Sisterhood Blog

Sexy for Soldiers

By Sarah Seltzer

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When I read the story of Israeli women sending sexy photos off the to IDF to wish them luck and boost morale, my reaction was more of a bemused shake of the head than anything akin to the outrage, confusion, and energy-draining sorrow I’ve been experiencing while reading a lot of recent war-related stories.

The same can be said for my response to the tale of the observant women in New York who are campaigning for an Israeli victory by holding a modesty contest at home, convinced that immodesty brings bad events to brethren abroad. Good luck covering those elbows for your cause, ladies. As Talia Lavin writes, her tone laced with irony, “The way to “help our brothers in their time of need,” apparently, is to suppress every inch of skin their sisters possess.” She even suggests an Iron Dome over women’s flesh.

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The Male-Led Campaign To End Female Stereotyping in Hollywood

By Emily Shire

Robert Schepyer

The supportive girlfriend. The doting mother. The devoted daughter. These simplified roles are too often the only options for women trying to catch a break in Hollywood.

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When Women Bully Other Women

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

The road to the corner office isn’t an easy one for a woman. There is the glass ceiling to break, and then the maternal wall to mount and then, if you get that far, there are glass cliffs to avoid. Oh my!

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Where Are the Women Leaders in Wartime?

By Elana Sztokman

Gender democracy activist Anat Thon-Ashkenazy holds a 1325 pin in support of the UN resolution to bring women leaders into negotiations.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein famously quipped. Yet, when it comes to the current crisis in Israel and Gaza, the same minds that created the problems seem to be the ones charged with resolving them. And those minds almost exclusively belong to men.

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Can a Maxi Skirt Bridge Cultural Divide?

By Elissa Strauss

Mushky Notik (left) and Mimi Hecht (right) created Mimu Maxi

Together, sisters-in-law Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik run Mimu Maxi, a fashion label the creates clothes that are both modest and chic. The women, members of the Crown Heights Hasidic community, came up with idea for the company when struggling to find something stylish to wear for themselves.

Since opening two years ago, the business has found a customer based in not just other tznius women, but also Muslims and Christians who are looking for a more fashionable way to live a traditional lifestyle. Everything was moving smoothly until last week when a collaboration involving a lime-green maxi-skirt with a hijab-wearing Muslim style-blogger ignited a firestorm on their Facebook page. The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss spoke to Hecht about what happened and how fashion can be a great uniter during a time when many feel more divided than ever.

Elissa Strauss: Okay, first tell me a little bit about what you do.

Mimi Hecht: Mushky and I started designing two summers ago when, instead of bemoaning the trials and tribulations of trying to find modest, trendy pieces, we took matters into our own hands. We share a very similar aesthetic for oversized, comfortable menswear and pieces that are easy to “live in.” We don’t have an ideal customer — we just love seeing how so many women of so many backgrounds have embraced what we’re doing. If there was a “favorite” customer, it would be the ones that tell us “I started dressing modestly because of you, thank you for making it easier!”

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Why Women Are the New Gatekeepers of Modesty

By Frimet Goldberger

Getty Images // Ultra-Orthodox women in Israel

Who are the gatekeepers of the conservative religious ideal of tznius, or modesty? This question has been argued and parsed on social media and on blogs in recent years as radicalism in the ultra-Orthodox communities has taken on new and more visible forms.

A common misperception is that rabbis and male community leaders are fueling the radical surge. But are Haredi women indeed victims of a patriarchal culture that puts extreme and outsized emphasis on tznius? Are Hasidic and Yeshivish women merely oppressed by fanatical males fervently trying to control their flock of subservient women?

Yes and no.

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On Jewish Women and Facial Hair

By Chanel Dubofsky

Thinkstock

The first time I thought about facial hair was in high school, when a boy, whom I considered a friend, informed me that I had more hair on my upper lip than he did. I didn’t do anything about it then — it had been enough of a fight with my mother to let me shave my legs, and even when I was allowed to, going above the knee was still always out of the question.

When I mentioned this to my friend Julia, whose family is Sicilian, she told me that her mother wouldn’t let her do anything about her facial hair, either. (She was once referred to as “Chia Pet” by the boys in her middle school.) “The people from the hairiest cultures don’t want you to shave,” she said, shaking her head.

By college, I had become a tyrant about getting rid of mine. I burned the hair on my chin with a chemical in an attempt to eradicate it and it had left a weird scab. At a gynecologist appointment at Student Health Services, my doctor said, “If someone’s hurting you, you can tell me.”

