Monday, January 31, 2011

Shining Stars of Davida: Pink

I’ve been looking for an excuse for ages to write about Pink, and I’ve finally gotten one!

The first time I heard a Pink song was in a Foot Locker a really long time ago, when the video for “U + Ur Hand” was playing. I had never heard of Pink before, but I really loved the song. After I heard “Don’t Let Me Get Me” on the radio a while later, I finally begged, borrowed, and stole all of her albums. While I wasn’t an official feminist when I first fell in love with Pink, I appreciated the girl-power in her songs. Now that I am a feminist, I very much enjoy the feminist-leanings Pink displays in her music.

I’m not familiar with her first album, Can’t Take Me Home, but her second album Missundaztood has a few songs that encourage girls to be proud of their femaleness. “Respect” is all about wanting some respect from guys, saying to “back up boy, I ain’t your toy / or your piece of a*s.” “Numb” talks about getting rid of an abusive boyfriend. Her third album, Try This, also has its share of girl-power. “Last to Know” mourns a guy who wouldn’t call her back because “after the date, I wouldn’t go home with you…you tried to get me to do things I just won’t do.”

I’m Not Dead, my personal favorite album, has the feminist favorites “Stupid Girls” and “U + Ur Hand”. “Stupid Girls” mourns the fact that society has bred so many girls whose only values in life are shopping, staying thin, and having a boyfriend, rather than trying to change the world: “what happened to the dream of a girl president? / she’s dancing in the video next to 50 Cent.” The video excellently depicts the kind of girls that the song disdains. “U + Ur Hand” is telling a guy that “I’m not here for your entertainment…it’s just you and your hand tonight.” This is my personal favorite video.

Her most recent full album, Funhouse, also has strong feminist songs. “So What” is a declaration of not letting exes mess up your life and getting past breakups. In “Bad Influence,” she plays with our preconceived notions of professionals' gender when she says, “I’m off to see the doctor / I hope she has a cure.”

She recently released Greatest Hits…So Far!, a compilation of her singles that made me feel extremely old. Two new songs are featured on the album, “Raise Your Glass” and “F**kin’ Perfect.” “Raise Your Glass” is telling people to “raise your glass if you are wrong / in all the right ways.” The video begins with a healthy-sized girl knocking over cardboard cutouts of too-thin girls, followed by Pink dressed as Rosie the Riveter. A later scene shows blindfolded women being milked for a calf by masked men, which I assume is a metaphor that men are treating women like breeding cows in today’s society.

“F**kin’ Perfect” is a truly beautiful song, with Pink asking “pretty, pretty please / don’t you ever, ever feel / like your less than f**kin’ perfect.” The video shows a story of a girl who didn’t fit in since she was little, despite her efforts otherwise. After she is caught trying to steal a prom dress in front of girls she knows, she cuts the word perfect into her arm. (NOTE: THE CUTTING SCENE IN THE MUSIC VIDEO IS EXTREMELY GRAPHIC.) Afterwards, she stops trying to fit in and begins being herself.

I dub Pink into the Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Women in Prayer: Part 18, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

We thankfully acknowledge that You are the Lord our God and God of our parents forever. You are the strength of our life, the shield of our salvation in every generation. We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise, evening, morning and noon, for our lives which are committed into Your hand, for our souls which are entrusted to You, for Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and beneficences. You are the Beneficent One, for Your mercies never cease; the Merciful One, for Your kindnesses never end; for we always place our hope in You.

And for all these, may Your Name, our Ruler, be continually blessed, exalted and extolled forever and all time.

And all living things shall forever thank You, and praise Your great Name eternally, for You are good. God, You are our everlasting salvation and help, O benevolent God. Blessed are You Lord, Beneficent is Your Name, and to You it is fitting to offer thanks.

מודִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ. שָׁאַתָּה הוּא ה' אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ לְעולָם וָעֶד. צוּר חַיֵּינוּ. מָגֵן יִשְׁעֵנוּ אַתָּה הוּא לְדור וָדור:
נודֶה לְּךָ וּנְסַפֵּר תְּהִלָּתֶךָ עַל חַיֵּינוּ הַמְּסוּרִים בְּיָדֶךָ. וְעַל נִשְׁמותֵינוּ הַפְּקוּדות לָךְ. וְעַל נִסֶּיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל יום עִמָּנוּ. וְעַל נִפְלְאותֶיךָ וְטובותֶיךָ שֶׁבְּכָל עֵת. עֶרֶב וָבקֶר וְצָהֳרָיִם: הַטּוב כִּי לא כָלוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ. וְהַמְרַחֵם כִּי לא תַמּוּ חֲסָדֶיךָ. מֵעולָם קִוִּינוּ לָךְ:

וְעַל כֻּלָּם יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִתְרומַם שִׁמְךָ מַלְכֵּנוּ תָּמִיד לְעולָם וָעֶד: וְכל הַחַיִּים יודוּךָ סֶּלָה. וִיהַלְלוּ אֶת שִׁמְךָ בֶּאֱמֶת. הָאֵל יְשׁוּעָתֵנוּ וְעֶזְרָתֵנוּ סֶלָה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', הַטּוב שִׁמְךָ וּלְךָ נָאֶה לְהודות:

In this brakha, called Modim, is the third part of Shemoneh Esrei, hoda’ah (thanks). We thank God for being our god and protector in the past and future, for giving us life and daily wonders. It’s important to remember to be thankful, since constantly asking for things without ever being grateful to the One who gives it to you is disrespectful.

There are so many things the feminist movement has to be grateful for. Starting from the beginning, we have the right to vote; it took from 1848 to 1920 to get it done, but women across America were finally enfranchised less than a century ago. Canadian women got the vote in 1918 along with British, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh women. It was hard work for all the suffragists who fought for the ballot, but they persevered so that we could benefit. We have indeed; in America, ever since 1964, more women than men have voted, and since 1980, a larger percentage of women have voted.

We also have the right to control our own bodies. Before Roe v. Wade, women had to pursue illegal abortions (or claim they had been raped, like Ms. Roe, originally tried) in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Illegal abortions could result in infertility or even death of the mother. Ever since 1973, women have had the prerogative to get a legal, safe abortion.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, very few women were allowed to practice medicine and law. In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor, was rejected by several medical schools because she was a woman. Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the first female dentist, was not accepted to dental school because of her sex and opened a practice without a degree in 1861. Belva Lockwood, the first successful woman lawyer, had to fight to receive her diploma and be admitted to the bar. Nowadays, approximately half of all the students in med and law schools are female.

Women are slowly but surely entering Jewish leadership. In non-Orthodox denominations, women have officially entered the rabbinate for several years. Within Orthodoxy, women are currently pursuing positions of power. Rabba Sara Hurwitz is considered the first Orthodox woman rabbi. Women like Rachel Kohl Finegold and Lynn Kaye do not go by an official “rabbi” title, but do similar work at their respective synagogues. Women out of the rabbinate are also doing a lot of good: there has been recent proliferation of yoatzot halakha, women who specialize in halakha (Jewish law) regarding women’s issues (like taharat mishpacha, family purity).

All in all, feminists, both secular and Jewish, have a lot to be thankful for. Is there still a lot of work ahead of us? Of course. But as we say this brakha, we have to sit back and thank God for allowing all the progress that has been made within the feminist movement.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Black Holes of Davida: Kanye West, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver, and Nicki Minaj

This was cross-posted at the FBomb and Feminists for Choice.

I know those are a lot of people to put into the Black Holes at once, but trust me, these people deserve it.

When I first read this article on Experimentations of a Teenage Feminist, the first thing I said to myself was “good God.” It wasn’t a good “good God.” It was a BAD “good God.” A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, HORRIFICALLY BAD “good God.”

Apparently, parts of Kanye West’s upcoming music video for the single “Monster” were leaked online. (I would like to point out that the album’s title is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.) In the video, half-naked women are drugged or dead, hanging from chains, as West, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and Bon Iver make sexual advances towards them. Nicki Minaj also makes an appearance in the video.

The lyrics of the song are pretty bad, too. Bon Iver asks, “Are you willing to sacrifice your life?” Rick Ross then states, “B***h I’m a monster no good blood sucker / fat motherf**ker now look who’s in trouble.” Jay-Z says, “Everybody knows I’m a motherf**king monster” and that “None of you n***as have seen the carnage that I’ve seen…rape and pillage a village, women and children.” Nicki Minaj goes on about how she too is a monster and how she has money now, and that “Bride of Chucky is child’s play.”

