Monday, May 30, 2011

Women in the Air Force in Danger

Women have traditionally been excluded from warfare, usually left at home for the men to protect them. There have been noted exceptions throughout history (think in terms of women like Deborah and Jael, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, etc.). Most modern militaries, including America’s, have welcomed women since the 1970s.

The United States Air Force has been open to women for almost 20 years; women currently make up about 16% of the force. (An interesting side note is that historically, there are many women associated with flying, like Amelia Earhart and the WASPs.) One March 30, the first all-woman Air Force unit embarked on a mission to Afghanistan. However, the American government may soon endanger many of the brave women that serve in the Air Force.

The Air Force is currently on the verge of purchasing a new fleet that will probably be used as the backbone of the war effort in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. There are two companies that manufacture the desired aircraft type: American-owned Hawker Beechcraft and Brazilian Embraer. Ignoring the fact that the American military should certainly be fighting in American-made planes, the Hawker Beechcraft model’s design has been updated within the past decade, while the Embraer planes have not been recently upgraded.

One of the many updates that the Embraer aircrafts lack is a low-impact ejection seat. This deficiency puts pilots of smaller stature in more danger. According to the Center for Military Readiness and common knowledge, women tend to be shorter and lighter. As a result, the Embraer model puts most women serving in the Air Force, as well as smaller men, in jeopardy. This is clearly discrimination that must be stopped before it happens. This is not just a matter of philosophy or politics, but of actual lives.

The women and men who protect us in the skies, risking their lives on a daily basis, need our help. I urge you to write the following message, adapted from a message Emily M. sent to me, to your representative and senators (who can be found at the links included above):

My name is [insert name here] from [insert hometown here]. Women pilots have been flying combat missions for the Air Force for 18 years now. However, it is gravely concerning to find out that they might not be as well protected as their male counterparts. The Air Force is preparing to buy a new fleet of Light Attack and Armed Reconnaissance fighters from either the American company Hawker Beechcraft or the Brazilian company Embraer. The ejection seat in the Embraer aircraft yields an extremely high impact, which poses a significant safety concern for pilots of lower height and weight. This disproportionately threatens the safety of female pilots, as they are typically of smaller stature than male pilots. Because of this, I ask you to lobby against the Embraer model’s purchase. The brave women in our Air Force take to the skies to protect us; don’t we owe it to them to make sure they are protected? 

Since today is Memorial Day, I figured I would post something about women in the military, and this came to my attention. After you've taken a few minutes to help out women and men in the Air Force, have a good Memorial Day break!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Judaism and Feminism: An Orthodox Feminist's Perspective

This was my intro post at the All-Girl Army (AGA).

I was born an Orthodox Jew. My mother was also born Orthodox, as was her mother, and her mother, and her mother, etc. In addition to instilling a strong love of Judaism into my heart, my mother made me proud of being a girl. When I became an official feminist, it didn't even occur to me to merge my religion with feminism. When I did think about it, I didn't think they were compatible. I was so wrong. Judaism is inherently feminist. There are hundreds of examples within its sacred texts of how every human being should be accorded the same respect.

One such example can be seen in the building of the Tabernacle. [This paragraph is adapted from my post about the seventeenth prayer of Shemoneh Esrei.] Soon after the Jews heard the Ten Commandments, God told them to build a dwelling for the Shekhinah, translated as the presence of God. Exodus 35:1 says “Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel,” the entire assembly meaning every Jewish person, regardless of gender. The Torah goes on to specify all of the donations to the Tabernacle, listing the men's alongside the women's. This just comes to show that in order for the Shekhinah to be felt, both women and men must be involved.

I know many of you are probably reading and saying, "Well, that may be great that the Torah's all feminist and stuff, but Jews are sexist in actual practice. I thought that women can't be rabbis! And what about that whole Hillary Clinton Photoshop incident?"

Most sects of Judaism ordain women at this point, actually; I believe Orthodoxy is the only one that doesn't. While women cannot serve as actual rabbis in Orthodox synagogues (as of yet), there are many women that call themselves members of Jewish leadership and do pretty much the same thing as rabbis do. One example of many is Sara Hurwitz, who was ordained the first rabba (feminine form of the word rabbi) over a year ago. Other women go by the title Head of the Congregation, Congregational Leader, or just plain old Ms. Other Orthodox women, while not rabbis, specialize in information regarding Jewish law that particularly impacts women.

