Sisterhood Blog

Don't Judge Hasidic Seat-Switchers

By Tova Ross

Thinkstock

I know I run the risk of relinquishing some modicum of feminist street cred and incurring the wrath of all those up in arms over the situation, but here goes: I am not offended when the Hasidic gentleman next to me asks to switch his seat so he might not fly an entire flight to or from Israel next to a woman. I might think he’s an extremist, and I might think he’s not practicing a very halachic form of Judaism, but as for taking personal offense, so long as my uncomfortable Hasidic or Haredi male neighbor asks politely if he can switch his seat, and so long as he doesn’t hold up a flight should it be impossible to find an empty seat or willing passenger ready to switch, then I have bigger things by which to be offended than his preference not to sit next to me.

I write this in response to the media frenzy surrounding Sisterhood contributor Elana Sztokman’s recent account of an ultra-Orthodox male passenger delaying her flight for over half an hour while he insisted that another seat, one not next to a woman, be made available for him. Obviously, this was extremely rude, inconsiderate and the absolute wrong thing to do. But it seems that the ire this account has generated—a petition demanding El Al change its policy on accommodating those who desire a gender-segregated seat, incensed comments about the accumulated societal ills of the ultra-Orthodox and a video mocking this phenomenon, complete with offering Hasidic men a condom-like body vest to protect themselves from female neighbors—is directed more at the general practice of asking to switch seats and less so at the extremes to which this particular male passenger took it. Sztokman herself says: “What offends me is the premise that sitting next to me is a problem.” The premise—not the problematic way this man expected his proclivity to be accommodated.

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In Donald Sterling Drama, It's All About Power

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images // Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano

It reads better than a soap opera, the interpersonal and romantic drama that led to the exposure and punishment (a lifetime ban!) for racist soon-to-be-former NBA franchise owner Donald Sterling. All the juicy pieces were in place: an estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, who resented V. Stiviano, the younger woman hanging out with her husband. Such was her animus that she was suing Stiviano or being a “gold-digger” and seducing her way to the Sterling’s property. That lawsuit, presumably, prompted epic revenge: Stiviano’s secret tape recording of Donald Sterling’s appalling racist remarks.

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ScarJo's Other SodaStream Problem: The Sexist Ad

By Elissa Strauss

No matter where you stand on Israeli politics, it’s hard not to see Scarlett Johansson’s decision to become a spokesperson for SodaStream as a bold choice.

Unfortunately, this boldness didn’t make its way into the commercial itself. Instead, the ad relies on the most cliche, ickily retro advertising tropes imaginable.

If you are reading this you have probably have already seen the spot. If not, spare yourself the 33 seconds and allow me to summarize. We meet Johansson on a set, where she is wearing a full face of make-up and a crisp, white robe. She runs through the environmental and health benefits of the product, and then, changing gears to a more girlish voice, says “if only I could make this message go viral.”

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Sexism and Yearbook Photos

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

When many of his students looked unusually well-groomed, New York City high school teacher Steven Mazie wondered why. Mazie, an associate professor of political studies at Manhattan’s uber-competitive Bard High School Early College (where kids spend two of their high school years on a college curriculum, hence their teachers’ professor titles), soon learned that it was senior portrait day. Students showed him the card they had been given with strict instructions as to how boys and girls should show up for their photo shoot. Mazie was shocked — both by the gender disparities and by what appeared to be his students’ passivity.

Girls were instructed: “Prepare yourself as if you were going to your senior prom. This means that your hair, nails, makeup, eyebrows etc… should all be done. Remember, the photo will only look as good as you do… please wear a tank top beneath your attire as the yearbook photo will require you to have bare shoulders. (If for religious purposes you cannot show your shoulders, please wear black attire including any head covering.)” Boys did not get the warning that the pictures will look good only if they came looking good. They were told to get a haircut and shave the day before, to make sure their nails were trimmed and to wear a fitted and ironed shirt and tie, with a jacket optional but highly recommended.

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Words Drove Hadassa Margolese Away

By Renee Ghert-Zand

JTA
Hadassah Margolese walks her daughter, Na’ama, to school in Beit Shemesh after the girl was harassed by ultra-Orthodox men.

Somehow, I did not put two and two together.

I read Hadassa Margolese’s post (in Hebrew) on the Maariv website back in May about her negative — even traumatizing — experience at her local mikveh (ritual bath) in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Then, recently, I read several Facebook posts she wrote about her family’s move to a new home. However, I didn’t realize until Tuesday that these two things were related. I finally made the connection when I read this JTA article about how Margolese, a reluctant activist, was driven out of Beit Shemesh not by the Haredim she had previously stood up to (when they harassed and intimidated her young daughter over her dress), but rather by her fellow Modern Orthodox neighbors.

