Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tickled Pink

I love the color pink. I always have loved pink, and don’t anticipate that I’ll ever stop loving pink. As a matter of fact, I’m wearing pink as I write this. It’s just a bright, happy color. My favorite color is purple (as you can probably infer based on the blog color scheme), but pink is certainly a very close second. My friends have always thought it was a little weird that I'm so into pink, since I just don't seem the type, but I really love the color. So sue me.

I volunteer at the children’s service at my synagogue on Shabbat (the Sabbath). Every week, the kids walk around with kid-sized Torahs, some of which are stuffed toys. There’s only one pink one. I feel like I should mention that this pink Torah is about twice my age, very faded, a little corroded looking, and has been sewed more times than I can remember to keep the stuffing from falling out. The other stuffed Torahs (that only come in red, yellow, blue, and purple) were bought in the past few years, so they all look new and are in pretty good condition. Despite the clear quality disparity, all hell breaks loose every Shabbat when the little girls come running to grab the pink Torah before anyone else can catch up. And yes, innumerable tears have been shed and many fights have ensued over this issue.

The obsession over the pink Torah has been going on for a while now, and it’s really been bothering me. I know it’s not the girls’ fault that they love pink, since they’re being flooded by pink pink pink on a daily basis by the media. Like, a while ago, I was at a friend’s house, and we were watching the Disney movie Princess Protection Program with her youngest sister. As I stated previously, I love pink, but the movie’s insistence that princesses have to have lots and lots of pink things was getting me nauseated. I know that my own love of pink is because society has conditioned me, a possessor of ovaries, to like the color. It’s nobody’s fault but the media, and society for allowing it.

Is it really a big deal, though? If girls love pink, does it matter so much? I think it does, not so much because of the specifics of the matter, but because of the concept. When one gender is conditioned to prefer one thing to another, it becomes the property of that gender, not to be enjoyed by the other. Pink is liked by girls, which makes it girly; if it’s girly, boys who like it are considered effeminate. Boys like cars, so that’s really boyish; if it’s boyish, girls who like it are tomboys. It separates the genders, making a dichotomy between the two.

(And I’d like to point out that girly doesn’t have any real male equivalent. I used boyish in the above paragraph for lack of a better word, but it doesn’t have the right connotation.)

When the girls at my synagogue fight over the pink Torah, they create their own little world, excluding the boys. If a boy naturally likes pink, it’s too bad for them - it’s girly.

One Shabbat quite a while ago, a boy actually asked for the pink Torah. It had already been snapped up by one of the girls, but it really made me happy that society and his parents hadn’t yet conditioned him not to like pink. While he hasn’t asked for the pink Torah again, I hope he still wants it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Star of Davida Interviews Liz Rich

In the 1950s and 60s, being a stewardess (called flight attendant since the 1970s) was one of the most glamorous jobs open to women. The job was far from easy: they had to remain single, adhere to strict dress rules, and maintain a certain weight. Once they reached their early thirties, they had to retire. This large staff turnover (about 40%) was to the benefit the airlines, since few flight attendants managed to earn enough seniority to qualify for benefits. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, flight attendants tried to fight against these unfair policies, but were largely unsuccessful; they filed about 100 complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its first year of operation, but it took several months until they got so much as a hearing. Due to NOW's efforts and the amazing dedication of hundreds of flight attendants, the EEOC eventually found that the airlines’ policies towards flight attendants counted as sex discrimination and had to stop. Star of Davida had the honor of interviewing Liz Rich, who was a flight attendant during this era.

What airline did you work for?
I worked for TWA [Trans World Airlines].

That doesn’t exist anymore, right?
Right. It was bought by American Airlines, so we were luckier than Pan Am people who didn’t get anything. [Pan Am declared bankruptcy in 1991.]

What years did you work there?

Why did you decide to become a flight attendant in the first place?
I had gone to Europe and worked running service clubs for the Air Force. When I came back to New York, I got a job screening Fulbright applicants, but I wanted to travel because I missed Europe. On the money I was making I couldn’t do that, so I went and applied to become a stewardess then.

How did you get involved in the fight against the airline’s discriminatory policies towards stewardesses?
Because of the new anti-discrimination laws that were being passed in the late 1960s, they couldn’t discriminate against men or women in hiring anymore, that’s when we started hiring men to jobs. When I got hired I had to sign a paper that said I would retire at 35, and that was no longer legal. People just kept on working, I have friends who are still flying at 70.

What other activism were you involved with in the skies?
In 1972 we founded Stewardesses for Women’s Rights, during the feminist movement, because we were fighting against sexist ads and health and safety issues. One issue was carrying radioactive material on passenger planes, we wanted them to stop doing that so we wore badges that would test radiation.

