Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shining Stars of Davida: Lisa Brown

The feminist blogosphere has been buzzing over the recent brouhaha in the Michigan State House of Representatives. On June 7, a bill that would drastically limit abortion access was introduced onto the House floor for a vote. To be honest, “drastically limit” is a huge understatement: this 60-page bill would criminalize all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy without exceptions for rape or health of the mother or baby (except for when the mother’s life is at risk), require abortion providers to have surgery rooms regardless of whether or not they provide surgical abortions, require doctors to be present for medication abortions, screen women to see if they were “coerced” into getting an abortion, and ban the use of technology to prescribe medication for abortion services and the morning-after pill. Because of all these regulations, clinics would need to charge higher fees or close down entirely. Unfortunately, the Republican-dominated House passed it 70-39. The Senate will begin discussing it in September.

While the House may have passed it, this anti-choice legislation did not go without opposition. Representative Lisa Brown (D-MI) said:

“Yesterday we heard the Representative from Holland speak about freedom of religion. I’m Jewish. I keep kosher in my home. I have two sets of dishes, one for meat and one for dairy and another two sets of dishes on top of that for Passover.

“Judaism believes that therapeutic abortions, namely abortions performed to save the life of the mother, are not only permissible but mandatory. The stage of pregnancy does not matter. Wherever there is a question of the life of the mother or that of the unborn child, Jewish law rules in favor of preserving the life of the mother. The status of the fetus as humyn life does not equal that of the mother. I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?

“And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”

First of all, I think it’s really amazing that there’s an affiliated/observant Jew in the Michigan State Congress. The fact that she doesn’t allow her religious convictions to remain a secret is even cooler, since Jews often try to stay low-profile. (Considering there are still quotas and a lot of anti-Semitism, I don’t even blame them.) So to see a Jew bragging about it is totally awesome.

Secondly, I am SO glad that someone has finally talked about what Judaism has to say about abortion! Brown’s point about how Judaism requires an abortion to save the life of the mother is something that occurred to me ever since I started caring about reproductive rights. Everything Brown said is completely correct: if a fetus threatens the life of the mother, it’s a mitzvah to have an abortion. Yes, folks, commanded to us by the Holy One. As a result, any legislation that restricts abortion access is sort of a freedom of religion issue. But I’ll let the ACLU deal with that one when it becomes an issue.

And finally, it is extremely awesome that Brown had the guts to use the word vagina on the House floor. It’s so silly that someone has to be praised for using the technical term for a part of the humyn anatomy, and I hope the situation is different for my daughter’s generation. As of right now, though, I am so impressed with Brown for getting up there and using the word vagina, since it’s so taboo in today’s society.

Unfortunately, the Michigan State Congress couldn’t deal with a woman talking about Judaism and reproductive rights while using the word vagina, and banned her from speaking the next day. Again, I look forward to the day where this situation would never happen.

Well, I’m glad that we have women and Jews like Brown in politics, and I certainly hope she’ll pursue a seat in the US Congress at some point soon. Until then, I can’t wait to see what else she accomplished in Michigan!

For her amazing courage, I dub Lisa Brown an inductee into the Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make us feminists proud.

This weekend, I will be at the NOW conference. Look forward to hearing about all the awesome people I meet, speakers I hear, and sessions I attend!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Shining Stars of Davida: Grace Meng

As a New Yorker, I’m always happy when I hear about New York-based feminist political candidates. Luckily, a new one is on the scene: Grace Meng.

Meng (D-NY) is a native New Yorker who grew up in a political family, since her father, Jimmy Meng, was a New York State Assemblymember. He was the first Asian-American to be elected to the New York State Legislature.

Before going into politics, Meng was a Yeshiva University-educated public interest attorney. Meng first ran for her father’s Assembly seat in 2008, where she won with 86% of the vote. She ran uncontested in 2010. She is now running in the Democratic primary election for a seat in US Congress.

Like her father, Grace Meng is no stranger to breaking racial barriers: she’s the youngest Asian-American ever elected to the New York State Legislature, the only Asian-American currently serving, and the first Asian-American appointed to hold a Cabinet position in the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus. If she wins the upcoming primary and general election, she will be the first Asian-American to represent New York in Congress (or anywhere on the East Coast), as well as the first female Representative since Geraldine Ferraro.

Her time in the Assembly was extremely fruitful. Eight of the bills that she wrote have been passed, and six have already been signed by the governor into law. These bills help the unemployed and the elderly, provide affordable housing, make it easier for parents to access product recall information, and eliminate the word “Oriental” from all government documents.

Meng is certainly a candidate with feminist leanings. While she practiced law, she served as a pro bono attorney for Sanctuary for Families, a domestic violence legal service provider. She is endorsed by the feminist organization EMILY’s List. Meng is proudly pro-choice, and considers women’s healthcare an important issue. As an Assemblymember, she fought to have health insurance companies cover baby formula for sick infants, allow employees to inquire about unequal pay without being liable to lose their jobs (a big obstacle when it comes to battling the wage gap), require public universities to dispense emergency contraception to any student, and help working parents attend their children’s school functions during business hours. She is also a member of the New York State Legislative Women’s Caucus, Governor Cuomo’s Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise Team, and was president of the Queens Chinese Women’s Association.

