The “What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?” Tumblr is the latest project from Lean In, the global community born out of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same title. The blog is inspired by studies showing that although women are graduating college with higher GPAs than their male peers, they are avoiding leadership roles and report being afraid to speak up. In response, the Lean In team asked women in and around New York City to tell them what they would do if they weren’t afraid.
So far, many of the answers are about work. Women report that they would “use their voices more in the workplace” and “ask for more money.” They would also quit their jobs and pursue more creative lives. They’d use the word “artist” and “writer” to describe themselves. Another trend are women who say that if they were not afraid they would live alone, travel alone and even leave the house alone at night. Others would call themselves feminists and speak undeterred about their political beliefs.
If you haven’t already, it’s worth taking a stroll through the blog; it is troubling and illuminating, and says a lot about the priorities of a capitalist society. A job, for example, should look a particular way: 9 to 5, at the very least; in an office; with a certain dress code; in a corporate culture (even for non profits), and with a salary at a certain level. It’s hard to take the leap that comes with living outside of this paradigm — it often means being without steady income and health insurance, as well as pushing back against assumptions about productivity and legitimacy.
After years of cajoling, protesting, advocating and pleading from women’s health advocates, Plan B, the most commonly-used brand of emergency contraception, has been released from legal limbo. Hopefully this morning after pill will now be able to spend the rest of its days in the friendlier, more accessible haven of the pharmacy shelf rather than behind the counter.
This victory only came after Edward Korman, a Reagan-appointed judge, slammed the Obama administration for stonewalling and politicizing the issue after the FDA’s recommendation that the pill be available to women regardless of ability to furnish proof of age. The administration, loath to appeal the ruling further and alienate its base, caved.
I’ve been following the story here at the Sisterhood, continually baffled that a supposedly pro-science administration would embrace the conservative position on an issue of reproductive health. Should we credit this moment to the Obama administration finally seeing the light or, more cynically, should we note that the administration has done the right thing the very week they are under fire for the NSA snooping scandal?
According to Ann Friedman in her post “Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make the Best Friends,” over at NYMag.com, we should seek out women who are more together or successful than we are. She writes:
Approaching and befriending women who I identify as smart and powerful (sometimes actively pursuing them, as with any other crush) has been a major revelation of my adult life. First, there’s the associative property of awesomeness: People know you by the company you keep. I like knowing that my friends are so professionally supportive that when they get a promotion, it’s like a boost for my résumé, too, because we share a network and don’t compete for contacts. Also, it’s just plain tough out there — for all the aforementioned reasons about the economy and the dating scene and body-image pressures. I want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in my corner, pushing me to negotiate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about myself, and responding to my outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.
The sentiments behind Friedman’s argument are nice ones. Competition is lame. Confidence is contagious. We are stronger together. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little icky by the piece’s end.
Would you rather be beautiful and stupid or ugly and brilliant? Think about it for a moment.
As a high-achieving high school student, I remember considering it a no-brainer: It was better to be beautiful and stupid. Today, studies have shown that people react differently to others based on looks, with attractive people benefiting in hiring, promotions and pay. And lest we think that’s a culturally conditioned response, even babies prefer beautiful faces. It seems that my basic assumption that life is, on average, easier for beautiful people was correct.
While stupid could easily be seen as a negative, as a high school student, I didn’t assume it was a bad way to live; I pictured a movie star who was professionally successful, but neither intellectually curious nor terribly deep. I figured a stupid person who wasn’t book smart might be less likely to notice or be upset by things that bothered the brilliant person, who might or might not have been emotionally intelligent.
This all seemed rather straightforward and obvious to me until I had a daughter. Lila, who recently turned two, is her own little person. She has always been incredibly outgoing and loves talking to strangers, so she makes friends and earns fans wherever she goes. As her mother, that makes me proud, but I’m also quietly aware of the compliments paid to my daughter. Many people remark that Lila is “so cute” or “beautiful.”
In a recent post on Slate’s DoubleX, Katherine Goldstein provides tips for female summer interns on what exactly is appropriate to wear to a workplace. The advice on how to avoid looking like a “skintern” includes avoiding see-through anything, concealing undergarments and leaving the four-inch heels at home. Goldstein ends the post by telling women that by following these rules and focusing on impressing everyone with their “hard work” and “keen intellect” they will be sure to break the glass ceiling.
Was this sexist?
