Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wage Discrimination Against Women in America

I received the following infographic from the women's rights organization UltraViolet. It's appalling that in this day and age, there's still such a disparity between men's and women's salaries. With God's help, the Paycheck Fairness Act will be passed quickly, and the wage gap will continue to narrow!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Self-Acceptance in the Media

I’m very into music, and I noticed a recent upsurge in songs promoting positive body image in the past year or so. Here’s a collection of a few of my favorite self-acceptance songs that you can listen to when you need some inspiration.

  1. “Cover Girl” by Big Time Rush (2011)
    This is one of my favorite songs off of BTR’s new album Elevate, since it’s all about how inner beauty is really what makes a person attractive. I was so blessed to be able to see them perform this song in person, and it was such a self-esteem building experience for me.
  2. “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction (2011)
    I love this song because it’s all about how everyone is beautiful the way she is, and there’s no reason to feel insecure about how you look. They opened for Big Time Rush at their recent tour, so I got to see them too, and majorly rocked out when they sang this.
  3. “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga (2011)
    This song needs no commentary. “I’m beautiful in my way / Cuz God makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track baby / I was born this way.” Everyone’s beautiful in her own way, and you have to own your beauty.
  4. “Perfect” by Pink (2010)
    This is another song that speaks for itself. The video gets a little graphic towards the middle, but it’s absolutely brilliant, I can’t watch it without crying.
  5. “Barbie Eat a Sandwich” by Care Bears on Fire (2009)
    I absolutely adore this song because it encourages us to ignore traditional beauty standards. I actually had the great opportunity to meet up with Care Bears on Fire’s lead singer, Sophie, and she is an extremely awesome teen who’s working hard to make the world fairer for girls.
  6. “Imperfection” by Saving Jane (2005)
    This song is great because it really celebrates self-acceptance, even of the qualities you may not be so thrilled with. The catchphrase of the song, “Don’t mess with imperfection,” is extremely memorable, I still have it stuck in my head.
  7. “Ugly” by Sugababes (2005)
    I love this song because its central message is that “people are all the same” and we all have our talents; it doesn’t really make a difference what we look like. As the people at the end of the video’s signs say, “don’t be afraid to be you.”
  8. “Crazy” by Simple Plan (2004)
    This song explores how society can be really messed up, especially when it comes to demands that women look a certain way. I love how it really points the finger at the media for influencing girls to not like themselves and want to “improve” how they look.
  9. “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera (2002)
    This is probably the most classic self-acceptance song out there. Although I was pretty young at the time, I do remember when it first came out, so I sorta feel like I witnessed history. Christina Aguilera has such a beautiful voice, and she really gets across the message in this song.
  10. “Unpretty” by TLC (1999)
    Sadly, even though this song is pretty old, the concepts still apply. I’m particularly fond of the video, which follows two girls in their quest for self-acceptance, despite society’s standards and guys’ fantasies.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I Will Not Be Denied

The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) recently released a new video to fight for women's right to adequate health care, called I Will Not Be Denied. After you've watched the video, make sure to go to this link and sign the petition. It states:

The health care law is working for women, helping them get the care they need. The law provides important benefits and protections that promote better health and lower costs. Now, millions more women can get preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies without a co-pay. The law also stops insurance companies from dropping anyone’s coverage simply because they’re sick.

But this is just the beginning. Later this year, millions more women will have access to well-woman exams and birth control without a co-pay and all health plans will have to include maternity care. Other important benefits and protections will continue to roll out until the law is fully implemented, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to charge women higher premiums than men. But opponents of the law are fighting to take away all these important benefits and common-sense protections.

Take a stand and help us protect women’s health care. Join the National Women’s Law Center’s campaign and tell opponents of affordable care “I Will NOT Be Denied.”™

Friday, May 11, 2012

Rashi's Daughters

Rashi (1040-1105) is considered one of the biggest Torah commentators that God has ever given this world. His perush (commentary) is a staple of Torah study, and can be found in every book of Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) as well as the Talmud. Interestingly, he had no sons and three daughters.

