Sisterhood Blog

On the 'Redemption' of Chris Brown

By Sarah Seltzer

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Chris Brown

Like Elana, I was riveted by the Grammys Sunday. There were so many narratives, from the tragic passing of Whitney Houston to the triumph of Adele. But also like Elana, there was one narrative I could seriously have done without: the “redemption” of Chris Brown a mere three years, and zero signs of genuine contrition, since the night he seriously beat his then-girlfriend, Rihanna.

Since then Brown has worked hard to advance the narrative that he has been somehow victimized — and childishly trashed his dressing room at “Good Morning America” when the host dared to ask him about the incident.

But then he sold a lot of records, and he was welcomed back with open arms.

Now let me be clear: I do believe that we are all human, that it is possible to make up for past mistakes, even grave ones. I also note that other known abusers — many of them — have showed up on that Grammy stage (or similar Oscar and Emmy and ESPY stages) and been feted, some deservedly at the end of their careers, some ill-advisedly.

But what so disturbed DV advocates and women, I think, was how unquestionably, how uncritically and how soon Chris Brown was asked back to that stage.

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Rihanna, Whitney, Madonna and Adele

By Elana Sztokman

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Adele with her six (count them!) Grammys.

This year’s Grammy Awards were punctuated by some striking gender messages worth noting.

First was the appearance of Chris Brown, convicted woman-beater, greeted with the kinds of cheers usually reserved for returned astronauts or war heroes. The poster child for how to beat women and still be a rock star won a Grammy for Best R&B Album, and the cameras did not even bother hinting at Brown’s dark side by, say, cutting to Rihanna, his 2009 punching bag, and reminding the audience whom they were cheering. Even worse were some of the tweets of the evening: @_anniegregg tweeted, “He can beat me up all night if he wants,” as did dozens of others, like @carmnem who said, “I wish chris brown would punch me.” Pretty frightening stuff. So much awareness about issues of domestic violence.

Against this backdrop was the tribute to Whitney Houston, who died the day before the award ceremony. It is fascinating to me how her untimely death keeps being referred to as a story about how drugs can ruin one’s life. (New York Times, for example.) Yet the fact that she, like Rihanna, lived the life of an abused woman has emerged as a sort of secondary threat. While we don’t yet know how Whitney Houston actually died, the fact is, three women a day die at the hands of their intimate partners in the United States, according to NOW. Living with an abusive poses at least as many dangers to a woman’s health as substance abuse. It just seems odd to me that Houston’s death has become a kind of gender-neutral story about drugs rather than a story about a life completely ruined by a dangerous relationship.

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Shoshannah Stern Takes a Silent Stand Against Sexual Violence

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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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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When Domestic Abuse Leads to Murder

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Less than a year after she was married, Inbal Chen, a 29-year old woman from Kiryat Motzkin, Israel, was killed last week — and her husband is the prime suspect.

If Inbal’s husband is found to have committed the crime, and it’s still very much a matter of if, it would be the third case of uxoricide, or wife-murder, in Israel since February. In this case, like in so many others, neighbors said they saw no external signs that something like this would take place. In fact, the couple’s wedding video was circulating on the Internet before the murder took place, and afterwards was used as further “proof” that the couple seemed perfectly “normal.”

Wife-murder is the most extreme form of spousal abuse, and almost always comes as an escalation, not as a first abusive event, according to Jewish Women International, a wonderful organization that runs domestic abuse education programs for community leaders, clergy and the general public. Abuse tends to build up gradually, beginning with verbal and emotional abuse, and only afterward physical violence. It is not entirely unheard of, however, for the first act of physical abuse to be a murder attempt.

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Murder of Young Mother Brings Issue of Domestic Abuse to the Fore

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Fearing for her life at the hands of her ex-husband, Almo Masarat, a 20-year-old Petach Tikva resident, went to the police last week. She waited around watching clerks shuffle her around like a paper clip on a desk. Eventually she gave up, telling family members that the police were not helping her. Half an hour later, her ex-husband, who was waiting in the shadows by the entrance to her apartment, allegedly killed her. She was found by neighbors in a bloody pool outside her apartment as her 3-year old son sat next to her, wailing.

Although police apathy towards domestic violence is an old story, what is perhaps surprising is that the situation for women does not seem to have improved much over 30 years, despite ongoing efforts by women’s organizations and other activists. Moreover, the situation for Ethiopian women in Israel, arguably one of the most marginalized groups in the country, is particularly stark. According to statistics released last week by the organization “L.O.,” which fights violence against women, one out of every five women murdered by her husband is Ethiopian — even though Ethiopian Jews make up less than 2% of Israel’s population.

Of the 115 women murdered by their husbands since 2001, 22 have been Ethiopian.

