Sisterhood Blog

Why Alice Walker and Michigan Are Both Wrong

By Sarah Seltzer

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker.

Alice Walker and the University of Michigan Center for Education for Women — which disinvited her from a speaking engagement at its 50th anniversary celebration, as the Sisterhood’s Erika Dreifus recently wrote about, then later re-invited her to speak at a public forum on campus — are both misguided. It was foolish of Alice Walker to boycott an Israeli publisher because of her anger at Israel’s occupation. But it was wrong, also, for the Center to rescind their invitation because of Walker’s support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

How can I stand against them both? Easy. Because I believe academic, cultural and intellectual boycotts in almost all circumstances (with some obvious exceptions) are lazy. They embody people’s fear of having their own opinions challenged by the deep nuances and multi-faceted nature of reality, of art, of the world of ideas. Art is a vehicle for revealing the grey areas of human existence. We should share it as widely as we can, and welcome the way it interrogates us and our dogmas.

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Bar Mitzvah Pornography

By Elyse Goldstein

I actually must thank Sam-the-Bar-Mitzvah-video dancer and his family for their voyeuristic and strategically-posted video of the burlesque dance routine that’s been making blogosphere news. They have certainly given us Rabbis fodder for our high holiday sermons.

But while many of us are busily typing up diatribes against the excess, the lavishness, the expense and the lack of Jewish focus, and while we are all right in our musings about so many of the wrong messages Sam’s scantily-dressed dancers gave off, I hope we don’t miss seeing it through one more lens: the feminist one.

Imagine you are one of the 12- or 13-year old girls watching the performance, whether live or on the video. What do you see?

You see a riff on all those music videos with hot girls shaking everything they’ve got around a male lead singer (this time a Bar Mitzvah boy). You see a 13-year-old boy hungrily adored by female dancers the age of older sisters, or worse yet, mothers. You see that “women” — in the form of the Ritual Rockettes — want that boy. You see that one guy can satisfy 20 girls. And that they all desire back. You see a boy being welcomed into a gaggle of females vying for his attention. They wait for him and on him. And you no doubt imagine yourself, the skinny, awkward, gawky tween, hoping to be one of those women soon — hoping to have a man to allure the way those women are not-so-subtly alluring and admiring Sam.

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Parenting Gone Wild

By Elissa Strauss

I didn’t want to write about Amy Sohn’s story “Modern Mothers’ Turn to Scratch an Itch,” in the New York Times’ Sunday Style section. Any “trend” piece about a handful of wealthy women whose idea of work/life balance is leaving their kids with their husbands at the summer vacation house during the week as they frolic around the city in “metallic lace and satin mini” or “[rack] up a bill as big as it would have been for a family of four” while eating alone at a sushi restaurant seemed like it just isn’t worth thinking too hard about.

But then the story continued to gnaw at me for the rest of the weekend. I found myself increasingly annoyed by the, albeit seldom employed, model of parenting exalted by this piece.

As Sohn points out, spending the week alone in the city and the weekend with family up in the country used to be the norm for men. This was particularly true for Jewish families who spent their summers in the Catskills. Now I don’t think these moms are necessarily “bad mommies” just because they enjoy a little time off. Nor were the fathers necessarily bad dads if they did too. What gets me is how they justify their enjoyment.

It seems as though all of these mothers have absorbed an all-or-nothing attitude towards parent-rearing, one that dictates that kids should always come first and the only way to escape it is to escape them completely.

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Why Is Anti-Vac the New Black?

By Elissa Strauss

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I am pro-vaccine. Very. And I think you should be, too, as a parent, a Jew and a fellow citizen.

For this reason, I find myself increasingly baffled by the anti-vaccine movement that seems to be gaining steam even as study after study discredits any harmful side effects from vaccinations and children — babies! — unnecessarily die, which I am sure we can all agree on being pretty much the worst thing ever. (Quickly, vaccinations don’t just protect, or not protect your child, but also protect other people’s young children because of a thing called herd immunity.)

