It’s been diverting this past week to join in the Popewatch brouhaha — who doesn’t like secretive meetings, signals and intrigue, not to mention red Prada shoes? But now that it’s over, the white smoke has risen, the habeus papams have been uttered and Francis has been chosen, let’s talk about a less-discussed but no less important story out of the Vatican this week.
That would be the Vatican’s decision to use its status as a sovereign entity to join with Iran, Russia, U.S. conservatives and other retrograde nations to try to quash a UN resolution condemning violence against women.
Yep, the Vatican is the equivalent of those few far-right legislators who tried to stymie the Violence Against Women Act in the U.S. legislative process ‘til the bitter end — except while that effort eventually failed, this might actually be successful.
Ynet has a troubling story about a high-profile rabbi in Israel who gave advice to a young woman to cut her own legs in order to stay religious. The story, if it’s true, conflates male religious authority, extreme body cover and self-mutilation, and brings the discussions of the female body in Judaism to a whole new low. The problem is that this story may not be true, in which case instead of highlighting sexism in Orthodox Judaism, the story becomes an example of journalists’ sometimes overzealousness in their desire to attack religion by pretending to care about women. Especially given the recent history of media attitudes towards France’s burqa ban, the actions of certain journalists are no less troubling than those of religious leaders controlling the female body.
According to the article, written by a young Jerusalem journalist, Ari Galahar, for Yediot Ahranot’s Hebrew news site, Rabbi Yizhak Silberstein was asked to respond to a strange query from a young woman who was accepted to a religious academy despite her family’s non-religiousness. The young woman, struggling with the academy’s strict dress code of long skirts, long sleeves, and covered collarbones because her secular parents were supposedly pressuring her to dress in a more revealing way, asked Silberstein whether she could cut her legs, so that her parents would agree that she must wear a long skirt in order to cover the bruises. The rabbi reportedly responded, “She is permitted to cut herself in order to dress modestly, and thus to escape all sin.” He reportedly added that “the blood from the bruise will redeem all of Israel like the blood of the ritual sacrifices.”
I have this pet peeve about women sending emails from their husbands’ email accounts. Although this was probably more of a common phenomenon towards the beginning of the e-mail era, I still get emails like this, and it drives me crazy.
The hiding of women behind men is not as uncommon as we would perhaps like to believe. I remember getting a sales call a few months ago from a carpet-cleaning agency in which the saleswoman (!) said to me, “Would you like to go ask your husband if it’s okay?” Or like the time I got really angry at our mortgage bank for calling me up to tell me that they have a present for my husband’s 40th birthday. How exciting, I said to them — and what about me? I had turned 40 just two months earlier. This clerk went searching around her papers and said she’s sorry, that only my husband’s information is listed in the computer. I signed the mortgage papers, too, I tried to tell her. But there I was, deleted as an entity by someone punching information into a machine. All these situations are the same, really: It’s all about women’s invisibility.
I thought about this amid this week’s brouhaha over Der Tzitung’s notorious erasure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the iconic photo of the national security team getting an update on the bin Laden raid.
It’s been a roller-coaster week of emotions in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting that horrified the nation last Saturday. On Wednesday, Sarah Palin confused and appalled Jewish groups by claiming that she was the victim of a “blood libel,” — a particularly curious choice of words, given that Giffords is Jewish. The same day, President Obama used the power of his oratory to attempt to bring hope and unity to an angry, bewildered nation. Obama urged us to join together and avoid recriminations, and he was right in sounding that note. But without directly pointing fingers I think we do have to interrogate our national character and ask why so many of us were shattered, but not surprised, about Saturday’s events?
When I first found out about the shooting, it was through a breaking news alert on my phone. Not near a computer, I had no idea if the shooting was a random rampage, a targeted attack, a product of a lone psycho or an ideologue. As the daughter of baby boomers traumatized by the wave of political assassinations of the ‘60s, and as a political writer who fretted about all the violent potential in the last two years — semiautomatic guns at political rallies, leaders spewing hatred tinged with menace, budget cuts and job loss cutting off help to the desperate and mentally disturbed — I saw a pot primed to boil over.