Coincidentally, I also read on Tuesday a new e-book by Allison Yarrow, titled, “The Devil of Williamsburg,” about the notorious Nechemya Weberman sex abuse case. It’s all about how Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic community covers up everything from minor misdoings to major crimes, routinely shunning community members who dare shine a light on them.

One can’t exactly compare the reporting of crimes like rape and child abuse to the writing of a column about nasty mikveh ladies who over-scrutinize you and don’t give you enough privacy. But, from what I understand, there seems to be a trickle-down effect happening. It’s no longer just Haredi Jews who are hounding and ostracizing those who air dirty laundry in public.

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Forget Weiner. Meet the Other Mayoral Candidates

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images

Sick of hearing about “fool me twice, shame on me” Anthony Weiner’s approach to women? Me too. So let’s take a look at how the other front-running candidates for New York City mayor approach women and the issues that affect us.

Bill de Blasio

De Blasio is the only candidate that has a page dedicated to women’s issues on his campaign website. On it he declares his commitment to prevent sexual assault, protect reproductive rights, demand proper enforcement of protective orders, ensure housing to victims of abuse and fight for paid sick leave so that staying home with a sick child doesn’t force someone to risk his or her job. He also says he will take measures to end workplace discrimination, make workplaces more family friendly, support women and minority-owner businesses and try to put an end to human trafficking and street harassment. This is in addition his commitment to creating a truly universal pre-K and after-school programs for Middle School students, both of which would surely help working parents.

John Liu

Liu says he will expand opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses to do business with the City of New York. He also gained the endorsement of NOW’s Brooklyn-Queens for his work fighting sexual trafficking and stressing the importance of pay equity legislation as comptroller. Overall, Liu says he aims to help working families by raising the minimum wage and creating jobs — something that will help men and women alike.

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Do We Really Need A JILF List?

By Johnna Kaplan

Thinkstock
Scarlett Johansson is #2 on Shalom Life’s JILF List.

For good or for evil, like it or not, Jews seem to be stuck with Jewish lists. The newest one is Shalom Life’s Top 50 Hottest Jewish Women of 2013, a.k.a “The JILF List.” (If you don’t know what JILF means, watch this scene from the movie “American Pie.”) The expression is “two Jews, three opinions,” but reading this list I was one Jew with 20 opinions, conflicted over what — if anything — I should take away from this ranking of female hotness.

It’s nice that the list is prefaced by a sort of disclaimer: “We understand that beauty is oft times indescribable, inexpressible, and ineffable, and always in the eye of the beholder.” It’s almost as if to acknowledge that we as a people should be above this sort of thing. Nevertheless, most of the women on it are physically stunning. On the plus side, many of them also have other talents, though those talents are very much intertwined with being famous. To be fair, other collections of hot people, including People Magazine’s “100 Most Beautiful People,” also focus on celebrities. Doesn’t it make sense, then, for a Jewish website, one that devotes a lot of space to celeb gossip anyway, to provide a Jewish equivalent to a type of list that’s common in the wider culture?

On the other hand, is such a list really necessary? It feels like one side of an argument the Jewish people no longer need to have, or if we do need to have it, we might be better advised to decline anyway. People regularly allege nasty things about the Jews, but I can’t recall hearing anything recently that made me want to fight back with, “But see! We aren’t all ugly little caricatures from Nazi propaganda cartoons! We have some hot ones!”

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Fighting For Freedom and Choice in Texas

By Susan Pintchovski

Susan Pintchovski
Susan Pintchovski

In Texas, turning progressive ideals into action can be an uphill battle, especially with a legislature that just last weekend voted to impose severe restrictions on women’s healthcare. Laws on the books here in our state include a 24-hour waiting period before terminating a pregnancy, requiring a sonogram or a trans-vaginal ultrasound to be performed. Last month, people across the country came together in solidarity with Texas as our State Senator Wendy Davis held a 13-hour filibuster to temporarily block SB 5, a new law that makes no exceptions for abortion in the case of rape or incest after 20 weeks, and lacks an adequate exception to protect a woman’s health, including upon detection of fetal abnormalities later on in pregnancy. Despite that effort, and amid public protests, the bill was renamed HB 2 and passed on Saturday, July 13, during a special session; Governor Rick Perry signed it into law the following Thursday. With the rest of country bearing witness to what some are calling the biggest victory for opponents of abortion in the past decade, activists in Texas are not giving up the fight and plan to challenge the bill’s constitutionality.