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Mothering My Jewish Mother

By Sarah Seltzer

Sarah Seltzer

Last week, a few days before Mother’s Day (and my mom’s birthday, which always falls at the same time of year), I stood on the street near Morningside Park in Upper Manhattan with my mother, venting and kibbitzing. I was on my way home from work, she had biked up to say hi. I was cranky, she was eager to see her daughter. It had been a warm day but a breeze was beginning to blow in, and she looked at me. “Let’s keep walking,” she said. “You’re getting cold.” “I’m fine,” I replied. “Mom you’re getting cold! Just say it!”

“Fine,” she said. “But it would make me feel better if you zipped up your sweatshirt.”

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Why Women Are Gaga for Hillary

By Elissa Strauss

There’s been a sea change in the way the public feels about Hillary Clinton since her run for president in 2008. Back then we had respect for Clinton and knew she is competent and trustworthy, but we didn’t deem her worthy of the same giddy excitement as her then-competitor President Obama.

Now, six years later, we are gaga for her. We LO-OVE Hillary. The Daily Beast has a story about Hillary super-fans, women who cover their cars or bodies with her face or spend their days tracking her every move on their blogs. They might be more expressive than others, but the nearly $6 million already raised by the “Ready for Hillary” Super PAC suggests they are not alone.

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Let's Talk About Incarcerated Women on Passover

By Sarah Seltzer

Thinkstock

During Passover it’s our obligation to think about all the people who are in chains who should be free — whether they are Jewish or not. Today, as I sit at my desk longing to munch on anything but another matzo sandwich (how oppressed my taste buds are!), I’m thinking not just about frightening instances of anti-Semitism at home and abroad, but also about two innocent women who are unfairly caught up in America’s frightening, ballooning criminal justice system. I would like to see more Jewish groups, energized by the Passover message, engage with our terrifying “prison-industrial complex,” particularly the way that system targets marginalized groups.

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Why HBO's 'Doll and Em' Deserves To Be Renewed

By Elissa Strauss

A recognizable portrayal of mid-30s to early 40-something women on TV is a rare thing. When we do see women of this age they tend to have incredibly intense jobs like “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope or “Homeland’s” Carrie Mathison or they are, well, a character on “Sex and the City.”

This is what makes the new HBO series “Doll & Em,” which just concluded its first and possibly last season, such a rare treat. The show is about a pair of friends who see middle-age around the corner and try their best to figure out what that means for themselves as individuals and as best friends. There are no terrorists or presidential scandals or even rows upon rows of suitors to choose from, just the regular horrors of coming to terms with your life decisions and the feeling of not youngness that particularly afflicts women around this time.

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Happy Equal Pay Day!

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

Happy Equal Pay Day Ladies! Today marks how long into this year women must work in order to make how much men made last year when you adjust for how much money we lose because of the 23% gender wage gap. Feels good, right?

Equal Pay Day was started by the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1996 as a way to spotlight the fact that men still earn more than we do, and is based on Census statistics from the previous year. Today represents the median gap for all women, but if we observed one just for women of color it would be even later in the year: Hispanic women would have to wait until mid-July.

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Where Are the Israeli Female Small Business Owners?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand // Israeli women network at the business conference

Israeli women, like their counterparts in the United States are, in parlance popularized by Sheryl Sandberg, leaning in. However, although Israel is “start-up nation,” it is no leader when it comes to women and business. I got a chance to learn more about this at a conference I attended last week in Jerusalem.

Onlife, an Israeli news and content website for women, partnered with the Jerusalem Municipality to bring an annual conference on small businesses owned by women to the Jerusalem. It was held at The First Station, Jerusalem’s old train station, which has been renovated in to a culture and entertainment venue, and was attended by 1,000 women from around the country.

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Shameful in Beit Shemesh

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

(Haaretz) — It was as frightening as any terrorist attack, recounted the young woman assaulted in broad daylight at a bus stop in Beit Shemesh last week.

But in fact, it was probably worse.

After all, one might presume that if an Israeli Jewish woman had been attacked by a Palestinian in the middle of the street, the bystanders around her would have rushed to her assistance, or at the very least, hastened to call the police. But that’s not what happened when this 25-year-old woman sitting at a bus stop with a toddler on her lap was verbally and physically assaulted by an ultra-Orthodox man last week who cursed at her and screamed that she wasn’t dressed modestly enough.

No one, she said, came to her aid or called for help, when he pulled her by her hair and threw her on the ground.

