Monday, December 24, 2012

JOFA Panel: Separate but Equal? The Status of Women in Israel and the American Jewish Community

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On November 28, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) held a panel titled Separate but Equal?: The Status of Women in Israel and the American Jewish Community. Although I was not able to attend in person, I was fortunate to be able to watch a livestream of the panel, which discussed how women are being treated in Israel and the implications for American Jewry. The speakers were Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Daily Forward; Blu Greenberg, founder and first president of JOFA; Dr. Hannah Kehat, founding director of Kolech Religious Women’s Forum; Susan Weiss, founding director of the Center for Women’s Justice; and Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). It was moderated by Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman, executive director of JOFA. You can read my notes on this panel here (I suggest doing so before reading the rest of this post).

All in all, I really enjoyed this panel and loved hearing such accomplished women speak about a topic so important to me. I was originally leery of attending, since I was afraid the discussion would devolve into an Israel-bashing rant. Happily, the opposite was true. The whole discussion was guided by the concept that all the speakers and attendees are such staunch supporters of Israel, it pains us to see our homeland making poor decisions regarding women’s status.

One thing that really stood out to me was the difference between women’s advancement in secular and religious affairs. Ms. Weiss pointed out that women can reach high levels in the military and that Israel’s laws about rape, sexual harassment, and employment are extremely progressive. However, when it comes to women’s equality within the religious sphere, where the state has given authority to the largely ultra-Orthodox rabbinical establishment, women are consistently left behind.

Clearly, this is a problem that needs to be remedied. Dr. Kehat was optimistic that this will happen sooner rather than later, since ultra-Orthodox women have begun to ask Kolech for help in fighting sexism within their own communities. It really made my day to hear that these women are speaking up. If they don’t complain, nobody will know that they’re unhappy with how they are treated and want it to change. Once they begin to raise their voices, feminists (Orthodox and otherwise) are happy to extend a helping hand.

I found it interesting that Kehat discussed what I called the outfrummingness factor in this long-ago post. Both of us defined it as when everybody tries to prove how much more frum (religious) they are than the next guy by adhering to the strictest possible interpretation of halakha (Jewish law), especially in regard to women’s place and tzniut (modesty). I thought I was the only one who noticed this and talked about it, so it was nice to see that I was wrong. Also feeding into this was a discussion about crosspollination between Israel and America in regard to extreme attitudes towards gender segregation. Ms. Sztokman pointed out that she sees it on flights going to Israel: in previous years, it was just the ultra-Orthodox who asked to switch seats to be seated next to someone of the same sex. Now, a lot of Americans request it too.

Ms. Eisner and Ms. Kaufman pointed out that what American Orthodox feminists consider important issues for Israeli women aren’t actually terribly significant for most Israeli women, since the country is largely secular. Although this actually makes a lot of sense, I had never really thought about it before. As an Orthodox individual, I consider praying at the Kotel HaMa’aravi (Western Wall) a fundamental right of being a Jew; however, my secular Israeli sisters and brothers don’t really care about praying at the Kotel, since it’s not something they’ve ever done or plan on doing. “I told my friend in Ra’anana that I rode [segregated buses], she looked at me like I was crazy. ‘What buses? What are you talking about, there are segregated buses in Jerusalem?’” Kaufman said. “I think we do have some bridges to build between and among us,” Eisner said. I couldn’t agree more.

Ms. Greenberg shared a story about the first Women of the Wall meeting in 1988. She received the first aliyah (call to read from the Torah) and as she was chanting the brakha (blessing), men from the other side of the mehitzah (divider between the sexes) began screaming for her to stop. “I did something that’s really uncharacteristic of me which is that I screamed back, I screamed the bracha as loud as I could.” This was mentioned in the context of a discussion on civil disobedience, and I thought this was the absolutely most awesome example of civil disobedience possible. I truly hope I can do something as rebellious, as anti-establishment, as simply EPIC as Greenberg did.

I really appreciated that Ms. Kaufman’s underscored the importance of reaching out to Modern Orthodox as well as Haredi women. “They’re both allies,” she said. So often, ultra-Orthodox women are considered the ones who need to be saved, possibly against their will, by the uber-liberated Modern Orthodox women who are enlightened and empowered. I was happy to hear Kaufman shatter this mistaken idea.

Although the panelists did their share of critiquing Israel, they also defended the country. “[The media forgets] that the Anats in Sudan had their arms chopped off and the Anats in Libya and Egypt and Afghanistan get killed - Israel is the only real democracy,” Greenberg said. Sztokman, who moderated the panel, mentioned how she had once written an article about the problems in Israel, and how horrible she felt when it was disseminated on anti-Semitic websites.

Ms. Greenberg gave an excellent comparison between Israel and a family: “We’re all part of a family…we should see we’re all in this together and we should be totally identified. And right now I think Israel should be our highest priority because part of our family is at risk. And the way I see this in terms of the critique is that it’s like a fight in the family, in that we care very much, just like family members care for each other very much if they are fighting. And so something you do when you fight in the family is you make room for the other, it’s not all about yourself, you make room for the person who’s your antagonist for that moment, in a sense, and you protect your family. I remember when our kids were teenagers and we had two of our children…one of them was picking on one of the other children, but when it came to any kind of public space he was her biggest advocate, you wouldn’t realize that this is the same brother who is making her life miserable…in a way it was a sweet thing to see. So you protect your family and part of that means that you make sure that the enemies of your family don’t win, you do what you have to do, you watch your language and you deliver your criticism in measured tones, and you also challenge the language of those who are critical of other members of your family.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What a Fickle World

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I find the stark contrast between yesteryear's societal beauty standards to those of today absolutely fascinating. When I first saw the above picture, I had to stare at it for a few seconds before I realized what it meant. What a fickle world we live in, where what equals beautiful changes so quickly.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Stand Up to Street Harassment

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I actually responded to the survey this infographic is based on, so I feel all cool and special.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Young Activists Against Eating Disorders

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that she had an eating disorder for several years. When she told me, I was really floored. I had known her for most of the time she was anorexic, but I had never picked up even the tiniest hint. None of our friends had a clue, either. I felt so bad that I wasn’t able to be there for her during a time when she really needed someone to lean on, and that she had to go through all that pain in the first place.

