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.
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.
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.
“Okay, last night I was visited by Jesus Christ, like the Jesus Christ. And he told me he was really bummed by all these people who use my name for intolerance and oppression.”
And so begins Sarah Silverman’s latest viral video, in which Christ comes to Sarah’s living room to tell her that she has been chosen to deliver his message about personhood. “Fertilized eggs aren’t people. People are people. But people who believe fertilized eggs are people are people too, and you have to love them, and you’re not better than them.”
Silverman then goes on to explain that the lines between religion and state have been increasingly blurred over the past fifty years, and how women are paying the price for the ongoing erosion of our reproductive rights.
I love this woman.
Here’s a list of 14 Jewish women to watch in 2014. Some of them are rising stars, others are big names already who are likely have a lot of weight on their shoulders in 2014.
Full disclosures: This is a biased list, tilted towards the media and social justice sectors including several organizations I’m loosely or less loosely affiliated with. I see it as a jumping off point, and I strongly encourage you to add your own Jewish women to watch in the comments.
Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.
The New York Times recently ran a story about an experiment testing the competitiveness of the human female. For it, researchers had a woman, who “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective,” interrupt a lecture about female friendships. Sometimes she was dressed casual, in a T-shirt and jeans, and other times she wore a low-cut blouse and a short skirt.
When she wore the jeans the female students took little notice of her. When she wore her sexy duds almost all of the students reacted negatively.
Their researchers conclusion? Stigmatizing female promiscuity, what the kids are calling slut-shaming, is something women, and not men, do to other women. Why?
One of the most important components of the Forward’s annual Salary Survey — in which we research and publish compensation figures for the leaders of American Jewish organizations — is looking at gender disparity. In fact, as Jane Eisner, our editor-in-chief wrote in the Washington Post today, she got the idea for the survey after meeting with male leader after male leader when she first started at the Forward in 2008.
As in years past, the 2013 Salary Survey found that there are many fewer women than men running Jewish organizations. On top of that, female executives make less than their male counterparts. One reason for this is that some of them run smaller organizations that pay less. But as a first-ever analysis showed, even when controlling for organizational size, women still earn less — 81 percent of what men earn.
In their latest book, “The New Soft War on Women”, academics Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett take on the notion that the end of men is imminent — as posited in Hannah Rosin’s book. They argue that while women have made some gains, particularly early on their careers, we are still a long, long way from parity.
The Sisterhood emailed with Rivers and Barnett about what women are still up against and what we need to do about it.
The recent New York Times story about breast cancer in Israel focused, in part, on the low percentage of women who undergo the surgery after being told they’ve tested positive for BRCA1 or 2, which indicate a much greater risk for breast cancer. The story suggests that this is in part because doctors in Israel are reluctant to recommend women get mastectomies, because the (mostly male) doctors in Israel are sexist, and don’t want women to remove their breasts. The article also mentions how the Times op-ed written by Angelina Jolie about her own double mastectomy sparked a lot of debate in Israel, and caused many women to start thinking about and asking for the surgery.
Implicit in the article is a message that high risk women like myself are told over and over again: get a double mastectomy to save your own life. Angelina Jolie did it — why shouldn’t Israeli women? (Other things Angelina Jolie has done: have six children, wear a vial of blood around her neck, wear black rubber pants at her first wedding.)
The holiday season tends to be the time of year when many of us feel the urge to give a little. For some, it is a way to pay forward the abundance of love and joy they are experiencing themselves. For others, it is a way to temper the guilt from all that conspicuous consumption. And for those who give Jewishly, it is out of an obligation to creating a fairer, more just world rather than an act of goodwill.
Whatever drives you to give, and for many of us it is a combination of all three, it can be hard to find a cause worthy of your hard-earned dollars. So, just in time for Giving Tuesday, the Sisterhood put together a list of lesser-known, mostly smaller, but still very worthy organizations that work to create tzedek in the world around us:
The fact that birth stories are almost always intense and captivating is common-knowledge among women. The same goes for abortion stories, though those are less-frequently shared.
The comings and goings that occur in a woman’s womb are as dramatic and emotional as what happens on the battlefield. As entertaining, too.
There are moments of despair and moments of triumph, all bound up in feelings of doubt, confusion and relief. Every delivery story, every abortion story, every miscarriage story is epic in nature, perfectly capturing the tug-of-war between fragility and resilience that marks our experiences as human beings.
Calling her award a “medal for the movement,” Gloria Steinem accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday, the highest civilian honor in America.
In her essay “The Love of My Life,” Cheryl Strayed writes about losing her mother when she was a young woman, and returning to college to tell peers she had gone to Mexico over spring break. She wished to protect others from her own deep pain. Only later did she realize how unnatural this modern way of approaching loss really was.“ If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief,” she writes, “the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up.”
Modern Loss is a new website that aims to bear witness. Filled with resources for support and essays to edify and even amuse, it targets young people in their 20s and 30s struggling with grief — and ready to break the unspoken taboo on honest, individualized talk about death. It was co-founded by Gabi Birkner (on the left in the photo below), who founded the Sisterhood during her time at the Forward, and Rebecca Soffer (on the right in the photo). Both women are journalists and media makers who lost parents in traumatic ways when they were young. Together, they wanted to use their skills to help other young people struggling in a new environment where stress over social media protocol after a loss compounds the silence and suffering.
Sarah Seltzer exchanged emails with Birkner and Soffer about women making media, gender and grief and the weird looks the co-founders get when they say what they’re working on. (Seltzer is also a future contributor to Modern Loss.)
