Sisterhood Blog

On Women, Bylines and Bestsellers

By Sarah Seltzer

Dial Press
Allegra Goodman

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?

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, Freedom, Elissa Strauss, Bylines, Books, Allegra Goodman

Q&A: Sloane Crosley on 'Chick Lit' and Brisket

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

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.

Hardcore Jewish?

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.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sloane Crosley, "How Did You Get This Number, Paris, " Zero Mostel

The Super Bowl–Sex Trafficking Connection

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

I have a confession to make that may or may not come as a surprise to my friends: I really do not care all that much about the Super Bowl. I would like to say that it’s because I’ve been living outside of the United States since 1993, although if I’m going to be honest, I didn’t care much about the game when I was living stateside either, nor in fact about the entire sport of football. I have a vague image of football season comfort, the kind of stay-inside warmth knowing that nothing important is going to happen out there in the world for an entire day because everyone is watching television. I often crave such moments of nothingness that are increasingly elusive in my life. But of course, for those people who actually care about the Super Bowl, I suppose my sentiment of “nothingness” is akin to blasphemy. As if I was putting down Yom Kippur or something.

Nevertheless, the Super Bowl was on my radar this year because of some intriguing and troubling gender issues that have come to the fore. For one thing, The New York Times reported with some wistfulness that this is the first time in 40 years that there were no cheerleaders at the game. It came as a bit of surprise to me that not all teams have cheerleaders (those who don’t get two points in my book, not that they are points that have any significance to football players).

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Super Bowl, Human Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Football, Cheerleading

Empowering Children To Confront Disney and Despair

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

I’m feeling protective of my children. Perhaps it’s the fact that my baby, Rockerchik, turned 10 last week, that Girlchik is 11 going on 15, and that my eldest will be 17 this week. Now that his college applications are all in, I’m acutely aware that he will soon be leaving home. And I am very much aware of preparing each of them, as best I can, for the next chapters in their lives.

One of the things I am conscious of trying to give them is something I wasn’t aware even existed until I was much older than they are: a sense of their own agency. I want them to be conscious of the power that each has to make change in their lives and in the lives of others. Two stories in the New York Times this week got me thinking about that empowerment.

The first piece shows how vulnerable we are to marketing and merchandising behemoths, such as Disney, which is trying to reach the only segment of the childhood market that they haven’t yet vanquished: newborns. Now they’re targeting mothers who are still in the hospital immediately after giving birth with freebie onesies, festooned, of course, with Disney characters, to try and get them hooked.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Empowerment, Eve Ensler, Disney, Congo, City of Hope, Rape

A Hecksher for Fashion — and an Exposé on Jews in Burqas

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Just when you thought the policing of Haredi women’s appearance couldn’t get more extreme — it does. According to Ynet, a kosher certificate for women’s fashions now exists. An ultra-Orthodox body called “the Committee for the Sanctity of the Camp” has begun supervising clothing stores offering such heckshers in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and Geula.

Here’s how it works: The merchandise of various stores is inspected for sufficient modesty by female inspectors armed with such rabbinical standards as making sure skirts are not too short or necklines too low. Afterwards, the names of those with the official stamp of approval are published in ultra-Orthodox publications, and women urged to buy there. Presumably, those retailers that do not measure up will run the risk of protests, boycotts or worse.

An advertisement taken out for the Committee states that stores that do not sell sufficiently modest clothing are “damaging our camp’s modesty” and “experience shows that there is no other way to defeat this horrible breach other than having rabbis supervise the clothes’ kashrut.”

Modest Western clothing, of course, is not enough for the small but growing cult-like group of Jewish women concentrated in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem who insist on completely draping their bodies in clothing burqa-style.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Haredi, Fashion Hecksher, Burqa, Bracha Ben-Izri, Beit Shemesh, Modesty

Why Jewish Feminists Should Care About the Murder of David Kato

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Getty Images
At the funeral of murdered activist David Kato, mourners pay their respects.

While the world has been watching in nervous anticipation as the situation in Egypt unfolds, other events on the African continent worthy of our attention seem to be eluding the public eye and miss out on a much-needed outcry — especially from Jewish feminists.

David Kato, a Ugandan teacher and outspoken gay rights activist, was murdered last week in his home. This happened right after Kato won a lawsuit against a local tabloid magazine, Rolling Stone, for publishing his photo and name under a banner calling for the execution of 100 LGBT leaders. “Hang them!” the headline read.

