Thursday, March 29, 2012

Women of Ancient Egypt

In the ancient world, women were usually considered on a level below men. In ancient Greece, women were stereotyped as having strong emotions and weak minds, in need of a man to keep them from doing damage to themselves. Roman women had no control over their finances and required a man to supervise them. Women in ancient China were not even considered worthy of education or literacy and were simply called “daughter one” and “daughter two.” While most ancient cultures treated their women unfairly, Egypt did not. Ancient Egyptian women had equal rights and similar opportunities to the men in their culture.

Throughout Egypt’s rich history, women played important roles in many aspects of ancient Egyptian civilization. Ancient Egyptian women had identical legal rights to the men in their culture. Women had the legal right to sell and dispose of property (land, servants, livestock, slaves, money, etc.), enter contracts, sue and be sued in civil courts, serve as witnesses, and be part of juries. Noble women often controlled their estates and helped their husbands with their professions. There were even marriage contracts, similar to prenuptial agreements, to protect men’s and women’s property in the marriage. Women also inherited equally; male and female children evenly inherited their parents’ property, and wives controlled a third of their husbands’ estates after their deaths. Women could also take charge of business affairs. Despite the fact that social norms often held back women from acting in total equality to their male counterparts, women were still treated equally under the law.

Women were not only empowered in the courts, but also had more rights in the religious arena. When women acted as priestesses, they usually worked in temples dedicated to goddesses, while men worked in temples for the gods. The title of priestess was commonly held by women until the New Kingdom, when priesthood became a full-time position. After priesthood became a difficult option, women who wanted to get involved in the temples became singers or musicians. Shemayet, the title for musician, was the second-most popular title for women. Women could also participate in entertainment troupes, or kheneru. Women from all social classes, from the elite non-royal to peasant classes, could serve in temples in some form.

In addition to equality in legal and religious fields, women could also rise to the top in rulership positions. While kingship was normally held by men, women also became pharaohs on occasion. Many female pharaohs are not well-known, mostly because there is no definitive evidence that they were indeed pharaohs. One such woman, Merneith, is buried with the full honors of a pharaoh, but there are no documents verifying that she reigned as a pharaoh as opposed to a regent or queen. However, there are several well-known, heavily documented female pharaohs, like Hatshepsut. Her husband, the pharaoh, died, leaving an infant to inherit, so she became regent. After seven years, she proclaimed herself as pharaoh. During her reign, she renovated hundreds of temples, established trade relationships, maintained peace in Egypt, and brought widespread prosperity to the country.

In most cultures today, women either have or are fighting for equal rights. Among the rights that feminists have fought for is fairness for both sexes in the courts. Because of their efforts, women now have the ability to fully utilize the court system. Feminists have also fought for women’s place in most major religions to be expanded; in both Christianity and Judaism, women have been successfully fighting to be ordained and have other rights within the religious sphere. While a woman has not yet assumed the highest position in the government, record amounts of women are holding seats in Congress and other governmental positions. The woman of ancient Egypt is similar to the woman today: able to hold her own in a court, place of worship, and government.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Call for Teenage Feminist Bloggers

Do you identify as a girl? Are you into feminism? And do you blog?

If the answer is yes, then you could participate in a research/book project about girlhood, feminism, and blogging. This research is being done by Jessalynn Keller, an extremely awesome student at the University of Texas at Austin. It will form her PhD dissertation and then be transformed into a book about girl feminist bloggers and contemporary feminisms, with an anticipated a publication date sometime in early 2014.
In order to participate you must: (1) Identify as a girl and be between the ages of 15 and 21, (2) Participate in the feminist blogosphere (preferably as both a blogger and reader), (3) Be able to make a six month commitment to the project.