West’s lyrics are also appalling. In the chorus, West affirms that he is indeed a monster and calls to his n***as to go to his concert, of course using the f word practically every other word. He then questions whether women are “best living or dead” and informs the listener that he wants “less talk more head,” again firmly establishing that he is a monster and his eyes are “more red than the devil is.” He also complains about how his b***h keeps “acting like I owe her s**t” and is “claiming I bruise her esophagus.”

While I have never thank God been physically or sexually abused in any way, shape, or form, I don’t deal with stories of abuse well. When I watched the first three seconds of the video (literally - three seconds), I began ticking and sobbing hysterically. Seriously, DO NOT WATCH IT. I will not post it or link to it in any form. It’s too disturbing.

This video crosses a line. Offensive is one thing; I daresay most rap-type videos are offensive to feminists in some way. But this is just sick, perverted, several steps past offensive. Using women as sex objects is obviously troubling, and must be stopped. However, this video goes past that. It says that even if a woman is drugged, drunk, or even dead, it doesn’t matter: you can still use her body however you want to. It reminds me of Ted Bundy, the 1970s serial killer who raped and killed approximately 35 women, and sometimes kept his victims’ bodies to have sex with. May I note that Ted Bundy was a sociopath?

West seems like he has a lot of anger in him, though. At the 2009 MTV VMAs, when Taylor Swift won the Best Female Video award, he got onto the stage and proclaimed Beyonce’s superiority. When he didn’t win the Best Video Award at the 2007 MTV Europe Music Awards, he also went up onto the stage and argued that he should have won. At a Hurricane Katrina benefit concert in 2005, he accused George Bush of being a racist.

I don’t want to fall prey to the double standard here, but for fear of doing so, I would seriously like to blast Nicki Minaj for participating in this. As a woman, does she not have more self-respect? How could she be willing to be featured in a song that is so disgusting and anti-woman, and then a music video that’s even worse?

And so, I dub Kanye West, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver, and Nicki Minaj into the Black Holes of Davida - people who let us feminists down by advocating misogyny, sexism, abuse, and other anti-woman thoughts and actions.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Women in Prayer: Part 17, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

Look with favor, Lord our G d, on Your people Israel and pay heed to their prayer; restore the service to Your Sanctuary and accept with love and favor Israel’s fire-offerings and prayer; and may the service of Your people Israel always find favor.

May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy. Blessed are You Lord, who restores the Divine Presence to Zion.

רְצֵה ה' אֱלהֵינוּ בְּעַמְּךָ יִשרָאֵל וּבִתְפִלָּתָם וְהָשֵׁב אֶת הָעֲבודָה לִדְבִיר בֵּיתֶךָ. וְאִשֵּׁי יִשרָאֵל וּתְפִלָּתָם. בְּאַהֲבָה תְקַבֵּל בְּרָצון וּתְהִי לְרָצון תָּמִיד עֲבודַת יִשרָאֵל עַמֶּךָ

וְתֶחֱזֶינָה עֵינֵינוּ בְּשׁוּבְךָ לְצִיּון בְּרַחֲמִים. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', הַמַּחֲזִיר שְׁכִינָתו לְצִיּון

These two brakhot (blessings), Ritzei and V’Tehzenah (collectively called Avodah), are considered one brakha (blessing), as they both discuss the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem. In the previous brakhot we prayed for the return to Jerusalem and the reestablishment of the Davidic dynasty, and so it follows that in this brakha we ask God for the final step of redemption: the Beit HaMikdash.

Soon after the Jews heard the Ten Commandments, God told them to build a dwelling for the Shekhinah, translated as the presence of God. (While we know that God does not have a gender, the word Shekhinah is feminine in Hebrew, and is considered the feminine presence of God.) Since they were in the desert, they were to build the temporary Mishkan (Tabernacle) rather than the permanent, Israel-based Beit HaMikdash. (The only difference between the two is that the Beit HaMikdash is exactly two times the size of the Mishkan.)

Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel explains in The Women’s Torah Commentary that when God gave the commandments pertaining to building the Mishkan, they were aimed at both the men and the women. Exodus 35:1 says “Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel,” the entire assembly meaning every Jewish person, regardless of gender. After Moses gave them specific instructions as to what the Mishkan would need, “the men came along with the women; everyone who is generous of heart brought” (Exo 35:22). As the text continues to detail the Jews’ participation in the building of the Mishkan, it specifies the gender of who brought what: “any man with whom there was found turquoise wool or purple wool or scarlet wool, or linen…brought them…every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands; and they brought the spun yarn of the turquoise wool, and the purple wool, and the scarlet wool, and the linen. All the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom spun the goats” (Exo 35:23, 25-26). The men and women had an equal share in giving to the Mishkan, with the men bringing the wool and the women spinning it into material. As Rabbi Sobel points out, this just comes to prove that in order for the Shekhinah to be felt, the entire community needs to be involved.

Also in The Women’s Torah Commentary (which is a hugely awesome book that every self-respecting Jewish feminist should read) is Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow’s explanation of how women have continued the legacy of the Mishkan. In the Mishkan, Aaron would light the Menorah daily. Once the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, in order to perpetuate the light, women took on the responsibility of lighting Shabbat (Sabbath) candles.

Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener discusses Exodus 38:8, “the laver of copper and its pedestal of copper, with the mirrors of the women who congregated at the entrance of the Mishkan.” Rashi links the mirrors to the enslavement of Egypt, saying that the women used them in order to entice their husbands and therefore perpetuate the Jewish nation, despite the difficult labor they endured. Moses originally did not want to accept the mirrors because of their sexual purpose, but God instructed him to take them because of the noble intent.

These are just three examples of women’s participation in the building of the Mishkan; there are many, many more. As we say the brakhot beseeching God for the reestablishment of the Beit HaMikdash, it is imperative that we keep the strong women who built the original one in mind. We must pray that at the creation of the next and final Beit HaMikdash, women are given an equal hand in its building - just like with the Mishkan.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shining Stars of Davida: Barbie and Ruth Handler

I find this whole campaign from Ms. about drowning Barbie dolls a little disturbing. As an avid Barbie lover, I had 80 dolls at my peak, and I have to say that I never felt inadequate because Barbie's body was perfect. I really feel like the feminist movement wrongly villainized Barbie; from the get-go, she was an extremely strong figure (sorry for the pun) for girls to follow, and throughout her life, there have been ad campaigns like We Girls Can Do Anything and the current We Can Be campaign. Well, here's my opinion about the doll.

Barbie has her roots in a strong woman: Ruth Handler. Handler was the tenth child of her already elderly mother and was raised by her oldest sister, Sarah. “Sarah…held things together, made the decisions, took care of the money…that’s why I never thought it strange for a woman to take the business lead in a marriage,” Handler once said. Taking after her business-savvy sister, Handler, along with her husband Elliot, cofounded Mattel, a plastics company, in 1944. They soon began manufacturing toys, becoming exponentially successful throughout the late 1940s and 1950s.

Handler observed her daughter, Barbara, and her friends projecting their dreams onto paper dolls, as only baby dolls were on the market at that time. Handler wanted to create a three-dimensional, adult-bodied doll for them. The designers at Mattel told Handler it was impossible. Soon after, Handler vacationed in Switzerland, where she found a doll that looked exactly as she imagined. The doll was the Bild-Lilli, based on a character in an adult German comic strip, intended as a three-dimensional pinup for men. The Bild-Lilli’s background didn’t matter to Handler; all she cared about was that the doll she had in mind was possible.

After years of shaping the Bild-Lilli into an all-American girl, Handler’s dream doll became a reality. Barbie was introduced on March 9, 1959 at the American Toy Fair. Buyers at the Toy Fair were unenthusiastic about Barbie, since they felt she had overt sex appeal and were afraid that mothers wouldn’t buy such an anatomically correct doll. While toy buyers’ reactions to Barbie were lukewarm, girls’ reactions were not. Once advertisements for Barbie aired on television, she flew off of store shelves. Store managers who had initially been reluctant to stock the doll were now ordering her in droves. Barbie became a hit almost overnight.

While the Barbie doll reflected Ruth Handler’s position as an empowered woman, most women lacked this status. After suffrage was granted, the women’s rights movement was still alive, but diminished and vilified. During the 1920s and 30s, women began trickling into the workforce. As a result, the media created the image of a spirited career girl in the 1930s and 40s. During World War II, women took the jobs of men who were overseas and became more liberated than they ever had been before. However, once the men returned home, women were forced to quit to make jobs available for them, and they lost their fledgling power. Men began reshaping the country in the image they had craved during the war, a cozy domestic life. Thus, the idea that women should be housewives and mothers, and men the breadwinners, was created.