Eating disorders are very much a women’s issue, considering 10 million females suffer from them in the United States alone. Since I’m a person who believes in action and getting things accomplished to end injustice and unfairness, I’m happy to say that there are a number of young women who have spearheaded eating disorder awareness projects and are fighting to end the prevalence of anorexia and bulimia among women.

One of these amazing young activists is Nicole Javorsky. A student at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in New York who suffered from an eating disorder, she created the Mirror Mission at her school to spread positive body image and awareness for eating disorders in the community. She also created Cubs for Coping, which gives handmade teddy bears to medical centers and eating disorder programs to help patients recover. Cubs for Coping’s motto, “tiny teddy bear + lots of love = hope for eating disorder patients” is really spot-on. The bears are really adorable and well-made, a true comfort to anyone who receives them. Medical centers can request to receive bears by emailing, and you can purchase one at Cubs for Coping’s Etsy shop. To show solidarity with Javorsky’s mission, you can like Cubs for Coping on Facebook and follow it on Twitter. I strongly recommend that anyone who needs or wants to give to tzedaka (charity) donate to Cubs for Coping here.

Lizzie Elsberg, a student at the University of Virginia and an anorexia and bulimia survivor, created the Purple Project. Named after the color of eating disorder awareness, its goal is to encourage individuals to share their stories about eating disorders and help those struggling with them. To participate in the Purple Project, finish the sentence “I wear purple because…”, write your statement down, take a picture of yourself with it while you’re wearing purple, and email your picture to by December 15. Elsberg will compile the pictures into a video about eating disorder awareness. “I want to use this to help those who suffer and let them know that they are not alone and that people want to support them,” she says. I plan on sending in a picture of myself with a message, and strongly suggest that everyone who cares about eating disorders and their devastating impact do soo, too!

Young women like Javorsky and Elsberg really inspire me to do good in this world. They have taken their pain and suffering and channeled it into positive outlets, where they can help others overcome what they have gone through. My blessing to everyone in the world is to be as strong and successful as they are.

Don't forget to submit an entry to the Second Annual Star of Davida Essay Contest!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Feminist Theater Review: Emotional Creature

At the NOW conference in June, playwright Eve Ensler delivered the keynote speech. She was a riveting speaker whose passionate words truly rallied me to action. As a result, I’ve been hoping to see one of her plays ever since. Luckily, her newest show Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World is now playing Off-Broadway, and I was able to get tickets!

The sheer awesomeness of Emotional Creature truly floored me. Walking out of the theater, I was at a loss for words and just kept repeating, “That was brilliant. That was brilliant. That was brilliant.” The play certainly was absolutely brilliant, and extremely well-made. It featured six extremely talented women actors, all of whom played different characters in various scenes. They delivered a powerful message about the state of girls today, from upper-middle class Midwestern America to the exploitative factories of China. Although Emotional Creature dealt with some very serious topics, humor was sprinkled throughout the show, creating some comic relief and an interesting contrast.

The fact that the show had true multiculturalism really appealed to me. Of the six cast members, two were African-American, one was Asian-American, one was Middle Eastern, and two were white. The subject matter dealt with issues from almost every continent, from female genital mutilation in Africa to being accepted by the popular crowd in North America. Although Emotional Creature really celebrated diversity, my mother picked up on the fact that all the actors were all relatively thin. The heaviest actor was only around a size eight. Considering the show had a whole scene dedicated to body image and eating disorders, it’s surprising that all of the actors that were cast had a similar, thin build.

Another thing I really liked was how Emotional Creature equated Western girls’ problems with international issues. When I heard Ensler’s speech at the NOW conference about her work helping African survivors of violence rebuild their lives, I felt almost guilty for being so concerned about issues like equal pay and the glass ceiling. Like, how can I be worried about women entering the Senate when there are women out there who are subjected to horrendous violence on a daily basis? The contrast is so stark. So, I really appreciated that Emotional Creature spent just as much time on the social pressures Western girls feel to live up to their parents’ expectations as it did on sex trafficking in Eastern Europe. While sex trafficking is clearly a lot worse than feeling obligated to be perfect for your parents, everything is relative to those going through it.

Although Emotional Creature is an hour and a half long, it felt like a few minutes had gone by when the lights went down. Both my mother and I wished there was a second act, since the first part was so fascinating and informative. The play was truly an inside look on the secret life of girls, exploring the emotions girls feel and the unique situations that only girls live through.

In addition to writing plays, Eve Ensler is a feminist activist who created V-Girls, a youth-driven movement dedicated to empower girls around the world inspired by Emotional Creature. I know that I was rallied to action by seeing the show, and I hope that I wrote a good enough review to make you want to get off the Internet and improve women’s lives, too! For ideas on how to take action, check out the V-Girls website. Ensler also created V-Day and its One Billion Rising campaign. One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten, and that is absolutely unacceptable. To protest this senseless violence, women and those who love them will rise on February 14, 2013, moving the earth and activating individuals across the world. One billion women violated is one billion too much. How can we stand idly by? It is our duty to demand an end to this. If we don’t, who will?

Emotional Creature will be playing at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center through January 13. Get your tickets as soon as you can!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Second Annual Star of Davida Essay Contest!