Happily, Meng is also fiercely pro-Israel. She is endorsed by Assemblymember David Weprin, an Orthodox Jew who is also pro-Israel. (My mom went to school with him, so I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for him.) City Councilperson Mark Weprin, David’s brother, also endorses Meng, and said that “I wanted to mention, as a Jewish American, that Grace Meng in Washington will immediately be the most visible advocate for the state of Israel that we’ve had in Washington in a long time.” As the district she’s running for has a large Jewish presence, I hope that the constituents take Weprin’s words to heart when they enter the voting booth.

The Democratic primary takes place on June 26. I can’t wait to hear the results! Regardless of what happens, I dub Grace Meng an inductee into the Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make us feminists proud.

UPDATE: Meng won the Democratic primary. She'll be up against a Republican opponent in November for election. Best of luck!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Does American Idol Have a Woman Problem?

American Idol was really part of my childhood. My family started watching during Season 3, and we watched every year obsessively. We still watch it, although we’re getting kinda sick of it, especially since Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul left their judge positions and the contestants who have won recently aren’t our taste. (That’s code for “aren’t very talented, especially compared to the runner-ups and other finalists.”)

Recently, the media has been buzzing that Idol has a woman problem. Well, the stats don’t lie.

Kelly Clarkson (Season 1, 2002)
            Justin Guarini
            Nikki McKibbin
Reuben Studdard (Season 2, 2003)
            Clay Aiken
            Kimberley Locke
Fantasia Barrino (Season 3, 2004)
            Diana DeGarmo
            Jasmine Trias
Carrie Underwood (Season 4, 2005)
            Bo Bice
            Vonzell Solomon
Taylor Hicks (Season 5, 2006)
            Katharine McPhee
            Elliott Yamin (Jewish)
Jordin Sparks (Season 6, 2007)
            Blake Lewis
            Melinda Doolittle
David Cook (Season 7, 2008)
            David Archuleta
            Syesha Mercado
Kris Allen (Season 8, 2009)
            Adam Lambert (Jewish and gay)
            Danny Gokey
Lee DeWyze (Season 9, 2010)
            Crystal Bowersox
            Casey James
Scotty McCreery (Season 10, 2011)
            Lauren Alaina
            Haley Reinhart
Phillip Phillips (Season 11, 2012)
            Jessica Sanchez
            Joshua Ledet

Out of the winners, 4/11 are women. Yes, you read that correctly, folks, a mere third (36%) of American Idol winners are female. Including all of the top-three finalists, it evens out to about half and half, with 16 women and 17 men (48% female). However, it’s clear to see that the American voting public has gotten more male-centric as the years have gone on; there hasn’t been a female winner since Jordin Sparks in 2007.

The main reason that more men have won is because the people most likely to vote (and vote obsessively) is the pre-teen/tween girl demographic. Considering girls from this age group have made singers like Justin Bieber wildly successful, it’s not surprising that they vote for relatively cute, younger guys. (Kris Allen was 24 while on the show, Lee DeWyze 24, Scotty McCreery 17, and Phillip Phillips 21.)

While I’m talking about American Idol, I’d like to rant a little about Season 9. That was the year Kris Allen won, and Adam Lambert placed second. I’m a wild Adam Lambert fan (I saw him four times in concert, once at a meet and greet, and am looking forward to his upcoming concert tour), and was deeply upset when he lost, since it was clear to everybody that his voice was just superior to Allen’s. I guess it wasn’t a big surprise. I mean, who was tweenage middle America going to vote for: Kris Allen, the cute, boy-next-door, Christian Southerner, or Adam Lambert, the gay, Jewish, uber-cool Californian with dyed black hair? Well, the tweens might’ve voted for Allen, but they didn’t stick with him after Idol ended. His first album has yet to make it to Gold certification, and I couldn’t find records of sales for his second album, even though it’s been out for over a month. Adam Lambert’s first album, despite a lot of controversy, quickly passed Gold. His recently-released second album, Trespassing, debuted at number one on the Billboard (the first by an openly gay artist to do so).

It’s unfortunate that female contestants are going onto shows like American Idol are at a major disadvantage. The statistics about women winners on Idol are mirrored on other American singing competitions: men won both seasons of The Voice (and only 3/8 finalists, 38%, are female), a woman won the only season of The X Factor (she was the only woman among the top three finalists, though), and two boys co-won The Glee Project (the runner-ups were one girl and one boy).

Tweenage girls: next season of Idol, could you please vote for the female contestants, if they’re just as talented (if not more) than their male counterparts?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Get Your Brave Tickets Today!

I had the amazing privilege of getting advance preview tickets to see the Disney-Pixar movie Brave! I’ve been dying to see the movie ever since I saw the trailer in February, so I pounced on these tickets when I had the opportunity. I can happily report that the months of anticipation and the hour and a half wait on line was totally worth it!