Women had no choice but to knuckle under to their renewed disenfranchised state. Few women pursued a career because the media inundated them with a housewife-mother image of perfection, the highest thing a woman could aspire to. Women’s magazines, formerly advancing the idea of a career-minded woman, now advocated a housewife-mother protagonist. Many women who became housewives were highly educated, and doing housework was not challenging enough for these women.

Soon these women became bored of their monotonous lifestyles and began to scandalize. Second-Wave Feminism was born. Thousands of women, from hardcore feminists to rebellious housewives, impacted Second-Wave Feminism. Barbie can be counted among those women. While activists fought for women to have the opportunity to become successful, high-powered executives, Barbie inspired little girls to take advantage of these newly acquired opportunities. The first Barbie commercial even states, “Someday I’m gonna be exactly like you…Barbie…I’ll make believe that I am you.” Girls began viewing their dolls as themselves and not as their babies, wanting to become the powerful women their dolls portrayed. As a result, girls who played with Barbie used her as a role model and aspired to the careers she portrayed.

Barbie’s first career was Teenage Fashion Model, released at her introduction on March 9, 1959. She represented a female teenager who was self-sufficient and independent. Wearing a revealing black and white striped bathing suit, this Barbie fostered the idea that it is acceptable for girls to be autonomous and unashamed of their bodies.

The next Barbie profession was the 1960 Fashion Editor. This was an atypical career for women at the time. Very few women held high level positions in magazines; most were relegated to the research department. Even at the Ladies’ Home Journal, there was only one female senior editor: few women editors were in the women’s magazine world. The Fashion Editor Barbie encouraged girls to climb the ranks, whether in the magazine industry or any other occupation.

Graduation Barbie was released in 1963. While more women entered college in the 1950s, two-thirds of them dropped out before they finished, and those who did graduate rarely made use of their education. College was looked upon as something for women to do before they got married, not something that could lead into a profession. Graduation Barbie encouraged girls not only to attend university but to graduate and make use of their education. The Career Girl Barbie, a doll that utilized her schooling, was released the same year. In The Feminine Mystique, published that year, Betty Friedan discussed the negative national feelings against women in the workforce, stating that “‘career woman’ has become a dirty word”. Despite the mindset of the country, Mattel released the Career Girl Barbie. She proved to girls that they could be like Barbie, an all-American girl who nonetheless is motivated to pursue a career.

Astronaut Barbie, released in 1965, predated Neil Armstrong’s sojourn to the moon by four years. She was the only American woman in space in the 1960s. However, she was not the only female with outer space in mind; the Mercury 13 was a group of women who qualified to become astronauts but were rejected because of their sex. Astronaut Barbie showed girls that they could shoot for the stars, figuratively and literally.

The Barbie doll subconsciously opened girls’ minds to the possibility of pursuing a higher education and going into high-powered professions. While feminists of the 1960s fought for women’s right to equality, the Barbie doll motivated girls to emulate her autonomy and capability and take advantage of the rights they now had. By opening a Barbie box, girls were able to escape the restrictive box of conventional femininity.

I dub Barbie and her mother, Ruth Handler, into the Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Refuah Sheleimah for Gabrielle Giffords

After not checking my email all weekend, when I opened up my inbox and saw “Giffords Shooting Attack on Us All” from NOW and “Tragedy in Arizona” from EMILY’s List, I got really confused. I had to read the NOW email twice before I finally absorbed the fact that Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizonan representative, was shot and is in critical condition.

This is truly one of the saddest things I have heard in a long time. When Congressperson Giffords was shot, she was outside of a Tucson Safeway, meeting her constituents through her “Congress on Your Corner” campaign. The shooter was a 22-year-old named Jared Lee Loughner. He had two previous offenses, including possession of drug paraphernalia, and dropped out of community college rather than being evaluated for mental health to reenroll. His YouTube channel is filled with disturbing anti-government spite, in addition to listing Mein Kampf and The Community Manifesto as some of his favorite books. He also may have ties to the American Renaissance, an anti-Semitic, far-right magazine.

I have to assume that his attack may have been partially fueled by religion: Giffords’ father was Jewish, her great-grandfather a rabbi. She has identified with the Reform movement since a trip she took to Israel in 2001, attending Tucson’s Congregation Chaverim ever since. She is also a former board member of the Anti-Defamation League.