I am thrilled to announce the Second Annual Star of Davida Essay Contest!

I established the Essay Contest last year because I noticed a serious lack of feminist-themed writing competitions. Although I’ve found a few in the past year, the number is not anywhere nearly as high as it should be. Regardless, the Star of Davida Essay Contest is now in its second year and accepting submissions!

Description: The theme was inspired by the Tumblr Who Needs Feminism?. Answer the question “Why do you need feminism?” To end double standards? To increase your sense of self-worth? To ensure that you feel safe when you walk alone at night? Go crazy with your response, so long as it’s between 200 - 800 words.

How to Enter: Send your essay as a doc, docx, or PDF file to If there’s a technical issue with your entry, I’ll be in touch - don’t worry. In the subject line, please write “Essay Contest” or something to that effect. On the top of the first page, include your full name, school year, and email address.

Deadline: February 28, 2013

Eligibility: Any and all students (from preschool to a PhD program) who are feminists can enter.

Awards: The top three winners will each win a copy of Julie Zeilinger’s debut book A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word. The winning essays will also be published on Star of Davida!

Please direct any questions you have to Happy writing!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Who Needs Orthodox/Jewish Feminism?

The extremely awesome Tumblr Who Needs Feminism? has garnered a lot of attention in feminist outlets over the past few months. Inspired by its popularity, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) created a similar Tumblr titled Who Needs Jewish Feminism? Orthodox Feminism?. Being an Orthodox Jewish feminist, I sent a few submissions of my own to the site.

I need Orthodox feminism because my community needs to reevaluate women's status. Because of its antiquated views, I have to conceal my identity whenever I associate with feminism. If my right-wing Bais Yaakov school finds out I support organizations like JOFA and Women of the Wall, I'll be expelled. Considering we live in the 21st century, that's just unfair.

I need Orthodox feminism because my Chumash (Torah) teacher has enough knowledge to be a gedolet hador (great rabbi of the generation) and not just a rebbetzin (rabbi's wife).

I need Orthodox feminism because nine guys and me should be able to say devarim sheh'bkedushah (parts of the prayer service which may only be said in the presence of ten men).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sign My Petition: Remove Phyllis Schlafly From!

For today’s young feminists, the name Phyllis Schlafly may be totally unfamiliar; if anything, it triggers a distant memory of a footnote in an AP US history textbook. Those activists who lived and fought during the Second Wave are, however, all too familiar with the uber-conservative activist.

Ever since the 1940s, Schlafly has preached that women should be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. She has said things like “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape,” and has called Roe v. Wade “the worst decision in the history of the US Supreme Court.” She recently endorsed the candidacy of Todd Akin, of “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” infamy. In the 1970s, when states were voting on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), Schlafly waged the STOP ERA campaign. Although she believes womankind as a whole should be homemakers, she apparently doesn’t apply this rule to herself, considering she traveled around the country as part of STOP ERA. Her efforts, and those of other opponents of women’s rights, were (unfortunately) successful; the ERA, which would ensure that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” was only ratified by 35 out of 38 states necessary. (Although the ERA was not passed in the 20th century, feminists have continued their efforts to secure its ratification.)

Given the above description, I think it’s impossible to call Schlafly a groundbreaker for women’s rights. For some reason, seems to disagree.

According to its website, is a “dynamic digital platform…showcasing hundreds of compelling stories from women of today and tomorrow.” There is also an affiliated documentary titled MAKERS: Women Who Make America that “will tell the story of the women’s movement through the firsthand accounts of the leaders, opponents, and trailblazers who created a new America in the last half-century.” One part of the website showcases “Groundbreakers,” whom the website defines as “firsts in their fields, visionary role models or frontline activists who sparked, and some who opposed, change for women.” To the amazement of feminists, Phyllis Schlafly is included as a Groundbreaker along with real groundbreakers like Gloria Steinem and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

My mentor, National Organization for Women (NOW) cofounder Sonia Pressman Fuentes was astounded by this gross misrepresentation. She asked Betsy West and Dyllan McGee, the producers of and the filmmakers of the forthcoming documentary based on it, to remove Schlafly from the website and film. They refused, although they did twice change the definition of Groundbreakers until they settled on the one quoted above. Although the newest definition of Groundbreakers includes those who opposed women’s rights, it still makes no sense. “Since when are those who oppose progress considered groundbreakers?” Ms. Fuentes asks.

“She most definitely does not fit the current description of Groundbreaker,” wrote US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in an October 10, 2012, letter to Ms. Fuentes.

Additionally, although claims to include women alive today who were instrumental in changing women’s status during the last 50 years, the website and documentary do not include a single one of the nine living NOW cofounders. “The absence of any founding member of NOW is a huge oversight and surely should be corrected,” Justice Ginsburg also wrote in her letter. When Ms. Fuentes complained about Schlafly’s inclusion and the dearth of NOW members, Betsy West offered several times to interview her in a clear effort to buy her off. Ms. Fuentes declined to be interviewed until Schlafly is removed from the website and film, or, at the very least, moved from the status of Groundbreaker to something more accurate like “Opposition.”

To urge PBS and AOL (’s sponsors) to remove Schlafly from or, at least, remove her from the designation of Groundbreaker, Ms. Fuentes and I drafted an online petition. We’ve gotten a lot of support in a short amount of time, and that means so much to both of us. However, to get the attention of, PBS, and AOL, we need to make this thing huge. Sign the petition here. Send the link to your friends, family, neighbors, and any organizations with which you are affiliated or that you think would be interested in this issue. Understanding the history of women’s rights is essential to ending gender inequality. Unless we ensure herstory is preserved correctly in websites and documentaries like, how can we expect to learn from the past and improve the future?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Why We Still Need an Equal Rights Amendment

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women.

