Tune into what is now the highest-rated program on Israeli television, “Big Brother,” and you will encounter a female character never been featured before on local screens. Her name is Frida Hecht — a heavy-set, outspoken, recovering heroin addict with a crew cut. She’s a lesbian, and about as far out of the closet as it is possible to get.
A Tel Aviv restaurant owner, Frida does not hesitate to assert herself, cheerfully acknowledges her flaws and limitations, and is outspoken about the more bourgeois residents of the “Big Brother” house and their “empty materialistic lives that are all surface and no content.”
Declaring that she is unafraid of being voted off of the show by viewers, she has no problem taking positions that are unpopular with the audience. Early in the show, she insisted on taking the house copy of the Bible in to the bathroom with her, saying that she needs to read something while on the toilet, and that is the only book in the house. When Yoram Cohen, an Orthodox resident of the house was offended by her bringing the holy book into the bathroom, Frida stood her ground and a screaming match ensued. More than 2,500 viewers then signed an online petition calling for Frida to be voted out of the house as a result of her behavior. But her sympathizers outnumbered her enemies, and Cohen ended up being the one voted off the show.
I was among some 6,000 reproductive-rights advocates who attended a rally for women’s health over the weekend to stand up for Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to choose in the face of the most dangerous political assault on women’s rights we’ve seen in years. The signs in the crowd were witty, the long and varied list of speakers and performers was impressive — with young women, reproductive justice advocates and women of color well-represented and kicking butt. Kathleen Hanna of the famed Riot Grrl musical movement even spoke about her own experiences going to Planned Parenthood in her early days as a struggling musician.
But one of the coolest things about the rally was the strong showing of male allies on stage and on the ground in Manhattan’s Foley Square. On stage, a group of Jewish male New York politicians made a series of completely impassioned, fiery speeches that shocked me with their urgent tone. Congressmen Eliot Engel, Jerrold Nadler, Anthony Weiner and Senator Charles Schumer were four of a number of wonderful speakers.
While Forward “Ingredients” columnist Leah Koenig may be a self-taught cook, she has certainly made the most of her education. She is currently an acting associate editor at Saveur magazine, and is the former editor-in-chief of the food and sustainability blog The Jew and the Carrot, which is now a joint project of the Forward and Hazon. She is also the author of “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Kitchen,” due out March 8. I recently interviewed Koenig about writing a cookbook that is affiliated with a venerable women’s organization, cooking trends in two-career households and what makes this cookbook different from most other Jewish cookbooks on the market.
Jordana Horn: How did your affiliation with Hadassah come about?
Leah Koenig: My mom is a longtime Hadassah member and active in our local chapter in Chicago, so I’ve always felt like Hadassah was, by extension, a part of my life and my Jewish experience. Needless to say, I was really excited and honored to be asked to work on this project. It seemed like such a perfect opportunity to share my love of seasonal cooking and Jewish culture with readers, while working within the framework of this timeless organization.
The only time in my conflict reporting career that I received different treatment from the guys occurred in Johannesburg in 1993. Our Reuters bureau was finally — finally! — being outfitted with flak jackets to cover the violence surrounding the end of apartheid. Since a big part of the job involved driving into townships filled with men pointing assault rifles, I was very happy to receive body armor at long last.
What a surprise, though, when I opened the box. My flak jacket was red. The guys’ were blue.
“That’s because you’re a girl,” one of the cameramen joked. Everyone chortled. I left it at that.
Fortunately the gender distinction was never made in terms of assignments. I was chosen to cover the worst tumult on the Durban coast. The civil wars in nearby Angola and Mozambique were my turf. My superiors routinely dispatched me at 4 in the morning to report on massacres. I worried about sexual assault, every woman [war correspondent] does, just as I feared being shot dead like some of my male colleagues had been. But if my bosses feared I would be raped, they didn’t say.
In “Ethnic Differences Emerge in Plastic Surgery,” a New York Times story published last weekend, writer Sam Dolnick explains how different ethnic groups now tend be in pursuit of one particular type of procedure.
Dolnick writes: “As the demand for surgical enhancement explodes around the world, New York has developed a host of niche markets that allow the city’s many immigrants to get tucks and tweaks that are carefully tailored to their cultural preferences and ideals of beauty. Just as they can find Lebanese grape leaves or bowls of Vietnamese pho that taste of home, immigrants can locate surgeons able to recreate the cleavage of Thalía, the Mexican singer, or the bright eyes of Lee Hyori, the Korean pop star.”
He goes onto to explain that Dominicans want buttock lifts, Koreans want slimmer jaw lines, Iranians want smaller noses, Italians want slender knees, Russians want bigger breasts, and Chinese want double eyelids.
