It didn’t come as a utter surprise to the British public when Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, decided to convert to Islam. The journalist, activist and all-around political gadfly demonstrated against the war in Iraq, and in 2008, she was on one of the first boats headed to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade. She made headlines when she declared Gaza “the largest concentration camp in the world.”
And now, just after starting her new job as a newscaster for Iran’s English-language Press TV, Booth says that she has become Muslim, after experiencing a “religious awakening” in the Iranian holy city of Qom.
But if her conversion wasn’t all that stunning, seeing the outspoken blonde, wearing a traditional Islamic headscarf has sparked spirited conversation as to why modern Western career women would be attracted to Islam.
Together, my 11-year-old daughter, Naomi, and I took the plunge. Nervous and uncertain of what lay before us, we waded into the water of the Sea of Galilee and began swimming, alongside thousands of Israelis — young and old, all shapes and sizes.
The annual tradition of swimming across the Sea of Galilee predates the State of Israel. In 1944, a few dozen competitive male and female swimmers crossed a nine kilometer course. In the early years, the swim was only for the very athletic and competitive. Over the years, it has evolved and been transformed into a massive event, that enjoys corporate sponsorship by Speedo.
Early in the morning there are the competitive legs, with prizes and medals for individuals and combined times of swimming leagues from across the country. But the big event, open to the public, is the “People’s Swim.” It is anything but a race. Every few meters, there is a raft where swimmers can hang on, climb up, or take a rest. Teenagers stop and dive or do cannonballs off of the cruise ship anchored halfway across the course. Families swim together — some of them holding ropes and pulling younger children along on rafts. For locals, it is an annual tradition.
Voting this morning I saw several parents with tots in tow, and it reminded me of the many, many times I took my kids to the polls. I took them strapped on to the front of me in baby carriers; I took them in strollers; I took them by the hand as toddlers; and starting when they were 2 or 3 years old, I let them move the metal lever from right to left and back again, once my vote was cast.
Now we get to vote by filling in the oval next to the candidate of our choice on a paper ballot, as if we were taking the SATs. Then you take the ballot and go to a scanner and feed it in. That’s it. It is, as one neighbor said this morning, “about as exciting as going to the bank.”
Sisterhood contributor Allison Kaplan Sommer recently wrote about how women working in Israel’s public sector earn less than their male counterparts. But gender inequality is not a problem relegated to the public sector, to be sure. According to data released recently by the World Economic Forum, Israel is ranked in 52nd place out of 134 countries in the Gender Gap Index — down from a rank of 45 in 2009. Actually, there seems to be a general downward movement. In 2006, Israel ranked 35th, and in 2007, Israel ranked 36th. Something is wrong with this picture.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2010, which collates research collected over the past five years, looks at the relative status of women in areas of education, health, economics and politics across the globe. The Scandinavian countries have consistently been ranked at the top of the list — this year, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland have taken the top four positions respectively. It is worth noting, however, that there has never been a case in which women’s status exceeded men’s status in any indicator. Put differently, in no country have women ever held a majority of parliamentary seats or made higher salaries on average than men.
In recent months, there has been much ado over media smears, slights, and attacks on Jews, African-Americans, gays and other minorities. Journalistic careers have taken a hit in the wake of comments that have caused offense — Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez, Juan Williams, etc. — and spirited arguments regarding the fine line between free speech and political correctness seem to be continually taking place.
But the most recent furor over hate speech is unique because it is involves a group that is regularly disdained, ignored, discriminated against and insulted, but rarely fights back: the obese.
Election season is heating up and women, as they so often do, are taking center stage. Our rights are being debated and female candidates from both parties are subjected to extra scrutiny. We’ve had a woman victim of a politically motivated curb-stomping in Kentucky, a candidate who doesn’t believe women are ever discriminated against, and female candidates debating motherhood’s role on the campaign trail.
This year, the Republicans have made news by fielding a group of candidates who are female and ultraconservative — Sarah Palin’s “Mama Grizzlies.” The most frightening of the “Grizzlies” is not the most well known — the erstwhile Wiccan and constitutionally confused Christine O’Donnell. My bet is that O’Donnell will lose her election and be known primarily as a punchline, at least for the next four years.
Instead, it’s Nevada senatorial candidate Sharron Angle, who is looking more and more likely to unseat Harry Reid. She is living proof that being a woman does not in any way guarantee empathy for your sisters. Angle, incidentally is the candidate who has hired decoys to distract reporters and who inspired a profanity and vitriol-laden outburst from Joy Behar the other day on “The View”.
If Israel’s government wants to improve the economic condition of women, it can start by looking at its own payroll. According to the public sector salary report that was just released, the majority of government workers are women — 64% — and yet women’s earnings in the public sector significantly trail those of men. Haaretz reports:
The average monthly salary for women was 24% less than the average for men. The average gross pay for women stood at NIS 11,498 [$3,158] while men averaged NIS 15,060 [$4,136] a month. The report further showed that while the proportion of women in the public sector workforce is growing from year to year, so is the wage gap. The fact that men are employed in higher-ranking jobs than women only accounts for some of the discrepancy.
