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.
Why women still struggle to manage careers and families has been a hot topic for a few years now. It’s an important conversation, one that has helped us define the problem and even stumble upon a few solutions, but sometimes it feels like there has been whole lot a talk with little emphasis on action.
Meanwhile, groups like a Better Balance, an organization dedicated to advancing the rights of working families, have been getting their hands dirty changing the laws and workplace structures that are standing in working parents’ ways.
The Sisterhood recently spoke with Dina Bakst, co-President of a Better Balance, about their recent legal victory protecting pregnant workers in New York City, their plans to expand these protections to women across the country and what all pregnant working women should know about their rights.
The media is in an absolute tizzy over the website glitches in Obamacare. In fact, I keep getting breaking news emails with updates on the State of the Glitches (this isn’t an exaggeration). I admit: the Obama administration clearly messed up, big time, in their tech firm oversight. And it’s an undeniable concern that all the hype over the website’s flaws will lead people to give up and not try to sign up for the health care they need.
However, something about this relentless focus rubs me the wrong way. That’s why I got a righteous thrill last week when I read Zerlina Maxwell’s piece in Feministing putting her finger on my discomfort. She explains that relatively privileged journalists may be over-hyping the site’s functionality issues and missing the real news, which is that frightened, uninsured Americans are happy to doggedly wait out the website’s birthing pains until they can access the marketplace and breathe a sigh of relief. And again, that sigh is not because the site is working, but because they can get health care, a basic right.
For the most part, those covering the problems are insured themselves and consequently greatly underestimate the patience of a chronically uninsured person who has been counting down the days until Obamacare began so they could have a little piece of mind that if they got sick they wouldn’t be staring down bankruptcy.
For uninsured workers in the queue for the insurance exchange marketplace, having an affordable health plan means security, and opportunity: they are now more well-positioned to pursue their dreams and bolster the economy. That’s the purpose of a safety net, isn’t it?
Of course, there are major flaws in our healthcare system, not limited to the website’s functionality. The chink in the plan’s armor (thanks, Supreme Court!) that gets my blood boiling, rather than 404 error pages, is the fact that there are so many governors bull-headedly refusing to expand Medicaid in their states in accordance with the original plan.
Legendary sex therapist Ruth Westheimer is taking Sisterhood reader questions on the next episode of The Jewish Channel’s The Salon, taping this coming Thursday with Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner and Rachel Sklar, founder of TheLi.st.
Send your questions about sex and relationships to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday night and The Salon will put them to its panel, which will include Dr. Ruth, along with Marie Claire’s deputy editor Lea Goldman and Sisterhood contributor Johnna Kaplan. (Let us know if you want The Salon to use your name or if you’d prefer to remain anonymous.)
My relationship to feminine appearance-enhancing rituals is always inverse to how tired and busy I am. Sure, I have become a marginally more “put together” person over time, competent enough to get my basic life and work tasks accomplished and also to put on concealer before I swing back out my door for evening outings. Now that I’m old enough to understand my body type and my personal style, I really enjoy the fashion aspect of image-crafting: the bright colors, the fabric combinations, the artistry and control. From the pleasure a striking jacket or a pair of jeans torn in the right spot affords me, I can extrapolate as to why some women, even feminists, embrace the whole nine yards: salon, Sephora and sample sales.
But then again, I only find getting dressed up fun the first night of any week I partake in the ritual. And once I’ve had to paint my face and pick an outfit more than twice in a few days, I begin my resentful grumbling. Even though I sit down for a few pedicures per summer, my toenails usually end up going ragged. Thus, like Bridget Jones or another desperate chick-lit heroine, I still have moments when I’m dry-shaving my legs before a wedding, or running to a drugstore to buy makeup that I’ve left behind, or foregoing one of these preparatory routines altogether because it just wasn’t high on my priority list.
The truth is, I have long also secretly patted myself on the back for my intermittent indifference to beauty culture, chalking it up not just to laziness and boredom, but also to feminist resistance. And that’s because even if on the surface I feel guilty about not conforming to standards, deep down I genuinely believe that untamed hair, extra weight here and there, and skin, free of goopy makeup are completely fine — great, even, made greater by their insistent naturalness in a coiffed and plucked world. Fashion and beauty labels literally profit off of female insecurity. To refuse to participate may be a personal choice, but it’s a bold one.
Welcome to the Sisterhood’s first installment of Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives. Click below for more.
Whether you read the Jewish press, the celebrity gossip blogs, or both, you are no doubt aware by now that Miley Cyrus, most recently famous for licking objects a dog would have the good sense to avoid, told Hunger TV why she wants to be in control of her image: “It can’t be like this 70-year-old Jewish man that doesn’t leave his desk all day, telling me what the clubs want to hear.”
Is this an anti-Semitic thing to say? Well, yes. Does Miley hate Jews? I don’t know. Anti-Semitism is the default setting for many people, whether they’re conscious of it or not. Having been raised Christian and given a minimal education in the bubble-world of child stardom, it would be understandable if Cyrus never developed any real understanding of the history of different religious and ethnic groups. Her statement that she wanted producers to give her new album a sound that “just feels black” indicates her lack of cultural sensitivity or knowledge of American musical history. My guess is that Cyrus is probably not a true bigot. She is probably, primarily, just stupid.
