The cover story, titled “The Feminists of Zion,” in the new issue of The New Republic is required reading for anyone looking for a comprehensive introduction to the war against women playing out in Israel wherever extremist Haredi Jews hold sway against the images or presence of women — or even little girls — in public.
The article is written by former Sisterhood contributor (and current Haaretz columnist) Allison Kaplan Sommer and Slate senior columnist Dahlia Lithwick. It uses the story of one national religious (modern Orthodox) resident of Beit Shemesh, Nili Phillip, who in 2011 was stoned by Haredim while riding her bike, as the frame for a discussion of both the larger issues and many of the specific ways in which Haredi pressure has been brought to bear on women’s visibility and safety.
The well-written, exhaustively reported piece looks specifically at the unlikely alliance between Phillip and other modern Orthodox women — most of them reluctant to embrace the feminist label — and the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center. IRAC began to work with Orthodox women’s groups in 2008, filing lawsuits that challenged rules requiring female mourners to stand separately from their male relatives in government cemeteries, and in some places barring women from eulogizing. As TNR’s article states, IRAC filed suits against Haredi radio stations, operating with government licenses, that barred women’s voices on the basis of modesty, and has subsequently gone on to file small claims court cases against bus companies and drivers for failing to uphold Israeli laws requiring gender segregation to be voluntary. Three of the six women on whose behalf IRAC sued were Orthodox.
When do you become a woman? As in, someone that your friend or colleague actually refers to as a “woman.” It is is certainly not after your Bat Mitzvah (will get back to that later), nor is it when you graduate from high school, or even college.
Today, the age of a woman who most of us feel comfortable calling a “woman” is being pushed further and further back; I personally hesitate or feel awkward using the term for anyone under 45. The issue is, many of us also feel the same about using “girl” for anyone over 25, and even that feels a little iffy. So basically for approximately 20 years there seems to be no appropriate term to describe people with vaginas.
Women long for an analog to “guy,” something that messages mature but not stuffy. “Gal” would technically fit the bill, but it hasn’t made much traction.
Learning how to write a check, buying hanging shelves for my first apartment (a task that’s taken me four months and counting), and trying out the new churro place near my apartment are all more pressing concerns in my 23-year-old life than deciding when to become a mother.
However, as I wrote in my last post on Judith Shulevitz’s New Republic article on aging parents and its ensuing response, motherhood has been dancing around my head a little more these days. As a child of the 1990s and 2000s, I have been raised to put my career first; I’d be crazy to think about motherhood at my very young age, right? And while neither Shulevitz nor any other medical professional would say my clock is ticking any time soon, I began to wonder about my own mother’s decision about when to have kids (me at age 30, and her last at age 38).
Last week, my mother and I sat together on my bed, a spot we’ve sat together many times before discussing school, work, friendship and family. As she did with all of these topics, my mother, Sharon Shire, a former attorney and mother of three, had her own highly articulate and deeply thoughtful way of discussing motherhood. The fact that we were discussing motherhood and my serious life choices as a woman was both novel and rewarding. Many of my mother’s stories and pieces of advice were neither new nor surprising to me. However, I suddenly found myself understanding the professional, financial and personal considerations at stake. Above all, she taught me there is no magic formula for deciding when to have children and compromise and sacrifice were always going to be involved, regardless of the age.
After my post last month about the gender disparity in magazine publishing, which was followed by VIDA’s much more thorough and ultimately conclusive study, I, perhaps naively, expected to see a comment or two from the publications about the roots of this imbalance. Then weeks passed, and, well, basically nothing.
For a while I thought that perhaps it was time to give this up. They had all likely seen the numbers; I didn’t want to come off whiny. But then my curiosity remained, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.
I sent out emails to the editors at The New Yorker (27% female bylines overall in 2010 according to the VIDA study), The New Republic (16%), The New York Review of Books (15%), Harper’s Magazine (21%), and The Atlantic (26%), asking them if they would be willing to talk with me about the dearth of female bylines. A few days later I received on-the-records responses from all those publications except for the Atlantic. (Full responses are below.) The overall message from the editors, delivered with varying degrees of passion, was an agreement that things need to change. There was not much in the way of explaining why things are the way they are — with one honest and admirable exception from The New Republic — and no comment on whether they receive and/or reject more pitches from women, nor on whether or not having more female editors might do the trick. Mostly their message was that they could, and should, do better.