There is a particular apartment building in Manhattan that has a well-known “secret.” Everyone knows it — the residents know, the local dogwalkers know. And the doormen know best of all, because, late some nights, they’re the ones who let in the famous man, who steps into the elevator. In doing so, this person steps out on his significant other with his other significant other.
This is non-fiction, but I’m not going to say who this person is. I’m not going to speculate as to why he’s engaging in behavior that, if not self-destructive, is at least sketchy. But why? Doesn’t the public deserve to know about this guy’s duplicitous behavior, and stage a Salem witch-style trial in the unblinking eye of Internet gossip sites?
Is there a point at which we can say, ‘Enough’? Truthfully, I’m a bit sick of the whole prurient news scandal cycle…in no small part because it’s not really news. I wrote about this as early as the Clinton-Monica mess — i.e., that our generation tends to be surprised that other people are surprised by the misconduct of politicians, famous figures, what have you. It’s not that these people have a free pass of some sort — these people do crappy things, and their wives and partners have their hands full.
To cut, or not to cut, that is the question. At least, that seems to be the dilemma du jour as residents of San Francisco gear up to vote this fall on a proposal to legally ban circumcision of males under the age of 18. Leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities, along with others who want to protect parents’ right to circumcise their infant sons for either religious or health reasons, have been up in arms, giving interviews to Jewish and mainstream media, starting groups like the Committee for Parental Choice and Religious Freedom, and denouncing the creator of Foreskin Man and his nemesis Monster Mohel.
Drowned out by all this frantic activity is the growing voice of Jews who oppose circumcision and brit milah. I’m not talking about the generally older, secular Jews involved in anti-circumcision campaigns in San Francisco and other parts of the country. I’m referring to young, Jewishly committed couples who are calling into question the religious legitimacy of bringing a male child into the covenant by surgically removing a part of his sexual organ.
Naomi Wolf is really getting on my nerves. It feels terrible to say that because she has made some key contributions to feminist consciousness over the years. Her first major book, “The Beauty Myth,” outlining the litany of damaging effects of the beauty industry on women and girls’ self-image is a classic that has indelibly impacted feminist thinking about body and commercialization of femininity. Her analysis of the female imagery of “The Angel in the House” offers some of the most useful insights in trying to understand women’s battles for self-expression and empowerment — especially religious women.
That said, I think she may really be losing it. I started to think this last year when she wrote a delusional essay glorifying the sexuality of repressed Muslim women who wear Victoria’s Secret under layers of hijab. She had some similar commentary about Orthodox women as well, which made her sound like some kind of cross between a rabbi preaching at a frat house and a repentant stripper. Cover up and you’ll find your spiritual salvation, was more or less her message at the time. She says all this, by the way, while wearing revealing clothes, globs of make-up, and Fran Drescher-worthy hair.
Her latest essay takes the cake. “A wrinkle in time: Twenty years after ‘The Beauty Myth,’ Naomi Wolf addresses The Aging Myth”, published recently the Washington Post, is a retrospective on her writing that comes across less as feminist scholarship and more like a ditsy celebration of the middle-age cocktail party.
The Spring 2011 issue of Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal is expected to be the last for the publication, which has been alive and rabble-rousing for 21 years. The journal began back when Adrienne Rich, Elly Bulkin and Ruth Atkin, members of the Feminist Task Force of the New Jewish Agenda, proposed expanding the Task Force’s newsletter into a journal. The result was Bridges, whose stated mission is to imbue Judaism with the values of the feminist and LGBT movements. Since then, Bridges has become a place for readers to engage with their activist and Jewish identities.
Over the years, issues of Bridges have focused on such topics as health care, feminism and our fathers, and Jewish women of color. The 31st and final issue — the journal’s contract with the Indiana University Press is up — placed past contributors, such as professor Susannah Heschel, writer and activist Elana Dykewomon, and poet Alicia Ostriker, in conversation with one another.