Let’s be honest: It’s not like I was going to vote for Carl Paladino in the first place. If there were some kind of reverse political dictionary, and I was in it, Carl Paladino would be listed as my particularly aggressive antonym. That was before he decided to publicly demonstrate his homophobia, while bringing the Jewish community into it. Unfortunately, it’s not as though we weren’t in it to begin with. This is everyone’s problem, whether or not we consider ourselves to be queer positive folks, but particularly if we do.
Even if you were never planning on voting for Paladino, even if you were disgusted beyond any reasonable definition of the word at his remarks to the congregation in Brooklyn, it’s still vital to understand that homophobia is not an oppression that stands alone; it’s a particularly insidious outgrowth of sexism, and even in its most progressive corners, the Jewish community is guilty of perpetuating both.
This post is adapted from a speech, “The Ten Plagues According to Jewish Women,” that Pogrebin gave at the Downtown Seder, held March 25 at the City Winery in Manhattan.
Plague #1: Dam. BLOOD — Women have this plague every 28 days or so, and except when we’re ready to procreate, most of us welcome it. But when it doesn’t come — as the result of a mistake or a failed contraceptive — we must be free to consult with our conscience, our partner, our doctor, maybe our rabbi, about whether to continue an unplanned pregnancy. The final choice must be ours. Yet with ever-diminishing access to reproductive services (witness the final health care bill), that choice is disappearing, which is a plague on women’s freedom.
Plague #2: Tsfardaya. FROGS — Who don’t turn into princes. The boyfriend who says he loves strong women, but whose ego gets wounded when you trounce him 6-Love, or even if you put him on hold. The men who say they’re man enough to be married to a smart woman, but shoot their wives a dirty look when they’re at a dinner party with a bunch of intellectuals and she knows who Foucault is, and he doesn’t. The prince who says he believes in equality but once he’s a husband, turns into a frog who simply can’t be bothered changing a diaper.
The Internet can be a nasty place. Whether due to the replacement of visceral human relationships with a cold, lifeless screen, or because people have learned to type faster than they think, something about Internet conversation seems to bring out the worst in human discourse. As my Forward colleague Jay Michaelson pointed out in his column last week, “the immediacy and anonymity of the Comment feature on the Internet encourages one to respond in the heat of the moment, and with as much fire as possible.”
That said, there seems to be a particular fire in talkbacks relating to religious Judaism. Michaelson noticed this as well, what he called, “rage…dressed up in religious rhetoric.” In my writings on topics of gender and religious life at the Forward, in The Jerusalem Post, and elsewhere, I’ve been called a “man wannabe,” an “anti-Semite” and other names. It’s intriguing to me that essays about cultural trends often merit one or two comments while comments about gender and religion can get 20–30 comments. There is an ire around religious issues (especially gender) that begs explication. Michaelson calls for collective anger management, but I think there is something else at work here.
This year, the coveted commercial time during the (exciting and inspiring) Superbowl was filled with ads that made women, and male viewers, uncomfortable with their implied or overt misogyny. Twitter feeds and blog comments were filled with viewers marvelling at the unceasing, unvaried tone of the ads. While beer ads are traditionally less than friendly to the fairer sex, something about the parade of she-hating spots following the controversial anti-abortion Tim Tebow ad from Focus on the Family — an ad that ended up being “meh” — really ticked people off.
There are too many posts around the Web about this to count, but here are a few that demonstrate the way the night went: Jezebel’s Hortense compiled the first grouping of sexist ads. Gotcha media made a YouTube video putting all the violent acts from the ads together. Irin at Jezebel rounded up the media’s astonished reaction to this parade of sexism (to various degrees).
I knew I would regret it as soon as I started typing, but I did it anyway. As much as I try to avoid getting into virtual arguments in talkback-land, this week I found myself unable to restrain myself. The language, it seems to me, is at the root of the problem, and that’s where the fight needs to take place.
At issue is the latest chapter in the saga of ultra-Orthodox pressure to send women to the back of the bus. Last week, a 60-year-old woman, perhaps inspired by Rosa Parks, sat down in the front and refused to move. When an 18-year old male yeshiva student tried to force her to move by yelling, cursing and threatening her, she eventually responded by showering him with pepper spray.
I kind of wish she hadn’t done that.