Richmond Blake and Rafaela Zuidema interviewed Kato a couple of weeks ago, and wrote about it on The Huffington Post:

A fast talker with emphatic hand gestures, Kato launched into harrowing stories of a transgender friend who was denied medical care after being gang-raped and a fellow LGBT activist who died from what Kato suspected to be poisoning. In defiance of such tragedies, Kato made himself one of the most visible and outspoken LGBT leaders in Uganda and was unceasing in his efforts. … “There aren’t many people now who are willing to stand up and say they support LGBT rights, but I believe we can find those who are open-minded and show them this is a matter of basic human rights,” Kato said confidently.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sexual Assault, Rape, LGBT, Corrective Rape, David Cato

On Tweenage Girls Joining Facebook, Wearing Makeup

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

When I saw this blog post, about attempts by some ultra-Orthodox authorities in Israel to ban Facebook from Haredi homes because the ubiquitous social media site “greatly damages families,” I thought it just another example of the community’s ongoing effort to build the shtetl walls high enough to control people’s behavior.

Then I read this week’s New York magazine cover stories on pornography. Now, New York mag is one of Boychik’s favorite quick reads and I usually pass it along to him after hubs and I are done. But this issue? No way. Next week, he turns 17, and there is no way I’m putting this smut in front of him. The main story is about how social media are contributing to the over-sexualization of teenage girls, and how even 12-year-olds are getting bombarded with hyper-sexual, emotionally disconnected online come-ons. It’s accompanied by pictures of young women in come-hither poses in what appear to be teens’ bedrooms. That there’s a qualifier under the photos — “All models are, by the way, over 18” — doesn’t make it much better. The stories are grotesque and neither well-written nor particularly insightful, and not (attn: New York magazine editors) what I subscribe to New York for.

Bad as that was, it was compounded by the story I woke up to in the Wall Street Journal’s Personal Journal. That article on the front page is about new makeup being marketed to tweenage, and even younger, girls. It includes “before” and “after” shots of a fresh-faced 8-year-old who looks twice that old with the makeup on.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: New York Magazine, Makeup, Haredi, Facebook

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Takes On Bill That Would Redefine Rape

By Sarah Seltzer

house.gov
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of South Florida.

I’ve spent the week reporting on the all-out assault against abortion access that’s happening state-by-state in America right now. It’s a scary scene, demonstrating how quickly many lawmakers will move against women’s bodily autonomy once they gain power.

But on the national level, the most headline-worthy move against women has been a new bill in Congress, H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” or as NARAL calls it, “Stupak on Steroids.” which would not only strip existing abortion funding, it would redefine “rape” as forcible, leaving most instances of sexual assault in a gray area when it comes to abortion funding. In other words, the government can essentially analyze your rape to determine whether it’s worthy of abortion funding. Irin Carmon at Jezebel has an excellent analysis of why this language, even if it was accidental in intention or not really meant to be codified into law, is dangerous just in its existence. Several bloggers have started a #DearJohn Twitter campaign to draw attention to the bill (the John in question being Speaker of the House Boehner).

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Planned Parenthood, John Boehner, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Abortion, Rape

'Graphic Details' Q&A: Sarah Lightman

By Leah Berkenwald

“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, which crossposts regularly with The Sisterhood, is interviewing each of the artists about their work and their experience as a female, Jewish graphic artist. Today we spoke with Sarah Lightman who co-curated the exhibit with Michael Kaminer. Her “Dumped before Valentine’s” series is featured in the exhibit.

Leah Berkenwald: How did you get into cartooning?

Sarah Lightman: Well, firstly I have to admit; I’m not what everyone would consider a ‘Cartoonist’. I make a visual diary of my life that fits more into comics than any other art form and I have found myself very welcome and comfortable in the world of comics.

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Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog, which cross-posts regularly with the Sisterhood.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sarah Lightman, Graphic Details, Cartoons

Breaking the Drywall Ceiling: Israel's Contracting Pioneer

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

For the first time in Israel’s history, the Association of Contractors and Builders in Rishon Lezion elected a woman as its chair. Ofira Golomev, who is set to replace outgoing head Pini Malcha, expressed satisfaction about this development, and noted the historical significance of her appointment. “History was made this week,” she told reporters, “a radical change.”

Although women take up many administrative positions, this is the first time that a woman has held this senior position in any of the local branches, a fact that highlights just how rampant gender disparities are in Israeli working life. Golomev, an attorney by profession, works with the building department of Rishon Lezion and has been influential in advancing many building projects. She recently sat on the national committee that investigated the treatment of evacuees from Gush Katif, and she was also a member of the managing committee of the Nature and Parks Authority.

Established in 1949, the Association has 1,500 members and is recognized as the official representative of Israel’s building industry. In practice, it is a very powerful group in Israel that has a strong influence on building and construction practices around Israel.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Conractor, Ofira Golomev, Association of Contractors and Builders

Gabrielle Giffords's Husband Faces a Choice That a Woman Would Not

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords hugs her spacesuit-clad husband Mark Kelly in 2008.

Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, is facing a big decision: As Giffords begins a long rehabilitation after being shot in the head earlier this month, should he take the helm of the space shuttle Endeavor when it takes off in April on a two-week mission to the International Space Station, or not?

According to this New York Times story, the politician’s husband has long been preparing to captain what may be the last space shuttle flight and, were he to continue on in that role, would have to focus on intensive training from this point forward.

What fascinates me is that he’s even considering it. A woman, were she in his space-boots, would be expected to put taking care of her husband first and set aside her professional ambitions. Our culture wouldn’t even tolerate a woman’s ambivalence about it, let alone serious consideration of proceeding.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mark Kelly, Gabrielle Giffords, Astronaut

Where’s the Concern for Women’s Morals in ‘Conscience Clauses’?

By Sarah Seltzer

A small case in Iowa seems representative of what’s happening in regards to women’s bodies these days. A woman, suffering from uterine bleeding, needed a medication to stop the bleeding. Her nurse called in a valid prescription, but things didn’t go smoothly. As Irin Carmon at Jezebel reports, when the nurse spoke to a pharmacist at an Idaho Walgreen’s, the pharmacist “demanded to know whether the patient had had an abortion, which the nurse refused due to privacy laws. When the nurse asked for a referral, the pharmacist hung up.”

It was a shocking story, and showed how many “pro-life” activists are more concerned with shaming women and feeling smug than actually saving life (although to be fair, even some who call themselves anti-abortion activivsts were appalled by the pharmacist’s callousness). While legal action was sought by Planned Parenthood, which employed the nurse, it’s not clear at this point that the pharmacist directly violated broader so-called “conscience clauses” in place in Idaho, even though the patient’s life was potentially in danger.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Abortion, Abortion-Rights, Anti-Abortion Advocacy, Conscience Clause

Don't Let Men Get the Last Word

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Last night, I had a real moment of despair. I found myself thinking, in order for women to thrive, we really do need, as Virgina Woolf said so long ago, a room of one’s own.

This moment took place in an unlikely venue, in a room almost of our own, as it were. It was a meeting of my local municipality’s women’s council, a volunteer political group composed of the most innovative, intelligent and hard-working women who support the professional work of the Mayor’s Advisor on the Status of Women. This should be the place where women can take charge and set a real social and political agenda. But all it took was one man in the room to dominate in order for all the women’s ideas to get lost.

When I first saw the man in the room, I thought, this is really progressive — a man has joined the women’s council to support women’s work. Last year, he presented a plan to create a sort of administrative center for women’s small businesses, or at least that’s what I thought it was. Turns out, he is merely promoting himself as all-around consultant and adviser to women looking to start a business. As self-serving as it is, it would have been okay had he demonstrated even the slightest respect for women. But he did not.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Assertivenes, Virginia Woolf

'Black Bus' Looks at Women Who Left Hasidic Life

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

In the movie “The Black Bus,” — a selection at the New York Jewish Film Festival — filmmaker Anat Zuria uses the Haredi-run “mehadrin buses” as a metaphor for the lives of two young women who have broken away from their Hasidic communities in Israel.

The movie introduces us to a young woman, photographer-law student Shulamit Weinfeld and re-introduces us to another, Sara Einfeld, a young mother who left the Gur Hasidic community with her two very young children a few years ago. Einfeld gained much attention for her blog “A Hole in the Sheet,” though the blog now seems to have disappeared.

“Black Bus” is a close look at the price paid by women who leave their Hasidic communities. Weinfeld and Einfeld are unable to have contact with their parents or siblings or friends. Even as they explain — to the filmmaker, to Haredi Jews who come to talk with them in the movie — why staying in the community was impossible, you see how much pain they’re in. Particularly heartbreaking are scenes where Einfeld’s young son asks why they can’t go visit his grandmother, and one in which a visitor catches a glimpse of scars where Einfeld cut herself on her inner arms. In the movie, which was originally made for broadcast on Israel television, Weinfeld has left her community just weeks before, after breaking free of an engagement that her parents forced her into. Her sense of abandonment by her parents, and her vulnerability, is heartrending.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: mehadrin, Shulamit Weinfeld, Sara Einfeld, Black Bus, Anat Luria

Prime Ribs: 'Bra-gate'; Ultra-Orthodox Women in the Army; Circumcision and Cervical Cancer

By Elissa Strauss

The Israeli army approves enlistment of 10 ultra-Orthodox women.


Teenagers are turning toward plastic surgery to avoid bullying.