When one of our favorite blogs, Jacob Berkman’s The Fundermentalist, over at JTA, throws down the gauntlet, we at The Sisterhood are happy to take it up.
In his post announcing that the Jewish Federations of North America-run Jewish Community Heroes contest has selected its five finalists, he notes that they are all male. Nominees for the contest are selected by popular online vote: This year, more than 311,000 votes were cast. A panel of 16 judges (six of whom are women) selected the finalists and will pick the winner, who is to be announced at the upcoming JFNA General Assembly, in New Orleans November 7–9.
My view of the contest is complex: On the one hand, this kind of popularity contest tends to be finessed by the well-organized, like the Chabad-associated nominees this year and last who are adept at using social media to generate support. On the other hand, we know many Jews who work selflessly to improve things for others and would be able to put the $25,000 grand prize to effective use. And the Jewish community is in real need of inspiration, so the idea of finding unsung heroes to highlight is, well, appealing.
If some of the mannequins in Dizengoff Center seemed a little strange last week, it may be because they were not made out of plastic but out of real, live human bodies. In an effort to raise awareness about the trafficking of women in Israel, The Coalition Against Trafficking of Women has launched a campaign entitled, “How much do women cost?” in which women pose as mannequins in store fronts with price tags hanging on their bodies.
In one store front, under a sign that reads, “Women for sale according to personal tastes,” seven young women stand with ripped clothes and bruises, and tags that display their age, weight, measurements and country of origin. On the website of the popular clothing chain, Zap, a new category popped up called “Women To Go” that enabled visitors to “purchase” women in the same categories.
“The victims of sex trafficking do not get to rest all day long, and neither do we,” Uri Keidar, one of the founders of the coalition, told reporters. “The purpose of the campaign is to bring this issue to the public awareness and get people to develop strong feelings on the issue.”
A fierce believer in the power and possibility of fairy tales, Kate Bernheimer has explored the genre’s history in essays and scholarship, edited anthologies of and about fairy tales, founded a literary journal focused on them (Fairy Tale Review) and written fresh tales of her own — as short stories, novels, and children’s books. It’s an area of focus that challenges her to be both a preservationist and an inventor.
In the eight elegant tales that make up her new book “Horse, Flower, Bird,” Bernheimer takes us places at once strange and utterly familiar — blurring the line between where we are, where we’ve been, and what we imagine. And in the latest anthology under her editorship, “My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me,” she brings together contemporary fairy tales written by an impressive group, including Francine Prose, Neil Gaiman and Aimee Bender. The Sisterhood recently interviewed Bernheimer, via email.
Eryn Loeb: Over the time you’ve been working within the genre, how has your idea changed of what a fairy tale can be?
The Israeli city of Lod is a powder keg of tension after a devastating wave of recent murders, most of which are believed to have been honor killings related to interfamily disputes.
The latest two murders were particularly chilling. At the beginning of October, Amal Khalili, a 27-year-old divorced mother of three who reportedly had been threatened by the family of her ex-husband, was shot in her car as she sat alongside her brother and her 7-year-old daughter. And then again, last Tuesday, a mother of five named Abir Abu-Katifu was shot — also in front of her children. Four of her male relatives were arrested for involvement in the crime.
Both Jewish and Arab residents of the city, afraid in their own city’s streets, are calling out for action. The Arab sector kept their children out of school on Thursday to protest the lack of security.
Tired of Glee’s girls gone wild? and the near-pornographic playthings that pass for pastimes for girls these days? Then check out this new video by Willow Smith, daughter of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. It’s a hella lotta fun.
The words don’t go much beyond “I whip my hair back and forth, I whip my hair back and forth, I whip it real good,” and true, the production values, choreography and hair styling are the very best money can buy, but it’s catchy and meaningless and girlish and fun.
Willow isn’t wearing a ton of makeup (aside from in her hair, that is); her eyebrows look brushed but not plucked; basically, she just looks like the privileged but hip 9-year-old she is. A kid having fun. And here, for the little kid in us all, is the Muppet take on it.
Let’s be honest: It’s not like I was going to vote for Carl Paladino in the first place. If there were some kind of reverse political dictionary, and I was in it, Carl Paladino would be listed as my particularly aggressive antonym. That was before he decided to publicly demonstrate his homophobia, while bringing the Jewish community into it. Unfortunately, it’s not as though we weren’t in it to begin with. This is everyone’s problem, whether or not we consider ourselves to be queer positive folks, but particularly if we do.
Even if you were never planning on voting for Paladino, even if you were disgusted beyond any reasonable definition of the word at his remarks to the congregation in Brooklyn, it’s still vital to understand that homophobia is not an oppression that stands alone; it’s a particularly insidious outgrowth of sexism, and even in its most progressive corners, the Jewish community is guilty of perpetuating both.
I have a terribly embarrassing confession to make. This week I discovered Helen Reddy, and heard for the first time “I Am Woman.” Really, I had never heard of her until a friend sent me a link to her 1975 rendition of this amazing song. Truly, never heard her name. I can’t believe it myself. Of course, I have been listening to it ever since, and whether I’m driving or washing dishes or sitting at my desk, I’ve been singing, “I am strong (strong)! I am invincible (invincible)! I am womaaaan!” to the increasing annoyance of those around me. But right now, I don’t care. I am invincible!
