Sisterhood Blog

In Defense of Grunters

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Getty Images
Victoria Azarenka

The head of Wimbledon, which began this week, is asking for less grunting from female tennis players during their matches. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, conveyed that tennis umpires were becoming more uncomfortable with the increasing length and volume of the sounds accompanying tennis serves, called grunts. He believes greener players have an “education problem” about the issue.

There are many international tennis tournaments each year, and a number of these are high profile, but it seems that women tennis players are publicly scolded for grunting only when Wimbledon rolls around; the Sisterhood first wrote about this phenomenon nearly two years ago. Then, it was Russia’s Maria Sharapova who was being criticized for the decibels her grunts reached (yes, officials measure). Now, it’s Victoria Azarenka of Belarus who is being reprimanded.

Azarenka says the grunts improve her game. Perhaps it is emblematic of the power of her serve; perhaps it works against her competitor’s concentration.

Whatever the reason, it seems that there is more heat focused on female players when it comes to these noises than their male counterparts. After all, there are men who grunt, too.


Making Work More Humane, Balance More Feasible

By Sarah Seltzer

Ah, women and ambition. If I could untie this knot, I’d be on national tour with my bestselling self-help book.

Elissa, in this Sisterhood post, is right, of course, that the issues brought up by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg in her recent speeches, as vital as they ar, (and as much as I felt personally touched and invigorated by them), are missing a piece — that is, social and political will to improve women’s lives by making paid maternity leave mandatory, by passing anti-discrimination and sick leave measures that would allow women to charge ahead while also caring for kids, aging relatives, and ourselves without getting penalized. Added to this, of course, are the unspoken social rules which affect women’s psyches and the perception of our behavior — rules about when it’s acceptable to look out for oneself first, when it’s acceptable to value advancement over loyalty, when it’s acceptable to demand more of your family, your friends, your boss.

And the missing piece that I’m referring to is the same piece that’s been long absent in media coverage of women’s advancement in the workplace and the never-ending “mommy wars.”

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How Celebrity Gawking Reveals Our Deepest Fears

By Hinda Mandell

Getty Images
Anthony Weiner

I read with great interest Jordana Horn’s Sisterhood post about the public fascination with high-profile downfalls. That’s partly because I approach scandal from the opposite direction. I don’t think it’s helpful to quash talk about a topic that clearly interests people. I think it’s more helpful to ask why we — the public and the media — are so incredibly seduced by Anthony Weiner and the like, and the tawdry circumstances they’ve created.

Jordana, one of the things that piqued my interest about your post is the way that your opening argument, effectively, spreads potential gossip. While you don’t name the famous man “everyone knows” is guilty of philandering, you share news of his illicit behavior anyway. Being the naturally curious person I am, I’m still trying to figure out the protagonist of your story. So instead of diminishing our interest in gossip and scandal, you are in fact cultivating it.

That brings me to my second point. Why are we so interested in these sordid tales of people who have nothing to do with us? The thing is, these people — whether it’s the man Jordana alludes to, Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger or John Edwards — have everything to do with us.

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What Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In' Speech Left Out

By Elissa Strauss

Barnard College/Asiya Khaki
Sheryl Sandberg at Barnard commencement, 2011.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s recent Barnard commencement address has become one of the most popular of the season. It has been linked to a quoted all over the Internet; the Forward excerpted it and so, too, did The New York Times. And right on.

Sandberg gave a no-nonsense, no apologies plea for feminine ambition. She reminded the class of 2011 that despite gains in education — she said that women have been 50% of college graduates since 1981 — men still run the world:

Of 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of those seats are held by women. Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women; numbers which have not moved at all in the past nine years. Nine years. Of full professors around the United States, only 24% are women.

Sandberg’s two main pieces of advice to remedy gender inequality are for women to “think big” and believe in themselves, and to not prematurely curtail our ambitions because of the work/life choices we might have to make down the line when we have children.