That there are Orthodox Jewish men who hold a get, or Jewish divorce decree, over their estranged wives’ heads out of spite and to extort money from the women’s families — making the women agunot — is a sad reality. The creators of a new documentary film, “Women Unchained,” hope to shed new light on this seemingly intractable issue, and create communal pressure for change.
“Women Unchained” follows six Orthodox Jewish women in their quest to receive a get, or Jewish divorce, from their husbands. The film, directed by Beverly Siegel and co-produced by Leta Lenik, will have its world premiere in Jerusalem on March 7 at the Orthodox Union’s Israel Center and on March 8, International Women’s Day, at Jerusalem’s Cinematheque, as part of the Women and Religion Mavoi Satum Film Festival. “Women Unchained” will have its first U.S. showings at the Pittsburgh Jewish Film Festival on March 27 and at the Rockland County Jewish Film Festival on March 31. The filmmakers and experts on the issue will take part in panel discussions following the screenings.
Imagine for a moment that Monica Lewinsky had not been so enthusiastic about pursuing a sexual relationship with President Clinton, that he had pursued her against her will, and had imposed himself on her physically.
Now imagine that the Lewinsky affair had opened a Pandora’s Box of women from various stages of Clinton’s career coming forward and accusing him of levels of sexually abusive behavior — ranging from unwanted fondling to outright rape. Add to that imaginary scenario that the wheels of justice had turned, the women were found to be credible and the machinations of Clinton’s cronies to silence or intimidate them self-incriminating, and that, four years later, the former President was convicted in a court of law of rape.
Even if it was proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he behaved criminally, wouldn’t Americans feel a pang at the prospect of seeing the man who held such a lofty post and once represented their nation to the world, dressed in a prison jumpsuit and led into a cell?
That is the prospect the Israeli public faces as the sentencing of former President Moshe Katsav is imminent. His sentencing will take place on March 8, which, coincidentally, is International Women’s Day and attorneys are in court this week making their arguments on sentencing.
After my post last month about the gender disparity in magazine publishing, which was followed by VIDA’s much more thorough and ultimately conclusive study, I, perhaps naively, expected to see a comment or two from the publications about the roots of this imbalance. Then weeks passed, and, well, basically nothing.
For a while I thought that perhaps it was time to give this up. They had all likely seen the numbers; I didn’t want to come off whiny. But then my curiosity remained, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.
I sent out emails to the editors at The New Yorker (27% female bylines overall in 2010 according to the VIDA study), The New Republic (16%), The New York Review of Books (15%), Harper’s Magazine (21%), and The Atlantic (26%), asking them if they would be willing to talk with me about the dearth of female bylines. A few days later I received on-the-records responses from all those publications except for the Atlantic. (Full responses are below.) The overall message from the editors, delivered with varying degrees of passion, was an agreement that things need to change. There was not much in the way of explaining why things are the way they are — with one honest and admirable exception from The New Republic — and no comment on whether they receive and/or reject more pitches from women, nor on whether or not having more female editors might do the trick. Mostly their message was that they could, and should, do better.
Jewish women have a long and storied history in the American labor and worker’s rights movement, from Emma Goldman to Rose Schneiderman to Betty Friedan (yep, she was a union rabble-rouser first) and beyond. This excellent article at the Jewish Women’s Archive gives a partial overview of Jewish women’s involvement in the movement: the good, the bad and the ugly. And our presence in the movement continues today: arguably one of the most visible and controversial union leaders in our country, Randi Weingarten, is herself a Jewish woman.
I grew up in a pro-union household. We sifted through clothing at stores, looking for that UNITE! label, honked whenever we passed workers on strike, and did our best never to cross picket lines. But this practice wasn’t widespread, even among friends and classmates on the Upper West Side, people who embraced other liberal causes wholeheartedly. It’s true that my generation has birthed some of the most successful student labor activists in decades — bringing college administration after administration to the negotiating table from the 90s through today to increase worker wages on campuses and demand that apparel come from non-sweatshop factories. But as a wider group, we’re pretty apathetic about unions. My college-educated peers have entered the education reform movement in droves, a movement sees unionization of teachers as enemies, not allies. And particularly among that educated group in my generation, there is a growing disconnect between our comfortable lives and the working-class forbears whose pensions and insurance plans helped us achieve that comfort.
It’s finally happened. Earlier this afternoon the House voted 240 to 185 to deny all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Even worse, this was a vote to end all Title X funding — that’s the funding that is devoted to providing preventive health and comprehensive family planning services to low-income families. Planned Parenthood currently receives zero federal funding for abortion, thanks to the Hyde Amendment. So while ostensibly done in the name of anti-abortion policy, today’s amendment sponsored by Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, was really an all-out attack on poor women’s health care.
As Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards said in an email to supporters today:
Minutes ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to bar Planned Parenthood from all federal funding for any purpose whatsoever. That means no funding to Planned Parenthood health centers for birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, HIV testing, and other essential care.
Or as the Awls’ Choire Sicha summed it up more sarcastically: “240 Politicians Come Together in Support of Teens Having STDs.”
I left the country for the first time when I was 23. I stood in line to board the plane, trying to stifle my panic attack, certain that I and everyone else on the flight was going to die, such was my intense fear of flying back then. I thought about turning around and running, regardless of the fact that my luggage was already on board and that I’d look like a maniac in front of everyone. In the end, I remember this sense of calm coming over me, a feeling of well being and security and comfort that on some level, I have yet to feel again. I think a lot about that feeling these days. I’m starting to wonder if I imagined it.
I’ve been unemployed/underemployed/searching for a job for almost nine months now, and to say the least, my consciousness has been shifted. In the past, I’ve believed that all the different parts of myself — the writer, the feminist, the Jew, the educator, the vulnerable, angry motherless child — could not just coexist, but grow each other, make each other stronger. These days, this whole person business seems like a myth. I’m having trouble focusing. I’ve actually stopped following the news. (Apparently there’s been a revolution in Egypt and some white men are trying to redefine rape?)
In “Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’Oréal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good,” Ruth Brandon tells the story of Rubinstein, a self-made cosmetics tycoon who came from a poor Polish-Jewish background, and her battle with L’Oreal founder and Nazi collaborator Eugène Schueller, who acquired her company. The book delves into their lives, and includes one particularly delicious anecdote about how Rubinstein purchased a whole Park Avenue building, after being told that she could not move in because she was Jewish. “Ugly Beauty” also takes a look at gender politics, and the ways in which they are informed by the cosmetics industry.
Medical journalist Randi Hutter Epstein takes into account both science and superstitions for her new book, “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.” The book plumbs medical advances, the shift in attitudes toward reproduction and the ethical questions that today’s high-tech options present. Hutter Epstein also looks at the way in which gynecology has been impacted by numerous taboos and cultural beliefs surrounding childbirth.
In what can only be described as a case of terrible timing, I wrote my previous post reporting on how joyous and safe women were feeling in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Egyptian protests. The post appeared only hours before CBS News made public the brutal attack on journalist Lara Logan in the square.
The description of her attack, as released by CBS, was horrifying on many levels. The New York Post reported: “‘60 Minutes’ correspondent Lara Logan was repeatedly sexually assaulted by thugs yelling, ‘Jew! Jew!’ as she covered the chaotic fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo’s main square Friday, CBS and sources said yesterday.”
Interestingly, the cries of “Jew! Jew!” were not in the initial description of the event released by CBS.
Several Israeli religious leaders have been in the news recently — and not for their piety. Here’s a quick roundup:
• Rabbi Motti Elon is being formally indicted for sexual offenses against two former students, both of whom were minors at the time of the alleged acts, in 2003 and 2005. Meanwhile, in what may either be an ironic twist or perhaps a meeting of the minds, Elon has apparently been teaching classes at the home of former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, who was recently convicted of rape and other sexual offenses. One cannot help but wonder what lessons they are learning together.
• Israeli police issued an arrest warrant against Kiryat Arba chief Rabbi Dov Lior for incitement because of a book he wrote that apparently advocates the murder of non-Jews. Although his supporters are furious and calling the arrest politically motivated, his detractors say that even this arrest is not enough to stop the perceived increase in racist attitudes in the religious community in Israel. This arrest warrant comes on the heels of such events as the rebbetzins’ anti-Arab dating petition, the rabbis’ anti-Arab renting petition, and the refusal of the Emmanuel religious girls’ school to heed Supreme Court directives and allow Sephardic girls to enroll in their school.
Any woman who has spent time in Arab countries was likely to have been particularly impressed by the strong presence of women in the Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests. Whether it is Cairo or any other Arab city, walking around unaccompanied in public is not always a comfortable experience.
But the spirit of fellowship and common cause seemed to have united those who gathered to throw off the reigns of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. And the diverse array of women in the square not only looked as if they were at home, they appeared to be at the center of the action. An Indian television station took a close half-hour look at the women of the Egyptian revolution in a short documentary called “The Women of Tahrir Square.”
The film brings the camera into the crowds, capturing pictures of women of all ages, from teens to mothers with children and babies, from those tented in long black robes, to those wearing colorful headscarves to those in thoroughly modern Western attire. The monitors in charge of checking those who entered the square for weapons were women.
“Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” is the first museum exhibit to explore this unique niche of autobiographical storytelling by Jewish women. The touring exhibit, sponsored by the Forward, features the work of 18 Jewish women artists. The Jewish Women’s Archive — its Jewesses With Attitude blog is a partner of The Sisterhood — is interviewing each of the artists about their work and their experience as a female, Jewish graphic artist.
This week’s interview is with Miss Lasko-Gross, author of “Escape from Special,” based loosely on the author’s life growing up as a Jewish girl in the suburbs, and “A Mess of Everything,” a pseudo-sequel to her first book. “Escape from Special” was nominated for YALSA’s 2008 Great Graphic Novel award and “A Mess of Everything” was named on of Booklist’s top 10 graphic novels of the year in 2010.
Leah Berkenwald: How did you get into cartooning?
Miss Lasko-Gross: Like many cartoonists I started with clumsy imitations of work I admired (Tank Girl, Akira, Love And Rockets etc.) Then moved on to self-publishing and distributing original comics, doing pieces for zines, anthologies and finally becoming a graphic novelist.
Swept into the supermarket on a blast of cold air, my momentary fright is distracted by a tower of sparkling kosher grape and a scarier thought: “What a great price! Better stock up for Pesach.” And this was almost three months ago.
Passover casts its shadow chez-nous in the darkest, shortest days of winter. Like the fashion biz, I work at least a season ahead to prepare for the holiday.
Because a lesson well-learned is usually a hard one: got sloppy once, left too much too late, and wiped out at the seder table. Failed the sobriety test too: couldn’t walk a straight line from dining room to kitchen. Had to be revived by Passover smelling salts: a box of lush chocolates waved under my nose. Came to vowing never again to find myself on hands and knees, stinking of raw gefilte fish, scrubbing the kitchen floor an hour before Yom Tov.
A veteran of some 30 holiday-cleaning runs, I knew that nothing short of a strategic overhaul was necessary to avert future crashes.
A man withholding a Jewish divorce — known as a get — is liable for money damages to his estranged wife, according to a recent decision handed down by a Tel Aviv appeals court.
The January 31 decision dismissing the husband’s effort to overturn a 700,000-shekel [about $188,000] lower court judgment against him for withholding the get offers hope to other wives chained to dead marriages, according to some agunah activists. Others who advocate for agunot say that the case will have no impact outside of Israel. An agunah is a woman who may not remarry because her estranged husband will not give her a divorce.
The couple at the center of the recent Israeli court decision lived together for just three months after their wedding, and the husband has refused to give his wife a get for all of the intervening 16 years since then.
The new appellate court decision means that, unless Israel’s Supreme Court overturns it, it will serve as a precedent in all family law there, according to the Center for Women’s Justice, the Israeli non-profit that has provided legal counsel to the wife since 2004. The Center was successful in framing the legal issue as a matter of damages for a violation of the wife’s human rights.
Last month, The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss wrote post called “In Magazine Journalism, It’s Nowhere Near the End of Men,” using her own survey of magazines to show that male bylines still win out in terms of sheer numbers. And now there’s some serious research to back up her personal accounting. These numbers from VIDA, an organization that promotes women in literary arts, show that in essentially every single literary magazine, book review section or literarily inclined magazine, male bylines considerably trump female ones, as do reviews of books by men.
There’s been lots of excellent discussion of this on the Internet. Laura Miller essentially said that the problem is a matter of male readers not taking female writers seriously. Meanwhile Ruth Franklin of The New Republic crunched some more data to find that there are fewer books being published by women than by men. Even worse, publishing is an industry dominated by women. A friend of mine who works in the industry says she’s been banging her head against the wall all week in the face of these numbers.
So what gives?
Thirty-two-year-old writer and humorist Sloane Crosley has published two books of essays on topics ranging from what not to do in the office (bake cookies shaped like the boss) to how to attend an Alaskan wedding (armed with the definition of “scat”; it means “bear feces”). She spoke about her Jewish cred (her grandmother dated actor Zero Mostel), the backhanded compliments given by men to clever women and making readable art out of her life. Crosley’s most recent collection, “How Did You Get This Number” (Riverhead), a compilation of nine satirical essays, is scheduled for release May 3. Listen to the full interview here.
Allison Gaudet Yarrow: As you tell it in the book, how does a nice Jewish girl end up at confession at Notre Dame?
Sloane Crosley: My friend who is Protestant decided that she wanted to [go]. You wait on line long enough for anything, and [you] start thinking, “I kind of want to confess.” My grandmother is going to do triple salchows in her grave because she was hardcore.
Oh, Lower East Side, Orchard Street. Dated Zero Mostel for a long time. I ended up spitting out “Je suis un Jew” to the priest. It was pretty embarrassing.