Each conversation is an illustration of the personal as political: For example, Yavilah McCoy, an advocate for Jewish multiculturalism, and musician Miri Hunter Haruach,, in “African American Jewish Women—Life Beyond the Hyphen,” talk frankly about the challenges of race and gender faced in both Jewish and feminist spaces. And lesbian activist Elana Dykewomon and performance artist Jyl Lyn Felman, in “Forward and Backward: Jewish Lesbian Writers,” deliberate on the notion of being outsiders as Jewish lesbians.
The Satmar community’s Central Rabbinical Congress last week banned tank tops, among other women’s popular warm-weather wear. Of course, the hipsters and the Latinos who live in the neighborhood, alongside the Satmars, probably can’t read the Yiddish posters that Hasidim hung on light posts throughout the area to promulgate the ban.
We’re not sure if the ban is targeted at Hasidic women who, in a recent fashion trend in other Orthodox communities (though perhaps not Williamsburg), have taken to wearing spaghetti-strap dresses and other immodest wear over long-sleeved tee shirts.
The rabbinic powers-that-be over at the CRC probably would have been happy to have the women who had planned to ride in the naked bike ride through Williamsburg on Shabbat wear anything at all — even tank tops. The ride, organized by the organization “Times Up,” was put on to protest “indecent exposure to toxic pollution.” The ride was scheduled to conclude with a party at the Times Up headquarters in the neighborhood, which is the New York City home base of the Satmar Hasidic community.
It did not feel like a compliment when someone told me that I was the “prettiest” rabbi he had ever seen. Nor did it feel like a compliment when a congregant said he was really impressed with me although he always thought “ima” — Hebrew for mother — “did not belong on the bima.”
I experienced many of these backhanded compliments during my 18 job interviews. But the most frustrating moments of the search was when I was asked, over and over again, how I planned to manage motherhood along with the demands of being a rabbi.
During rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I served at five congregations — including a synagogue that Newsweek has deemed one of the “25 most vibrant congregations in America” — as a part-time assistant rabbi, and received two prestigious fellowships, including a Wexner Graduate Fellowship. And having graduated on time, maintaining an “A” average all the while having two children within two years, I expected that being a woman would not interfere with my ambition to serve the Jewish community as a rabbi. Yet, congregations were still concerned with how motherhood might interfere with my ability to do the job. When I asked my male colleagues with children if they were asked the parenthood question, not one responded that they had.
The deaf Jewish actress Shoshannah Stern is more than a little bit angry — and for good reason.
Stern appears in a new video, “Why is Shoshannah Stern Pissed Off?” It is part of the Lavender Revolution, a social media movement to end violence against deaf women. Deaf Hope, the Oakland, Calif.-based non-profit behind the campaign, seeks to end sexual and domestic violence against deaf women through empowerment, education and direct services.
In the video, Stern can be seen sitting in a chair in a parking lot, where she signs adamantly that she is forced to think of herself as a woman before she thinks of herself as a deaf person — or anything else — because of the danger of rape that women face every day. The 30-year-old actress sends a strong message against rape culture, in which the victim is the one blamed.
Rabbi Dr. Einat Ramon has gone to war against surrogate mothers, sperm donors and feminists. In a recent op-ed in Haaretz, Ramon calls for making illegal anonymous sperm donation and all forms of surrogacy, and replacing it with an exclusive Jewish sperm bank filled only with the seed of Jewish men who died childless. I am sure that mine is not the only jaw that needs lifting from the floor.
Ramon opens her essay with an attack on what she calls radical feminism. “The lurking danger to the wholeness of the Jewish people in our times,” she writes, comes from “the ideology of radical feminism, which refuses to acknowledge the proven biological differences between men and women and the moral value of joint parenting between the man and the woman in the absolute majority of human cultures throughout history.” That’s a surprising statement. I would think that there are many other, more pressing dangers to the wholeness of the Jewish people — Iran, Hezbollah, anti-Semitism, to name a few.