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Why We Can't Get Enough of 'Teen Mom,' Weinergate

By Sarah Seltzer

For the past few days, I’ve been planning to write about a young woman from the “Teen Mom” series on MTV and her apparent suicide attempt. I’ve been pondering this genre of “teen fertility reality TV” for a long time, particularly whether there’s a genuine educational benefit and how that benefit might weigh against the toll the instant celebrity takes on the young, troubled women who are its stars.

But I kept getting sidetracked from this line of thought by reading my fellow Sisterhood bloggers’ incisive thoughts on the fallout from the Anthony Weiner scandal and feeling like I should weigh in, too.

I particularly appreciated the opinion that the media’s behavior throughout this week has been appalling. Perhaps the most egregious example of this was at Nancy Pelosi’s press conference last week, when she was discussing the budget, unemployment and other crucial issues. When she announced she wouldn’t be answering queries about Weinergate, the major networks stopped their feeds. These networks clearly demonstrated their priorities about which moral crisis mattered to them — the one facing a single hapless congressman versus the one facing most of the country.

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At Tournament, Naama Shafir Wears Observance on Her Sleeves

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

University of Toledo
Naama Shafir

For several weeks, it appeared that Naama Shafir’s shoulders would stand between her and an opportunity to play basketball on an international level as part of Israel’s national team. But in the end, she was able to take to the court.

Shafir, the Orthodox Israeli basketball star whom the Forward profiled here, has overcome numerous challenges in making the most of her athletic talent without sacrificing her religious observance. But after the young player has managed to accommodate the Sabbath and kashrut laws at the University of Toledo for nearly three years, she ran into trouble in Europe because of her unwillingness to take off her T-shirt.

In her career as a U.S. college player, it hasn’t bothered officials that Shafir wears a T-shirt underneath her sleeveless jersey, covering her shoulders in order to maintain her personal level of modesty. But playing as a member of the Israeli national team, she was told that international basketball regulations require uniforms to be uniform.

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Keeping (Saudi and Skverer) Women Out of the Driver's Seat

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Today is the day that women in Saudi Arabia are taking to the streets — behind the wheel of their husbands’ cars, that is. June 17 is the day selected by women’s rights activist Manal Al-Sharif for women to get out there and protest the kingdom’s ban on women driving. Last month, after Al-Sharif posted a video of herself driving, she was arrested and jailed for nine days.

Today, women nationwide are expected to be driving in protest “to see if they get thrown in the clink en masse,” wrote New York Times Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd.

Even billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, known as “the Arabian Warren Buffet” for being the country’s richest man, is calling for a lift of the ban, Dowd wrote. After all, he told her:

We’re not calling for diplomatic relations with Israel. We’re just asking for ladies to drive the car. Please, give me a break. Even in North Korea, women can drive. It’s a joke. The issue of women driving can happen tomorrow morning because it’s not really an issue at all. Frankly speaking, we need strong political leadership to do it and get it behind us. What are we waiting for?

Just an hour north of New York City, the Hasidic enclave of New Square bans women from driving or even walking on the same side of the street as men, as Andrew Tobin wrote in last week’s Forward. Steven I. Weiss wrote in these pages back in 2005 about when New Square’s rabbis formalized their community’s custom of banning women from behind the wheel.

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Our Obsession With Cheaters

By Jordana Horn

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.

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The Jewish Opposition to Circumcision

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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.

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Naomi Wolf: Trapped by Her Own 'Beauty Myth'

By Elana Sztokman

Getty Images
Naomi Wolf

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.

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Bridges, a Jewish Feminist Journal, Says Goodbye

By Chanel Dubofsky

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.

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In Williamsburg, Wearing Tank Tops or Nothing at All

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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.

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Making Room for Ima on the Bima

By Jill Levy

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.

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Shoshannah Stern Takes a Silent Stand Against Sexual Violence

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images
Shoshannah Stern

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.

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In Israel, a Call To End Anonymous Sperm Donation

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

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.

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Don't Lump Weinergate With Schwarzenegger, DSK Scandals

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images
Rep. Anthony Weiner

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.

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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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