This last breakout session of the NOW conference was moderated by Jan Erickson, Director of NOW Foundation Programs and NOW Government Relations Director. The first speaker was Roberta Francis, co-chair of the ERA Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO). Next spoke Bettina Hager, also co-chair of the ERA Task Force of the NCWO and Programs Director at the National Women’s Political Caucus, assisting with the ERA Education Project. After her was Asafu Suzuki, NOW Foundation legal intern and law student at Georgetown. Diana Egozcue, Virginia NOW President, also spoke. Eleanor Smeal, former NOW President and Advisor to the NOW National Board, also made an appearance. I was unable to take notes on this session, since it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Orthodox Jews are prohibited to write, but I’ll do my best to share what was said and my impressions of the session.

I was surprised at how much interest there was in the topic at hand. The room had a good number of seats, but every chair was taken and a large crowd of people gathered in the back, so eager to listen in that they were willing to stand or sit on the floor for an hour.

As a history geek, I was really excited when I saw a session about the ERA. I haven’t done much research on the fight for the passage of the ERA - my knowledge it is pretty rudimentary, especially for a women’s history nut like me - so I was looking forward to hearing more about the past and present of the ERA. I wasn’t disappointed. The session was thorough, effectively explaining the history behind the ERA and how it’s still possible for it to be ratified.

Something that really struck me about this session is how much American women really need an ERA. I knew it beforehand and it’s sort of a feminist given, but this point really hit home as I listened to the speakers talk about what the ERA can and will do when it’s ratified, b’mhera b’yamenu (speedily in our days). If the ERA, or something like it, is put on the books, sexism is literally illegal. Laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act would be unnecessary, even redundant, since women’s right to equal pay will already be protected by the ERA. The concept is, at least for me, absolutely mindblowing. When the ERA passes, it means that America will undergo a whole cultural shift! It means American society will be completely transformed! It means that my daughters won’t have to deal with the inequality and unfairness that my mother and I had to endure! Someone please show me the bad part, because I can’t see it!

At a plenary session, I believe it was Representative Carolyn Maloney who mentioned Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s claim that women are not protected under the Constitution. She then said something to the effect of, “That’s a challenge if I ever heard one! We need to put women in the Constitution through the ERA, and fast!” Feminists from every corner of the United States should take Scalia’s claim as a challenge, like Maloney said, and rally for the ratification of the ERA. We need this amendment!

What you can do to help the ERA:
  1. Call your US senator and congressperson and leave them a message, urging them to support the ERA.
  2. Tell your friends and family to call their senators and congresspeople about the ERA.
  3. Write blog posts like these to raise awareness that the ERA is not dead!
  4. Sign up for updates from organizations like Pass ERA (
If we all work together, this can be a reality.

This is my last blog post about the NOW conference. I’ve been writing about my experience at the conference for so long that it almost feels like the end of an era. But in conclusion, I think the above message is my overall takeaway from that weekend in Baltimore: working together means good results. That means women working with men, straight people working with LGBT+ individuals, Democrats working with Republicans, everyone working together for a common goal: a better world for our children.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Closing Plenary

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women.

Plenary VI, the closing plenary session, was dedicated to celebrating Dr. Heidi Hartmann, who was given the Woman of Vision Award, and Dr. Vivian Pinn, who received the NOW Foundation Victoria J. Mastrobuono Award. They were introduced by Bonnie Grabenhofer, NOW Executive VP, and NOW President Terry O’Neill. I was unable to take notes on this session, since it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Orthodox Jews are prohibited to write, but I’ll do my best to share what was said and my impressions of the session.

Heidi Hartmann, PhD, is the president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), a scientific research organization she founded in 1987 to meet the need for women-centered, policy-oriented research. She is a feminist economist who has done extensive research on women, economics, and public policy, frequently testifies before Congress, and is often cited as an authority in various media outlets. Dr. Vivian W. Pinn is also an extraordinary woman who deserves the recognition. She was the only African-American and woman to graduate from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in 1967. She went on to be the first full-time director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH, where she made women’s issues a priority when few others cared.

Hartmann talked about her mother, a single mom who struggled to make ends meet but ensured that her daughter had more opportunities than she had. I could really relate to this, since my mother has always supported my family. Although my mother is very educated and always held responsible positions, she too wants me to have more than she had. Hartmann was really inspiring, sharing her view of a utopian world where society will take care of the downtrodden and ensure that they have the resources to improve their own lives. I certainly hope that her vision of the future will be a reality for my daughters and their daughters.

Pinn also spoke about her mother, and how she was greatly disturbed when she went to a doctor’s appointment with her mother and the doctor spoke down to her and wouldn’t take her seriously because of her sex. Sadly, this doctor misdiagnosed her mother’s bone cancer, which led to her premature death. This unfortunate experience gave Pinn the determination to ensure that medical research properly addresses women’s health and that doctors listen to what women have to say. She also talked about how she became the director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health. When Pinn heard it would be created, she suggested that it should address women’s health, women’s careers, and diversity issues rather than just inclusion of women, and expected to be told to go on sabbatical rather than given an offer to become the director. She stressed the fact that if she had not spoken up, she would probably still be working as a professor, and would not have been such a groundbreaker in women’s health. In many ways, I feel like that was the message of the entire NOW conference: speak up! Make your voice heard! Otherwise, who will?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Young Feminists Organizing

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women.

After the Mothers and Caregivers Summit were sessions that were “Just for Fun,” so I attended a laughter yoga session run by Ramana Lailah Heyman. The whole point of laughter yoga is to just crack up for no reason at all. It was definitely interesting, and left me feeling invigorated and refreshed for Plenary V: Young Feminists Organizing. I was unable to take notes on this session, since it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Orthodox Jews are prohibited to write, but I’ll do my best to share what was said and my impressions of the session.