Ramon has regressed by a generation or two, at least, in this assertion that LGBT parents and single parents are by definition inferior parents. It’s particularly shocking to hear Ramon, the first Israeli woman to be ordained as a rabbi and the first woman to hold the position of Rabbinical Dean at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Israel, defend so passionately the theory of gender difference.
Weinergate is no doubt about as juicy as scandals get — between the congressman’s waxed chest, his silly and salacious flirtations with the women he “met” online, and even a jab against Jewish women. While the fascination with Weiner is more than understandable, I think it is time we all take a step back and ask ourselves what exactly it is that he did wrong. This is important for determining what expectations we should have for our politicians, and also how we think about the women involved.
If Anthony Weiner flirts online with women, I can understand why his wife would care, and also why her mother and sister and friends would care. If my husband or a friend’s husband behaved this way, I would certainly object. But if a politician whose politics I generally agree with behaves in a way that I find disagreeable on a purely personal level I am not sure I should care. I don’t like when government officials tell the country how we should be married — and who can be married — and I would like to offer back to them the same level tolerance.
For the past several weeks, sitting atop Google News and on newspapers’ “most emailed stories” lists, alongside the multiple Arab uprisings, tornadoes, volcanoes and the woes of Rep. Anthony Weiner, is the trial of Casey Anthony, now in its third week.
The Florida trial itself is standing-room-only event, with long lines to get into the courtroom. The addiction to the unfolding courtroom proceedings is reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson trial, despite the fact that Casey Anthony was not a celebrity before she was accused of murdering her young daughter. The Chicago Tribune reports that in Florida:
More and more people … are finding themselves riveted by the testimony and wanting to watch every moment of it. So they line up to try and score one of the dozens of public passes for a seat inside the courtroom, they watch on television screens at restaurants or salons, catch live digital streams in the office or follow Twitter feeds on their mobile devices.
Casey Anthony is the alleged murderous mom of the moment, charged with murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. In 1993, it was Susan Smith, convicted of driving her car into a lake and drowning her two young sons; in 2001, it was Andrea Yates, who was charged with drowning her five children in the bathtub while in the grips of post-partum depression, and found not guilty by reason of insanity.
In the midst of the depressing morass known as Weinergate, there is some more heartening news about New York Jews and their love lives. Among the many members of the tribe joining the full-on advocacy efforts for gay marriage in New York are a couple called the Blumenthals, who have lent their story and family photos to this touching ad.
Via Chloe Angyal at Feministing, this set of Jewish parents made an ad about marriage equality asking legislators to grant them the simple pleasure of seeing their gay son walk down the aisle — just like their straight one has.
Here’s the transcript:
Iris Blumenthal: We’ve been married for 47 years and have two sons. Our older son is straight and has been married for 15 years. Our youngest son is gay and has been in a committed relationship for 11 years. A good marriage is thinking about and caring for the other person even more than you care about yourself and we’ve seen this in Jonathan and Eric’s relationship to each other. They’re a wonderful couple, they’re a caring couple. It would give us such great joy to walk them down the aisle and watch them get married.
As The New York Times reports, somewhat breathlessly, Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Tweeter scandal has one more salaciously sad dimension: His wife and Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, is “in the early stages” of pregnancy, according to three close friends. Thus, this answers the pressing question of “Could this story get any more icky?” with a resounding “Yes, indeed, it can.”
The cries of outrage surrounding the story are now even greater. And why? Is it somehow more reprehensible to cheat on your wife when she’s bearing your child than it would be if she was just going around town with a vacant uterus?
I actually don’t think so. If anything, cheating on one’s wife while she’s pregnant just drives home the contrast between where the two people’s respective priorities lie. But that contrast is sort of inevitable, thanks to women’s anatomy. She carries the pregnancy, and gets bigger and bigger; he experiences no physical changes, and can text his waxed chest to porn stars and blackjack dealers.
In short, he can deny the way things are; she can’t. Now that the facts are on the table, let’s close the door and let them sort this out themselves.
