A media narrative is beginning to emerge around the extramarital affair that has ended the career of former CIA director and General David Petraeus, and may indeed tar the reputation of other top military officials including General John Allen.
There are three men and three women in the love-and-betrayal triangle — err, quadrangle, err, hexagon thus far. There’s Petraeus, his biographer-turned paramour Paula Broadwell, Jill Kelley, a Petraeus friend who received threatening emails from Broadwell, and Allen, a general who apparently flirted over email with Kelley. Also among the cast of characters is a “shirtless FBI agent” and Petraeus’s wife, Holly.
The parties involved come off as immature, maybe a little pathetic, and the “scandal” is far more deliciously weird than sordid. Meanwhile, dozens of real unanswered questions about the investigation into the love shenanigans remain.
But Petraeus, this central character, is a military man with whom the corporate media had been accused of carrying on a love affair — a love affair now cut short by his love affair.
Something important has gone unnoticed amid the chatter about the titillating revelations of an affair between four star General David Petraeus (he of the name worthy of the leader of ancient Greece’s military forces, never mind the United States’) and his fawning biographer, Paula Broadwell.
And that is the fact that there was a tremendous power imbalance inherent in the relationship between Petraeus, who on November 9 stepped down as head of the Central Intelligence Agency as a result of his affair coming to light, and Broadwell, a lieutenant colonel in the army reserves.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni astutely observes journalists’ tendency to describe the women in these all-too-familiar tales as the temptresses who no man could truly resist. He points out that The Washington Post wrote of Broadwell’s “form-fitting clothes” and The Daily Beast of her “expressive green eyes.”
This is the fifth post in a Sisterhood series on women, apologizing and Yom Kippur.
As we get closer to Yom Kippur and muse on atonement — what it means, what we should atone for — it’s worth probing the gendered nature of apologies. To begin with, it seems obvious that women in our society are conditioned from an early age to apologize too much and for the wrong sins.
I’m a strong feminist and I’m as hyper-aware of these dynamics as anyone. But I’ve got my share of neuroses, and so I still get told by my loved ones to “knock it off with the sorrys.” I tend to proffer “I’m sorry” as a buffer when I’m asserting needs or desires that may inconvenience those around me.
So yes, women — or really anyone adversely affected by gender roles in that particular way — need to resolve during the holidays to apologize less. We don’t want to dilute the value of apologies; we ought save them for when we truly mean the mea culpas, like when we’ve completely screwed up as opposed to when we’re, you know, expressing our opinion, asking for a favor or infringing on someone else’s time.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are the apologies we receive. As someone who writes about political culture, I’ve spent much of the year analyzing the apologies offered to various women who have been insulted at record levels in recent months. Indeed, it was a banner year for misogynist comments followed by non-apologies. And those apologies, often phrased as “I’m sorry if you were offended” or “I’m sorry for what I said, but not what it meant,” get used quite a bit when the initial comment or action offended women.
The single year I was a public school teacher, green and fresh out of college, was unquestionably hard. Sure, I was typical for my demographic — naïve, a poor disciplinarian — but the nightmare arose from circumstances beyond my own inexperience: waking up at the crack of dawn to commute, dealing with ever-fluctuating administrative directives, teaching in a former home-ec classroom without blackboards and with a short-circuiting power source that left the classroom in the dark halfway through a presentation. New students were added and my favorite students pulled out of my class with no warning. Troubled students would wander around without the resources they really needed. The absurdities abounded. I remember standing in my classroom while four experts tried to gauge how I should arrange my chairs to best meet pedagogical standards. I remember when a huge percentage of staff would get minutes marked off their time-cards when the subway broke down and everyone coming from Manhattan was delayed. I remember the superintendent following our usually autocratic, suddenly meek, principal around chastising her about hallway bulletin boards not being colorful enough for standards.
I left teaching full-time but stayed in touch with my colleagues. Over time, I found that while the teaching climate kept changing, they were expected to be ever-ready to shift their priorities, style and standards to meet demands from above — and they did so willingly.
I felt then and feel strongly now that robust teachers’ unions are necessary to rectify the power that administrators have over faculty, to keep the job from sliding down the line from professionalism to drudgery, and to advocate for improvements like smaller class size and freedom to innovate.