As a young feminist and member of NOW's Young Feminist Task Force, I really appreciated that time was set aside to talk about young women’s accomplishments. It always frustrates me when older feminists ignore or marginalize my generation. We are the ones who will maintain current feminist wins and fight for further gains, so it’s important that women’s rights advocates understand how vital we are to the future of feminism. I’m glad to see that NOW agrees.

NOW Action VP Erin Matson and NOW President Terry O’Neill introduced the Woman of Courage Award winner, Sandra Fluke. Fluke, a law student at Georgetown, was barred from testifying in front of Congress about no-copay birth control, so she went on to speak only before House Democrats. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh went on a three-day attack on Fluke, calling her a slut and prostitute and otherwise casting aspersions on her character because she believes the government should insure birth control. (Yeah, I know.) Fluke spoke about her experience within the advocacy world and what it was like being in the national spotlight for being pro-birth control and getting slammed by Limbaugh. By far my highlight of this session was when we made eye contact. I kid you not, I made eye contact WITH SANDRA FLUKE. It was amazing to connect with such an influential feminist that way. Hearing about what Fluke went through in such detail really shocked me, but what struck me the most was how Fluke had the intestinal fortitude and sheer bravery and courage to withstand the insults and criticism that were hurled at her. I don’t know if I could have ever been brave enough to testify in front of Congress, let alone deal with the fire and brimstone that followed. Fluke truly deserves the distinction of Woman of Courage.

After Fluke, Krystal Ball, an MSNBC contributor, political writer, activist, and former congressional candidate, spoke. When Limbaugh slandered Fluke, she was on the frontlines defending the law student and (successfully) turning public opinion against Limbaugh. In addition to discussing this, she also spoke about her fruitless bid for Congress. It's a shame that she was not voted in, since she would be an awesome addition to Congress. I forget if she or Matson credited this unfortunate loss to the country’s backlash against the Democratic party. With the election coming up, it’s important that people vote for pro-woman candidates, otherwise women’s rights are seriously doomed.

She was followed by Tamika Mallory, national executive director of one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations, National Action Network (NAN). Mallory spoke about her experience as a young woman in a position of power, how her entire life was defined by civil rights advocacy, minority women’s issues, and the importance of activism and getting up and doing something. She was interesting to listen to, and I found her in-depth discussion of (feminist) activism and how successful it can be enlightening. I also appreciated her perspective as a young African-American woman refreshing, since it's unfortunately pretty scarce within the mainstream feminist movement.

I really enjoyed and appreciated this session as a whole. I sincerely hope that young women will continue to advocate for women’s rights like Fluke, Ball, and Mallory.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Mothers and Caregivers - Summit

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women.

Dearest readers, I'm sorry for the long break in posts - my father passed away during the holidays, so between holiday and sitting shiva things have been a little crazy in my house. But have no fear, blogging is back!

Saturday morning was Plenary IV. This plenary session was part of the Mothers and Caregivers Summit. According to the NOW conference website, “This summit…spotlight[s] the work of those who form the backbone of all societies: mothers and caregivers. Because women throughout time have been expected to automatically assume the responsibilities of child rearing and caregiving, the importance of these roles is overlooked and dramatically under-valued in our culture. The Mothers and Caregivers Summit, co-sponsored this year by NOW Foundation and the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), will feature ideas about how mothers’ and caregivers’ contributions can be properly recognized and valued.”  I was unable to take notes on this session, since it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Orthodox Jews are prohibited to write, but I’ll do my best to share what was said and my impressions of the session.

They always-awesome NOW Membership VP Allendra Letsome hosted the plenary. She first introduced Charon Asetoyer, the executive director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, who discussed Indigenous women’s health, especially as it pertained to reproductive rights and access to birth control and abortion. After Asetoyer came Jo Paoletti, an associate professor of American Studies at University of Maryland in College Park, who spoke about women’s relationship to fashion, consumerism, and material culture. The next speaker was Miriam Zoila Perez, a birth and abortion doula and founder of Radical Doula, who talked about the intersection of birth activism and social justice. Next came Karren Pope-Onwukwe, a prominent elder law attorney, bar leader and community activist who spoke about women, aging, and their rights. The final speaker was Janice Lynch Schuster, a senior writer for Altarum Institute and its new Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness, who discussed how women and caregiving.

I found all the speakers extremely illuminating, but I was particularly interested in Asetoyer’s discussion about Native American women’s health, especially reproductive rights and access to birth control and abortion. This was a topic I was completely ignorant about, so I was happy to learn so much about it. What really struck me was Asetoyer’s description of the sheer difficulty a Native woman living on a reservation would have obtaining either birth control or an abortion. As a New Yorker, I know that all I would have to do to get birth control is run to the pharmacy on my corner and pick up a prescription that my doctor happily gave me. In a stark contrast, women on a reservation would have to travel miles and miles in order to get birth control, ignoring the fact that they have children and/or other responsibilities at home.

I really enjoyed listening to Paoletti, even though I’m really not into fashion at all. I am a history geek, though, which is probably why I appreciated her discussion on how children’s clothing has evolved throughout the years through a lens of gender. I found the information she shared about the color pink as it relates to gender really interesting, since it’s something I’ve noticed on a firsthand level (and even written about). My mom once wrote an article about the development of the gender divide on the color pink, and she used Paoletti’s work as part of her research, so it was really cool to hear Paoletti speak in person.

Janice Lynch Schuster also got my attention when she discussed the sandwich generation: typically 40 - 60-year-olds who are caring for parents and children at the same time. I witnessed my mother care for her mother throughout my childhood, especially after my grandmother became ill. Although it was long-distance caregiving, it still took my mother a lot of effort and gave her a lot of strain.