If that allegation sounds surprising or nasty, it’s because, outside of Internet comment sections, well-known women are not often called out for their lack of brains. Up to a point this represents great progress; not so long ago many people, if not most people, believed women were intellectually inferior to men. Now, thankfully, that view pops up much less frequently, and it is treated as inflammatory when it does. These days, when someone wants to attack a woman in the public sphere, the target is usually her looks or weight, not her mind. (That is damaging in its own ways, of course.) And enlightened people today, for the most part, believe that even if a woman is young, scantily clad, and has a job that doesn’t entail deep thinking, that she is certainly capable of leading an intellectual life.
But none of that changes the fact that some women — just like some men — are just… kind of… dim.
It is possible that Cyrus happens to be a marketing genius and is so devoted to making herself short-term famous that she is willing to sacrifice her reputation for record sales and clicks. It is also possible that her use of black people as props, her insinuations that Jews control the music industry, and her boasts about throwing lit cigarettes out of moving cars into the dry California brush are all part of a genius master plan. Maybe Cyrus doesn’t really believe that people stop wanting to have sex at 40, or the fact that her VMA performance was, in her words, “strategic” and “all thought out” makes it better and not worse. Maybe she’s extremely well-read. But I wager that Cyrus is as dumb as a bag of lint.
No self-serious feminist strain of thinking posits that it’s an act of resistance to binge drink. Philosophically speaking, getting inebriated beyond rational capacity is hardly an empowering or equalizing behavior — in fact by its very definition it is the opposite. Yet the mythical booze-pushing feminist is a straw woman who continually gets cited when writers make the “contrarian” argument, (which is actually the conventional one) that women could prevent their own rapes if they only stopped binge drinking. These writers claim that (again, mythical) feminists who want women to drink on par with men are encouraging dangerous behavior.
This spurious argument resurfaced in a link-bait article by Emily Yoffe at Slate last week tied to a horrible rape case in Maryland. Putting aside the fact that the young victims in Maryland were underage and say they were coerced into drinking more than they could handle, Yoffe’s thesis can be debunked by the fact that rape was just as prevalent (if not more so) during eras when “binge drinking” was not even part of our vocabulary. Rather than promoting binge drinking, feminists are simply stating that stopping binge drinking will not stop rape. As Amanda Hess, in a response also at Slate, notes: “Parents can tell their own daughters not to get drunk, but even if those women follow instructions, it won’t keep other people’s daughters safe.”
Yoffe’s strain of thinking replicates an unfortunate focus on women’s drinking as a risk factor, rather than men’s view of women, or even men’s drinking. Thus Ann Friedman created a reverse-gender rewrite of the Slate article using much of Yoffe’s language and rhetoric. Her version’s unusual-sounding advice demonstrated how rare it is to read articles that call out men — not just women — to stop the problem of assault. Friedman writes:
The real masculine message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will become the kind of person who, shall we say, doesn’t have others’ best interests at heart. That’s not saying all men are rapists; that’s trying to prevent more rapes.
There are other, deeper, questions we can ask that Yoffe doesn’t touch on. Why, for instance, does binge drinking occur so much? Much of it arises from pure adolescent impulse to obliterate the painful present, consequences be damned. But there are also other factors: the achievement-oriented culture we live in results in harder partying to “cut loose.” And then there’s another form of internalized misogyny: young women, are so discouraged from frankly articulating and acknowledging their desires in our sexually screwed-up cultural environment that many feel they cannot possibly “hook up” when sober. That’s not a drinking problem, it’s a problem with our sexist culture — one addressed by proponents of “enthusiastic consent” like Jaclyn Friedman, whom I spoke to for the Forward last year.
I’m thrilled to introduce myself as the new editor of the Sisterhood blog. As the deputy culture editor of the Forward, I’ve been covering gender and Judaism for the past two years, writing about topics like halachic infertility, Hasidic feminism and transgender Jews.
But my path to the Sisterhood actually began long before my time at the Forward. In middle school English class, I was given an assignment to instruct my peers on a topic of my choosing. Initially, I thought I would “teach” my classmates why girls are better than boys. (My logic at the time was that girls can grow up to have babies, an argument that today strikes me as rather sexist.) But in the end, I decided to go with a less controversial lesson: How to insult someone in Yiddish. (“Gai kaken oifen yam” or “Go poop in a lake” is still my favorite.)
From a tender age, it would seem, I was ruminating on gender and Judaism and the interplay between the two. Now, some two decades later, I finally have the opportunity to share my views in the public sphere. (I guarantee they’ve evolved beyond “girls are better than boys.”)
Of course, I’ll be joined by a talented bevy of freelance writers who will share their personal stories, analyze breaking news and, in the words of founding Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner, “break ideas” on the blog. Speaking of Gabi, I have some big shoes to fill. Gabi and Abigail Jones, the immediate past editor, populated the blog with thoughtful prose and meaningful series, like “What Jewish Feminism Means to Me” and “Women in Mourning.” I am indebted to both of them — and their hard work and vision — as I helm the blog moving Forward.
It’s called “Meet My Rapist.”
The short satirical film is a response to Kahnweiler’s own rape, which occurred almost eight years ago, when she was 20 years old and studying abroad in Vietnam. In the video, Kahnweiler plays herself. After she runs into her rapist at the farmer’s market, she can’t shake him. He appears to be following her — more like, haunting her — everywhere she goes: on a job interview, on a run with a friend, to dinner with her parents, to her psychotherapy session. Kahnweiler feels she has to take cues from everyone else as to how to relate to her rapist. However, that changes by the end of the piece.
Kahnweiler spoke with the Sisterhood about the realization that catalyzed her to make the video, her use of satire in dealing with the subject of rape, and how “Meet My Rapist” relates to her understanding of herself as a young Jewish artist.