Friday, July 30, 2010

Loving an "Imperfect" Body

I was recently at a concert with my mom and two friends, and there were a lot of very oddly-dressed people there. (Put emphasis on the very in that sentence. One particularly memorable outfit was a pair of bellbottoms with pink hearts, a white feather boa, and sparkly silver platforms.) Among these people was an overweight woman wearing a short denim skirt and a belly shirt. Yes. An overweight woman wearing a belly shirt. The four of us were scandalized and nicknamed her Belly Woman.

“There must be something wrong with her,” my mom said. “No sane woman would walk outside like that.”

When my mom first said it, I thought it was a little harsh of her to say that the woman had to be mentally ill to dress in a belly shirt when she was overweight. As I thought about it more, I realized that there was absolutely nothing wrong with this woman; in fact, there was something more right about this woman than there is about most of us. This woman felt so comfortable with her body that she was happy to show herself off, as much as she may weigh. She may have been heavy, but she had self-esteem. I wish that I, with my thin body, had that kind of self-confidence.

Online, I found statistics that 53% of 13-year-old girls and 78% of 18-year-old girls feel uncomfortable with their bodies, but I think those numbers are highly underestimated. I constantly read on my Google Buzz that my friends are running to the gym, and they all eat like bunnies. Girls and women in the past and present feel fat. Eating disorders have skyrocketed since the 1960s. Women have been pressured to stay thin ever since the feminine mystique, the idea that women should be housewife-mother dolls in the home, was created in the 1950s. The fact that “Belly Woman” had the self-assurance and courage to stomp on fifty years’ worth of inundation from men and media that women have to be thin is so heartening. May we all have the strength to follow her example and begin to love our bodies.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Black Holes of Davida: Allison Iraheta

This was cross-posted at The FBomb

When Allison Iraheta was on American Idol, I really liked her, and was upset when she got voted off. One of my friends fell totally in love with her. "You gotta hear her single, 'Friday I’ll Be Over U,' it rocks," she kept hocking me. I finally looked it up on YouTube and was unimpressed. When my friend kept insisting that I had to listen to the whole album, I got it from the library.

Since this isn't an album critique, I won't go into detail about how Allison sold her soul to the Music Industry Devil by singing teenybopper songs when she has more of a Janis Joplin appeal. What I will go into detail about is the plain old anti-woman offensiveness on the album. The songs "Friday I’ll Be Over U" and "Don’t Waste the Pretty" are being touted as girl-power anthems, and I admit that they do contain weak positive messages. The offender on the album overshadows any positivity, though: "Beat Me Up."

"Beat Me Up" was PAINFUL to listen to. My Allison-obsessed friend did warn me about it. "There’s this really weird song at the end called 'Beat Me Up' that I don’t even know what it’s about," she said.

I don't know, but to me, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out the topic. The title itself screams "I support domestic violence!" It’s not like a hidden message or anything. "You like to keep me on a chain…You beat me up…You hit me up…You always make me do those things…You get your fix out of causing me pain…" To me, it's pretty obvious that she’s singing about a boyfriend who abuses her, physically and sexually.

When I first heard the song and the first verse ended, I expected the song to begin going on a "Never Again" by Nickelback track, where she "pulls the trigger as fast as she can" on her abusive husband at the end of the song, but no. "Beat Me Up" says, "I'll never let you go…I still love you cuz you heat me up…I come running cuz you fix me up…Oh baby just beat me up…I really don't care what they say about me / Cuz he gives me everything I want."

Music Choice, a series of music channels on television, has an oldies channel that my family watches, and they often play a song called "Johnny Get Angry" by Joanie Sommers. In summary, it's a watered-down sixties version of "Beat Me Up." I hate that Music Choice plays it and have complained to them about it in the past (file a complaint to help me get it banned from the channel here), but I can excuse it, as the song was recorded in 1962. That was before The Feminine Mystique was published and before people even heard the term "women’s rights." But in this day and age, for Allison Iraheta to release a song that promotes domestic violence?

I looked into the song and found an interview of Allison Iraheta online. "It's a pretty rad song. This chick likes being mistreated by her guy. A lot of girls out there, they like that! And it's kind of sad, but y'know, that's just the way she is. Not that I'm like that because I'd beat the h**l out of whoever the h**l mistreats me! I put myself in another girl's shoes, so it's a pretty cool song," she said. While she at least said that she would never personally take abuse from a guy, I sincerely doubt any of the thousands of 10 - 16-year-olds who listened to "Beat Me Up" are going to read that interview.