The attack was reported in the print media, but the young woman who was attacked at a bus stop in the haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet went on television this week and related the full harrowing story herself. Her face was blurred on camera, but her story was clear and detailed, and painted a troubling picture of life in Beit Shemesh only a few weeks after its ultra-Orthodox mayor was reelected. The event turned the national spotlight on Beit Shemesh once more, has reinvigorated the struggle of a group of Beit Shemesh women to fight against intimidation in their city through the legal system, and revived discussion of whether coexistence is possible in Beit Shemesh or whether the non-haredi population would be wise to either pack their bags or divide their city in two, that is attempt to formally secede from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

The woman was sitting at a bus stop with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, dressed in a skirt with her head covered, when she was accosted by a haredi man. “He put his face right in front of mine and shouted “Slut! You weaken men!” she said in her Channel 2 news interview. “I was completely frightened by him, and I screamed.”

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Why Are Strong Female Characters So Thin?

By Elissa Strauss

Lionsgate Publicity // Jennifer Lawrence as “The Hunger Games’” Katniss Everdeen

Over at the Atlantic, Julianne Ross has a piece about the predominance of scrawny women in young-adult fiction. From “The Hunger Games” to “Divergent,” a new wave of popular books features skinny girls acting tough.

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My Most Important Friendships

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock

Female friendships are difficult to understand. The bonds that women forge — the really close friendships — are almost invincible. Although I hesitate at stereotyping female friendships, I nevertheless believe some of the stereotypes to be true.

Maybe it’s because I have recently realized that my daughter is treating her friendships differently than my son is, and that to her, finding new friends and forming strong bonds with them is an important process. Or maybe it’s because my own process of finding and maintaining friendships has evolved lately, that I find myself contemplating the connection with the women in my life often.

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Standing Up for Agunot

By Martyna Starosta

Martyna Starosta

Shira Dicker protests the plight of chained women, or agunot, whose husbands refuse to grant them religious divorces, during a small Times Square gathering on International Agunah Day.

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Throwback Thursday: Queen Esther in New York City

By Chana Pollack

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

Forward Association

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How Friday Night Dinner Can Save Us All

By Elissa Strauss

When I spoke to Jennifer Senior, author of the new book “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood”, I told her that my experience reading her book felt much like the state of being she describes in the title. As a mother of 15-month-old, I am still in denial about the long term struggles inherent to this whole parenting thing and it was often painful to accept her smart analysis of the topic.

The book looks at all the reasons we are less happy than we’d like to be, or at least thought we would be. Some of these, like the fact that toddlers are incapable of rational thinking, we can only battle through acceptance, while others are things we can actually do something about. The one that stood out to me was the decline in community, best known as the “bowling alone” phenomenon, and how the resulting isolation only works to make parents’ lives even less fun than they need be.

I spoke with Senior about why parents are so much lonelier these days and how Shabbat dinner might save us all.

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A Mother and Daughter, Raised Worlds Apart

By Frimet Goldberger

Last Sunday, in a glittery princess frenzy, we ushered in my daughter’s seventh year. I love children’s birthday parties and all the fabulous will-certainly-break-tomorrow presents that abound. Yes, I shamelessly admit that I ogle the gifts, lick icing off the birthday cake and become a member of the children’s club, for two kids, twice a year.

Frimet Goldberger’s daughter, Ruchy

My husband likes to tease me, “You are probably more excited than the kids are.”

Much as I love birthdays, I do not enjoy watching my little ones grow up. Accuse me of being an archetypal Jewish mother, but I can’t help worrying about all the little things growing up in a modern environment entails — all the things I know so little about.

I worry because my daughter’s experiences are and will be radically different from my own, having grown up in a strict Hasidic environment. I worry because no self-help parenting book can prepare you to deal with the unforeseen future of a life you have never lived. I worry because I will need to grow up with her, to learn what it is like to be a teenager in this world, to understand the complexities and challenges of a girl’s life. I will relive my childhood vicariously through my daughter’s. In some ways I already am.

Rachel, or as we call her by her Hebrew nickname, Ruchy, is a little photocopy of myself. She has my green eyes, my auburn hair and my freckles; she relishes her food the way I do, is a pleaser by nature, makes friends easily and digs into those relationships. According to her bubbe, she even has my figure, and embraced the challenges of toilet training just the way her mommy did, eons ago. She is a bubbly, independent and loving child who has brought so much light into our lives. She amazes us daily with her maturity and ability to be assertive beyond her years.

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