The oldest was Jochebed. She was born in Troyes, France somewhere between 1058 and 1062. She went on to marry Meir ben Samuel of Ramerupt, which was a nearby town. According to Maggie Anton’s novels about Rashi’s daughters, Jochebed lived at Ramerupt and served as the lady of the manor, but traveled back to Troyes to be with her family often. They had four sons: Isaac (the commentator Rivam), Samuel (the commentator Rashbam), Solomon the Grammarian, and Jacob (the commentator Rabbenu Tam). The couple also had at least two daughters. One was named Hannah, and she gave birth to Isaac of Dampierre (who was the commentator Ri HaZaken and one of Rashi’s students), and another daughter whose name is unknown. Hannah also taught halachot (laws) and minhagim (customs) that were relevant to women, so she was sort of like the prototype for modern-day yoatzot halacha who do the same job. Jochebed died 1135 in Ramerupt, and her husband Meir died there a few months later.

The middle daughter was Miriam. She was also born in Troyes, sometime between 1058 and 1062. Not as much is known about her, but we know that she married Judah ben Nathan, the commentator Riban. He finished Rashi’s commentary on Mesechet Makkot, a part of the Talmud, as well as others. If you read the perush of Mesechet Makkot it literally says something to the effect of “and this is where Rashi stopped writing so now I’ll finish it.” Miriam and Judah had at least three sons named Yom Tov, Eliezer, and Shimshon, who moved to Paris to head a yeshiva. They also had at least one daughter, Alvina, who was learned like Jochebed’s daughter Hannah and set the example for the rest of the generation’s women. Miriam’s date of death is not recorded. In the Rashi’s Daughters series, Maggie Anton portrays Miriam as both a midwife and a mohelet, a female mohel. This is totally acceptable within halakha, as it’s discussed in the Talmud and R Johanan, among others, say that women have just as much right as men to perform brit milah (circumcision). There are records from the 11th century of mohelot. While it’s never specified whether or not Miriam was either midwife or mohelet, it was certainly possible.

The final daughter was Rachel. She was born sometime in the 1070s. There is barely any evidence that she actually existed, actually. One such piece of evidence is a letter from Rabbenu Tam to Yom Tov, Miriam’s son, about their aunt Rachel getting divorced from her husband, Eliezer. One of Rashi’s responsa, written when Jochebed and Miriam were already adults, talks about a young daughter losing a ring, so historians postulate that there must have been a third, much younger daughter. There are also records of Rashi having a grandson named Shemiah and a granddaughter named Miriam, neither of whom were said to belong to Jochebed or Miriam. Maggie Anton depicts Rachel as a savvy businessperson who traveled a lot, but there’s no evidence that she actually ever even left Troyes or engaged in business.

There are common legends about Rashi’s daughters. One states that they wore tefillin (phylacteries) as they prayed, a practice usually performed solely by men. In her books, Anton has Jochebed secretly put on her father’s tefillin, which is later discovered and accepted to a certain extent. All three sisters come to do so, too. Another legend is that the sisters wrote Rashi’s commentary on Nedarim. Anton stated that while it’s not totally clear that they did, there’s a good chance that it’s true.

May we all be blessed to follow in the example of Rashi and his daughters.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dear Ellen Hopkins

I really liked your first books. Honestly, my least favorites were Crank and Glass, the ones that made you famous. But Identical? Burned? They were absolute pieces of art. Heck, I even quoted you when I was talking about sexual abuse and assault. The characters are believable, deep, flawed, just plain old awesome. The plotlines are disturbing, but when you’re talking about abuse, that’s exactly what they should be.

But having read your most recent books, I’m noticing some trends in your writing and plotlines that really bother me.