The most liberal Orthodox Jewish rabbinic organization in the United States rejected a proposal to admit women.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Bra-gate, Tullia Zevi, circumcision

What 'Funny Girl' Could Teach 'Black Swan' and 'Country Strong'

By Elissa Strauss

The fact that “Black Swan” and “Country Strong” are both movies about women who are ravaged by fame is hardly a spoiler. Anyone who has seen the films’ trailers — Natalie Portman’s bloody back and Gwyneth Paltrow’s teary battles with the bottle — gets a sense of how these characters’ quests for beauty and success quickly becomes poisonous.

As an alternative to these ravaged women, I would love to take this opportunity to recommend that everyone watches, or re-watches, Funny Girl. Yes, its a bit schmaltzy, a tad long, and, well, a musical, but it still, over 40-years later, manages to be one of the most inspiring portrayals of female ambition I have ever seen.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Barbra Streisand, Country Strong, Black Swan, Funny Girl

'Graphic Details' Q&A: Michael Kaminer

By Leah Berkenwald

What began with a 2008 story about autobiographical comics by Jewish women in the Forward has developed into a touring museum exhibit. Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women is the first exhibit to explore what co-curator Michael Kaminer calls a “unique and prolific niche of graphic storytelling” by Jewish women. The exhibit features the work of 18 Jewish women artists, some of which is being seen by the public for the first time.

We at JWA were taken with this project. We spoke with Michael Kaminer, co-curator and author of “Graphic Confessions of Jewish Women,” the Forward article that started it all. This is the first in a series of interviews; we will be posting weekly interviews with the artists and samples of their work.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: the Forward, Graphic Details, Jewish Women's Archive, Michael Kaminer

'Devora's' All-Woman Production Pushes the Feminist Envelope

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

There is a moment during the performance of the play “Judge! The Song of Devora” when you’re not entirely convinced that this is, in fact, an all-women production. When Sisera, the legendary 12th century Canaanite general described in Judges (chapters four and five) appears on stage played by the inimitable Yael Valier of Efrat, the performance is so convincing as the womanizing, megalomaniacal warrior, that you can momentarily forget that a woman is playing the part. Valier, bursting with charisma, nuance, personality, humor and expressiveness, has the wonderful acting gift of letting you forget for a moment where you are.

Rebecca Kowalsky
Yael Valier as Canaanite general Sisera in “Judge! The Song of Devorah.”

“Judge!” an original play written by Valier and director Toby Klein Greenwald of the religious theater group “Raise Your Spirits”, tells the story of how the biblical heroine Deborah led the Israelites to victory over the Canaanites and provided the Israelites with forty years of peace, their first extended period of calm since Joshua led the people into the Promised Land. Deborah is also the only recorded woman leader of the ancient Israelites, and as such the story raises provocative issues about gender, leadership and Jewish life — then and now.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yael Valier, Toby Kelin Greenwald, Judge! The Song of Devorah

Hadassah's Leadership on Madoff, Fundraising and Growth

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has just voted in a new national president, so we thought it would be a good time to check in with the venerable but embattled organization.

Left, Hadassah’s outgoing president, Nancy Falchuk and incoming president Marcie Natan.

Hadassah recently agreed to pay $45 million to settle with the court-appointed trustee in the Bernard Madoff bankruptcy. The settlement was first announced on December 9, 2010. After investing $33 million over the two decades before Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed in 2008, Hadassah withdrew $137 million. Hadassah raises money in the U.S. and internationally to fund Hadassah hospital and other projects in Israel. The group’s Madoff problem, coupled with the recession, led Hadassah to lay off about one third of its staff in 2008 and 2009, and to undergo a restructuring over the past two years.

Read a Q&A with incoming national president Marcie Natan and outgoing national president Nancy Falchuk after the jump.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Nancy Falchuk, Marcie Natan, Madoff, Hadassah

Why My Mother Spent Her 89th Birthday at a West Bank Checkpoint

By Rachel Biale

My mother recently celebrated her 89th birthday in a most unusual place for a party — the Tayasir Checkpoint, situated in the northeastern West Bank, halfway between Nablus and Jenin.

Sivan Shadmon
The author’s mother, who spent her 89th birthday at Tayasir Checkpoint in Israel’s West Bank.

Barren hills, not yet softened by the green grasses that grow in winters with good rainfall, crowd around an intersection of two roads. One road is open to cars with Israeli license plates, like the one my mother traveled in with her friend Yudit, as well as those of the settlers who live in nearby Jewish outposts. The other road, which heads toward Nablus or Jenin, is open only to Palestinian vehicles. On the Palestinian section of the road is what I refer to here as a “checkpoint,” but the Hebrew term, “machsom,” or barrier, describes it more accurately.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: machsom, Tayasir Checkpoint, IDF



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