One way to participate is through an online focus group that will run continuously between approximately April 15, 2012 and October 15, 2012. The group will be set up for 8-10 girls on a private blog (on blogger) and will be structured as a discussion about girlhood, feminism, blogging, media, and other relevant topics. Jessalynn will pose informal discussion questions and participants will respond to the question, each others comments, and ask their own questions to one another. Jessalynn hoping that we can use this space to dialogue with one another in a casual environment about feminism today. It would be great if each participant posted regularly (about 2-3 times a month) over the duration of the research period in order for productive conversations to take place. Postings do not have to be formally written and edited – think about them as part of a casual conversation you might have with a friend.

Anonymity: All participants will choose a pseudonym to post under, and thus, all participants will remain anonymous to others in the group.

Compensation: Participants who contribute to the focus group regularly throughout the duration of the 6 months will receive a $20.00 gift certificate to at the completion of the focus group.
In addition to participating in the online focus group, Jessalynn is looking for between 4-6 girls to also participate in a series of monthly phone interviews about their own blogging practices and thoughts on feminism. Interviews will be conducted once a month for the duration of the project (6 months) and will likely last between 30-60 minutes each time. Jessalynn is looking to conduct a total of 5-6 interviews per person and am hoping to use these interviews to expand on some of the conversations happening in the focus group.

Anonymity: All participants will be anonymous in all published research.

Compensation: Participants who contribute to both the focus group and phone interviews throughout the duration of the 6 months will receive a $40.00 gift certificate to at the completion of the project.

If you are interested in participating, please email Jessalynn at She's happy to answer any questions that you may have, and will provide more details on the project, as well as start dates and consent forms at that time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

She Suffers

Girl suffers.

It hurts Girl every day, haunts her nightmares and waking dreams, makes her curl up under the covers and try to rock herself to sleep. Girl stays up at night and cries about it. When asked, Girl can’t say why; she can’t say anything. Maybe it’s the pain that renders her mute, or the muteness that causes her pain. She forgets which came first now.

The silence started long ago. Girl traces it back through history in her mind. She knows what she’ll see; she’s done this many times before. The history of the world begins to play, like a reel movie, in her head. At first, she sees only darkness, but then Girl sees God creating the world: light and dark, heaven and earth. Then, people.

The story that hurts Girl begins now, with Lilith, the real first woman, made of the same clay as Adam. Girl sees God shape the two bodies and breathe life into their souls, watches the two frolic in the grasses of Eden, avoiding that tree in the middle. Girl has seen this often enough to know when Adam will half-attack Lilith with lust, but she still hates seeing him above her, hates hearing Lilith cry out in God’s name. Girl mostly hates knowing that Lilith is silenced by history, her true story forgotten, blamed for her own near-rape. What hurts most is that she knows that Lilith was abandoned by her own sex, women turned against her by superstitious men.

Generations are born and die, from Eve’s children to the Matriarchs. These women hurt and heal Girl at the same time, show her that women can be strong but so very weak, all at the same time.

From the inside of Potiphar’s palace Girl sees his wife, Zuleikha, the woman who was stripped of her own name, sit and cry. Potiphar was a physical and emotional eunuch, unable to love Zuleikha, unable to fulfill her bodily needs. Joseph was a young, beautiful boy who fell in love with his mistress, paid attention to her, gave her emotional support, made her feel loved. She thought he wanted more. He did; they were in bed together when he changed his mind. Girl knows Zuleikha is angry and hurt, feels abandoned and used, wants to wound Joseph as much as he wounded her. The irony of the fact that Lilith and Zuleikha are so similar, yet such opposites - hushed near-rape versus publicized non-rape - is not lost on Girl.

The Jews are enslaved in Egypt for centuries, then they are freed; they receive the Torah on a mountain in the wilderness, wander for forty years, and enter the land their foreparents were promised, Israel. After centuries of peace, the Jews split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah.

Girl then observes Jezebel, the Phoenician princess married to Ahab, a king of Israel. It interests Girl that jezebel is now synonymous with whore, but the woman never was one; despite an arranged marriage, she loved her husband, to the point that she got him the field he wanted even though it meant committing murder. Ahab deferred to his wife’s intelligence, but never loved her. Girl watched her unsuccessfully try to “improve” herself for his sake: she danced with brides to keep herself young and lithe, wore make up every day. Even when men were coming to kill her, she patiently applied her face paints. She knew she was going to die, and she wanted to do it in style.