I am the first to admit that there are many people out there with greater and deeper Jewish knowledge than I. Nonetheless, one thing I am pretty sure of is that women and men stood together at Sinai, and that wives walked side-by-side with their husbands as they made pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot during Temple times.
So, why then, should Jewish women today have to walk separately from men to the Kotel to pray this year on Shavuot, which begins tonight? Actually, if certain Haredi authorities had it their way, not only would women walk a different route through the Old City of Jerusalem, but they wouldn’t go to the Kotel tonight at all.
Rafi G. of the Life in Israel blog, wrote yesterday about the anonymous posting of flyers around Jerusalem warning women to stay home on Erev Shavuot, and ordering them to take a separate route (if they feel they must come to pray) to the Kotel on Shavuot morning. The handbills describe the narrow streets and alleyways of the Old City as being very crowded on the holiday, so obviously women should be the ones to be inconvenienced by walking via the Jaffa Gate. The shorter Nablus Gate route is reserved for men, the flyer pronounces.
Rep. Anthony Weiner reportedly used a sexual stereotype about Jewish women in Facebook sexting with a young Jewish woman, according to this account on Radar Online. This pathetic story just keeps getting more appalling.
Weiner, a 46-year-old Jewish congressman who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens and was considered the leading candidate in New York’s next mayoral race, admitted in a press conference Monday that lewd tweets, Facebook messages and crotch shots sent to several women who are not his wife were indeed from him. One of those women is 40-year-old Lisa Weiss, a Las Vegas blackjack dealer who is Jewish and offered to perform oral sex on him. According to Radar Online, Weiner responded, “wow a jewish girl who sucks (bleep)! this thing is ready to do damage.” The Radar report continued, “The reference to a stereotype of Jewish women’s aversion to the sex act is sure to create more heat under a scandal that is already red hot.”
At least his wife of 11 months, Huma Abedin, broke form in the spate of scandals from those of then-President Bill Clinton to Eliot Spitzer and Dominique Strauss-Kahn and didn’t stand up next to Weiner at his press conference clad in a good suit, a statement necklace and a stalwart expression.
If the current Israeli government were in power back in biblical times, there is a good chance that there would actually be no State of Israel today in need of governing. This is the message of a simulated correspondence between the Israel Religious Action Center and Israel’s Ministry of Interior, written by Anat Hoffman, IRAC’s executive director and chairwoman of Women of the Wall.
In the fictional exchange, posted on IRAC’s website — an exchange more fitting in style to Purim than this week’s holiday of Shavuot — Hoffman petitions Interior Minister Eli Yishai on behalf of Ruth the Moabite, who seeks legal status in Israel. Hoffman asserts that Ruth (whose megillah Rut is read by Jews on Shavuot) is the widow of a Jewish man; entered Israel legally with her mother-in-law, Naomi; chose to align herself with the Jewish people, and has a sponsor in the upstanding citizen Boaz, who intends to marry her.
Predictably — at least for anyone who follows the politics of Israel and Jewish pluralism — the Interior Ministry denies Ruth’s request for legal residency status and orders her deportation back to Moab. She will not be allowed to reapply for re-entry into Israel until she has embarked upon and competed a wild goose chase in search of impossible-to-procure documents to prove her Jewishness.
There is a beautiful piece in yesterday’s New York Times travel section, an essay by House & Garden editor Dominique Browning on her attempt to forge a new relationship with her two young adult sons as they travel together by train across the country.
It is an apt piece for this time of year, the season of graduations and preparations for new leave-taking — on summer adventures, on gap-year journeys and to college, where Boychik is headed in September. It is a season of secular ceremonies, the high school graduation I will soon attend among them, with young people in caps and gowns wending their way toward adulthood. There ought to be a Jewish ritual to mark this liminal moment for our sons and daughters and, more to the point, for us.
But in the meantime, there is Browning’s essay, in which she gracefully writes about the challenge of meeting your young adult children as they are, so that you can still be in a relationship with them. A relationship different than the one marked by, as she puts it, “molding, scolding or holding,” which is generally the approach for the first 18-plus years of their lives.