In a recent oped for the Los Angeles Times, professor and doctor Nina Shapiro writes about how in wealthy enclaves in cities around the country, parents are increasingly forgoing vaccinations. At a Malibu elementary school, just 58% of kindergartners had all their vaccinations, and some private schools in California report rates less than 20%. As Shapiro put it: “Yes, that’s right: Parents are willingly paying up to $25,000 a year to schools at which fewer than 1 in 5 kindergartners has been immunized against the pathogens causing such life-threatening illnesses as measles, polio, meningitis and pertussis (more commonly known as whooping cough).” Furthermore, a recent report for the Center for Disease Control shows that there continues to be a nationwide rise in children who aren’t vaccinated, and anti-vac’s most famous face, Jenny McCarthy, just landed a spot on “The View.”

Looks like anti-vac is officially the new black.

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Childcare problems? The Jewish Organizational World Responds

By Elissa Strauss

In her new story “Motherhood in the ‘Lean In’ Era for Lillith, former Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner takes a look at the childcare crisis and what the Jewish communal world should, and is, doing about it.

Daycare programs and tuition subsidies are arguably as good an investment as trips to Israel. And there are fewer unknowns. Jewish children are already in the picture. Their parents need quality childcare, and help paying for it. Synagogues and community centers need to engage young families—families that look and work a whole lot different than they did a generation ago. That means overhauling existing programming models, like preschools that start at age two, and assumptions, like that one parent is always available for a noon pickup and a $2,200 a month childcare bill poses no hardship.

Birkner discussed these issues with organizations like the JCC Association of America who says that they understand the rising need for daycare and, as a result, have begun to offer full-day care in 2/3s of its 157 early-learning programs in community centers around the country.

She also spoke with the Union for Reform Judaism, who says it is encouraging its 900 synagogues to reevaluate their preschool programs with an eye towards developing full-day care and figuring out how to make it affordable.

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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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Q&A With 'Camp Gyno' Creator Naama Bloom

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Naama Bloom

Meet the Brooklyn mom and entrepreneur behind “The Camp Gyno,” the viral video that has racked up almost 5.5 million views in just a couple of weeks, and drawn the attention of many major media outlets.

The video was conceived as an introduction to HelloFlo, a subscription service for women’s periods founded last March by Naama Bloom. Subscribers receive a nicely wrapped monthly care package of sanitary products and a treat, all delivered timed to their menstrual cycle. Starter kits for girls getting their first period are currently available for pre-order.

Bloom, 40, spoke with the Sisterhood about her company, the video and how she learned how to use a tampon at Camp Galil, a Habonim Dror Jewish summer camp in Ottsville, Pa.

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Let's Keep the Dialogue Going

By Caroline Rothstein

Jonathan Weiskopf
Sisterhood contributor Caroline Rothstein.

I recently wrote an article in the Sisterhood entitled “Why I Check Both White and Jewish,” about white privilege, gentrification and my experience being marginalized as a Jew. My intention was to spark conversation amongst readers about privilege and racial identity in order to work towards dismantling racism both within the Jewish community and beyond, articulated quite succinctly in Sarah Seltzer’s response piece about acknowledging privilege and honoring the Jewish tradition of social justice.

But how my piece epitomized the very privilege I set out to highlight is something about which I was restless before the piece published. Readers’ responses challenged me even further. Through a live Twitter chat Sisterhood blog editor Abigail Jones and I organized using hashtag #MyJewishID, and several of my own private conversations with readers, I began to recognize that the tears I wrote about — the very ones that moved many readers in an empathetic and powerfully positive way— simultaneously left others highly triggered, unsettled and disturbed.

My “white guilt tears” were the result of a series of actions one Saturday morning in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where I live. In short, a local Latino neighbor perceived my actions of deliberately closing my apartment door in our predominantly Latino neighborhood as racist. As I walked down the street, I overheard him talk about my actions to the bodega clerk next door, came back, apologized, clarifying that my intentions were not racist, and ultimately ended up in tears myself — with him comforting me.