1.       None of your characters seem to have heard of abortion. A lot of them don’t really care much for birth control in any of its forms, either. I get that in Crank you’re writing about real life events, so the main character, Kristina, can’t have an abortion. However, Burned does not reflect actual events, but the main character Pattyn doesn’t even think of getting an abortion when she finds out she’s pregnant. It’s the same with Summer in Fallout. Why? What kind of message is this sending to your readers, both male and female? Feminists fought long and hard to get women the right to terminate a pregnancy, and are still doing everything in their power to ensure we have that ability. Why can’t any of your characters want to take advantage of that?
2.       Perfect had so much wrong with it, I barely know where to begin. Sean, one of the characters, takes steroids to improve his game, rapes his girlfriend Cara, smears her online, and then exposes the fact that she’s gay by posting sexual pictures of her with her girlfriend. His reward for this reprehensible behavior? He gets into Stanford on an athletic scholarship.
3.       Let’s not forget another Perfect character, Kendra, the anorexic pageant queen turned model. Does she ever go into treatment for her eating disorder? No. Do her parents even address the issue? No. Does her story ever get so much as a definitive ending? No. A little “if she keeps on like this she’ll be dead in a year” is spared a few pages before the end, but there’s no official understanding of this made. Like Sean, she’s rewarded for her negative behavior, since she gets a big modeling job. Another great lesson to send readers.
4.       The way rape is handled in Perfect is also just not acceptable. After Sean rapes Cara, he insists it isn’t rape because she didn’t say no until the last second. He’s never really harshly disabused of this idea. When Cara gets the police on him for stalking her, she doesn’t mention anything about rape, so he goes completely unpunished. NOT ACCEPTABLE! When Kendra’s sister, Jenna, is brutally raped and left for dead, she gets plenty of pity. However, there’s no expressed anger towards her attacker or any desire to even attempt to find him. I felt like the whole rape was an afterthought to the plot, something added in just to spice things up. That is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

So there are a few opinions. I haven’t read a lot of your books in a while, so I’d probably have other insights into them if I had. For now, these are all my complaints. Please do something to fix them in the future. Your writing is just too amazing to allow for anything less than perfection.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shining Stars of Davida: Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman’s two-volume autobiography Living My Life has sat on the first shelf of the bookcase in my dining room since I could remember. I’ve never actually bothered reading it, especially when I asked my mother who Goldman was and her response was something along the lines of, “A really crazy person.” (I’ve got no clue what the book’s doing in my home either.)

While doing some research on Mariam Chamberlain, a pioneer in the women’s research movement, I found a short statement she wrote about Goldman. I was inspired to read up about the early twentieth century anarchist, and went onto her Wikipedia page. (What else?) She interested me so much that I ended up actually reading both volumes of Living My Life.

Goldman was born in 1869 to an Orthodox family in Russia. Her mother, Taube, was married with two daughters before her husband died. Despite her heartbreak, Taube remarried Abraham Goldman, an unsuccessful businessperson who quickly squandered her inheritance. Emma was their first child, an unwanted daughter. (They later had three sons.) A strong-willed child, her father often beat her, and her mother did little on her behalf. Goldman was close with her older half-sister Lena, which helped her get through childhood.

The family immigrated to America when Goldman was in her late teens. She became a citizen through marriage to a nice Jewish boy, although the relationship didn’t last for very long. Goldman’s anarchist click moment occurred because of the Haymarket Square Riot, when a bomb went off at a labor demonstration and several anarchists were executed as a result. She went on to develop the American anarchist movement, spending time in jail and even getting deported for her anti-government stance. She was certainly a feminist, as she supported the burgeoning birth control movement. Despite all of the opposition she faced, she never wavered in her beliefs.

Goldman is certainly a fascinating character in history. I do find her story a little bit sad, though. It’s unfortunate that she and her family were Orthodox Jews in Europe, but stopped active observance once they reached American soil. What bothers me even more is that Goldman went beyond indifference towards Judaism, as she was a self-proclaimed atheist. It’s interesting that when she was in jail and all the inmates had to attend mandatory prayers, she requested to attend the synagogue services rather than sit through church without protest. Another point that got my attention was that throughout the autobiography, she refers to Jewish anarchists in a separate category from German and Russian anarchists. I have to assume this is because Jews weren’t really welcome in non-Jewish anarchist circles. Goldman does acknowledge anti-Semitism within the movement, although she doesn’t write about it extensively.

I wonder what would have happened if Goldman’s father hadn’t been abusive. Would she have had a more positive view towards Judaism? I also wonder what would have happened if Goldman had attended something like Bais Yaakov, the Orthodox schools for girls established in Europe in the early 1900s. Would she have stayed observant? If she had remained observant, would she have gone on to accomplish as much as she did with her life, get her name into the history textbooks? Is it impossible for someone observant to make the big time - do Orthodox people have to choose between success and religion? Is that why Goldman felt compelled to leave observance completely and opt for atheism? I guess we’ll never know.

Well, whatever the case, Emma Goldman was certainly an amazing woman who accomplished a lot in her life. So I dub her an inductee into the Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make us feminists proud