We also had an office in Rockefeller Center which we got in a very funny way. One of our members and founders had a friend who was a lawyer for Ross Perot, and he had bought an investment banking firm called duPont, Glore Forgan and Co. He thought he could show Wall Street how to do it right and they made sure he failed, so he was left with all these offices when duPont went out of business. They had a big building on Wall Street they waned to get rid of but they were renting it and the landlord wouldn’t let them out of the lease, so we cooked up a scheme with them. DuPont told the landlord that they would rent their office space to Stewardesses for Women’s Rights, and they were so sexist down there that the idea of having us in their building horrified them, so they let duPont out of the lease. To pay us back for the favor we did them, duPont gave us a wonderful office for the rest of its lease at Rockefeller Center, 30 Rock. It was a great office for press conferences, so all the women’s groups came there for press conferences and we got to know everybody.

Is that how you connected with groups like NOW?
In those days we got together and go to know everyone anyway, everything was bubbling up then so there would be parties and everyone would introduce you to everyone else.

Are you familiar with the show Pan Am? If so, what are your opinions towards it?
I started watching it and I just found it so ridiculous. It’s sort of unreal, nothing like what it really was.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gender-Neutral Speech

I’m taking AP Psychology this year, and so far it’s been a lot of work, but I do enjoy it. As I was doing homework on language and thinking, I came across some interesting studies about the effect of using gender-neutral speech.

Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at University of Wisconsin - Madison, conducted a study in 1984 where she asked children to finish stories for which she gave them a first line, like “When a kid goes to school, ___ often feels excited on the first day.” When Dr. Hyde used the word he in the blank, almost all of the kids’ stories were about boys. When she used he or she, about a third of the stories were about girls. This effect is not only present in children, but has also been seen in similar studies with adolescents and adults.

Allen McConnell and Russell Fazio, professors at Miami University and Ohio State University, respectively, did a really interesting 1996 study about using chairman vs. chairperson. When they described ambiguous actions done by a chairman to study participants, they tended to feel that the chairman as assertive and independent. When McConnell and Fazio described a chairperson’s actions, the study participants felt the chairperson’s personality was warmer and more caring.

The results of these studies, plus many others that prove that gender-neutral speech does make a difference, aren’t really news to me. I think feminists have understood the importance of using gender-neutral terminology ever since the 1960s, but it’s always good to know that the rest of the world agrees.

In the he vs. he or she study that I mentioned, I wonder what the effect would be if the study had also monitored what children wrote based on using she or he and just she. Considering the study is almost thirty years old at this point, I also wonder what today’s children would write. My conjecture is that the amount of stories about girls would go up, but I’d be really interested in seeing such a study.

This brings up another question, though - will it ever be split down the middle? Will children ever be able to visualize both men and women? This is part of the reason I dislike it when people use only she. In my opinion, it’s just as bad as using he, just more politically correct. He or she has always been the happy medium in my eyes, but now I’m wondering if I should be using she or he.

While this issue isn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of women’s rights, the language we use about women and men is significant. Based on everything I’ve learned in AP Psych so far, language greatly impacts how a person thinks and feels. In a 1992 study, N. Dinges and P. Hull showed that bilingual people sometimes reveal completely different personalities when taking the same personality test in two languages. If our language doesn’t respect women, how can we expect our future generations to value women’s contributions to the world?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Star of Davida Interviews Rabbi Yael Buechler

Nail art has been in existence since ancient times, with Egyptians and Greeks using polish to signify their social class. In today's culture, nail polish is more of a beauty aid than political statement. Rabbi Yael Buechler took this trend and created Midrash Manicures, blending traditional Torah study with nail painting. Star of Davida had the honor of interviewing her about this innovative program.

What inspired you to become a rabbi?
Since early childhood, my dream was to become a rabbi. My father is the rabbi of a large Conservative synagogue, and I treasured his devotion and dedication to our synagogue community. When I was in elementary school, I even tried to emulate some of his ritual roles by performing baby namings and weddings for my pet guinea pigs (he handled the funerals). During my high school years and college years, I deepened my observances and commitments to traditional egalitarian Judaism. I came to realize that the Jewish community had gaps in positive female role models for my generation. All too often it was perceived among my generation that being egalitarian and female is “not cool.” I wanted to change that perception through example. I know that I am not alone in this mission and I have met many inspiring colleagues who transform the image of the rabbinate daily – they are amazing rabbis – who happen to be female.