I still cringe at the thought of the Hillary Clinton Photoshop incident. For those of you living under rocks, a Hasidic paper recently published a picture with Hillary Clinton Photoshopped out. Feminists were quick to criticize the paper. I certainly agree that it was the wrong thing for the paper to do, and do not want to defend it in any way. However, I just want to explain why the paper did this. While all Orthodox Jews keep certain laws of modesty, Hasids keep these laws on a particularly strict level. One manifestation of this is that Hasidic men won't look at pictures of women. I think it's a little silly too. However, this is just how they roll. They didn't Photoshop Ms. Clinton out out of a fear of strong women or desire to hide women, but for the sake of keeping their religion to the fullest extent. I don't agree that it's the way to do things, clearly, but that's why I'm not a Hasid.

So there's my intro post/Orthodox Jewish feminist rant. I love feminism, and I love Judaism; the two are an inseparable part of my identity at this point. I just hope that I can give some hope to every feminist out there who think s/he can't be religious and feminist at the same time.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shining Stars of Davida: Kathy Hochul and Jane Corwin

I recently wrote about Natalie Tennant and Betty Ireland, the two women who were running for their parties’ primary elections for West Virginia governor. While neither one won their primaries (and unfortunately, both gubernatorial candidates are pro-life), there are more women running for political office. In New York’s 26th congressional district, two women are running for the recently-opened seat: Kathy Hochul and Jane Corwin.

Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, is currently the County Clerk of Erie County, a position she’s held since 2007. She was born in Erie County and never went far from home, attending Syracuse University for her BA and receiving her JD from Catholic University. She has made use of her law degree, serving as legal counsel for Senator Patrick Moynihan and Congressperson John LaFalce. Her husband is also in the legal profession, as he is the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York.

She started off her public office career as a member of the Hamburg Town Board in 1994, when she helped remove local tolls. In 2003 she was appointed as the Deputy Clerk, and became County Clerk in 2007. As the highest-ranking female official in the county, she has done her best to help small businesses, among other things. Hochul believes that the federal budget must be cut, but not through Medicare as a voucher system; wants to raise taxes for those who make more than $500,000; and opposes free trade agreements like NAFTA, since they have negatively impacted US wages.

Hochul is also pro-choice. In addition, she co-created the Kathleen Mary House, a transitional house for women and children who need short-term housing after escaping situations of domestic abuse. The Kathleen Mary House helps inhabitants obtain new jobs and find permanent housing, in addition to other important steps in creating a new life.

Jane Corwin, a Republican, is a businessperson. Her father created The Talking Phone Book business, and she helped out throughout her childhood; while she was in college, she even served as the vice president of marketing. She graduated from SUNY Albany and earned an MBA in finance from Pace University. She maintained a position as research director for a Wall Street corporation while remaining involved with The Talking Phone Book. After having children, she mostly worked at home.

She currently serves as an assemblyperson for the New York State Assembly, winning the 2008 election by a landslide and running uncontested in 2010. As assemblyperson, she has championed the rights of small business owners, even serving as the Chairperson of the Assembly Minority Manufacturing Task Force. She too wants to cut federal spending and reduce taxes, but supports Medicare as more of a voucher system.

Corwin is the president of the Josephine Goodyear Committee of the Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. While she is pro-choice, she has stated that she would support bills in favor of restricting taxpayer funds towards abortion. She also opposes gay marriage, and voted against a bill that would make it law for incarcerated women to be unchained during labor and birth, in addition to proper medical care surrounding pregnancy.

The election seems to be a pretty close toss-up between the two candidates. I look forward to seeing the results. Both these women are a manifestation of the women’s rights movement; without it, these women’s opinions would not have been heard.

I dub them both inductees into Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.

I also want to say that Star of Davida has officially had over 10,000 pageviews. I’m shocked and honored that my little Jewish feminist blog has gotten so much attention in a relatively short amount of time (since July 2010). Thank you all so much for your support!