The moment and exchange became about my guilt. It returned to my power and privilege.

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Opting Back In Reveals the Perils of Opting Out

By Sarah Seltzer

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When women stay home with the kids, men may start to view them differently. That’s one of the many takeaways from Judith Warner’s revelatory second look at the “opt-out generation” a decade later, published this weekend in the New York Times Magazine. A particularly noteworthy quote came from the spouse of one of the women profiled, seeming to indicate that his wife’s self-esteem was not a value he cared for. “Once she started to work, she started to place more value in herself,” said Mark Eisel of his ex, Sheilah O’Donnel, a housewife who had opted back in, “and because she put more value in herself, she put herself in front of a lot of things — family, and ultimately, her marriage.”

Bryce Covert neatly unpacks the hidden thesis in Warner’s article at her blog at the Nation, writing “that the actual circumstance of having a wife stay home changes men from being egalitarian to being far more traditional …” both at home when they expect a level of caretaking their partners may not have signed up for, and at the office where research has confirmed their views, colored by their own family structure, “take a turn for the sexist.”

The question I always ask at moments like this is what came first, the chicken of women spending more time at home, or the egg of home-based caretaking work being devalued by society? This attitude also explains why domestic workers and health aides aren’t treated as the hard-working, skilled laborers they are.

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The Inconvenient Truth of Having a Career and Kids

By Elissa Strauss

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Judith Warner has a new New York Times magazine piece on the opt-out fallout. She looks at the lives of women who, armed with prestigious degrees and high-powered jobs, decided to leave their careers behind in order to become full-time caretakers a decade ago. (Many would call them stay-at-home-moms but I won’t, because I find the term, with it’s passive “stay,” pejorative. As much as you might like to, you never “stay” anywhere when you are home chasing kids all day.)

I recommend you read Warner’s piece in full because the reporting is excellent, as are the issues she raises. Still, like all good writing on work-life issues, it left me with more questions than answers. The one nugget of insight Warner took away from looking at these families is that husbands need to do more to demand work-life accommodations from their bosses in order for our work culture to change. She says this is no longer so much a gender issue, but an economic one, because these days parents need two salaries to survive, but they also need two jobs that allow them to parent.

Otherwise, we are left with the inconvenient truth about life in a world in which both men and women want a career and a family. This is the fact that someone needs to watch the kids and, in most circumstances, it is probably best that at least a quarter of the time that person is a parent.

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Stop And Smell the... Boredom?

By Nina Badzin

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This is the fourth and final post in a Sisterhood series by Nina Badzin on gadgets, family and work.

Turns out I’m not the phone-addict I thought I’d become during the first months of my iPhone experiment.

To recap: Before Passover, I decided to stop living as a slave to my phone. I’d heard about others’ attempts at unplugging and even about one writer’s Internet-free year. In most cases, the experiments failed because the change was too drastic. Less phone time sounded reasonable, but my rules still required practice.

Some Forward readers insisted that strict Shabbat observance would solve my phone problems. As I reported in late April, I didn’t find that improving my Shabbat habits had any positive influence on the rest of the week. (However, I would love for some Shabbat observant readers to tell me whether they are less addicted to their phones on Sunday through Friday due to their 24 hours off the grid. Do you not look at a text during dinner on a random Wednesday? Are you not staring at your phone on the subway or in line at the grocery store? Let me know in the comments below.)

My phone-free progress has not come from big blocks of time. Rather, as debut author Natalia Sylvester noted when she couldn’t use her phone during an international vacation, it’s possible to do more of what you want when your spare moments are no longer spent staring into your phone. I loved Sylvester’s advice to “collect these moments. Spend them wisely. Watch them stack up like change rescued from underneath the couch cushions, piled high in a clear glass jar that astounds you with how much it holds once it’s full.”

