Sisterhood Blog

#FreetheNipple for the Win

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

Ladies and gentleman, the nipples have been freed. A few weeks ago Facebook quietly changed its policy on allowing pictures of breastfeeding moms.

A Facebook representative told CNET: “We have always allowed breast-feeding photos — it is natural and beautiful and we know that it’s important for mothers to share their experiences with others on Facebook.”

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Sheryl Sandberg's Impossible Solution

By Renee Ghert-Zand

getty images
Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook Chief Operating Officer and newly self-styled feminist leader Sheryl Sandberg wants women to “Lean In,” as the title of her new book tells us, instead of “pulling back.” Well, let me tell you — I’ve been leaning in for two decades until the point that I am almost flat on my face from exhaustion.

The first thing one might ask is: where the heck is this woman coming from, telling other women that “we hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands,” and that this is why “men still run the world”?

I know exactly where Sandberg is coming from: a 9,200 square foot home in Menlo Park, Calif., which sits on property she and her husband bought for almost $3 million. She’s also coming from a situation in which she has “a small army of household help,” according to a recent article by Jodi Kantor in The New York Times.

I can assure you that I have always been one to raise my hand (just ask any teacher, professor or boss I have ever had.) Sure, I’ve had my moments of self-doubt, but most people would not characterize me as someone who lacks self-confidence.

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I'm A Facebook Mom — But Not Why You Think

By Elissa McDuffie Brown

Elissa McDuffie Brown
Elissa McDuffie Brown with her daughter Camden.

This essay is in response to Elissa Strauss’ “Why I Don’t Post Photos of My Baby on Facebook.”

I used to get a kick out of the stereotypically prideful mother, the one who shows wallet-sized photos of her children to anyone within eyeshot. It seemed she was desperately seeking praise for perfectly coordinated outfits and candid smiles peering out from the generic background of a department store photo shoot. That will never be me, I thought. Ever.

And then I became a mom. While I have not subjected my toddler to a photography session at the local mall, I certainly fit into a more current stereotype: the Social Media Mom. Like many proud parents in this age of over-sharing, I regularly post pictures of my daughter on Facebook and Instagram. A lot of pictures. From her first messy bites of avocado as an infant to the precious tears she cried because the library was closed a few weeks ago, I post it all.

Superficially, I do this because it’s an easy way to share photos with family and friends we don’t see on a regular basis. But I also recognize that my entire Facebook network doesn’t need to bear witness to every mundane activity and milestone.

So why do it? Why post photos of my daughter eating a sandwich or swinging at the park when they only generate a handful of “likes” and a couple of comments from the same five relatives?

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Hello Husband, Goodbye Friends?

By Simi Lampert

Thinkstock

This post is the eighth in “Feminist, Orthodox and Engaged,” a series by Simi Lampert on love, sex and betrothal in the life of a Modern Orthodox woman.

I got a text the other day from a friend: “Try not to become one of those mundane married people like everyone else.” He and I had been talking about marriage, vaguely, so it wasn’t necessarily out of the blue, but it really hit home.

I wasn’t so much offended by the implications of the message as I was worried about the potential accuracy of the prediction. Will I become one of those boring married people? The type of woman who never leaves the house and whose only Facebook posts consist of pictures of the food she made that night for her husband? I have too many Facebook friends blocked from my newsfeed for doing just that to think it’s just a stereotype. This happens. And I’m dangerously close to becoming That Woman.

I could already see it happening, and I wanted to take future married Simi and shake her by the shoulders and shout, “Go out! See your friends! Do something immature and stupid that you’ll regret in the morning, and for God’s sake don’t come home before midnight!”

Many of my friends are college students, and from their perspective even the most boring night includes visiting friends all over the dorm, so married life probably seems the height of dullness. Where was the adventure, the carpe diem that couples had before they got married? Why do married people all talk about cooking and new dishes and work? How could they be satisfied just curling up at the end of the day and watching TV when there was so much to do outside? (And then, eventually, the horror of becoming the couples who only talk about their kids!)

Not all married couples are like this, and even when they are, who’s to say they’re boring and not happy with the simple pleasures in life?

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In Zuckerberg Nuptials, No 'Intermarriage' Talk

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Allyson Magda Photography
Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg

Mazel tov, Priscilla and Mark! You pulled it off: a surprise wedding. What was supposed to be a medical school graduation party for a newly minted M.D. turned out to be an event in which she collected a M.R.S. degree and also wedded a newly minted billionaire.