Rebecca Alpert, one of the first Reconstructionist woman rabbis, said she viewed entering the rabbinate as a feminist act, while other of her contemporaries felt it was just neutral. To which school of thought do you belong, if either?
I wanted to become a rabbi before I had even heard the term feminist. In my personal journey, entering the rabbinate was a decision based on my passions, not my gender. I certainly wanted to be a role model for the next generation of Jewish women, but my desire to go to rabbinical school stemmed from my passion for Jewish living, Jewish learning, and transmitting Jewish values. As I have begun to encounter the unique contributions that women bring to the rabbinate, I can better appreciate Rabbi Alpert’s perspective. As a rabbi, I have come to value the perspective and programs that I can bring to communities given my gender, not despite my gender.

Why did you decide to go into teaching?
Part of what attracted me to the rabbinate is that it would afford me the opportunity to be an educator in many exciting and different capacities, whether in a congregation, camp, non-profit organization, hospital, or school. I certainly explored all of those options while in rabbinical school, and last year, I found a wonderful fit at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester. I know that wherever I serve as a rabbi, I will bring my passion for cutting edge and engaging experiential education to my community. Having been a student at a Schechter on Long Island, and with fond memories of my inspiring mentors throughout those years, it is truly incredible for me to be able to give back to the Schechter network and hopefully inspire others into the paths of their Jewish journeys through creative portals such as Midrash Manicures.

What motivated you to create the Midrash Manicures program? It seems to be a very random pairing.
My middle school social studies teacher, Mrs. Goldstein, was a powerful mentor in my life. While I certainly enjoyed learning about ancient Egypt, Mrs. Goldstein also taught me about the values of patience, sensitivity, and fostering community. I could not help but notice that each week Mrs. Goldstein came to class with a new professionally-done manicure. She inspired me to begin to paint my own nails. My personal nail painting was initially quite a mess, but with time and patience, I mastered the basics of applying coats of one color. I then began to experiment with more intricate designs such as hearts and smiley faces.

Unfortunately my mentorship with Mrs. Goldstein was cut short as Mrs. Goldstein had been diagnosed with a rapidly growing cancer that ultimately took her life in February of 2001, in my sophomore year of high school. To honor her memory, and the impact that she had on me and so many other students, I continued to paint my nails each week themed for holidays and special events.

When I entered Brandeis University, I began to study the weekly Torah portion on a much higher level and incorporate the themes of the parasha into my weekly manicure. Since then, Midrash Manicures has been an exciting weekly part of my learning routine and creative interpretation of Torah. This past July, I launched in hopes to introduce the world to this creative form of Jewish learning. I also was gifted with the opportunity at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester to offer a Midrash Manicures Club as an elective at in my role as the Coordinator of Student Life.

I love how Midrash Manicures really epitomizes how everything secular can be turned into something religious. When you established the program, did you have this in mind?
Since I have been doing themed manicures since before I knew anything about the nail art industry, it really did not occur to me that I was turning something secular into something religious. I always enjoyed painting my nails, and I really enjoyed studying the parasha of the week, so the combination of the two seemed like a natural step in my own Jewish journey. The overwhelming response to Midrash Manicures has demonstrated to me the power of adding our own personal and creative touches to Judaism and to religion at large. There are now people around the Jewish world, across the streams of Jewish observances, who visit each week in order to be inspired in their Torah learning as they create their personal Midrash Manicures.

There’s been a lot of conversation about how Midrash Manicures boxes girls into traditional femininity. Do you have a response to this?
I created Midrash Manicures with the intent that this would be a tool and skill set for student-centered learning. The Midrash Manicures Club, for example, gives students who enjoy painting their nails a venue in which they can infuse that activity with meaningful Torah study. There are plenty of other ways that women can express themselves and learn about Judaism. My hope is that Midrash Manicures inspires women to find ways their own ways to express themselves Jewishly, be it through art, music, or other mediums.  

Do you have any words of inspiration for the next generation of Jewish girls?
It is up to you, the next generation of Jewish women, to bridge your passions with Jewish learning, so that you can take hold of Judaism. The future of Judaism rests in our hands! Let’s paint them wisely.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

It's Not Just Marie Curie

I'm sorry for the cop-out of a post today, but I have midterms this week. :) I hope you enjoyed the above cop-out, and for further reading material, make sure to check out the Resources page and my Blogroll (both can be found at the left) for other Jewish, feminist, and Jewish feminist articles!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Feminist Dear Blank Please Blanks!

As I've mentioned before, I'm a great procrastinator, and a particular fan of the website I thought I'd share a few feminist-themed and Jewish-themed DBPBs I've seen on the site.