As co-chair of the NCJW Texas State Advocacy Policy Network, I work with other women across the state on issues that impact women, children and families. When it came to what was originally called SB 5, NCJW offered testimony to legislators during a hearing on June 21 and again on July 8, speaking out for women who have no voice — as it is our Jewish responsibility to speak out for them.

On Tuesday, June 25, the night of Senator Davis’ filibuster, members of the Jewish community and the Austin section of the National Council of Jewish Women bore witness to Senators Davis’ poise and endurance as she spoke out for us all. Her own personal story — a single parent struggling to make ends meet, the story of so many across Texas — explained how lives will be endangered under SB 5. Rural and poor women in Texas will have virtually no access to safe and legal abortions since excessive regulations for abortion clinics in SB 5 will in fact close all but five of them. Poor women — women without resources to make several trips to a distant clinic — may be forced to seek unsafe abortion options, with many of them perhaps losing their lives as a result.

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Too Many Orthodox Bachelorettes?

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock

There are many crises happening around the world right now — coups and civil wars, Spitzers and Weiners and what-have-you. But the real serious crisis involves the old Jewish maids crying their eyes dry because no nice Jewish boys will marry them.

The yeshivish Orthodox world has been embroiled in the so-called “shidduch crisis” for years now. This crisis involves a complicated math of too many bachelorettes for too few bachelors. Traditionally, 20-something boys marry 19-something girls, which leaves 20-something girls with no options but to grow old and give up on their dreams of diapering babies and baking challah. Or, as some ardent male critics argue, the crisis stems from girls being “too picky” when it comes to choosing a mate, while young boys would tap anything.

A recent YouTube video produced by NASI, the North American Shidduch Initiative, suggests that young boys can and should marry older girls — even if the girl is four months his senior, or, God-forbid, one year and three months older (what a crisis!).

The three young yeshivish men in glossy lips and giddy smiles talk about their own reservations about the age difference — we are talking one to two year gaps, not the shidduch crisis of 40-year-old Yitzchak marrying 3-year-old Rivka. But, as two of these three men excitedly demonstrate, listening to the matchmaker paid off and they now have little wiggly toes to show for it.

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'Princeton Mom' Is No 'Jewish Mom'

By Emily Shire

Princeton mom Susan A. Patton

I have a few choice words for Susan A. Patton, the infamous “Princeton Mom,” but I fear my ugly language would cause her to clutch her pearls so tightly it might cut off the oxygen to her brain. Then again, maybe that’s what she needs to smarten up.

Earlier this year, Patton sparked outrage and, we can only assume, mortifyingly embarrassed her two sons when she wrote in the newspaper of her beloved (I cannot stress that word enough) alma mater the Daily Princetonian. Her essay, “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had,” had at its core one simple message: Ladies, grab a Princeton man (any fellow stumbling out of an eating club in a garish orange-and-black polo will do) and marry him! Quick! Marry him before you’re lost in a world of non-Princeton grads that will never fulfill you, neither intellectually nor romantically, and you die alone, yearning for Ivy League loving.

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The Real Problem with Baby Wigs

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock
Would you put a wig on your baby?

Now, why would a parent put her baby girl in a wig? Besides wanting me to laugh at her, that is.

According to the manufacturers of “Baby Bangs,” it is to allow your baby girl to have “a beautifully realistic hairstyle in a snap.” For $25 you can buy a customized hair extension attached to a bedazzled headband “arranged in the cutest most adorable elfish coiffure!”

And according to Callie Beusman over at Jezebel, it is due to the gradual erosion of the age limit for exposing little girls to “daft and absurd gender policing.”

So the princess dogma is starting at such a young age that a newborn’s natural (downy-headed) state is somehow undesirable? Is the window of time during which a woman’s physical appearance isn’t subjected to constant scrutiny and held up to strict standards going to narrow so much that all fetuses will need beautiful virtual makeovers (if so, I’m really adept at them so you can email me on my work account for the hook-up)?

Thankfully, “Baby Bangs” have, as the more clear-headed among us would hope, taken a lot of heat. There seem to be enough good people out there in America right now that agree that our babies don’t require such enhancements to be beautiful.