The wedding was strategically timed to happen the day after the huge news of Facebook’s IPO, which priced the company at more than $100 billion. The news was still being assimilated and the world was focused on the fluctuating stock of Zuckerberg’s compan — not his personal life.

Reactions to the wedding have been largely confined to the gossip columns, ranging from speculation over the existence of a prenup to the designer of Priscilla’s wedding dress to who sang at the reception.

In all of the coverage and commentary, however, there was no mention of intermarriage. The fact that a Zuckerberg was marrying a Chan never entered the conversation. Not only has criticism or condemnation been absent, but the fact that the bride was Chinese and the groom Jewish has barely been mentioned in any of the reports or reactions to the wedding.

What is most remarkable about this decision by America’s highest-profile Jew to intermarry is that there was nothing remarkable about it.

Part of it was that the Zuckerberg-Chan union came as no surprise. The couple has been together since college. He has been describing himself as an atheist for years and has no visible connection to Jewish life or religion. There was no reason why his longtime girlfriend’s faith or ethnic background would be any impediment to marriage.

The non-reaction to the marriage is evidence of a long journey in just a few generations. American Jews have long been light-years away from the mindset of turn-of-the-past-century Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” who banishes his daughter Chava from his sight after she eloped with a non-Jew. The Broadway audiences watching “Fiddler” in the 60s and 70s already viewed his reaction as extreme and outdated. Yet, they could still identify and understand Tevye’s disappointment and anger, which many of them would have had to face when they brought home their first non-Jewish boyfriend or girlfriend.

By the 1980s and 1990s, when I came of age in the U.S., anger over intermarriage was already considered déclassé. A certain measure of parental disappointment was acceptable, as long as they quickly got over it. My parents stayed quiet when I introduced them to my non-Jewish boyfriends, but made it clear to me they were hoping that eventually I’d be standing under the chuppah with somebody Jewish, and that if I didn’t, they would be disappointed — that disappointment would likely have been channeled into finding indirect ways to pressure me into creating a Christmas tree-less home and sending my half-Jewish kids to Hebrew school. It is likely that I would have intermarried Chelsea Clinton-style — with an attempt to assuage everyone’s discomfort with a shout-out to the religions of both the bride and the groom.

The Clinton interfaith nuptials two years ago, unlike Zuckerberg’s, did, in fact, kick-start a conversation about intermarriage in the Jewish community. But the parents of the bride and groom themselves had no comment. Today, expressing disappointment when your child marries a non-Jew is more unusual. Expressing that feeling is viewed as insensitive and politically incorrect — as is any attempt to encourage conversion or pressuring the couple to agree to raising their children Jewish.

Read more at Haaretz.com

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Will Facebook Finally Put a Woman on Its Board?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

getty images
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg

Here’s a status update Facebook probably won’t be happy about: Several dozen feminist activists are descending on the company’s Manhattan office to protest that not one woman sits on Facebook’s board of directors.

It is somewhat surprising, even given the board’s small size (7), since its second-higest-ranking executive at the social network company, COO Sheryl Sandberg, is a woman, and it doesn’t take much seichel (common sense) to know that it is smart to have a board of directors that does not consist solely of white men, particularly when you are preparing to take the company public.

“Women are 58 percent of Facebook users and are responsible for the vast majority of sharing on the network,” Nita Chaudhary, a co-founder of the women’s rights group Ultraviolet, which organized the protest. The 58% number comes from a PEW Internet and American Life Project study.

Ultraviolet launched in February in the wake of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood. The group has already had more than 300,000 people sign on to its petitions, Chaudhary said, on issues ranging from getting companies to drop their sponsorship of Rush Limbaugh’s radio program to wage discrimination.

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What Banning Facebook Is Really About

By Elana Sztokman

Facebook is forbidden among Chabad teenage girls, as The Sisterhood told you — and as the Forward reports here. This reflects a blatant double standard, the report points out, because the movement has widely embraced technology to spread its message, but refuses to allow its own youth to use these tools.

But Chabad’s double standard in its relationship to secular society is only one part of the problem. It seems to me that the story of girls being forbidden from using Facebook and other internet tools is less about Chabad’s missionary stance and more about their view of women and girls. After all, it is only girls whose school is handing out $100 fines and having mothers’ monitor their computer use.

Moreover, the practice of banning girls from the computer largely revolves around one concept: modesty. The Facebook ban is just the latest in a long string of insidious practices in the Orthodox community — not just Chabad, to be sure — aimed at restricting women’s and girls’ freedom. These practices are promoted under the term tzniut, or “modesty,” but really are nothing more than classic misogyny.

