Sisterhood Blog

December Angst and Hanukkah Manicures

By Sarah Seltzer

Midrash Manicures

December is a complicated time to be a Jew in America. I annually find that once the holiday season hits full swing, all the Christmas gushing, tree-trimming, “what do you want this year?” asking and red and green everything makes me a little… bah humbug. I start getting more sympathetic to Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge than an Occupy-friendly writer should. But I’m not strictly Scroogish: I frequently vacillate over just how strongly I want to signal my nonparticipation in Christmas. Do I want to say an emphatic “Happy holidays” back to the presumptuous “Merry Christmases,” because I’m in a defiant mood? Usually. Conversely, do I say “Merry Christmas” back to peoples’ gentle “Happy Holidays” if I’m feeling conciliated and ready to grant joy to others in exchange for their acknowledgement of me? Or do I just smile and act aloof about the whole thing overall?

I want it on the record that Christmas is not my tradition or holiday. I get grumpy when the seasonal aisle is all red, but I also laugh at the excesses of those blue, star-of-David displays. I don’t want people making the same kind of fuss over Hanukkah that they do over Christmas; that makes me feel dishonest about a minor holiday. While I dream of my dad’s latkes and enjoy lighting the menorah, I can’t pretend that Hanukkah for us is as huge and insane as Christmas is to our non-Jewish friends. It isn’t. You give each other diamonds and huge toys, at least according to the thousands of commercials I see on TV. We give each other gloves and books. You squeal over fruitcakes and puddings; we say “pass the applesauce” and kvetch about work the next day. (You want to make a giant fuss and give me time off for Passover? Go for it.)

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Ladyblogs Are Here to Stay

By Sarah Seltzer

The Slant has a revelatory interview with Ms. Magazine founder (and Forward contributor) Letty Cottin Pogrebin on the fortieth anniversary of the magazine.

One of the biggest questions asked of Pogrebin was about Ms.’s role in shaping the coverage of other women’s magazines, inspiring the glossies’ inclusion of issue-oriented, reported features that stand out amongst the makeup and style pieces. Another question addressed? Whether Ms., which began as an offshoot of New York magazine, after all, has had an influence in today’s online media culture. She says:

That cutting edge role is now largely filled by thousands, if not millions, of bloggers and online publications. As a result, no single source functions as a “clearinghouse” or authoritative voice in the way that Ms. did in the 70s and 80s. Today’s alternative media have drastically changed the landscape both for good and for ill. For good, because it’s healthy to have many different points of view in the mix. For ill, because most of us are suffering from information overload and the impact of an important story can get lost in the online noise. These days, it’s rare for an event affecting women to enter the collective consciousness and to engage millions in a shared, simultaneous national conversation. But when it does happen, it makes a difference — witness how the rape remarks of two Republican candidates’ comments outraged women all over the country and lost the men their election.

Indeed in many ways, Ms., a fine magazine to which I’ve been proud to contribute, is a godmother of sorts for the thriving “ladyblog” universe to which the Sisterhood belongs.

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Sex, Sandy and Gaming JDate

By Abigail Jones

Each month, Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner hosts The Salon, a conversation with Rachel Sklar of Change the Ratio and other Jewish women about life, love, politics and everything in between. In the latest episode, Sisterhood contributor Sarah Seltzer discusses lessons from Hurricane Sandy; Amy Webb, author of “Data, A Love Story,” talks about how she gamed JDate to meet her perfect mate; Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, co-author of “Et Le’ehov: The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy,” about sex education in the Orthodox community, and all five chime in on the Jewish vote and election 2012. Check out all of the clips here.

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Sandy Makes Me Worry About My Future Family

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Flood damaged streets in Queens due to Hurricane Sandy.

My mom has been a global warming true believer since I can remember. As an avid lover of winter and a careful listener of Al Gore, she thought the evidence was obvious: Our grandparents had snow from Thanksgiving to Passover while we have less and less.

My brother and I used to tease her for being an alarmist, but then the weather began to change — noticeably — over our own lifetimes. And so eventually, as these things often go, it became like mother, like daughter. I morphed into that Debbie Downer at brunch, talking in hectoring tones about how climate change was going to ruin everything, starting with the apple crops and ending with global famine and the zombie apocalypse. Well, maybe not the latter. You see, as a part-time news editor at a progressive website, I’d been posting items about the small, localized side effects of climate change that made me more willing to accept the truth in the bigger changes.

For instance, here in the Northeast we have small-seeming trends that nonetheless show evidence of a major shift: maple syrup shortages, failed apple crops, fir trees dying, covered bridges washing away in storms. Even twentysomething kids who used to seasonal work at ski mountains now have to go to soup kitchens due to warm weather.

In New York City, the evidence has been all too tangible (balmy Halloweens, unbearable Junes). And between hurricanes Katrina and Irene, there were growing reports of the vulnerability of the city to the new superstorms — the Battery, the tunnels, the subway systems, reports that predicted much of Sandy’s damage.

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Pregnancy After Rape Is A WHAT?

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Senate candidate Richard Mourdock and Gov. Mitt Romney at an event in Indiana in August.

During the High Holidays, I wrote about the escalating number of politicians saying insulting things to women and then offering false apologies.

But in the two months or so since then, the phenomenon hasn’t faded — in fact, it’s worsened. First, State Rep. Roger Rivard said some girls “rape so easy.” Then, Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh denied the reality of life-saving abortions.

This week was the mother of them all. Meet Illinois Senate Candidate Richard Mourdock:

Mourdock, who’s been locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Rep. Joe Donnelly, was asked during the final minutes of a debate whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.

“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happened,” Mourdock said.

His comments shocked the punditry, and the Obama campaign was quick to point out Romney’s endorsement of the candidate and tie them to each other. Numerous progressive sites sent out petitions and messages urging the GOP to drop its endorsement of Mourdock. Everyone was in a tizzy, which made sense except for the fact that they really shouldn’t have been, because this heinous thinking isn’t new. The “children conceived in rape are a gift from God” idea is a point of view that has been expressed by Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and other outspoken voices of today’s social conservative movement.

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Toward a More Perfect Primetime

By Gabrielle Birkner

Sarah Seltzer has written extensively on The Sisterhood about television’s resistance to developing characters of color.

She has wondered why all of the titular girls of HBO’s “Girls,” are white girls, and has challenged the idea that a more diverse cast would make the show any less “real.” “We live in an era in which homogeneity isn’t mandatory for authenticity,” she wrote last week.

And as “Mad Men” returned to the air last month after a 17-month hiatus, Sarah made the case for the hit AMC series to take its portrayals of black characters beyond the symbolic:

While I acknowledge that [“Mad Men” creator] Weiner’s past omission of significant black characters is a direct (and accurate) commentary on the segregated, isolated world his show depicts, after several seasons I grew frustrated with a lack of interiority when he did introduce the rare character of color. This wouldn’t have been impossible to do right. His Jewish characters who came in and out of the picture, for instance, such as Season One fan favorite Rachel Menken, were peripheral to the Sterling Cooper world. But they were crucially allowed to have their own scenes — witness Rachel talking on the phone with her sister, who (rightly) declares that Don is a no-goodnik.

Why not allow the Drapers’ former nanny and housekeeper, Carla, a phone call with her sister? Why not allow one of the few black love interests — Paul Kinsey’s girlfriend, Sheila, and Lane Pryce’s “chocolate bunny,” Toni — their own asides with colleagues or friends, their own chances to reflect on the action?

So it’s not surprising that when The New York Times was looking to host on its website a lively debate about race in primetime, they’d ask Sarah to participate.

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