I really enjoyed this session, since it was illuminating and full of information that I wasn’t familiar with beforehand. Since I always like to learn about various feminist and women’s issues, this was right up my alley. One can’t get much more diverse than putting Native American women’s rights, fashion in pop culture, birthing and maternal issues, women and aging, and women’s caregiving responsibilities together!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Improving Employment and Opportunities for Low Wage Workers and Women of Color

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women.

On Saturday morning, I attended a session that was part of the Mothers and Caregivers Summit titled Improving Employment and Opportunities for Low Wage Workers and Women of Color. According to the NOW conference website, “This summit…spotlight[s] the work of those who form the backbone of all societies: mothers and caregivers. Because women throughout time have been expected to automatically assume the responsibilities of child rearing and caregiving, the importance of these roles is overlooked and dramatically under-valued in our culture. The Mothers and Caregivers Summit, co-sponsored this year by NOW Foundation and the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), will feature ideas about how mothers’ and caregivers’ contributions can be properly recognized and valued.” I was unable to take notes on this session, since it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Orthodox Jews are prohibited to write, but I’ll do my best to share what was said and my impressions of the session.

This session was moderated by Claudia Williams, a research analyst at IWPR. The other speakers were Jeff Hayes, senior research associate at IWPR; Jane Henrici, study director at IWPR; and Matt Unrath, Wider Opportunity for Women (WOW)’s director of national programs.

The session began by addressing the importance of raising the minimum wage, especially for tipped workers. A couple months ago there was a big push to raise the minimum wage, I remember signing numerous petitions to make this happen. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it ever did, and it’s stagnant at $7.25. This session demonstrated the real need to raise the amount. Tipped workers make a mere $2.13 an hour, which is certainly not enough to support a single person, let alone a family. It’s not right to make a tipped worker, about two-thirds of whom are women, to depend on tips, since some weeks may bring in hundreds while other times very little is earned.

They also discussed the importance of establishing STEM programs for young mothers, especially at the community college level, so that they can get raining for a good job rather than getting stuck at a dead-end, low-paying position with no skills or hopes of advancement. While I don’t remember details, they presented a convincing argument for funneling millions of dollars into establishing these kinds of programs. That is, until they mentioned that a high percentage of women enrolled in already-existing programs of this kind drop out after a year. Personally, if this is the case, I don’t understand the point. Before we take taxpayers’ money and spend it on establishing new programs, we should pinpoint the reasons why women are dropping out of ones that are already around, fix the problems, and bring the graduation rate up. Then, and only then, should new programs be established. Otherwise, the money spent on these women is totally wasted, and could have been better used on a different cause.

Another speaker presented the BEST tables, a measure of the basic needs and assets workers require for economic security throughout a lifetime and across generations. While I understand that a point of reference is necessary for the government to know who needs the most help to stay afloat, I really take issue with the current system. Just because a person has an income that’s relatively high doesn’t mean that they can afford their basic needs. Need shouldn’t be determined by income, but by the difference between income and basic living expenses (rent, food, phone, etc., in addition to more unusual unique expenses, like paying for a nursing home for an immediate family member).

Although I did not necessarily see eye to eye with every point that the speakers presented, this was an interesting session to attend. I really did learn a lot from it about where mothers and caregivers are in term of wages and professions. I certainly hope that the measures they presented will prove to be effective in remedying women’s unfair situation in these matters.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Faith and Feminism - Can a Religious or Spiritual Woman be Feminist…and an Activist for Reproductive Rights?

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

The third breakout session I attended at the NOW conference was titled Faith and Feminism - Can a Religious or Spiritual Woman be Feminist…and an Activist for Reproductive Rights? It was moderated by Allendra Letsome, NOW Membership Vice President. She spoke for Protestants at large, but practices as a Methodist. Representing Catholicism was Marissa Valeri, the Catholics for Choice Outreach Coordinator. Mona Lisa Wallace, San Francisco NOW President, is spiritual and “believe[s] in the Goddess as a pre-Abrahamic religion.” Jacqueline Steingold, a National NOW Board Member, was the Jewish emissary. She is specifically a member of the Reform movement. Jerin Arifa, a NOW National Board Member and Chair of the NOW National and NYS Young Feminist Task Forces, spoke for Islam. The atheist representative was Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

When I saw that there was a session about the intersection of religion and women’s rights, I was really excited. I hadn’t expected there to be a space for religious feminists at the conference, so it was a cool surprise that such a session was being offered. It was the last session before Shabbat (Sabbath) began, so I felt it was a relevant topic to hear about.

I really appreciated that there was a representative from every major religion. It was nice to hear about all these different faiths, which I am largely ignorant of, and how they can be very much feminist.

I learned a lot in this session, especially about Catholicism and feminism. The Catholic emissary, Valeri, explained how a lot of what is accepted as Catholic teaching, especially about reproductive issues, is not as simple as it seems. I had never known any of that. There’s a car that I often see parked in my neighborhood with a bumper sticker that says “Catholics and choice: you can’t be both.” I’m happy to know that the owner of this SUV isn’t as correct as he or she thinks. (While I’m discussing this bumper sticker, I’m complaining about it from a design standpoint. It says “Catholics and Choice” in really big letters, and the “u can’t b both” in small letters. As a result, from far away, it looks pro-choice. As a graphic design geek, this bothers me to no end.)

I also learned a lot about Islamophobia. Arifa, the Muslim representative, spoke about her experiences with Islamophobia within feminist spaces, which really made me sad. I had always thought that it’s accepted within liberal spaces that terrorism does not define Islam. It shocks me that women who call themselves feminists can act so blatantly discriminatory towards Muslims. How can someone who is dedicated to empowering women discriminate against a portion of the global community, which obviously contains women? Islamophobia is a step away from anti-Semitism and every other ism out there. It’s imperative that we fight every ism with the same intensity, since they all lead to the same end.