Sure, this is set of codes and rules that only apply to young women, or more specifically, their bodies. It told them that some parts of their bodies are considered vulgar and that wearing a pair of high platform heels might give others the wrong idea about their, well, purity. It is putting the responsibility on them to cover up, instead of on men to stop gawking. As another DoubleX contributor put it a few months ago in response to a call for longer skirts at a middle school, “If you don’t want girls judged by their hemlines, stop judging them by their hemlines.”
This year, like other years, I am doing nothing special (read: nothing at all) for Shavuot. It is not, as Marissa Brostoff recently noted in Tablet, not hugely popular as Jewish holidays go. Every year I see Shavuot on the calendar and think, What’s that one again? And then I remember, That’s the one about the Torah. And cheese.
Coming from a secular background, all-night Torah study isn’t really my thing. Cheese, however, is totally my thing. Or was, until a few months ago, when I figured out that cheese (along with some other types of dairy food) was responsible for my skin’s return to a state of teenage agitation. Sad as it made me, I decided to seriously limit my intake of dairy. To paraphrase an overused motto, nothing tastes as good as clear skin looks. But this development gave my non-celebration of Shavuot a new significance. What if I was one of those Torah-studying, special-dairy-meal-eating Jews? I wondered. What would I do then?
Been wondering what’s behind all those artisanal chocolate bars cluttering check-out lanes and tattooed women knitting booties for the babies permanently strapped to their chests? Or, as the show “Portlandia” so acutely captured in one of its most hilarious skits, the undeniable urge that crafty young folks have to put a bird on it?
So has journalist Emily Matchar.
In her new book “Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity,” Matchar examines why women in their 20s and 30s are increasingly passing up the corner office and even the corner bar, à la Carrie Bradshaw, for all things domestic. She investigates the rise of do-it-yourself everything — things like attachment parenting, crafting, homeschooling and raising chickens in the backyard — and how it is a symptom of the disillusionment young people, mostly women, feel with the institutions that they had once hoped to rely on. These institutions include workplaces that fail to be family friendly, public schools that fail to educate our children and a food system that fails to provide us with affordable, healthy and sustainable food.
Mother’s Day, 1983. I’m sitting in our cramped apartment kitchen in Philadelphia with my husband and two older friends who were, I guess, substituting for our own parents that day. The crazy traffic along the Northeast corridor on that Sunday in May often meant that we skipped visiting my mother in New York and my mother-in-law in Virginia. We were never big on Hallmark holidays, anyhow.
But this day was memorable because we excitedly told our friends that we were expecting our first child. Mazel tov and hugs all around. Champagne. I probably took a sip, in defiance of the admonition to avoid alcohol while pregnant. I have always made exceptions for champagne.
It’s now 30 years later. That baby-to-be is grown up, married and expecting her own child. Besides acknowledging the stunning passage of time, I find myself contemplating motherhood today in an entirely new, confusing, wonderful way.
As Women of the Wall members and supporters prepare to welcome the Hebrew month of Sivan on Friday morning, with Rosh Chodesh services in Jerusalem, its U.S. allies are getting ready to again demonstrate their support by doing the same. Solidarity services are scheduled for New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, opposing group Women for the Wall is gathering approbations from strictly Orthodox rabbis and hoping to rally women to also turn out in numbers for Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel.
On Friday, just a few days before the holiday of Shavuout, which celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, Women of the Wall will not read from a sefer Torah, as they had planned. It is a concession made to Israel’s attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, during a meeting on Tuesday at which he agreed not to appeal an April 24th district court ruling that women praying in tallit and tefillin “does not disturb the public order.”
The views of Weinstein and others appeared to shift rapidly this week.
Women of the Wall has in recent months attracted lots of press and public support, from Members of Knesset to rabbis and laypeople, particularly since police stepped up arresting women leading Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel. Women of the Wall then ramped up its own efforts to illustrate that current policy there — which prohibits women from praying wearing tallit or tefillin or with a Torah scroll — is discriminatory. Now there is an additional party to the conflict: a new group called Women for the Wall.
Women for the Wall — abbreviated as W4W — was co-founded by Ronit Peskin, a 25-year-old mother of three, who opposes Women of the Wall’s goals and approach. On its website, Women for the Wall describes Women of the Wall’s efforts as “political battles” turning the Kotel into “a media circus”: They “do not belong at a place such as the Kotel. Their monthly activism threatens to turn this holy place into a site for a media circus rather than prayer, and is disruptive for all that come there to pray peacefully and connect to G-d.”
This is the second post in a Sisterhood series by Nina Badzin on gadgets, family and work.
