Sisterhood Blog

The Fascination With Murderous Moms

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Florida Department of Corrections
Casey Anthony’s mugshot.

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.

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Jewish Allies on Marriage Equality

By Sarah Seltzer

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.

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Weiner's Wife's Pregnancy Drives Home Couple's Divergent Priorities

By Jordana Horn

Getty Images
Huma Abedin with her boss, Hillary Clinton.

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.


On Shavuot, Women Asked To Walk a Longer Kotel Route

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Wikimedia Commons

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.

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Weiner's Jewish Problem

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
Anthony Weiner

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.

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If Ruth the Moabite Had Sought Israeli Citizenship

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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.

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Meeting Our Grown Children Where They Are

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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.

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On Jewesses Embracing Their 'Slutty' Reputation

By Elissa Strauss

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.

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Decoding Rihanna's 'Man Down' Message

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Getty Images
Rihanna accepting a Billboard Music Award in May.

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.

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V.S. Naipaul Just Doesn't Understand Jane Austen

By Sarah Seltzer

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.”

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Earth to the Egyptian Army: Non-Virgins Can Be Raped

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

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.

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Just How Important Is Gender?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

On one hand, the sex of a baby appears not to be important. At least it’s not for the Toronto couple that has been in the news lately for refusing to reveal their baby’s gender. On the other hand, expectant couples seemingly obsessed with their unborn child’s sex are now having “gender cake” parties, as Marjorie Ingall reported on Tablet.

According to Ingall, these parties culminate a process in which the mother’s obstetrician hides a note with the baby’s gender inside a sealed envelope, which is passed on to the bakery, where either a blue or pink cake is baked and covered in a neutral color fondant (or basic icing, if you’re less fancy). Once the couple excitedly cuts the cake at a prenatal shower, the gender cat is out of the bag — or, in this case, out from under a thick layer of sugary goo.

Personally, I preferred finding out my three children’s genders only once it was the umbilical cord that was cut, and when it was the babies themselves who were covered in a different kind of goo.

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Poignant Words From Accuser in NYPD Rape Case

By Sarah Seltzer

More than two years ago, a young woman came forward about a pair of police offers who had been called to escort her from a taxi to her home because she was too drunk to make it alone. She said the officers came back to her apartment and that she came to consciousness to find one of the men raping her.

We still don’t know her name, but we know a lot more about how she feels after the ordeal of pressing charges against the two officers in a rape case that was watched around the country. The idea that law enforcement officials would take advantage of the person they were charged to protect caught the attention of many, as did the video footage showing the cops returning several times to the woman’s apartment, and recordings of a bogus 911 call they allegedly placed in order to put themselves at the scene.

The offers were fired and convicted of lesser charges; but the jury’s “not guilty” verdict on the rape charges prompted widespread shock, difficult conversations about how society views rape and even an impromptu rally.

Last night, the alleged victim, 29 and now living in California, released a statement that was utterly compelling and shed light on her ordeal.

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Calling on Men To Boycott Homogenous Panel Discussions

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

It’s time for male leaders in the Jewish community to step up and boycott invitations to participate in conferences and panel discussions when women are not part of the main lineup.

Nathan Guttman’s recent Sisterhood post details the absence of women from the main stage at AIPAC’s recent annual policy conference, and even suggests which pro-Israel female political heavyweights could have been invited to speak during plenary sessions. Rabbi Joanna Samuels made a similar point last year; her post also mentions the absence of female speakers at the previous year’s AIPAC conference.

The magazine Good points to the same problematic issue, calling on the white men, who most often populate these panels, to boycott them until they become more diverse. The Good story focuses on an upcoming panel discussion on “The Future of Media,” which is being conducted under the auspices of the website “I Want Media.” On that panel there is but one woman, The New York Observer’s editor in chief Elizabeth Spiers, speaking along with half a dozen men.

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On Raising Asian-Jewish Children

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Kim/Leavitt Family
Kim and Leavitt, with their son, Ari.

The recent Forward article “Raising Children on Kugel and Kimchi, and as Jews” centered on a new study that found that many families in which one parent is Jewish and the other is Asian are raising their children as Jews. The research was conducted by a married couple of sociologists, Helen Kim, who is of Korean descent, and Noah Leavitt, who is Jewish. Having written a post for The Sisterhood about the stereotypes about Jewish men and Asian women that are found in popular media — a post that garnered quite a few pointed comments — I was eager to get a behind-the-scenes look at Kim and Leavitt’s methodology and findings. The researchers spoke recently with The Sisterhood.

Renee Ghert-Zand: How did you end up choosing the specific 37 couples that ended up being the sample in your study?

Helen Kim: We worked with Be’chol Lashon. They helped us send out a screening survey. There were waves of responses. We recruited people based on where they were in the queue of 250 or so responses as they came in. We also chose couples so there was a wide range of different demographic variables: ethnicity, religious affiliation and religiosity, kids or no kids, age. For instance, we didn’t want to have an overrepresentation of Chinese-Americans.

The age range of your sample was large. What were the major differences between older couples and younger ones?