Good DBPBs:

Dear women,
Please tell me why you stay with him when you know he treats you horribly?
Sincerely, he's not worth it.

Dear guys,
Despite what you think, girls like food just as much as you.
Sincerely, stop staring while I nom my cheeseburger.

Dear people at my school,
Just because I cut my hair does not mean I'm suddenly a lesbian.
Sincerely, straight girl who didn't need the hair as much as Locks of Love did.

Dear boys of the world,
Please realize us girls are not all easy, mindless, cheating sluts... just like you're not all douche bags.
Sincerely, let's be fair?

Dear judgmental people,
Teenage girls who are pregnant didn't get that way all by themselves.
Sincerely, talk to your sons about safe sex!

Dear Mulan,
Thank you for teaching us that not all women have to be saved by a prince.
Sincerely, doesn't need a guy to be independent.

Dear society,
How have you managed to make girls feel bad for being virgins AND losing their virginity?
Sincerely, what do you want from us?!?

Dear men,
It's not PMS... You're just jerk.
Sincerely, ladies.

Dear world,
Please realise that standing up for gay rights does not automatically make me gay.
Sincerely, straight girl who wants the world to be more accepting.

Dear ignorant people,
Men who support feminism are not gay, just like people who support animal rights are not animals.
Sincerely, pro-feminist men.

Dear Snow White,
You took an apple from a stranger that made you fall asleep, woke up to a man on top of you and kissing you, then proceeded to call him Prince Charming?
Sincerely, I don't call that charming. I call that rape.

Dear Disney,
You have a white, black, asian, native-american, arab, and even a ginger princess. How bout a Jew?
Sincerely, feeling left out.

Dear society,
What have you done to make my girlfriend think she isn't beautiful?
Sincerely, concerned boyfriend to an anorexic girl.

Dear anorexic little sister,
Every time I hear you step on the scale to weigh yourself, I die a little more inside.
Sincerely, I love you, please eat something.

Dear Shoppers,
Our sizes include: Small, X-Small, anorexic, Bulimic, and Malnourished.
Sincerely, Abercrombie

Dear construction workers,
Don't get mad when my gay guy friend whistles at you.
Sincerely, now you know how violated and awkward the girls of the world feel.

Dear boys who whistle at girls,
What? Do you think we're going to sprint over to you, lick your face and let you pet us?
Sincerely, we're not dogs...

Dear men,
Woman are not birds. whistling at us won't increase your chances of us mating with you.
Sincerely, women everywhere.

Dear construction workers,
Do you realy think shouting and whistling and leering actually works?! Has it ever?!
Sincerely, A fed up female

Bad DBPBs:

Dear feminists,
If you want to see men making sandwiches, go to Subway.
Sincerely, anonymous.

Dear bra burning feminists,
Wearing a bra doesn't mean I'm conforming to society's standards. I do it because I don't want my DD's touching the floor by the time I turn 40.
Sincerely, gravity is a b-word.

Dear extreme feminists,
Chilling at home all day, spending time with your kids, people opening doors for you...
Sincerely, it really doesn't sound that bad to me.

Dear feminists,
Please stop ruining masculinity. The rest of us actually like men.
Sincerely, old fashioned women.

Dear feminists,
Chivalry is dead... because you killed it.
Sincerely, a woman

Dear feminist professor,
Please wear a bra.
Sincerely, horrified student in the front row

Dear female friends,
You making fun of the size of my chest doesn't hurt my feelings. I'm actually happy with my small breasts. They don't weigh me down when I run, I can wear that swimmer's speedo without a sports bra, I'm less likely to get raped, and people actually look at my face when they talk to me.
Sincerely, happy with who I am.

Dear Jersey Shore Cast,
It's called 'Sun Kissed' not 'Dorito raped.'
Sincerely, easy on the tanner.

Dear prostitutes,
If I have sex with you and don't pay, is that rape or shoplifting?
Sincerely, anonymous.

Dear college,
You're all about promoting safe sex and being against domestic abuse, yet you rape my wallet.
Sincerely, a very broke college student

Dear Sallie Mae,
Please stop trying to rape me via student loans. I already have a girlfriend, and she is demanding enough!
Sincerely, UCF graduate

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Drinking + Anorexia

Eating disorders are much too common in today’s society: 24 million people in America alone suffer from them, and only 10% are officially treated. Students are particularly prone to eating disorders, as 95% of women who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25, when most people are in school or recently graduated. Unfortunately, there is a new eating disorder trend among women college students called drunkorexia.