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Why Do Men's Voices Lend Credibility to Jewish Women's Issues?

By Elana Sztokman

As a woman, I sometimes feel like I’m in a catch-22. I want to bring attention to issues concerning women, but I also want men to pay attention. When women are doing all the talking, we run the risk of marginalizing ourselves, of turning our ideas into “women’s stuff.” By inviting men to speak about women’s issues, we may gain credibility and breadth, but we contribute to the problem by having men speak on our behalf, muting our voices once again.

I found myself in this frustrating predicament the other day. I was speaking on a panel at a conference organized by Rabbi Marc Angel’s Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah. The conference, titled, “Is Modern Orthodoxy an Endangered Species?” examined mostly theoretical issues facing Modern Orthodoxy today, but included also a discussion of conversion as well as a panel —the one I participated in — on the issue of agunot and mesoravot get, women denied divorce. The panel consisted of Susan Weiss, founder of the Center for Women’s Justice, and me, representing Mavoi Satum, the organization that provides a package of legal and social services to agunot.

While I fully applaud the inclusion of this critical issue in the conference, I confess that I had mixed feelings about the fact that we were effectively two women on stage.

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Jewish Playmates, Jewish Gospel and a Jewish President

By Gabrielle Birkner

Big Brother Rabin: From her home on Kibbutz Manara in the Galilee, Yitzhak Rabin’s sister, Rachel, recalls in Haaretz the siblings’ Tel Aviv upbringing, the children of a “tempestuous revolutionary” mother, during the 1920s and 1930s.

Ask the Experts: Nishmat, an organization that certifies female advisors on Jewish law, or yo’atzot halacha, recently lifted the 10-year restriction that had been placed on those certifications. The growth in the number of women undergoing fertility treatments and hormone therapies has increased the demand for female advisors, the Jerusalem Post reports.

’Breaking Free’: j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California has a cover story on Jewish women recovering from domestic violence — and the Bay Area nonprofit using “Jewish healing rituals” to help these move on with their lives after abuse.

Paging Dr. Christina Yang: In an interview with Jewschool, Olivia Cohen-Cutler, an ABC television exec and the chairwoman of the Morningstar Commission — formed 12 years ago to counteract stereotypical portrayals of Jewish women in the media — discusses the increasingly diverse roles for Jewish women on TV.

On Second Thought: Jewish women continue to be cast in role of exotic outsider. Tablet has a piece about the Fox television hit “Glee,” in which the character of Rachel (actress Lea Michele, above) is a token Jew whose “ethnic looks clash nicely with the blond midwesterness of the ‘Cheerios,’ the cheerleaders who serve as her ostensible rivals.”

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A ‘Silent Agreement’ Between Batterers and Their Victims?

By Nathan Jeffay

An Israeli academic has come up with a theory about domestic violence that is, at once, extremely disturbing and somewhat hopeful.

Eila Perkis of the University of Haifa’s School of Social Work claims in a new paper that violence between couples is usually the result of a calculated decision-making process.

Her theory is that neither partner sits down and plans when he or she will swear or lash out at the other, but there is a sort of “silent agreement” standing between the two on what limits of violent behavior are acceptable, where the red line is drawn, and where behavior beyond that could be dangerous. (She stresses that this in no way excuses violence.)

In short, while violent partners often describe their behavior as “loss of control,” this doesn’t tell the whole story; rather, she’s says, it is conduct of a pre-determined kind triggered by anger or conflict.

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Domestic Abuse: ‘A Pre-Existing Condition’

By Leah Berkenwald

Last Friday, Michelle Obama spoke to leaders of several women’s groups arguing that “overhauling the nation’s health care system was of critical importance to women and part of ‘the next step’ in their long quest to assure full opportunity and equality.” With healthcare reform at the forefront, it is becoming more and more obvious that the status quo is sexist, unfair and often dangerous for women. For the first time in a long time, I am getting angry.

Maybe I’m angry because, often, Viagra is covered by health insurance but birth control is not, even though it is often used to treat crippling abdominal cramps and other menstrual symptoms. Maybe I’m angry because while contraception benefits both partners in a heterosexual relationship, the onus of seeking and paying for birth control always falls on the woman.

Or maybe I’m angry because I recently found out that a number of health insurance companies deny women coverage, citing “domestic violence” as a pre-existing condition. Excuse me? As Feministe explains, this is “blaming the victim” at its worst. Essentially, this policy reinforces the belief that only “weak” women get physically abused, and that weakness is so much of a liability that such a woman is not eligible for health insurance. Not only is this ideologically repulsive, it denies healthcare coverage to women who are experiencing violence and have an immediate, physical need for healthcare services.

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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 weekly with the Sisterhood.

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