She was far from the only one harmed in the shooting. Six people were killed, including John Roll, the chief judge for the District Court of Arizona, and a nine-year-old girl named Christina Green. Fourteen others were wounded. Giffords is still in critical condition at the ICU of a Tucson hospital, but her doctors are optimistic about her recovery, as she is responding with high-level brain function to doctors’ prompts. The other surviving victims have been released from the hospital or from the ICU.

Giffords is a moderate Democrat. She served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2001 to 2003, going on to the Arizona Senate. She entered the US Congress in 2007; she just won her third term. She was a part of the Children’s Caucus, a bipartisan attempt to improve education and health care for Arizonan children, and worked with Janet Napolitano to get all-day kindergarten. She also voted in favor of increased funding for stem-cell research. She is pro-choice, with a 2009 100% rating from NARAL. She also supports gun rights…

May she have a refuah sheleimah (full recovery).

May God Who has blessed our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David, and Solomon, bless and heal Gabrielle on behalf of the merit of our good deeds and the giving of charity. In the merit of this, may the Almighty be filled with mercy to strengthen her, to heal her, to vitalize her. May God speedily send her a complete recovery from Heaven to all her limbs and organs. May she be healed along with all others of the Jewish people requiring healing. May her recovery be immediate and complete.

(As you say the names of the Patriarchs and other male figures in the above brakha (blessing) for a healing for Congressperson Giffords, please keep female figures in mind - Sarah; Rebecca; Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Leah; Miriam; Elisheba; Abigail; and Bathsheba, respectively. See my article about the concept.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Star of Davida Interviews Mary Walton

NOW names its top-priority issues as abortion rights and reproductive justice, violence against women, constitutional equality, promoting diversity and ending racism, lesbian rights, and economic justice. Women today are blessed to have to fight for such things. Several decades ago, women had to fight bitterly just to gain the right to vote. Women's rights organizations of the late 1800s and early 1900s usually petitioned state governments to enfranchise women, occasionally succeeded. In the 1910s, Alice Paul, a New Jersey feminist, was tired of the ineffectual state-by-state suffrage campaigns and broke away from the pack. She created her the National Woman's Party (NWP), her own suffrage association, and used militant tactics to get publicity, following in the footsteps of her militant British mentors, the Pankhursts. She set up the silent sentinels, groups of women that stood at the White House with banners and signs petitioning President Woodrow Wilson to enfranchise women. After the sentinels endured almost daily attacks from the public, continual arrests and incarcerations, and horrific jail treatment, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed and women across the nation could vote. Star of Davida had the honor of interviewing Mary Walton, author of the book A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot, all about the fight for the vote and the NWP's role in it.

How did you first get into writing?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a reporter. My role model was Brenda Starr, the comic strip heroine who traveled the world in pursuit of stories. Her life was filled with adventure, romance and fabulous clothes. The reality was something different. I was hired in the late 60s by the Charleston [WV] Gazette where I covered night city cops and the small upriver towns that constituted the city’s suburbs. Forty years ago women were still a rare species outside of the woman’s section and I was lucky to get the job. Soon I evolved into the paper’s environmental reporter.

Your other two books are about very different topics - the 1996 Ford Taurus and the Deming Management Method. What inspired such a radical subject change?
Most reporters are adept at quickly mastering different sets of facts, circumstances and newsmakers. It’s virtually a job requirement. And it’s tremendously challenging to be able to do that on a grand scale, as when writing a book. The common denominator to all that I write is people and their stories. Even CAR, which described the design and manufacture of a car, was about the people whose lives became intertwined with the Taurus. But afterward, I had very little desire to return to that subject. When an editor suggested a book on Alice Paul and the final years of the suffrage movement, and I realized that the story line was a David-and-Goliath tale of good vs. less good, the opportunity to pursue it was irresistible.

How did you go about doing research for A Woman’s Crusade?
I compare historical research to investigative reporting, where the sources are documents rather than people. In short, no one tells you anything. You have to dig it out. I was extremely fortunate in living near two rich sources of material. Alice Paul was from Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, not far from Ocean Grove where I live, and her home has become a feminist center with a staff that offered unflagging support. Rutgers University, also close by, has the records of Paul’s National Woman’s Party on easily accessible microfilm, plus an extensive research library. I also had a research grant from the Schlesinger Library at Harvard where Paul’s papers are housed.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I believe wholeheartedly in women’s rights but my profession as a journalist meant that I could never take an advocacy position. Within the profession, however, I and others were vigilant in seeking parity for women. And I did stories about women seeking social justice, including two that cost prominent men their positions when I uncovered evidence of sexual harassment. Stories like this did not get done before women became reporters.