The Jews of Israel are exiled, and so are the Jews of Judah, their Temple destroyed by the Babylonians. All they want to do is return to their homeland.

Vashti was the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar and the daughter of Belshazzar, two evil men who kept the Jews in exile. Girl knows Vashti was not like them. She too felt like a stranger in a strange strange land, taken from her home in Babylon and forced into marriage to Ahasuerus, a Persian nobody who became king through luck and her lineage. She hated this man who usurped her throne, who treated her like he was better than she was. Vashti wouldn’t take that. He would make a party for the men of Persia? She would make one for the women, in his private chambers, no less. He got drunk and wanted her to dance naked for his friends? He could wait forever for that to happen. Girl loves Vashti’s rebellion, but hates Ahasuerus’s reaction: executing the upstart wife.

Girl stops watching after Vashti; she’s seen enough for now. She thinks about the four women whose lives she witnessed. Lilith, Zuleikha, Jezebel, Vashti. Some famous, some obscure, all strong, even if they didn’t realize it. Their stories were handed down from generation to generation, but reinterpreted over time. So the four women haunt her, telling Girl that she must tell their stories, telling her that she cannot let them be forgotten.

But Girl can’t speak. She will suffer until she can.

Monday, March 19, 2012

International Anti-Street Harassment Week

This week is International Anti-Street Harassment Week! The organization Stop Street Harassment, which was created by Holly Kearl, defines street harassment as "Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way." The most common victims of street harassment are women and LGBTQ individuals, but they are far from the only ones. This is a feminist issue that’s often glossed over and not given the proper attention, even though it's endemic to pretty much every urban center in the world, so I think it’s really great that there is a specific week that activists have set aside to raise awareness.

Holly Kearl has a number of suggestions about how to get yourself involved:
  1. Sharing your stories online (here and here) or offline, as well as by reading/listening to other peoples’ stories.
  2. Tweeting stories or messages with #EndSHWeek.
  3. Changing your Facebook profile picture for the week. Here is an image in English and another in Hebrew.
  4. Gathering a few friends together to create fliers to post or hand out in the community (schools, houses of worship, community centers, etc.) or write sidewalk messages. Here are ideas for messages and a fact sheet with statistics to pull from. Here are fliers you can print and pass out: 1 | 2. Or visit the tools page and download an 8.5 x 11 size flier in five languages.
If you want to participate in an event in your area, you can find if anything’s happening here. If nothing is being done to raise awareness, then you should definitely try to hook up with local feminist organizations (NOW, college groups, etc.) and see if they’re doing anything. If you still come up empty, then start something of your own! America depends on grassroots activism. If you don’t do it, who will?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lady Gaga and Getting the Vote

I thought I would share this amazingly-made video, a parody of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" about the battle for women's suffrage.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shining Stars of Davida: Elizabeth Warren

Based on the amount of emails I’ve received about Elizabeth Warren from various feminist and women’s organizations, I feel like she’s the political poster child for women’s rights.

I’m certainly impressed with Warren. She was born in 1949, so she was raised in the “occupation: housewife” era. When her working class father had a heart attack, he was not able to support the family anymore, so she and her mother had to go to work. Despite her responsibilities at home, she was an extremely successful student: at age 16, she was awarded a full debate team scholarship at George Washington University.

A boy in her situation probably would have graduated after four years, gone on to get a masters or law degree, and become a professional supporting a family. This was not the road Warren took. Although she aspired to be a teacher, she dropped out after two years at GW to marry her high school sweetheart.

After teaching on and off for a few years, her friends encouraged her to go to law school. She listened to their advice and got her degree from Rutgers, where she was an editor of the Law Review. After divorcing in 1978, Warren went on to teach law at several universities across the country while doing research on personal finance and the economy.