EDIT: Kathy Hochul won the election. Mazel tov (congrats!) to Ms. Hochul!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What We Can Do For Feminism

I find myself in a church, crowded with people dressed in heavy 1800s garb, despite the extreme heat.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal!” I look towards the front of the room and see one of the mothers of the women’s rights movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, reading from a document. I realize this is the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, and that Stanton is reading from the Declaration of Sentiments.

“In the covenant of marriage,” Stanton continues, “she - that is, woman - is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master - the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.”

The room begins to fade again. When my sight clears, I am in a modern-day living room. A woman is lying on the floor, bruised and crying, a ring on her finger. Her husband is standing above her and screeching, kicking his vulnerable wife in the stomach. She keeps her eyes shut, helpless. After several minutes, he stops the abuse and stalks out of the room. A girl about my age tiptoes into the living room and helps her mother sit up, wiping away her tears.

“Why don’t you leave him?” the girl asks, her words barely audible.

“I can’t,” she says, her voice equally quiet. “I have no one other than him, nowhere to go, no money to leave with. I have no freedom, no…”

“Liberty,” her daughter says. “This isn’t fair.”

“Tell me about it,” the abused woman says, laughing hollowly.

* * *

I am transported from the unhappy home back to the Seneca Falls Convention. “He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man,” Stanton calls out.

I find myself back to my own era again, this time in a school hallway. A group of girls stand against their lockers, ogling at a football star as he walks past them.

“He is so cool,” one of them says. “That he’s so good at football and wins all those games, he’s so tough and manly. That’s so awesome.”

“Isn’t it?” another girl swoons. As she says it, a girl with a stubby ponytail wearing a pair of loose jeans and a basketball jersey passes the group. The girls roll their eyes.

“She’s such a tomboy,” one of them says.

“Does she even own a skirt?” a miniskirt-clad girl asks sarcastically.

“Probably not, she’s so butch,” another says, and the group laughs. I stay silent, horrified at the double standard these girls are applying. How can they applaud a boy for being tough and sporty while they criticize a girl for being the same way?

* * *

After the room finishes spinning and my sight is cleared, I find myself in a conference hall rather than the Seneca Falls Convention. I see the distinctive Betty Friedan at the front of the room, speaking to about three hundred women, and figure out that this is the first NOW National Conference, of 1966. Friedan reads a document out loud. “We reject the current assumptions that a man must carry the sole burden of supporting himself, his wife, and family, and that a woman is automatically entitled to lifelong support by a man upon her marriage, or that marriage, home and family are primarily woman’s world and responsibility - hers, to dominate - his to support.”

As she utters the last syllable, I am brought back to a law office in the present day. A woman sits at her desk, clacking away at her computer.

“Paycheck,” a clerk says as he passes her desk. She swivels around and takes the envelope he offers her, and then continues working. After a few minutes she opens the envelope and looks at the check. She notices the name of one of her male coworkers and realizes she was given the wrong envelope. She also notices that his salary is significantly higher than hers, despite the fact they started working at the same time.

Numb, she goes to her boss and shows him the check. “Why is Mike’s salary higher than mine if we’ve been working her for almost the same amount of time?” she asks him.

He chuckled. “Mike’s got a family to support,” he says. “You’re just a woman.”

“I’m supporting my family too!” she exclaims, protesting his conclusion. “I’ve got two kids just like Mike does!”

The boss laughs her off, ignoring her protests for equal pay for equal work. Enraged and embarrassed, she walks out of his office and back to her cubicle, face burning.

* * *

Once the scene fades, I am brought to a conference hall filled with women. As speakers on the stage rally the crowd, I realize this is a NOW conference in 1998, 150 years after the original Seneca Falls Convention. They read a new Declaration of Sentiments. “We envision a world where women have equal representation in all decision-making structures of our societies,” a woman onstage says.

After the 1998 NOW conference fades from sight, I find myself inside the Capitol during a vote. I scan the rows of congresspeople and see just 71 women from the House of Representatives, 16.4% of the total, while women are 51% of the population.

