s piece was a blockbuster in the world of magazine articles, earning her 50,000 Facebook likes and a mega book deal. There’s even a TV series in the works. Her story clearly tapped into some real anxiety about how we live now — sociologist Eric Klinenberg has a new book in which he argues that the rise of solo living is one of the biggest demographic shifts of our time — but ultimately the social science girding her analysis was a little weak.

Now marriage historian Stephanie Coontz is out to set the record straight about high-achieving women and their marriage prospects. In a recent New York Times editorial she writes: “For a woman seeking a satisfying relationship as well as a secure economic future, there has never been a better time to be or become highly educated.”

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