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Why I Check Both White and Jewish

By Caroline Rothstein

Jonathan Weiskopf
Sisterhood contributor Caroline Rothstein

Join Caroline Rothstein on Twitter for a Tweet chat about this article tonight, Wednesday, July 31, from 7:00 to 7:30pm ET. Share your opinions with the hashtag #MyJewishID.

On a recent Saturday morning, I left my Bushwick apartment in yellow galoshes and a black raincoat, my red umbrella tucked under my elbow, my yoga mat swung over my shoulder. As I opened the door to exit my building, a middle-aged Latino man left the adjacent bodega with a fresh cup of coffee in hand.

He turned his body and prepared to sit on my building stoop. Instantaneously, upon walking outside, I pulled the front door behind me; I didn’t want it to slam into him. After all, I always close the door when someone is standing in the doorway.

As I turned right and headed down the block to catch the bus, I caught a glimpse of the man’s face. It looked as if decades of disappointment engulfed his gaze. I watched him leap back into the bodega, raising his voice: These white people moving into the neighborhood are racist.

I halted. Turned around. Walked back. Met the man, now sitting on my tiny stoop, eye-to-eye. Amidst his hurt words, I told him I had no intention of insulting him; closing the door had nothing to do with the color of his skin.

He stood up and said that us white people keep moving here, thinking everyone’s a criminal. I assured him I wouldn’t have moved here if I thought that. Assured him I’m working desperately hard to respect everyone who lives in this neighborhood, which is predominantly Latino/a. And then, coaxed by something far deeper and far more overwhelming than this specific interaction, my eyes welled up with tears.

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Fired for Being too Pretty

By Sarah Seltzer

Screenshot

In the midst of a news month filled with political sex scandals both old and resurrected, you might have missed a bizarre court ruling out of Iowa.

The decision basically said: You can be fired for being too attractive, if you are a lady, because your attractiveness has nothing to do with your gender.

A young woman, Melissa Nelson, working as a dental assistant, was fired by her boss, James Knight, because he and his wife basically saw her as a seductive threat to the sanctity of their marriage. From pretty women to gays, there are so many threats to the sanctity of marriage, isn’t it funny how ego and poor self-management is never listed?

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Jewish Experience? You Got to Make Your Own

By Joanne Seiff

Joanne Seiff

Caroline Rothstein’s recent post, “Lost in Jewish No-Man’s Land,” made me want to write back. Yes, Judaism (and religion in general) is about “questioning and searching for meaning.” However, some of the comments in response to her post made another point. Rothstein recounts her journey as someone who has travelled and searched for Jewish congregations in a variety of places. She isn’t alone. Since getting married 15 years ago, my husband and I have lived in four cities and two countries. We have belonged to five shuls during that time and we’ve attended services at many more — in all varieties, as our family is some of everything: secular, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Lubavitch.

What we’ve learned from all this? Finding a Jewish community and home does not happen on occasional high holidays or when you have emergency kaddish minyan needs. In fact, attending a shul for the first time on high holidays is not really representative of the congregation’s personality the rest of the year. High holidays are like a Jewish version of baseball’s World Series! Very few would start out a relationship with baseball with World Series tickets. Instead, you might catch a minor league game on a lazy hot summer evening with a friend. Sitting in the nosebleed seats with a $5 ticket, you talk, watch the game, eat a hotdog, drink a beer and dance during the 7th evening stretch. The fourth time you go, you know what to do and how to do it. Before you know it, you might have season tickets and know the players’ names. You might build a relationship with your seatmates and enjoy a continuing experience rather than a single ball game.

Synagogue attendance is the same. No place “feels like home” the first time you attend. Every congregation, whether Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox or unaffiliated, has a slightly different service than you might expect. No place can sit static, waiting to comfort you with every prayer melody from your childhood. There are different customs and even different foods for kiddush. Attending a new congregation might mean that no one will know you and sometimes, you might not be personally welcomed at your first visit.