Do you feel that it was directly due to the silent sentinels' efforts that the Nineteenth Amendment was passed ?
It was going to pass sooner or later. I believe it would not have passed in time for women to vote in 1920 had it not been for Paul's campaign. Including not only the silent sentinels, but her masterful ratification campaign, overlooked by most historians.

If you had lived during Alice Paul’s time, do you think you would have joined the NWP and picketed?
I asked myself this question many times as I wrote of the brave women who picketed, were jailed, went on hunger strikes and were force fed, often defying their families. I like to think so.

If you are interested in reading more about Paul, you can purchase A Woman's Crusade here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Black Holes of Davida: Moshe Katsav

Since the role of president in Israel is kind of the vice president in America, mostly as a figurehead, I never really kept tabs on the presidents of Israel - it’s the prime ministers that matter. I was pretty young when Moshe Katsav was in office, like in sixth and seventh grade, so when I first saw the headlines about how he was finally convicted of rape charges, I had to sift through my memory banks to remember who he is. Once I did, I remembered that when he left office, it was amid a load of controversy and scandal about rape and sexual harassment charges.

Apparently it wasn’t just a bunch of rumors. In 2006, a woman worker (called Aleph, the Hebrew letter for A, by the media) in the Ministry of Tourism came forward and accused him of raping her. After woman after woman began making allegations against him (in total, ten), he took a three-month leave. In March 2007, Knesset tried to impeach him, so he resigned in July. Katsav planned to agree to a plea bargain to plead guilty to some counts of sexual harassment, receive a suspended jail sentence, and give compensation to two of the women who made claims against him. The public, especially women’s rights groups, were extremely against the bargain, and in April 2008 he called off the bargain.

The trial began in March 2009, and he was formally charged with rape and other sexual offences. On December 30, 2010, a three-judge panel found him unanimously guilty of two counts of rape, indecent acts by force, and sexual harassment against Aleph, in addition to sexual harassment against Hei (H), a woman worker in the President’s Office, and indecent acts by force and sexual harassment against Lamed (L), an eighteen-year-old National Service volunteer in the President’s Office. In total, ten women made claims against him, but five could not testify, since the statute of limitations ran out. (I personally find statutes of limitation ridiculous in crime cases. How can there be a statute? Is a person any less raped after two days or twenty years? Is a person any less unfairly paid after two days or twenty years?)

Katsav can face up to 49 years in jail; the maximum jail sentence for rape is sixteen years, the minimum four. The decision for how long his sentence will be is expected in a few months. Until then, his lawyers plan on appealing the court decision.

Gila Katsav, his wife, stated that “I feel very bad” about the situation, but was not with him when he was sentenced. Elana Maryles Sztokman wrote about her concern for Ms. Katsav, since he began ordering her around during an interview with a reporter, and when she did what he told her to do, she said, “You see? You still need me.” She’s stuck with him throughout this whole mess, and he still treats her like she’s nothing? I feel bad for Ms. Katsav. Even though Ms. Sztokman criticizes her for sticking by him and therefore enabling him, I think it’s a little insensitive to judge someone quite so harshly in this kind of situation. Could Ms. Katsav have stood up and condemned her husband? Yes, she could have, and I would have praised her loudly if she did. However, I feel it’s not fair to discriminate against her, since it’s an extremely difficult and fragile situation with a lot of mixed feelings and emotions, and God only knows what kind of abuse (verbally, physically, or sexually) she’s had to deal with.

While this entire case is a huge embarrassment for Israel and the Jewish community at large, I have to commend government officials for standing up for it rather than letting it get swept under the rug. Ronit Amiel, the prosecutor, said, “This is not a happy day, or an easy day, for the State of Israel, but it is a day of honor for Israel’s system of democracy. It shows that in Israel, even princes and presidents who need to be brought to justice will be.” Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu agrees with Amiel that this is a sad day for Israel, but is glad that this shows that “all are equal before the law, and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body.”

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