I think that everybody in attendance, regardless of religious affiliation, couldn’t stand the atheist representative, Gaylor. This was not because of her beliefs, but because she was extremely militant about them and alienated the religious people in the room. When she said “The Bible…[is] very misogynist,” steam was coming out of my ears. How dare she call my holy book sexist? What right does she have to say that the Bible is anti-woman? As someone who believes the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) is God’s word as recorded by Moses, I feel that it is impossible for it to be discriminatory towards women; God loves all people, regardless of sex or gender, so God would not give us rules that are unfair to women. While it may seem misogynist on the surface, or may be twisted to seem sexist, at its core the Tanakh is a feminist chronicle. And for an atheist to tell me that my holy book is misogynist? That does not fly AT ALL. Who the heck does Gaylor think she is to tell me the Bible is sexist? Just because she doesn’t believe in its validity doesn’t mean she has any right to criticize it and judge it.

One thing that really surprised me about this session was how many women felt uncomfortable being religious within feminist spaces. Several women in the audience talked about when they came out as religious to their feminist friends, and a couple of the panelists expressed empathy, having gone through the same thing. The idea that so many women are struggling with reconciling their religion with their feminism is so foreign to me. While it took me a while to realize that Judaism and feminism totally mesh, it did happen within a relatively short amount of time. I’m really glad that it did, and it’s not something I struggle with.

When I first created Star of Davida and corresponded with some of the major Jewish feminist bloggers, Shira Salamone of On the Fringe advised me not to throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to Jewish feminism. I thought it was interesting the same concept was shared by Wallace, who identifies as spiritual. I guess it applies to every religious affiliation. That’s, in essence, what I took away from this session: we’re all working towards the same goals, regardless of if/where we pray.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Title IX at 40 - Breaking Barriers, Challenging Limitations and Strengthening Advocacy Networks

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

The second breakout session I attended at the NOW conference was Title IX at 40 - Breaking Barriers, Challenging Limitations and Strengthening Advocacy Networks. The first speaker was Dr. Bunny Sandler, NOW’s Woman of Action honoree who is also known as the Godmother of Title IX. She discussed Title IX’s impact on high school athletics, sexual harassment, and bullying, and how it’s supposed to be enforced. Next was Dr. Christina Vogt, former President of West Virginia NOW and education equality researcher. She read a letter she wrote to the WV school superintendent about how to improve the system from a feminist perspective. The third speaker was Jennifer Martin, former NOW Title IX Task Force Chair. She talked about how Title IX has to do with bullying and the importance of Title IX coordinators. Afterwards came Sue Klein, the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Education Equity Director. She talked about the rise of single-sex schools and classes during the Bush administration and how to stop the trend. Next was Stephanie Ortoleva, an advocate for the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in education programs. She discussed the barriers that women and girls with disabilities face, especially the obstacles that stand in their way of receiving an education. The final speaker was Eleanor Smeal, former NOW President and Advisor to the NOW National Board. She talked about the harm that single-sex schools perpetuate, and how it’s important to protect not only girls’ rights, but those of boys too.

It’s unfortunate that Title IX is usually only associated with women’s athletics, since it really does so much more. The reason it may not be widely known that Title IX protects women and girls from sexual harassment and bullying is because, as Sandler said, it originally didn’t. The term sexual harassment didn’t exist when Title IX was passed in 1972, so it would have been difficult for Title IX to prohibit something that there was no language for.

It really broke my heart when Martin talked about a Michigan anti-bullying law that couldn’t pass because it contained LGBT+ language. I understand that some people feel uncomfortable with LGBT+ individuals and the concept of homosexuality at large; it’s their prerogative to feel that way, as much as I disagree. However, it’s beyond my comprehension for anyone to support the persecution of the LGBT+ community, especially kids and teens who are gay. While Title IX protects victims of LGBT+ bullying/harassment, it’s not usually very well-enforced. I find this situation absolutely unacceptable, and I’m glad that there are activists like Martin out there doing something to remedy it.

Another thing that got my interest was the rise of single-sex public schools and classes. Klein explained that there are only about 1,000 sex-segregated classes and 100 completely segregated schools in the entire country, but it’s an issue that must be nipped in the bud or it will spread. Having separate classes or schools for boys and girls is a Title IX issue because separate usually means unequal, so each gender gets a different quality education (you can guess who gets the short end of the stick). Personally, I’ve spent more time in single-sex classrooms than I have in mixed environments. I went to a K-8 Modern Orthodox school, and when I was there the classes were coed K-4 and separated from 5-8, except for tracked classes (Hebrew language from 4-8 and math in 8). My ultra-Orthodox Bais Yaakov high school is all-girls. I see no problem with single-sex education, and I am extremely happy that I am in an all-girls environment. However, there is no place for sex segregation in public schools, and it’s shocking to me that people are trying to bring the idea to life.

I really appreciated hearing what Ortoleva had to say. I’ve got some health issues, although I am far from being disabled, so hearing about the plight of girls with disabilities across the world really makes me feel blessed. The double discrimination that girls with disabilities face is really heartbreaking, especially in developing countries.