The rise of Slutwalks — anti-rape marches that started as a reaction to a Canadian cop’s comments that dressing slutty encourages sexual assault, and have since spread across the world — has incited a debate on the use of the word “slut.” Some, like Gail Dines and Wendy J. Murphy over at the Guardian, rail against the term, because the “term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal “madonna/whore” view of women’s sexuality that it is beyond redemption.”
Meanwhile Chloe Angyal at Feminsting defends the use of the term by activists, explaining that the term “Slutwalk” has been incredibly successfully in getting women “angry and active and inspiring them” to take no more BS. The debate is a good one, but, all in all, it is nothing new to Jewish women who have long been subjected to stereotypes about their sexuality. I’m with Angyal, on Team Sluts — and here’s why.
For generations J.A.P.s were seen as asexual and/or frigid, a stereotype that provided much fodder for Jewish humor. Take for example: “What’s a Jewish American Princess’ favorite position? Facing Tiffany’s.” Or: “A Jewish American Princess’s husband was making love to his wife when suddenly, to his intense surprise, she wiggled and let out a short cry of delight. ‘My God, honey!’ he exclaimed. ‘What happened?’ ‘It’s wonderful,’ she said. ‘I finally decided that those curtains would look much better in peach.’”
But then, over the past decade or so, we have been relocated to the other side of the spectrum and now are considered, well, kinda slutty.
Rihanna has finally stood up to abuse. Well, maybe not in real life, but certainly in her art — and in a somewhat disturbing way. The pop star’s latest release, “Man Down,” depicts Rihanna shooting a man in cold blood. Only towards the end of the video does the story unfold about the man sexually assaulting her the day before.
Parents groups are upset. The Parents Television Council called the clip “disturbing,” and asked BET to stop airing it. Rihanna has responded that the song is important to her because it constitutes “a voice for so many that aren’t heard” — that is, victims of sexual violence.
Coming from Rihanna, this is a particularly powerful message. She has a history of being battered by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown, whom she initially returned to despite the violence, until finally breaking up with him. Moreover, her hit song “Russian Roulette,” which I analyzed here, presents a profoundly disempowering messages to victims, advocating the stance of passively, of standing still and waiting to die while one’s boyfriend holds a gun.
Not this again. After the success of “Bridesmaids” seemed to finally sound the death knell for the whole “women can’t be as funny as men” canard, we’re right back to hearing “women can’t write like men.” The culprit this time? Acclaimed novelist V.S. Naipaul, who dissed all women writers, and said none were his match. He even declared that his own editor churned out, in his words, “feminine tosh.”
Naipaul, prodigiously talented as he is, has not only earned my wrath with these blanket generalizations he shot off in an interview, as reported in the Guardian, but also for his singling out of Jane Austen for criticism, thereby raising both my feminist and Janeite hackles (and these are, essentially, my two main sets of hackles):
In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the “greatest living writer of English prose,” was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: “I don’t think so.” Of Austen he said he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”.
He felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
One of the most bizarre and horrifying stories to come out of the protests earlier this year in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was the headline that the Egyptian authorities, had, for some bizarre reason, conducted ‘virginity checks’ on female protesters who were detained by the military.
The accusations were part of an Amnesty International report, which said the women were beaten, strip-searched and given electric shocks. They were told that those who were not found to be virgins would face prostitution charges. The 17 women who were detained at the height the protests that led to the resignation of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak were tried in military court and released on March 13. Some of them received one-year suspended prison sentences.
The part about “virginity checks” sounded too strange to be true, which is why the military authorities probably thought they would get away with their repeated denials of the women’s descriptions of the invasive examinations by a doctor and a nurse. But now, a military official — an unnamed “senior Egyptian general” — has come out and confirmed it in an interview with CNN. The jaw-dropping part is that the confirmation didn’t happen because the general confessed it with any kind of regret or apology; instead, he did so in order to defend the practice and offer his explanation.