According to the American Bar Association, 25% of women were raped or assaulted by a current or former spouse, living partner, or boyfriend. 1.3 million women a year are sexually assaulted by their partners, and 33% of female murder victims are killed by their partners. Approximately 85% of spouse and dating abuse victims are female. These are TERRIFYING statistics. Many cases of domestic abuse aren't ever reported, making a lot of these statistics much too low. In books like Burned by Ellen Hopkins, no one in the family ever divulges their father's abuse. "It's embarrass[ing]. You can't show your face in public without feeling like you've done something wrong. Something you need to be punished for. Not only that, but…you've been bad," one of the abuse victims says in Burned.

So, Allison Iraheta, is that what you’re supporting?

I dub her the first inductee into Black Holes of Davida - people who let us feminists down by advocating misogyny, sexism, abuse, and other anti-woman thoughts and actions.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shining Stars of Davida: Deborah, the Wet Nurse of Rebecca

God commanded Jacob to leave Shechem, where Simon and Levi made Jacob “odious among the inhabitants of the land” (Gen. 34:30) by killing out the entire city in revenge for Dina’s rape. Right after he arrived in Beit El (aka Beth El and Bais Kel), the Torah mentions a seemingly random detail: “Deborah, the wet nurse of Rebecca, died, and she was buried below Beit El, below the plain; and [Jacob] named it Allon Bakhut.” This is the first and last time Deborah is mentioned; other than this one verse, we know nothing about her.

Many commentators fill in the blanks about this mysterious woman. The text explicitly states that Deborah was Rebecca’s wet nurse. Typically, a wet nurse is simply a woman hired to nurse a baby if the mother cannot, or chooses not to. However, Aiden Zemirah, author of the novel Rebekah: Lady of the Negev, interprets Deborah and Rebecca’s relationship entirely differently. Zemirah construes that Deborah was indeed Rebecca’s nurse, but the job description was more of an eternal friend. Because of Rebecca’s lack of sisters, she and Deborah became very close.

While we may know who she is, the question still remains as to why she was with Jacob’s household if she was Rebecca’s companion. When Rebecca heard that Rachel was pregnant, she wanted the favorite wife of her favorite son to have the best care possible, so she sent the nurse who she thought the highest of: Deborah.

Deborah, however, was far from young. Rebecca was in her 140s, and Deborah was older than her (by eight years, in Aiden Zemirah’s interpretation). The long journey to Beit El exhausted her, and she died soon after she joined Jacob’s household, before Rachel gave birth. Nurses and those educated in healing were venerated at that time, and no doubt Deborah’s loss would have been highly mourned by Jacob’s family. According to Rashi, Jacob buried her underneath a plain on the incline of a mountain, and called it Allon Bakhut, which literally means the tree of tears.

Most commentators agree that Deborah’s death also signifies Rebecca’s death. Aiden Zemirah explains that the end of Rebecca’s life was marked with isolation and grief. After Rebecca helped Jacob trick Isaac into giving the blessing of the firstborn to Jacob instead of Esau, the narrative never discusses Isaac again, only returning to mention his death. He became morose and taciturn, and Rebecca, as his wife and the only family member still living with him, had to bear the brunt of his upset. Esau was openly preparing to kill his brother. She was out of regular contact with Jacob, her favorite son. Finally, after she dealt with all these hardships, Rebecca died alone. Nahmanides explains that this ending was too unhappy to record so bluntly in the Torah, so instead of writing that Rebecca died, it says that Deborah, her wet nurse, died. That way, we are reminded of Rebecca without asking too many questions about her unhappy ending. Genesis Rabbah elucidates that it says that the plural bakhut in Allon Bakhut means that two people died: Deborah because of the length of the journey, and Rebecca upon hearing the news of Deborah, her closest companion’s, death.

Kabbalah says that the soul of Deborah, Rebecca’s wet nurse, was later reincarnated in the form of Deborah, the famous judge of Israel who led the Jews in a successful battle against Canaan. The later Deborah “was a prophetess, the wife of Lapidot; she judged Israel at that time. She would sit under the date palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Beit El on Mount Ephraim, and the Children of Israel would go up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:4-5). A mountain near Beit El…wasn’t the original Deborah buried there?