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Prime Ribs: Farewell, Oprah; the (Haredi) Queen of the Petit Four; Gender-Bending

By Gabrielle Birkner

Jews may have long ago perfected the art of over-sharing, but it was Oprah who turned millions of other Americans onto the concept. She signed off Wednesday, after 25 years of hosting her wildly popular television talk show.


Haaretz profiles Efrat Libfroind is an ultra-Orthodox mother of six — and Israel’s reigning queen of the petit four.


A Toronto couple is attempting to keep the gender of their baby, named Storm, a secret.) They told friends via email, “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation….” About two years ago, The Sisterhood’s Debra Nussbaum Cohen came out against a similar gender-bending experiment.


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has confirmed the nomination of Israel’s first female major-general, Orna Barbivai. Of Barbivai’s appointment, opposition leader Tzipi Livni said, “There is no rank that is too heavy for a woman’s shoulders, and there is no doubt that Brig.-Gen. Barbivai was appointed because of her talents.”


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On Defying Odds, and Staying Faithful

By Jordana Horn

Getty Images
Actor Jon Hamm plays the serial cheater Don Draper on Mad Men.

My husband and I, having missed “Mad Men” as it was on the air, have watched all four seasons of the show on DVD. At first, we tried to keep track of the number of Don Draper’s sexual partners. We eventually lost count. Don had a pretty diverse sex life, particularly for a suburban husband (until recently) and father of three. But apparently, that makes sense. After all, recent stories in the news — Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child with his housekeeper, former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged sexual assault on a Sofitel housekeeper — are only riffs on an age-old theme. Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton. And the list goes on, and on and on. People, and apparently mostly men, cheat on their partners.

Moving beyond mere anecdote, statistics are equally, if not more, troubling. In “NOT ‘Just Friends,’” a book by Dr. Shirley Glass, the author states that “at least one or both parties in 50% of all couples, married and living together, straight and gay, will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during the lifetime of the relationship.” Yes, that’s right — all of the stories of tawdry encounters in hotel rooms don’t even begin to address the more sticky area of emotional infidelity and disloyalty to a partner. It all adds up to a grim picture.

Really, infidelity stories are absolutely everywhere. I challenge you to find a single television show, or month of a newspaper, in which there is no mention of someone (so often a man) cheating on a spouse or partner. The deluge of disloyalty can make you wonder: Is every guy out there unfaithful? I’ll stand up in defense of men and say, no.

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JTS Ordains Its First Openly Gay Rabbi

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Courtesy of Rachel Isaacs
Rachel Isaacs

Rachel Isaacs has known, for as long as she can remember, that she wanted to be a rabbi. But Isaacs, who on May 19 became the first openly gay rabbi of either sex to be ordained by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, knew by the time she was in college that she wouldn’t be able to become a Conservative rabbi because JTS, at the time, did not ordain gay clergy.

When the Conservative movement changed its policy five years ago, after nearly two decades of painful and divisive debate, Isaacs was in her first year of rabbinical school at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — and deeply immersed in her studies there. “I loved my teachers and classmates and couldn’t imagine being someplace else. I was happy for the [Conservative] movement but was unsure what it meant for me personally,” she said.

After returning to the U.S. from Israel, where she learned in yeshiva and began her studies at HUC, she moved to Brooklyn and joined the Park Slope Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue with an openly lesbian rabbi (Full disclosure: I’m a PSJC member.) “My thinking shifted. It was a living expression of the Judaism I believed in and wanted to foster as a rabbi. It’s a community that is progressive and traditional and has an openly lesbian rabbi. The more I was at PSJC, the more I thought ‘this is what I want to do.’ “

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Women Largely Absent From AIPAC's Stage

By Nathan Guttman

It was an impressive line-up of speakers, by any standard. Organizers of the annual AIPAC policy conference, which ended Tuesday in Washington, managed to book the President of the United States, Prime Minister of Israel and top Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress.

But there was an obvious omission from AIPAC’s stage: a woman.

Women politicians and experts were featured speakers at the smaller breakout sessions and in closed-door meetings throughout the conference, but none as keynote speakers at the plenary sessions — those mega-gatherings in which all AIPAC’s 10,000 delegates get together to listen to leaders pledge their friendship to Israel, and address the current state of relations between the U.S. and the Jewish state.

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Babes in Boyland: The Sisterhood Goes to Hollywood

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
Jewish actresses Roseanne Barr and Fran Drescher

Jewess with much attitude (and talent) Roseanne Barr wrote in this recent New York magazine article about the rampant sexism that exists in Hollywood even two decades after she tried to take down those barriers with her television show “Roseanne.”

Barr rightly takes credit for developing and starring in “television’s first feminist and working-class-family sitcom (also its last).” Now, as she points out in the piece, “all over the tube you will find enterprising, over-medicated, painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives. But I’m not bitter.”

Roseanne is the kind of feminist who leads some to think feminism is always preceded by the word “angry,” but she’s also the kind of woman who makes the kinds of waves that change things, at least a little. She’s also the kind of feminist who has embraced plastic surgery, though the photo of her with the New York magazine story shows a woman who appears to look her age.

Looking her age puts her at odds with many of the women I saw this past weekend on a jaunt to Los Angeles.

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