Immediately after Passover, I announced my intention to cut the cord on technology — specifically, to reduce my iPhone use in half by next spring. Inspired by the themes of the holiday, I decided to stop acting like a slave to texts, emails, Facebook and Twitter. Instead, I looked for ways I could realistically shave off the time I spend with my eyes focused on that spellbinding screen.
“In half” is a nebulous figure, considering I’m not sure how much time I was connected to my phone before Passover. But I know I’m not alone in suffering from the fragmented, frazzled lifestyle that comes from the “convenience” of having smartphones around no matter where and when.
According to a study presented by University of Worcester psychologist Richard Balding, “the more you check your phone the edgier you feel.” Most fascinating was the fact that “personal interactions via email, text and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter” cause the most anxiety as opposed to work-related interactions on our phones.
The good news? My experiments so far have already proven fruitful and might help others, too. In little over a month I’m spending less time with my phone. The bad news? I still have a long way to go.
Abstinence-only education doesn’t achieve its intended goal: preventing pregnancy. The American states with the highest teen pregnancy rates employ abstinence-only education in their schools. And while abstinence-only lessons by definition don’t include the efficacy of various birth control methods, leaving students without basic knowledge, they also often shame young women, too. In particularly heinous examples, sexually active women are compared to chewed-up pieces of gum cups with spit in them, or flowers with the petals torn off.
Fortunately, some young people don’t take the claptrap that the abstinence peddlers, well, peddle. In the midst of the Boston Marathon horror, you may have missed the amazing story of Katelyn Campbell, a young student leader who stood up to the bullies at her West Virginia school.
When that phrase first started to turn up in every article aimed at a female audience, I rolled my eyes at it too. There has been much conflation of the two ideas (alongside claims that Sandberg did not intend to conflate them.) But it’s clear that “am I leaning in?” has, at least for now, replaced “can I have it all?” as the issue we’re supposed to worry about.
What tipped my “you just don’t get it” frustration into full-on rage, though, was not one of the numerous news articles about what Sandberg’s book means for women in the workplace. It was this question on Ask MetaFilter, an online forum where users ask each other about almost anything and receive long and — mostly — thoughtful answers. The question, titled “Not Leaning In,” was posted by a woman with a well-paid and flexible job, a young daughter, a husband and a sense of contentment. It was the contentment that bothered her. “With all this “Lean In” stuff going around these days, I feel kind of like I should want more, but I really don’t,” she wrote. “I’m sure society can spare one woman, we don’t all have to [be] high-achieving, go-getters, right?”
Have you heard about “senior washed up girls” — or “SWUGs”? They’re the latest acronym for a sexual trend that affects Ivy Leaguers, in this case young women at the end of their college careers discovering that (either due to free will or lack of options) they do not care anymore: about grades, hookups, relationships or anything but having a good time.
Is this cool or pathetic? Or as Raisa Bruner, a student writer at, Yale put it philosophically:
Is SWUG-ness a…fuck-‘em-all, let’s-do-what-matters-to-us kind of attitude that has nothing to do with the images of lackluster sex and desperate partying that it’s grown to encompass?
I wish. Maybe it was that way once. But right now, SWUG’s social meaning at Yale remains about the hooking up that we women are — and aren’t — doing, and how little we’re supposed to let that bother us. It’s become a signifier of not caring. Alas for the golden era of SWUGs. It was over before most of us out in the real world even knew what it meant.
Yes, another long and rambling “trend piece” in an Ivy League newspaper has been picked up and analyzed, complete with a campus visit, by New York Magazine. The next link in the chain? An older Ivy graduate (that would be yours truly) sits at her keyboard trying to make sense of what the youngsters are up to these days. Is this trend ephemeral or eternal?
A young woman from a strict Orthodox family clashes with her father, leaves home and finds a home of sorts in the “Movement” — first the New Left of the 1960s, then the explosion of radical feminism out of that group’s fed-up female contingent. Her forward-thinking writing and organizing electrifies this new “wave” of feminism, but after infighting and teardowns within its ranks, she finds herself exiled and suffering from mental illness — and despite comrades’ efforts to intervene (efforts that are successful for a time), she ends up dying alone.
Pioneering feminist Shulamith Firestone’s life, as chronicled by Susan Faludi in a compelling New Yorker piece, reads like the outline of a tragic 20th century novel, an inside-out “American Pastoral” where the radical woman is the put-upon, misunderstood genius of a heroine and the domineering, “straight” male figures the ruiners of her life.