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At Brooklyn Girls School, Facebook Is Off Limits

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

One Hasidic girls school is demanding its students remove their Facebook pages. Noncompliance means expulsion.

Beth Rivkah High School, in the heavily Lubavitch Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, is requiring 11th grade girls with Facebook pages to cancel their accounts and pay a $100 fine. That’s quite a U-Turn from the school’s position in 2010, when it was asking students to log onto Facebook. “It’s a great opportunity to do a mitzvah!” the school wrote at the time.

CrownHeights.info is reporting that the crackdown aims to restore a certain level of tznius [modesty] that had been lacking among the girls, as Facebook accounts had been cited as a contributing factor to the decline of tznius standards by many Mashpi’im [spiritual guides] and educators.

The issue of modesty and social media engagement are particularly particularly challenging for the Lubavitch community.

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Advice for the '$1.6 Billion Woman'

By Elana Sztokman

Getty Images
Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is about to become a very rich woman — and I’m really happy about it. The world needs more rich women, especially women who understand the importance of empowering other women.

The New York Times called Sandberg the “$1.6 billion woman,” based on the anticipated public offering of Facebook, where Sandberg is COO.

Sandberg, who has been a strong, vocal advocate for women’s advancement in the workplace, is actually one of the few women on top in Facebook. Tellingly, there are no women on the Facebook board, and Sandberg is the highest ranking woman in the company — number four from the top. Of the 10 most senior positions in the company, only three are held by women.

Certainly Sandberg has a reputation for promoting women’s successes at work — helping working mothers to find creative schedules and day care, encouraging women to be powerful and assertive, building a culture in which women’s real, complicated lives and concerns are welcomed rather than dismissed as signs of women’s lack of professionalism. But when it comes to women’s equality all the way to the top, the Facebook record remains mixed.

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The Benefits of 'Internet Empathy'

By Gabrielle Birkner

The author and her dad.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my father’s and stepmother’s deaths, which I marked with the lighting of memorial candles, a good cry and, for the fourth consecutive year, a Facebook post. By the end of the day, the post, and accompanying photographs, had garnered more than three-dozen comments and “likes.”

Beth Kissileff, in a Sisterhood post published on the same day, comes out against this sort of virtual outpouring. She writes that those prone to expressing “internet empathy” may be fooled into thinking that “their quota of meting out kindness to another has been fulfilled, that they need not do more.”

It wasn’t my Facebook post that prompted Beth’s piece. Rather, it was the story of little Ayelet Galena, whose battle with a rare bone marrow disease was chronicled online by her parents, and followed closely by thousands around the world — myself included.

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Online Sympathy Is an Easy Way Out

By Beth Kissileff

ayeletgalena.tumblr.com
Ayelet Galena

If you want to show someone you care, you need to show up. Virtual empathy does not replace your presence; it is merely the easy way out of trying to be kind to a fellow human. Writing a few words on a website or tracking the progress of an ill person are certainly thoughtful gestures. The problem is that there are those who, having made those gestures, will believe their quota of meting out kindness to another has been fulfilled, that they need not do more.

This is where, for lack of a better term, “internet empathy” can be dangerous. Jewish tradition teaches that some things have no limit; kindness is one of them. So why am I worried about the supplanting of real chesed (loving kindness) with the virtual brand?

I’ve been following some of the articles — including one by Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner — that have appeared in the aftermath of the tragic death of 2-year-old Ayelet Galena to a bone marrow disease. The authors of these pieces write about how they have become better people by reading, along with 14,000 others, of the progress of this critically ill child. If the family chose to share their lives with others in such a public way, and get support from them, that is their choice. I hope it helps them to know so many take an interest in their suffering and tragedy.

Where I, and I hope others as well, become disturbed is not in the impact on the family but on the gawkers, who believe they are assisting.

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Prime Ribs: Rapper Shyne on Jewish Modesty; Pregnant on Facebook

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images
Rapper Shyne

In music news, a posthumous Amy Winehouse album will be released reports the Daily Mail. Brooklyn rapper and Hasidic convert Shyne tells the Jewish Chronicle that he will no longer feature profanity or scantily clad women in his videos out of respect for Jewish modesty laws.


614 devotes its latest issue to Jewish women who have served in the military. The eZine features profiles on the first female rabbi to enlist as well as another who broke gender barriers, and likely also the sound barrier, as a combat pilot.


Victoria Pynchon explains “Why the National Debt Negotiations Matter to Women” at Forbes.com. In short, a whole lot of elderly women rely on Social Security.


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Prime Ribs: Zumba to 'Hava Nagila'; Facebook as Lifesaver

By Elissa Strauss

On Slate, Deborah Copaken Kogan tells a moving Jewish mother story for the digital age, about how sharing her son’s strange symptoms on Facebook saved his life.