Her work was so influential that she was asked to advise the National Bankruptcy Review Commission (NBRC), where she drafted the NBRC’s report opposed laws that restricted people’s right to file for bankruptcy. She was also a member of the FDIC’s Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion (which advises the FDIC regarding access to banking services) and the National Bankruptcy Conference (which advises Congress about bankruptcy law). While doing all this, she wrote dozens of articles and six books (including The Two-Income Trap). All of these activities landed her on television to discuss the economy and bankruptcy several times.

She began her governmental/political career in 2008, when Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed her to chair the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP). The COP reviews the state of the markets, the regulatory system, and the Treasury Department’s management of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and presents its findings to Congress every month. In 2010, because of her lobbying, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established with Warren as its director.

Warren is currently running for US Senate in Massachusetts. She obviously champions anything that can help fix the economy, especially if it will benefit the middle class. Warren is very much a feminist, as she is endorsed by NOW, EMILY’s List, FMF, and other organizations. She supports women’s right to have good health care, reproductive rights, and access to contraceptives. She also supports LGBT equality (Massachusetts is one of seven states that have legalized same-sex marriage), as she hopes to get rid of DOMA and prevent bullying based on sexual orientation.

I am also happy to say that she is 100% behind Israel. She says on her website, “I unequivocally support the right of a Jewish, democratic state of Israel to exist, safe and secure. I believe that it is a moral imperative to support and defend its existence.”

The polls show that the election between Warren and her opponent, incumbent Scott Brown, is pretty close. We’ll have to wait until November to find out the results. Until then, here’s hoping for Elizabeth Warren!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Menstruation is Marvelous

As I write this, I have my period. And I know it sounds corny and dorky and trite and like flat-out hyperbole, but I’m happy because of it.

I’m happy because getting my period means that I don’t have a terminal illness, I’m not suffering from malnourishment (whether from an eating disorder or a lack of food), and I’m capable of having children when I choose to.

Yes, I hate the gut-wrenching cramps that wake me up and make me roll into the fetal position until the handful of Advil kicks in. And of course I complain when my hands feel like falling off after I’ve stood at the sink and tried to scrub the stains out of my panties with ice cold water for God knows how long. And when I go to the bathroom and see the blood for the first time, I groan and wish Eve never ate the stupid apple.

But getting my period still makes me a little bit happy inside. It’s a sign from God to me that my system is running okay. It means that I have the ability to give birth to a new generation of Jews, that I can be a part of populating the Jewish nation. My grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, always felt that having children was the biggest slap across the face she could give Hitler, as if to show him that his mission utterly failed: Jewish children are being born. The Jews live. And when I get my period, I think of how a few days of discomfort every month invalidates every goal Hitler and the Nazis had.

I read something online a while ago that said that women are pretty much superheroes: we can bleed for months on end and nourish a child from our bodies, but we don't lose out or die because of it.

Yes, I know everything I just wrote is extremely melodramatic, but it’s all true. So call me cliché or a downright idiot, but I’m still happy when I get my period.

I know that modern Jewish feminists have established brakhot (blessings) to say when you get your period, but I couldn’t find it online (although the Google search led me back to my blog, which amused me). My suggestion is to try and get your hands on it, and if you can’t, then just keep in mind on your thanks to God when you get your period.

Tizku l’mitzvot (may you be worthy to perform additional commandments)!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Women's Health is Not Up for Debate

I thought I would share this excellent video, called Not Up for Debate, which was made through the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

According to an email sent to me by Danielle Jackson, an extremely awesome woman at the NWLC, “The attacks on women’s access to reproductive health care are increasing at an alarming rate, and the ability of women to obtain the health care they need has never been at greater risk. If the past few weeks are any indication, the relentless assaults on women’s health care will continue unabated. We can’t stand by and wait to see what their next attack brings. Through our new campaign we’re encouraging our supporters to tell our leaders – My Health is Not Up for Debate.”
Check out the Not Up for Debate website and educate yourself about this scary new trend in American politics. Also make sure to sign the petition on the website protesting these abortion cuts!