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Forget Weiner. Meet the Other Mayoral Candidates

By Elissa Strauss

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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

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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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'Frumpification' of Orthodox Fashion

By Monica Osborne

Thinkstock

Everything comes easier for me when I have a bit of intellectual stimulation, and exercise is no exception. Recently, as I pushed through another grueling post-baby workout, my trainer, sensing that I was in desperate need of distraction, told me something interesting. An Orthodox Jewish woman had recently complained to her that some of the women in her shul were purposely dressing frumpier and frumpier. This woman claimed that she and some of her friends were discouraged by the new trajectory of modesty that likely stems from increasing efforts to shield the seductive female body from the penetrating male gaze. (Yes, I said penetrating.)

Apparently modesty glasses haven’t yet made it to Los Angeles, and so women are taking long skirts, long-sleeved shirts, and high necklines to the next level of unfashionable. No longer is it good enough to wear modest clothing that fits. It would seem that modesty, according to this story, is also about looking as unattractive and sometimes even as slovenly as possible.

I wondered, could this be true?

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In Praise of Kate's Postpartum Bump

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images

While most of the world was thrilled to get a glimpse the new royal baby, I was getting teary-eyed about something else — Kate Middleton’s postpartum bump.

Among the many luxuries afforded to the Duchess of Cambridge for her debut as a mother was a hair and make-up team to assure that her tresses were shiny and smooth and her complexion dewy. These magicians, whoever they are, did a marvelous job of erasing any signs of fatigue and physical stress that pregnancy and labor, no matter who you and your vagina married, brings on. Well, everything except the bump.

The fact that you still look quite pregnant for a couples of weeks after you give birth is something I failed to understand before I had a baby. Shortly before my due date I sent my sister links for non-maternity dresses I could wear to the bris, wondering if I should get a small or medium. If I could time-travel my way back to that Gchat, I would write rows and rows of “hahaha’s” just so we got the point. (I wrote more about the perils of dressing during and after pregnancy here.)

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Royal Baby, Royal Motherhood?

By Jennifer Lipman

Getty Images
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge with their newborn son.

He’s not yet two days old, only weighs 3.8 kg and doesn’t even have a name. Yet Baby Cambridge, third in line to the throne and pronounced beautiful by his doctor, is currently occupying the world’s attention. Kate, it seems, has done her job.

Throughout British royal history, the existence of the heir and the spare has been of the utmost importance. Queen Victoria may have presided over the industrial revolution, but she was also celebrated for being a mother of nine. Henry VIII divorced and beheaded two wives and divided the church all because he wanted a wife to give birth to a son. As the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I’s failure to marry and procreate plunged the political classes into crisis mode.

But whereas once the lack of an obvious heir put the country’s future stability at risk, that’s hardly the case today. The Queen is head of state, but her duties are ceremonial; uncertainty about the next monarch would not send the markets into a spasm. Theoretically, had William chosen to stay celibate, it wouldn’t have mattered (except to legions of wannabe-princesses): The royal line would have gone in another direction, but the U.K. would have been just fine. But that’s only in theory. We all know that had Kate not done what every pundit and gossip magazine had demanded since the first slice of wedding cake was snaffled — had a child, stat — she would have been seized on as a failure, not quite guilty of treason, but not far short.

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The Royal Baby Fuss Is Terrifying

By Sarah Seltzer

Thinkstock

As a woman of childbearing age, settled down domestically and waiting prudently until I’m just a few steps more settled down to become a mom, I cannot express how horrified I am by the recent Royal Baby fuss. I’ve never been a great royal-watcher myself, but all this “Kate waiting” was nigh impossible to avoid.

I certainly acknowledge that Kate Middleton’s birth canal probably got more media attention in one day than my entire existence ever will. But in modern society, many women find themselves in a microcosm of the Kate Middleton hot seat, at least in their own worlds: watched and fussed over but not necessarily in an empowering way.

Pregnant women and their bodies become public property even more than women already are; the street harassment that follows women when they’re not pregnant morphs into clucking and faux concern when they are.

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