Among those in favor of beatifying WWII-era Pope Pius XII is a nun now making the case that the pontiff ordered her convent to shelter 114 Jewish women from the Nazis, the AP reports.


Deborah Hirsch writes for JTA about how the increasingly popular “Zumba” exercise classes have spawned de-facto Sisterhood groups. Some instructors even incorporate “Hava Nagila” into their routines, Hirsch writes.

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How Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg Breaks the 'Girl Executive' Mold

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Barnard College/Asiya Khaki
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg

The lead story in the current issue of The New Yorker is a compelling profile of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Ken Auletta wrote the wide-ranging piece on Sandberg, who is Jewish, and includes a bit about her recent speech to the women graduating from Barnard College, which also got attention in Elissa Strauss’ recent Sisterhood post.

Auletta’s piece is an incisive look at one of the most powerful women in American business today and why she doesn’t have more company at the highest corporate levels. He analyzes some of the factors women face in business — from blatant sexual advances to more subtle forms of discrimination.

He quotes Marie Wilson, founder of The White House Project, who points out that Norway requires public companies to have at least 40 percent of their directors be men, and 40 percent women. That government can and should create realities that benefit both men and women is an important point, though one Sandberg has little control over.

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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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'The Social Network' on the Lore of Jewish Men and Asian Women

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images
Justin Timberlake, Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield, stars of ‘The Social Network’

Sarah Seltzer came away from watching “The Social Network,” the movie about the founding of Facebook, peeved about its (non)portrayal of women. In her post, “The (Male-Only) Social Network,” she quoted Maya Dusenbery about “the wall of giggle and boobs that composes the film’s background.” I, too, came away miffed about this, but also thinking about the fact that those giggles and boobs belonged to a large (excuse the pun) number of young Asian women.

In a scene in the film, in which the Mark Zuckerberg character pulls his friend Eduardo Saverin out of an AEΠ (a Jewish fraternity) party to talk to him, Zuckerberg glances over at a group of Asian female Harvard students and asks what they are doing there. Saverin answers with something about how Asian girls like “us,” meaning Jewish guys. A bit later, two such students come on to Zuckerberg and Saverin and one ends up going out with the latter.

As someone who has observed the growth in the number of couples made up of Jewish men and Asian women (especially so in Northern California, where I live and where there is a relatively high rate of interracial relationships in general), I took note of Saverin’s offhand line and wondered whether he was referencing a false stereotype or a legitimate trend.

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The (Male-Only) Social Network

By Sarah Seltzer

Everyone’s talking about “The Social Network”, the movie chronicling the founding of Facebook. It was the weekend’s #1 movie and is an Oscar favorite It’s also attracted notice for its (non) portrayal of women. Feminist writers have weighed in thoughtfully, explaining that the movie’s women are mere props, that the creators of the film loaded the story with more misogyny than actually existed in reality, that female programmers and businesswomen were ignored, and mostly that the shallow images of women as mindless groupies undercuts the otherwise subtle, well-drawn aspects of the film.

I have to agree. Like most viewers, I loved “The Social Network.” First of all, as someone who was at Harvard when the movie took place, I thought it captured certain aspects of our bizarre, anachronistic undergraduate life and, by extension, the larger Northeastern privileged “striver” academic milieu, with an uncanny accuracy. I particularly liked the way the brilliant, eccentric (Jewish) Facebook founder — Mark Zuckerberg, a character who bears little resemblance to his real-life avatar — simmered with resentment towards the remaining WASPy scions who walked to same halls that he did with an easy, jovial entitlement he couldn’t possess.

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Bra Colors for Breast Cancer Awareness or Facebook Prank?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

I like Facebook (and waste far too much time on it). But the cultural norms on this mother of all social networking sites may be getting just a bit too … intimate for me.

This week suddenly many of my female FB friends started simply listing colors for their Facebook statuses. First a friend just wrote “pink.” Thinking she was making a simple existential comment, I commented “polka dots.” Then another friend, who doesn’t know the first, posted “white.”

And today, most of my many female FB friends have posted a color for their status. It’s the color of their bra. “Nude.” “Black.” “Pink.” “Gray (used to be white).”

At the risk of sounding like my FB “friend” (someone I’ve never met but whose sufficiently important job in the Jewish community led me to think I should accept his friend request) who ends EVERY SINGLE Status Update with an exclamation point, TMI! TMI! T-M-I!!!! (Too Much Information, for someone who’s never been a teenager).

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