Identified in a New York Times article in 2008, drunkorexia, an unofficial medical term, is characterized as “a disturbing blend of behaviors: self-imposed starvation or bingeing and purging, combined with alcohol abuse.” Virtually, college and university women are starving themselves or vomiting their food in order to party at night and drink up a storm. A University of Missouri study found that 1 in 6 women suffer from drunkorexia.

Needless to say, I find this extremely disturbing on many levels. The medical implications of this must be absolutely horrendous. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is never a good idea, and I can’t imagine that purposely not ingesting anything but alcohol for any stretch of time can be good for the body.

I think the prevalence of drunkorexia (1 in 6! My god, that’s almost 20%!) showcases two big problems among today’s young people: peer pressure and eating disorders. Studies have shown that when a person hangs around with people who abuse drugs, alcohol, and the like, he or she will copy their behaviors in order to fit in. However, when he or she has moved on to another group of friends, he or she will not longer bother with the drugs and alcohol. College campuses, especially sororities and fraternities, are notorious for the wild partying and drugs and alcohol that come along with it. As a result, it’s not really so shocking that students want to drink in order to fit in with their friends.

And when you think about it, it’s not so shocking that the girls who drink often in order to fit in want to cut down on their calorie intake. Chances are they’re dieting in the first place (91% of college women in one survey reported dieting to lose weight), and when you add all of the calories from alcohol, it’s a lot of pressure to stay thin. Enter eating disorder.

Drunkorexics, like other women who suffer from eating disorders, show that our society places way too much importance on how women look, to the point that they feel the need to starve themselves in order to look good.

Universities need to do something about this growing trend. My suggestions:
  1. Have on-campus free panels discussing the issue to raise awareness.
  2. Train campus medical teams to recognize the signs of drunkorexia.
  3. Distribute brochures and pamphlets to female students about the harmful nature of this lifestyle.
  4. Encourage drunkorexics to seek help if they need it, whether from professors, peers, or feminist outlets on campus.
If schools work hard to deal with this issue, hopefully it can be kept under control. Drunkorexia is only a manifestation of our society’s ridiculous pressure on women and girls to look a certain way. Until these expectations are abolished, this eating disorder, like every other one, needs to be handled.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From Unwanted to Anything They Want to Be

A few months ago in Maharashtra, a district in India, a number of girls changed their names. This is a big deal because the name, Nakusa or Nakushi, means unwanted in Hindi, so these girls decided to change their names in order to empower themselves.

Unfortunately, in India, as well as in many other Eastern cultures, girls are indeed unwanted. (I don’t mean to stereotype or generalize here, since I know that many families value their girl children just as much as their boys. However, in general, the culture favors boys over girls.) As a result, many infant girls are abandoned at birth and doomed to live a bleak life in an orphanage until (if/when) they’re adopted. Parents who have access to more advanced medical care will often test their unborn children’s sex, and selectively abort based on the results. Consequently, there are bizarrely low birth rates for girls compared to boys in these countries, and an extreme population gender disparity. In India, there are only 914 girls under the age of six for every 1,000 boys, and Maharashtra has only 883 for every 1,000, one of the lowest rates in the country. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporters, estimate that approximately 132,000 Indian girls from 0-5 die every year from neglect based on their gender. Other countries have similar, if not even worse, statistics.

I’ve always found it interesting that Western feminists view abortion as an integral women’s right, while Eastern feminists are often anti-abortion because of the selective sex abortion issue. I guess it just shows how much culture impacts political and social advocacy, that people working for the same overall goal will have totally different viewpoints and methods to attain it based on where they live.

As I’ve said before, I’m into names and the inherent power they hold, so I think they’re really important. Religiously speaking, Judaism believes that a person’s name reflects his or her essence. This is why there are few names with outright negative connotations in Hebrew. (Some names might have what we think are weird meanings in today’s world; for example, Leah means cow. In biblical times, this was almost surely considered a very nice name because cows were an important source of income. Biblical characters whose names are interpreted as meaning bad things, like Nabal, are often nicknames that were given to them throughout their lives rather than the name their parents gave them at birth.)

I find it sad that these Indian girls had to go through their early lives being called unwanted, knowing that in their culture they’re not valued simply because they have ovaries. I’m glad that they were given the opportunity to get rid of their “unwanted” names. (Yeah, sorry for the pun. I had to say it somewhere.)

But really. I know some people will say that names are insignificant and this is a loud of meaningless garbage and the focus should be on more important stuff, like figuring out how to deal with parents selectively aborting female fetuses. I agree that more attention should be given to life-and-death situations, but I think that every feminist cause deserves at least a little publicity. I hope girls with names that keep them down all across India will imitate these girls in Maharashtra and take it upon themselves to change their names.