That power imbalance is why Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, and her fellow teachers, went on strike — a situation likely to be resolved by the weekend.
Perhaps it’s not shocking that Representative Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee from Missouri who’s backed by the Tea Party, opposes abortion even in the case of rape. More surprising is the backward and scrambling way he justifies his position. In an interview with a St. Louis television station, Mr. Akin presented a muddied “clarification” on his views on Sunday:
It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape is] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.
There’s plenty of reason to take issue with what he says. That rape is unlikely to cause pregnancy. That an abortion is somehow akin to a criminal prosecution. That rape must be qualified as “legitimate” unfairly suggests victims who routinely cry wolf. That rape happens not to a person but to the object that is the “female body.”
This is an upsetting message. But equally troubling are the fumbling, inarticulate euphemisms Akin uses to convey it. You can practically hear him blush as he pronounces wordy allusions to “that whole thing” and the unspecified physical process “that didn’t work or something.”
As soon as Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Rep. Paul Ryan as his pick for vice president, critics pounced on the all-too-familiar spectacle of two white men in suits campaigning side by side. The stark contrast to 2008’s groundbreaking race — a black nominee! a female GOP veep nominee! — stood out to women’s and feminist groups, and not just because a woman wasn’t on the docket.
Most of the posts I read about Ryan from my fellow feminists arrived in the form of lists, as though the only way to organize and channel our collective feelings of inchoate rage was to calmly enumerate all of the reasons we don’t like this guy. The pro-choice, pro-women group EMILY’s List struck first, sending out an email almost immediately with its own catalog of reasons Ryan was “bad for women,” including his votes against food stamps and abortion.
Feministing produced another take on the Ryan listicle, and Jezebel went even further with its highlighting of “nine depressingly kooky facts” about the soon-to-be veep nominee, including not just those troubling votes and budget proposals but his avowed worship of Ayn Rand, his crackdown on protesters at a town hall and the illustrative fact that his budget cuts slash so many programs for the poor and elderly he has actually attracted the disapproval of the usually Republican-friendly Council of Catholic Bishops.
My mother is an Orthodox woman who was raised by Orthodox parents and married an Orthodox rabbi. She has also earned, thus far in her career, a bachelor’s degree and three postgraduate degrees. And while she has more degrees than the average Orthodox woman, she also has more degrees than the average American; as of this year, only 30% of American adults had at least a bachelor’s degree.
I was raised in an Orthodox household where, as you can gather, education reigned supreme, so I was frustrated when I read Katie J.M. Baker’s recent Jezebel article, “Orthodox Jews Are Unsure How They Feel About Divalicious Aspiring Politician Mindy Meyer,” about the so-called Orthodox response to Meyer — and how it’s been labeled a conversation about the domestic role of Orthodox women.
Jewish law takes a pretty liberal stance when it comes to birth control. Pretty much any rabbi will say it’s permissible for the sake of a woman’s physical, emotional or mental health, or the sake of a couple’s marriage, or the needs of a family. Furthermore, many rabbis consider oral contraceptives to be most preferable under Jewish law. That means if an Orthodox woman is using birth control, chances are she’s using the Pill.
So why did the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel ally themselves with the Catholic Church, and demand institutional exemptions on the grounds of religious freedom? What would make Orthodox organizations ally themselves with a faith group that holds opposing views on the issue of birth control?
Some have speculated that it’s about controlling women, but I believe the answer lies in something even more irrational that has been sweeping the ranks of American conservatives. It is an Obama-hatred so visceral that anything the man supports must be bad, wrong, and shot down. I say this as a Republican voter myself.
Yes, the OU (which, it should be said, welcomed the White House compromise on the issue of contraceptive coverage), and Agudath are not political institutions. But let’s face it, they represent constituencies far more likely than the American Jewish community as a whole to vote Republican.
For the first time in 12 years there is no woman on the committee responsible for appointing judges to Israel’s rabbinical courts, after the Israel Bar Association failed to elect a woman as its members’ representative. This is being viewed as a tremendous blow to promoting the rights of women who must face these courts in divorce cases.