For this heroine in particular, the personal was disturbingly political. Firestone’s abuse and control at the hands of the men in her religious family led her to theorize that the family unit itself was an extension of the brutal class oppression that another brilliant Jew, Karl Marx, described, with women and children as the kept-down proletariat.
I’m super glad that these fraternity boys at the University of Maryland wrote this letter to their brothers about how to talk to Jewish women, because otherwise, I would not have known how! Also, apparently I’ve been talking to myself and other Jewish women the wrong way this entire time.
The guys’ egregious “instructions” are divided into sections, including “hometown,” “major” and “topics of conversation.” Here’s a hint of what they think it takes to talk to a Jewish woman:
If from an allowed hometown you are fine. If not, lie and say you are from an allowed area. Note: DC is a toss up area, as is Vermont.
Areas you can be from: New York, New Jersey, PA (only Philadelphia area, sorry redacted), Massachussets, Rockville/Bethesda area, Pikesville
Not Allowed Areas: The rest of Maryland (especially rural counties, looking at you redacted), Baltimore, Atlanta, anywhere in the south, Connecticut are from an allowed area. Note: DC is a toss up area, as is Vermont.
On a college major…
You are a business major or an econ major or a communication major
You want to “do something with business, maybe finance” or start your own business
Alternative 1 to that: Some science major, but you are going to med school to be a doctor (why? because both your parents are doctors)
Alternative 2: You are a crim major and plan on going to law school
In summation: No matter what, do whatever you have to do to create and maintain the aura of wealth. Sadly, this letter isn’t a joke.
Princeton University alumna Susan Patton didn’t intend to become a household name, but by Sunday the tsumani of responses to her unwittingly inflammatory letter in the Daily Princetonian, the school’s student-run newspaper, peaked with an op-ed column in The New York Times devoted to her advice to young Princeton women to “find a husband on campus before you graduate.”
Patton, who described herself to me as “a Jewish mother,” has one son who graduated from Princeton and another who is a junior (and acquaintance of my son, also a student there). For more on her point of view, read this Q&A with Patton, from an interview she kindly agreed to with The Sisterhood.
Susan Patton, a human relations consultant and Princeton University alumna, as well as mother to two Princeton students (one former, one current) recently wrote a letter to the editor of the university’s student-run newspaper. In it, she urged female undergraduates at Princeton to find their husbands before they graduate. And in doing so, she sparked a world-wide response. In newspapers, magazines, on websites and other blogs, and on the Op Ed page of The New York Times, people weighed in. Most of them criticized Patton; some for her tone, many for her point. Patton, who lives in Manhattan and is currently the president of her Princeton class, has been inundated by the press. But she graciously agreed to be interviewed by The Sisterhood.
Like virtually everyone else with a connection to Princeton (my son is a student there, and also an acquaintance of her son’s), I had my own feelings about what she wrote in The Daily Princetonian. But that is fodder for a different Sisterhood post, which will run separately. This interview with Patton, which I lightly edited and condensed, was conducted as a journalist and not to convey my own point of view.
Those of us who have made it our business to achieve gender equality by way of parenting, have long pushed for better paternity leave policies. Quite simply, it is the right thing to do. But it looks like it’s also the economically prudent thing to do, too.
The New York Times magazine had a story this past weekend on how paying daddy while he stays home to take care of his baby can actually stimulate the economy.
To make her case, writer Catherine Rampell refers to a new study by economists at the University of Chicago and Stanford that estimate that “15 to 20 percent of American productivity growth over the last five decades has come from more efficient allocation of underrepresented groups, like women, into occupations that were largely off-limits, like doctors or lawyers.”
She explains that other rich countries have figured out how to keep women in the labor force, mostly through adopting policies that allow parents to request flexible work arrangements (part-time, home-based), guaranteeing paid leave for both sexes, and, in some cases, affordable childcare. While these policies do increase taxes, they ultimately pay off because they keep women in the workforce — the very same women who help our productivity grow.
Add Kaddish to the list of Jewish prayers and ritual objects women are not allowed to be engaged with at the Western Wall, according to the commander of the Jerusalem police.
In a March 14 letter to Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, Yossi Pariente wrote that he met with a deputy attorney general for the government of Israel to go over the rules pertaining to Women of the Wall, which include prohibitions on:
…Wrapping yourselves in tallitot [prayer shawls], holding a minyan [prayer quorum] of women including the Kaddish or Kedusha prayers, and reading from the Torah.
Pariente warns that, starting on the next Rosh Chodesh, which falls on April 11, Women of the Wall will be arrested and charged with breaking the law for doing any of these things.
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