I dub Deborah, the Wet Nurse of Rebecca, the first inductee into Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.

Monday, July 19, 2010

All the Single Ladies...and Gentlemen

I was recently on a tour at the Apollo Theater, which was a really enjoyable and informative experience. The tour guide was Billy Mitchell, aka Mr. Apollo, who started out as an errand boy at the Apollo Theater and now practically runs the place. While he told us about the Apollo’s history, he also discussed the black rights movement. As a feminist, I support equal rights for black people too - I mean, how hypocritical would it be if I only wanted rights for women and not other groups? Mr. Mitchell obviously agreed that people of every race, color, religion, and sex deserve equal rights. At one point in his speech to us he even bashed people who use the n word and b word in casual conversation, and said that the media has wrongly inundated people with the idea that such words are acceptable.

While I commend him for feeling so strongly about using inappropriate words, he needed to practice what he preached a little bit more. He obviously did not use either the n or b word in conversation; however, he was still using sexist language. “The talented men and ladies who performed here…” “The men and ladies on the street…” “All the men and ladies who built this theater…” “Men and ladies…” “Men and ladies…” “Men and ladies…” I really wanted to jump up and yell, “Make up your mind already! Say men and WOMEN or GENTLEMEN and ladies!”

When a person uses the term lady when they wouldn’t use the term gentleman, or says men and ladies, it’s extremely sexist. Describing a woman as a lady but a male counterpart as a man is putting the woman on a pedestal. This is totally defeating the entire purpose of the women’s movement. We feminists don’t want to be put on a pedestal. We feminists don’t want to be put on a footstool. We feminists want EQUALITY. We want equal pay for equal work, not more pay, or less pay, for equal work. We don’t want to be patronized. We want to be given our EQUAL rights.

Obviously, there are more important things than wording when it comes to feminism. While its significance shouldn’t be underestimated, I would put get woman in the White House and get harsher punishments for rapists, among dozens of other things, way higher up on my priority list. When asked about the International Rabbinic Fellowship’s resolution expanding women’s roles in Jewish leadership, Rachel Kohl Finegold, the ritual director at Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, said, “[I] like the fact that they focused on function rather than title…I don’t think it’s the most important question right now. The more important question is, are there jobs available, are there settings where women can use their talents.” It’s important to focus on whether a woman calls herself rabbi, rabba, rosh kehila, ritual director, or anything else, but more important is what said rabbi/rabba/rosh kehila/ritual director does. It’s the same with secular feminism: it’s important what you call us, but not as important as the rights that we gain. However, the next time you’re about to say lady when you wouldn’t use the word gentleman, use woman instead!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why "Star of Davida"?

There are many symbols representing the Jewish community. Things like menorahs and Torah scrolls immediately come to mind. However, foremost is the Star of David. Unlike menorahs and Torah scrolls, which have been around since biblical times, the Magen David is not mentioned in early Jewish literature. The Shield of David is mentioned as a concept of protection, but the physical star is absent. The earliest finding of the star’s usage is on a tombstone from the third century in Italy and on a synagogue in the Kinneret. The carpet page of the Leningrad Codex (dated 1008), the oldest complete manuscript of the Tanakh, is decorated with a Magen David. Jews used the symbol sparsely throughout the rest of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. By the 1700s, it was widely recognized as a symbol for the Jewish community. In 1897, when the Zionist flag was created, it was made with a blue Jewish Star in the middle.

While the Star of David was used by Jews to represent the Jewish community, it was also used negatively by anti-Semites. Jews were often forced to wear identifying badges throughout the Middle Ages, and the badge was often in the shape of a Jewish Star. The most known usage of the star as an identifying Jewish marker was by the Nazis in the 1940s: Jews were forced to wear yellow stars while they lived in Nazi-controlled countries and concentration camps. After the Jews were liberated and the State of Israel was born, Israel adopted the Zionist flag and the Star of David on it, turning the symbol that had come to be one of anti-Semitism to a positive character.

The Star of David is named after King David, the ancient king that extended Israel and Judah’s borders. There are dozens of explanations for what the star has to do with him, ranging from interlocking the letters of his name to the design on his shield. If the symbol of the Jewish community at large is attributed to King David, why can’t the women of the Jewish community claim the Star of Davida?