The 12 religious courts across Israel are desperately in need of reform on critical family law issues, most importantly, divorce. Such reform won’t happen with the election of the two new members of the committee, Asher Axelrod and Mordechai Eisenberg. Not only are both of the new members male, but Eisenberg is Haredi, and both are closely associated with, and have received the endorsement of, Haredi political parties.
Women’s advocacy and religious rights groups are furious at Bar Association leaders for the political wheeling and dealing with ultra-Orthodox parties that led to this development. The two Bar Association representatives join Israel’s two chief rabbis, two senior rabbinical judges, two government ministers and two Knesset members on the committee, all of whom are presently male.
Alice Shalvi, 85, is one of Israeli feminism’s founding mothers. She has been a Hebrew University faculty member, head of the modern Orthodox girl’s school Pelech, co-founder of the Israel Women’s Network, and recipient of dozens of awards and honorary degrees. In 2007, she was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and contributions to Israeli society.
On Nov. 2nd, she will be honored by The New Israel Fund in New York. Shalvi’s “life work towards a more just, equal and pluralistic Israel is … the embodiment of that vision in her work as a leader in social activism,” said Bruce Temkin, the NIF’s New York director.
Shalvi was raised in England after her family fled Hitler’s Germany, where she was born. She made aliyah in 1949 and soon met Moshe Shalvi (then Shelkowitz). They live in Jerusalem, have been married for 61 years and have six children, 21 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. While visiting New York before being honored, Shalvi spoke with The Sisterhood.
“Shelly Yachimovich is the woman for this Israeli moment. Yachimovich is the one and only promise of contemporary politics,” wrote Ari Shavit in Haaretz earlier this month. Not everyone agrees with Shavit, but we all get to see just how Yachimovich will do now that she has been elected leader of Israel’s Labor Party.
Yachimovich, 51, represents a more moderate Labor outlook, one looking a return to the ideals of the welfare state while at the same time not disavowing the party’s historical role in the establishment and proliferation of the settlements. “I certainly do not see the settlement project as a sin and a crime,” she said in an interview published in Haaretz Magazine,” outraging Laborites further to the left, who accuse her of being a sell out to the right when it comes to peace with the Palestinians.
I, for one, am relieved to hear an Israeli politician who doesn’t speak in absolutes.
The City of Modi’in, Israel may yet see 50% female representation on its city council in the next election. Mayor Haim Bibas, speaking recently at an evening dedicated to women in leadership, said that he personally hopes to see women as fully equals in the local party lists in 2013.
“We need to hold Mayor Bibas to that promise,” the event organizer and panel moderator Yifat Zamir, Executive Director of the organization We Power, said.
But equal representation has thus far remained elusive in Israel. According to Zamir, there are only six women mayors in Israel, out of 154 cities and towns — that’s a paltry 3.8%. Out of some 3,000 members of municipal councils, only 300 are women. Modi’in has a 17-person city council with only three women on it.
It’s not the greatest time for women’s equality in the halls of power. First of all, as the final result from this year’s election come limping in, it’s confirmed: This is the first time in decades that women have not made strides in our representation in national government. We’ve backtracked.
How did this happen, when 2010 was supposed to be the year of the women? It’s complicated: Some feminist thinkers theorize that since the Republicans swept in running on anti-women policies, the voters who leaned in that direction might be less than thrilled by so many powerful women looking to gain office. In other words, the theory is that many of the same voters who vote for women tend to vote Democratic, thus the loss. It was also just an anti-incumbent year, and several of the strong congresswomen who won in the last few cycles ran for re-election and got pushed out by that tide.
Whether any of these theories explain the numbers or not, it’s a stinging moment for women. The U.S. ranks well behind other countries in terms of female representation in government and whatever your politics, that’s just ugly. Women’s advocacy groups are regrouping and getting ready for another round.
Voting this morning I saw several parents with tots in tow, and it reminded me of the many, many times I took my kids to the polls. I took them strapped on to the front of me in baby carriers; I took them in strollers; I took them by the hand as toddlers; and starting when they were 2 or 3 years old, I let them move the metal lever from right to left and back again, once my vote was cast.
Now we get to vote by filling in the oval next to the candidate of our choice on a paper ballot, as if we were taking the SATs. Then you take the ballot and go to a scanner and feed it in. That’s it. It is, as one neighbor said this morning, “about as exciting as going to the bank.”
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