I have always been relatively ignorant about Title IX, the landmark legislation that outlaws sex discrimination in federally-sponsored programs, so this session taught me a lot. I’m really glad that I attended.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Political Roundtable

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

Within the third plenary session at the NOW conference was the Political Roundtable, moderated by Bonnie Grabenhofer, NOW Executive Vice President. She briefly discussed the context of today’s American politics and how the War on Women is in full swing. The first speaker was Sarah Reece, director of the Academy for Leadership and Action at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She discussed the Task Force’s efforts to lobby for pro-LGBT legislation and to change people’s minds in favor of LGBT issues. Afterwards came Linda Hallman, CEO of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She discussed the NOW-AAUW campaign It’s My Vote, I Will Be Heard to encourage young women to vote. Eleanor Smeal, a former NOW President and Advisor to the NOW National Board, spoke next. She listed the Republicans’ sins and underscored the importance of making sure the GOP does not succeed. Representative Carolyn Maloney was the final speaker. She too mourned the current anti-woman political climate, celebrated feminist victories, discussed her work in Congress to lobby for pro-woman measures, and urged the public to “go out and demand” equal rights.

I was afraid that this session was going to be irritating, since I figured it would solely consist of Republican-bashing and Obama-worship. While a lot of that did go on, I was happy that it was kept to a relative minimum, and speakers spent more time focusing on pertinent issues and how to fix them rather than whining about what’s happening and pointing fingers. My whole philosophy towards life is if you don’t like something, change it; shut up, stop complaining, and get to getting yourself out of situation you’re stuck in. When fellow progressives start blaming Republicans for all the world’s evils, it really gets on my nerves, since it doesn’t accomplish anything. Yes, it’s important to understand who is threatening our rights and why they are doing it, but it’s much more worthwhile to spend our precious time actively working against these people and trying to thwart their goals. As a result, I was glad that this session mostly focused on current efforts to stop the rollback of women’s rights and how people can get involved.

One particular campaign that I found absolutely fascinating is the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s attempt to have real, sit-down conversations with people who aren’t on board with the LGBT+ advocacy cause yet. It’s such a good idea, and I can’t believe it’s not used more often as an advocacy tool. Conversation and connection is an integral part of any viable relationship, and if we want people to think the way that we do on the issues, we need to establish a relationship based off of mutual respect. Going back to what I said before, if we constantly bash Republicans, we’ll never get into a conversation with one, and never be able to learn from each other and broaden each others' horizons. (Yes, believe it or not, there’s something to be learned even from - gasp - Republicans.) So in summation, I think this idea is brilliant and should be used more often as part of advocacy.

I also really appreciated the emphasis of how much one person can have an impact. Hallman’s entire address was about the magnitude of voting - the campaign is called It’s My Vote, I Will Be Heard, after all - and the extreme importance of getting women to the polls in November. Smeal also discussed how we have to show our feelings at the ballot box. Throughout her speech, Maloney urged every individual to call his or her representatives and let them know how he or she feels on the issues. I’m a big fan of the concept that one person can leave a mark on the world, by doing simple actions or going for the big time, so I was happy to hear that these awesomely amazing women agree with me. Over the summer, I was discussing my feminist activities with someone I met, and mentioned how important it is to vote. The person I was speaking with was dismissive of the idea. One vote seems very insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but if everyone says, “Oh, my ballot doesn’t count for much,” nobody would go to the voting booth. Seriously, every vote counts. All of our voices are equally important.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Woman of Action Award

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

The fourth session I attended at the 2012 NOW conference was Plenary III. During this plenary session, the Woman of Action Awards were awarded, followed by a Political Roundtable. The all-around amazing Allendra Letsome, NOW Membership Vice President, introduced the Woman of Action honorees: Dr. Carroll Estes and Dr. Bernice “Bunny” Sandler.

Dr. Estes is a pioneer and esteemed researcher in aging policy research, and has served in several leadership positions within that field. In her acceptance speech, she talked about the three women who she feels most impacted her life: her mother, who showed her that women can write; Maggie Kuhn, the Gray Panthers founder, who taught her about the intersection between ageism and social justice as well as advocacy; and Tisch Summers, who taught her the adage “don’t agonize, organize.” She also lamented the War on Women and urged everyone to fight back.

Dr. Sandler was an integral part of getting Title IX, as well as one of the first people to bring attention to campus sexual harassment. She credited the award to all of the women who gathered data on their campuses. Sandler went on to discuss the importance and impact of Title IX and how nobody expected it to be landmark legislation. She also said that the biggest impact Title IX has had on her grandchildren is that allows them to have friends of the opposite sex.

I found both Estes’ and Sandler’s speeches really enlightening. What stood out to me from Estes’ speech was that she found inspiration everywhere, from major players like Maggie Kuhn and Tisch Summers to a regular person like her mother. As someone who tries to draw inspiration (feminist, religious, and philosophical) from everyone and everything I happen upon, I really appreciate Estes’ dedication to learning from her surroundings.

I found it really interesting that Sandler believes that Title IX’s biggest impact on her grandchildren is allowing for friendships with the opposite sex. Sandler feels that it just shows that Title IX facilitated a social revolution, one that is still happening, and she can’t be more right. Despite the fact that my school is all-girls, I’ve maintained and made friendships with guys throughout the past few years. These relationships have really broadened my horizons, just because the guys are cool individuals who I like in the same way that I like my female friends. I am so glad that I was born in this generation rather than 50 years ago, when such friendships wouldn’t have been possible.

When talking about her mother, Estes said that she had been a burgeoning mystery novelist when her father told her to stop writing; her success scared him. It’s so sad that her mother’s talent was quashed the way it was. Sandler also mentioned that in the 1960s, 21,000 women were rejected from Virginia state colleges, while not a single male applicant was turned away. She wondered aloud if the cure for cancer was in that 21,000. While writing mystery books is clearly not on the same level as possibly discovering some amazing scientific cure, it’s still the same concept of women’s abilities not being harnessed to their full potential. I feel grateful that women like Estes and Sandler didn’t just moan and groan about the unfairness of the situation, and did something about it. As Tisch Summers said to Estes, “Don’t agonize, organize.”