“This bill is imperative for battered women across the nation,” one congressperson says, giving a heartfelt speech in its defense. Both male and female congresspeople discuss the advantageous nature of the bill. Despite the passion of its supporters, the bill is easily defeated.

“It’s not fair!” one congresswoman says to another as they leave the building after the vote. “If there were more women in Congress, that bill would have gone through. It’s not right. Women are half the population. We should be half the Congress, half of all lawmaking bodies.”

Her friend shrugs. “Tell that to the constituents, not me,” she says.

We have to raise awareness of the issues, donate our time and money to worthy causes, call out inequality and unfairness when we see it, and encourage others to do so, too. We can vote for the candidates who we know will help solve the problems we see as major issues. If we don’t, we are absolutely lost.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Album Review: Half You Half Me by Girls in Trouble

I pride myself on having eclectic music taste. One of my friends was going through my iPod once and said, “You have the Beatles, Big Time Rush, Bonnie Tyler, and Bowling for Soup? That is so random!” Once I took out a Hilary Duff CD and Killers CD from the library at the same time, and the librarian gave me the most hilarious look. Indie music has never been my thing, however. That is, until I heard Girls in Trouble’s new album Half You Half Me.

Alicia Jo Rabins, Girls in Trouble’s singer, was inspired by all of the biblical women she learned about while studying in Israel for two years. Since she is a classically-trained violinist, upon her return to America, she began writing songs about them, creating Girls in Trouble. Bassist and soon-to-be husband, Aaron Hartman, heard about Girls in Trouble and joined her in the venture.

Girls in Trouble’s sophomore album, Half You Half Me, was released today, and I got the honor of previewing it. Honestly, I was floored by this album. The lyrics are amazing, like poetry set to music. When I was listening to it, I enjoyed trying to figure out who the song is talking about and what interpretations and commentaries it uses to understand the biblical characters and situations.

While the album explores women most people know of (Sarah and Rebecca in “Emeralds and Microscopes,” Rachel and Leah in “DNA,” Deborah in “O General”), it also brings more obscure women figures to light, like Lilith in “We Are Androgynous,” Zuleikha (the wife of Potiphar) in “Lemons,” and Serah bat Asher in “Tell Me.” Rabins also uses commentaries as springboards for her own interpretations; for example, in “Apples,” she uses Rashi’s interpretation of Exo 38:8 that the women donated mirrors to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that they had used in Egypt to entice their husbands underneath apple trees in order to have children.

All of the song’s lyrics give the women’s perspectives about their stories, as opposed to the text of the Tanakh (Bible), which simply states occurrences as they happened. The songs that stood out to me for the first-person point of view are “O General,” Jael thinks back on Sisera’s death with almost regret, and “Emeralds and Microscopes,” which has Rebecca yearning to meet her mother-in-law Sarah. I absolutely adore hearing from the women themselves, rather than a narrator; it really brings them to life for me. I also love how Rabins writes herself into songs, giving them a more heimish (homey) feel. In “Rubies,” which is about Eishet Hayil, Rabins says lines like “She weaves a blanket / To cover me…And I cannot forget / How her fingers wove the thread.”

All in all, this is a truly beautiful, inspiring, feminist-themed album that I absolutely adore. If you’re interested in hearing the album for yourself, you can purchase it here. If you would like to see Girls in Trouble in person, they are currently on a tour (which I hope to be attending, if my test schedule permits):

• May 19
Joe's Pub
New York City, NY
• May 20
Spotty Dog
Hudson, NY
• May 21
House Show
Providence, RI
• May 22
Beit Ahava Lag B'omer party
Easthampton, MA
• May 25
Private house concert
Brookline, MA
• May 26
Private house concert
Brookline, MA
• May 27
Venue TBA soon
Boston, MA
• May 28
Thorne's Marketplace event space downstairs
Northampton, MA
• May 29
Dreamaway Lodge
Beckett, MA
• Jun 27
Institute for Southern Jewish Life, Education Conference
Jackson, MS

BTW, to all of you who follow Star of Davida, sorry for the recent hiatus! Between Passover, AP tests, and life in general, it's been difficult to keep up. With God's help I'll go back to posting once or twice a week, as usual.