Lily Myers’ poem, “Shrinking Women,” has gone viral. Originally from Seattle, the 20-year-old first started writing poetry during her junior year of high school after she “accidentally” took a creative writing class. She ended up loving poetry and with the encouragement of her teacher, started attending open mic nights. Fast-forward four years, Myers has found her calling.
Currently a junior majoring in sociology at Wesleyan University, Myers is a member of the University’s slam team. As part of the team, she competed last spring at the College National Poetry Slam with her poem, “Shrinking Women.” Her recitation was put up on YouTube and has garnered over 2 million views since April.
Myers, who is abroad for the semester in Buenos Aires, video chatted with the Forward’s Susan Cohen about her poetic inspiration, her thoughts on gender and what it’s like to find out your words are making a difference.
Israeli fashion house Comme-Il-Faut presented their new collection during the recent Israeli Fashion Week. The inspiration for this season’s look? The Women of the Wall.
Karin Leikovich and Sharon Daube, the designers at Comme-Il-Faut, told Ynet that they met with Anat Hoffman and Lesley Sachs, the leaders of the Women of the Wall, and saw their work as a “feminist struggle affecting every woman in the country, which is especially important to us too as secular women. Therefore it is an issue we would like to put on the agenda through clothes.”
“At the end of the day, fashion is a tool of communication allowing us to convey messages through it and touch people,” Leikovich told Ynet.
So what does a avant-garde leaning fashion house do to message religious feminists on the runway? Dress them like Hasidic men.
The collection, which is limited to the conservative hues of black, white, grey and blue, features the designers’ take on the vests, coats and starchy white shirts traditionally donned by Hasidic men. The clothes are modest, but not matronly, and, as it appears, comfortable too.
The designers say they like the fact that their collection will appeal to women from all religious backgrounds.They also made a T-shirt with the slogan, “We lovingly give permission to one another,” proceeds from which will go directly to Women of the Wall.
Women are finally mensches — at least, according to the 2014 Mensch of the Month Calendar.
This is the third year that the San Francisco-based calendar of “chosen but not taken” Jewish singles has been published, but the first in which women, as well as men, are featured. The change is in response to requests from local female Jewish residents to also see their good deeds recognized and countenances hung on the wall.
For the upcoming year, each month will showcase one man and one woman, who pose together as a pair. The pairings are based primarily on similar professional or volunteer activity interests. In one case, a brother and sister pose together.
This year was my third helping to decide the Forward 50; the annual list of people who most influenced the American Jewish story has been a Forward tradition since 1994.
In my short tenure at the Forward, the process has been relatively similar year to year. Editors and writers with various expertise throw their suggestions into the ring. Readers send in their submissions. The editorial staff debates the names, adding people on and striking others off until a list — including the top five influencers — starts to take shape. Then the senior editors make the final call.
Right now in Texas, women are getting turned away from abortion clinics thanks the set of targeted regulations aimed at abortion providers once filibustered by Wendy Davis (pictured below), eventually upheld by a conservative appeals court.
The scene on the ground is not a pleasant, or a fair one. The Austin Chronicle reported “tears” and confusion at Planned Parenthood. Andrea Grimes, reporting for RH Reality Check, described a chaotic situation as Texas facilities attempt to “shuttle” patients with now-cancelled appointments for procedures to other, open, providers. Of her patients, CEO of Whole Woman clinics Amy Hagstrom Miller, said at a press conference, “They get really angry, asking, ‘Who decided this?’”
Anti-choice politicians, is the answer.
Israeli women want in on the peace process, and they think they can help.
As Haaretz’s Eetta Prince-Gibson reports, Israeli feminists recently got together to demand that the government include women on all decision and policy-making bodies, including those in charge of negotiating peace.
This would be part of their action plan to implement a U.N. Security Council resolution from 2000 that requires parties in conflict to make sure they are taking women’s perspectives and rights into account.
Currently the peace process in Israel is headed by a woman, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who supports the plan. But those behind the resolution say this isn’t just about the number of women, but about making sure a mix of women’s voices is being heard.
The thinking behind the resolution was that changes to warfare have led to a rise in civilian casualties, which tend to be women and children. The resolution states that women “are the key to ending violent conflict and to the establishment of lasting peace” and says U.N. member states should “take definitive action to protect women from violence.”
Israel was the first U.N. member state to adopt the resolution, back in 2005, but “like so much Israeli legislation in so many different areas, this legislation, too, remained impotently ‘on the books.’ ” So a coalition of feminists groups, 30 in total, spent two years coming up with a specific plan to make the resolution a reality.
The whole thing sounds like a no-brainer, right? The more women at the table, the better women’s interests are represented in the decision making process. Except for one little thing. Women, like men, have lots of different interests.
Citi and LinkedIn recently published the results from their third Today’s Professional Woman Report, a national survey exploring women’s thoughts on their careers and work-life balance. For this round, they decided to pose their questions to men, too.
They asked each gender to define what “having it all” means to them. The vast majority of the men, 79%, said it included a “ strong, loving marriage” vs. 66% of women, and 86% of men factor having kids into their definition of success compared to 73% of women. Also, the number of women who say their definition of success is not linked to marriage or relationships has doubled since the survey was first conducted in July 2012, jumping from 5% to 9%.
At first glance these results are a little surprising, even heartwarming. Young men tend to be less likely to show interest in settling down than women — just ask any single woman in her 20s — so it is kinda sweet to know that somewhere in there they are just big softies who cherish the idea of one day having a wife and kids.