I mean, the embarrassment of singing out loud is nothing compared to the embarrassment of not even knowing my own history. I’ve been working and writing about women’s empowerment for 15 years, and I’ve never heard or heard of this song. It’s like the entire women’s movement passed me by when I was a kid.
The truth is, I really am quite astounded by this revelation, and more embarrassed for those who educated me than for myself. I was not in control of my own cultural exposures during the 1970s. In fact, throughout that decade, when “I Am Woman” was spreading around the world as the anthem of a revolution, I was in yeshiva elementary day school. But I might as well have been on another planet.
The first Torah scroll written entirely by female scribes, six of them, has been completed — seven years after it was begun.
Danielle Berrin, over at The Jewish Journal’s “Hollywood Jew” blog, thinks Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and “The Social Network” writer Aaron Sorkin are hanging out with the wrong Jewish women.
Many women of childbearing age who are on medications that can cause birth defects, such as those used to treat cancer, high cholesterol and acne, don’t reliably take oral contraceptives.
Earlier this week, Diana Agron and Lea Michele of “Glee” were on the cover of GQ with co-star Cory Monteith in what can only be described as a hypersexualized spread. Diana Agron plays popular cheerleader Quinn Fabray. Lea Michele plays the know-it-all Jewish girl Rachel Berry. Both actresses are Jewish. (See other “Glee”-related posts here, here, here and here.)
The high school themed photoshoot, shot by Terry Richardson, features the Jewesses half-naked, in sexy, “come hither” poses. In one shot, Lea Michele is provacatively licking a lollipop. Jezebel calls it “porny” and reminds us that Terry Richardson has been accused of sexual harrassment by his models in the past. Jezebel also notes that Cory Monteith, who plays the football star Finn, is wearing clothes and his poses are active rather than passive. Another blogger noticed that GQ chose to feature only thin, white actresses when “Glee” is all about being pro-diversity, even if it deals with the issue in a lightweight, superficial way.
The photoshoot has sparked debate about whether “Glee” is a show for children or adults. The Parents Television Council said the shoot “borders on pedophilia,” despite the fact that the actors are all 20-somethings. Also, “Glee” has hit record ratings among adults and has featured plenty of sexual content that did not provoke statements from the Parent’s Television Council.
Soccer season is in full swing, which means that on weekends Girlchik is out on the field, passing and handling the ball with impressive facility while I cheer her on from the sidelines, chat with other parents and enjoy the cool fall breezes.
It’s an interesting thing, cheering on girls this age to get in there and be more aggressive with the ball. Some girls have a tendency to be a bit — how can I say this nicely — wussy on the playing field. Girlchik is a good soccer player but some of the girls on her team seem afraid of the ball. And I realize, with a start, that my daughter and her teammates are at a moment of intersecting, and often conflicting, cultural messages.
The girls, all 11- and 12-years-old, are at that moment when they are not yet stork-legged teenagers, but neither are they little kids.
Like Hinda Mandell, I experienced the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings at a formative moment of my childhood. The entire spectacle of the trial made a really strong impression on me and the ensuing “Year of the Woman” helped turn me into a budding self-identified feminist — walking around my Jewish day school with Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein buttons affixed to my shirt, and a neon pink “Choice” hat atop my head.
So I reacted to the Ginni Thomas phone message fiasco with amusement and frustration at the media for framing the story around Hill’s refusal to apologize rather than Thomas’s outlandish behavior.
It’s true, as Mandell writes, that no one involved seems to be able to escape the shadow of the scandal. But I don’t feel any sympathy for Ginni Thomas. As feminist bloggers have been saying, people often dismiss sexual harassment with one of two common phrases: “She deserved it” or “She made it up.” Judging from her now-famous voicemail, Ginni Thomas intimates the latter about Hill.
Graphic sexual details from the complaints against Rabbi Mordechai “Motti” Elon were published this week in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. The accounts were based on previously unreleased documentation from meetings of the religious Zionist forum Takana, a task force charged with confronting sexual violence in the religious community. Takana decided to release the documents this week, for reasons that remain unclear, and Yediot is gradually publishing the remaining victim testimony, with more details promised in this weekend’s edition.
There seem to be several motives for releasing the details. One is an issue of validation of claims. Because Elon is such a popular, public figure, many of his former students and colleagues have rallied around him and declared their belief in his innocence. This, coupled with the fact that the police initially dropped the investigation — until more victims came forward, prompting law enforcement to recommend indictment — means that public opinion vis à vis the whole affair has waffled. By releasing details, Takana is hoping to squash doubt and let the public know that the complaints are real.
Women of the Wall is a group of Israeli and other Jewish women (many originally from North America) who have long fought for the right to pray as a group at the beginning of each Jewish month at Judaism’s holiest site, the Kotel, or Western Wall of the Jerusalem area where the ancient Temple once stood.
WoW has faced invective and at times physical violence from some of the Haredi men and women who worship at the Kotel. Since last November, members and the group’s leader have also been arrested while carrying a Sefer Torah.