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Tootsie, Barbie and Beauty Standards

By Sarah Seltzer

Bust/Huffington Post

I’ve already blogged here at the Sisterhood about my childhood proclivity for Disney Princesses. Perhaps it won’t surprise you, then, that I was also an unabashed doll player. Barbies, paper dolls, American Girl dolls, Madame Alexander. You name it; I played it. Guided by the imaginations of a few close friends sitting together on someone’s rug (and inspired by a handful of accessories), our dolls fought and got dressed. They escaped the Nazis, went on shopping sprees and struggled with poverty. They pined away in fairy-tale cottages. They worked at factories and organized for better conditions (I was a budding agitator) and battled evil and feuded over men and wore pink dresses to skate in the Olympics. I have to admit that I remain nostalgic for the hours upon hours we enjoyed of pure creativity and inventiveness and license to live in our heads.

As innocent as it all seems, and often was, dolls contribute to beauty norms that are as restrictive as kids’ imagination are free. Certainly, I can remember that an era came around when I started looking at myself in the mirror and realizing I didn’t look anything like my dolls, particularly those leggy, skinny, busty Barbies. I stopped growing taller around the time I stopped having the inventive capacity to sustain epic doll-playing sessions, after all. And with these twinned shuddering halts, my initiation into the more painful aspects of American womanhood began. Dustin Hoffman, in a video clip that’s gone viral, cried after auditioning for Tootsie, confounded by one day of being subjected to female beauty standards. Yet many of us have to live with them for a lifetime, and their effect on us begins before we even realize it.

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Should Halacha Take Precedence Over Women's Health?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Thinkstock

In a story from the operating theater of the absurd, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported on July 8 that a woman was denied a scheduled D&C for a missed abortion because of an arcane aspect of halacha. The report is in Hebrew, but there is a related English language blog post in 972 Magazine.

According to the report, a woman in her second month of pregnancy was wheeled into an operating room at Assuta Hospital in north Tel Aviv for a procedure to remove the fetus which had died inside her, but which the woman had not naturally miscarried. Just as the procedure was about to begin, the OR director rushed in and announced that it could not proceed. The reason was that this particular operating room did not have an adjoining small room designed to prevent Cohanim (descendants of ancient Israelite priests) from becoming ritually impure through contact with the dead. Apparently, abortions and D&C procedures must be performed only in operating rooms with an adjoining room that supposedly captures the soul of the dead fetus and prevents it from exiting to the hospital corridor and possibly contaminating a Cohen.

The article was accompanied by a photo of the sign affixed to the doors of all the operating rooms “kosher” for such procedures. It says, “In this place, the doors are equipped with a system to prevent ritual impurity of Cohanim. When the light above the door is on, do not open the door. Please wait patiently until the light has been turned off.”

The woman was told she would have to come back the next day for a rescheduled procedure in one of the sanctioned operating rooms.

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Heroine of the Week

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Not everyone thinks abstinence-only education works.

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.

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You Are Not Washed Up, Yale SWUGs!

By Sarah Seltzer

thinkstock

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?

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Coming Out of the Child-Free Closet

By Chanel Dubofsky

Thinkstock
How hard is it for female rabbis to come out of the child-free closet?

In February 1997, Ellen Jaffe Gill’ s essay on not wanting to have children, was published in Moment Magazine. In the piece, Jaffe Gill (then McClain) discussed how her decision not to have children did not prevent her from engaging fully in Jewish life. As a writer, she was in fact transmitting the covenant on her own terms.

“I don’t remember a lot of reaction to the piece in Moment,” she recently told The Sisterhood via email. “What was telling was that a few years later, I tried to write a feature story about childlessness by choice for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and couldn’t get it off the ground because very few peoplewould talk to me on or even off the record.”

Jaffe Gill, who entered Jewish professional life at 44 and is now a cantor and rabbinical student in her 50s, had a tubal ligation at the age of 31, “after ten years of being sure I never wanted to have a baby.”

For a very long time, I thought I wanted to be a rabbi. There are a lot of reasons why I changed my mind, but a big one is that I could not find the role model I needed — a child-free female rabbi. I knew deep down that I didn’t want to have kids, but it was so hard to say it out loud, and saying it in front of people who were committing their professional and personal lives to the Jewish community seemed impossible.

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How (Not) To Talk to 'Jewish Sorority Girls'

By Chanel Dubofsky

John Belushi in “Animal House”

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:

On hometown…

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.

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From One Princeton Jewish Mom to Another

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Susan Patton

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.

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Q&A with Princeton ‘Jewish Mother’ Susan Patton

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Susan Patton

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.

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It’s Paternity Leave, Stupid

By Elissa Strauss

iStockphoto

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.

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