Brave was seriously one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in a while, and I go to the movies pretty often. I’m not going to spoil the plot because I want everyone to go and see this amazing film, but I can say that Brave is awesomely feminist and girl-power. The main character, Merida, is a Scottish princess who enjoys riding horses and shooting bows more than wearing fancy dresses and attending state functions. Her mother, the prim and proper Queen Elinor, can’t understand Merida’s desires, which leads to friction between the two women. When the queen insists that her daughter must be betrothed, Merida, headstrong and resolute, is determined to change her fate. I won’t say how this transformation occurs, but the result forces Merida and her mother to reconcile their differences and work together.

I must say, I am really happy to see that Disney-Pixar has finally gotten around to including a female main character. In their previous twelve movies (yes - TWELVE movies), all of the main characters were male, so it’s good to know that Merida is diversifying the pool a little bit. I also hope it’s a sign that Disney-Pixar, which looks like it’ll be taking over the animated movie industry, will be including more female protagonists in future productions.

Another thing I really appreciated about Brave is that it explores mother-daughter relationships. Considering it’s rarely done on the silver screen at all (a mere 24% of characters in the typical mother age bracket, 40-64, are female), I’m pretty impressed that Disney-Pixar did it. To be honest, I would’ve been happy so long as Merida’s mother stayed alive, since in most Disney movies, especially the ones involving princesses, the mother’s dead and the stepmother’s evil. However, in Brave, Queen Elinor is very much alive and well, so it’s really nice that she’s an active part of the movie and not just a stock character standing next to the king.

I think that Merida is an awesome role model for young girls. I really like the fact that she’s depicted eating several times in the movie, because I know that a lot of girls feel awkward about eating in front of guys. (Okay, I was one of those girls too. It’s amazing what going to an all-girls high school will cure you of.) I also love how Merida’s not afraid to change her own destiny. She shows girls that they can control their own lives and don’t have to give in to what anybody else wants, whether it’s their parents or a partner or whoever.

All in all, Brave is awesomely feminist. With a protagonist as feminist as Merida and a plot that flat-out empowers girls, how could it not be? I stamp Brave with the Feminist Seal of Approval and encourage you all to see this amazing film! It comes out June 22. I certainly hope that headstrong Merida ends up as beloved a Disney princess as Cinderella.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What War on Women?

I saw this infographic on a website that I usually waste time on, and I was glad to see that procrastination can also be feminist and eye-opening. It's so sad and upsetting that more women are killed because of domestic violence than terrorism. What's really frightening is that the government spends billions on fighting terrorism, but allots very little to helping women. While those billions on terrorism are certainly well spent, it would be nice if battered women could get some government aid, too.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Does the Internet Think About Feminism?

A friend of mine recently introduced me to the website What Does the Internet Think?. Its purpose is to evaluate what the people who use the Internet think about the terms you search. I have no idea how reliable this website is, but I decided I’d try it out for feminist-related stuff.

This is what the Internet thinks about feminism:

Interestingly, here's what the Internet thinks about women's rights, which (at least in my opinion) is pretty much synonymous with feminism:

This one, my search on men's rights, made me kinda sad. Although I suppose it explains why the Paycheck Fairness Act didn't pass.

This next one made me even sadder.

While the Internet seems to hate feminists, they like individual feminists of every era:

Sadly, Jewish feminism rated even worse than regular feminism.

I wasn’t really surprised when I saw the negative response to these terms, but it did make me sad. Of every reform movement in America’s history, I think it’s easy to argue that feminism is by far the most misunderstood. This is really particularly sad, since feminism demographically applies to literally half of the population. And honestly, it extends much farther than that, since men benefit from feminism just as much as women do.

I find it interesting that people are less negative and more indifferent towards women's rights than they are to feminism. I guess in general, feminism has gotten a bad rap. While the First Wave feminists in the 1800s certainly faced loads of opposition, I think that the roots of modern-day negativity to feminism has its roots in the Second Wave. I think that the world just wasn’t ready for radical feminists in the late 1960s and 1970s. Their extremism just put middle America off, and (with the media’s aid) made people generalize feminism as a far-left movement about not wearing bras or shaving your legs and being a lesbian and hating men.

And I think we definitely have the media to blame. Feminism was and is consistently put down by the media as a true f-bomb. Betty Friedan said it in 1963 in The Feminine Mystique and Julie Zeilinger says it in 2012 in A Little F’d Up. It’s up to us to take these stereotypes about and negative attitudes towards feminists and feminism and prove them wrong. If we don’t, where will women stand in this world?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

Thoughts on the NOW-AAUW Webinar

Personal news: I am now an official member of the National Organization for Women (NOW)! NOW is the largest feminist organization in the country, and has been a huge presence in women’s rights advocacy ever since its creation by Betty Friedan in 1966.

While I had a relationship with NOW before I joined, I felt very in place when I recently attended the National Organization for Women (NOW) webinar titled “AAUW Voter Outreach Campaign Strategy Session.” The webinar was co-run by NOW and AAUW (the American Association of University Women), and hosted by NOW President Terry O’Neill and AAUW State Grassroots Advocacy Manager Kimberly Fountain. It was all about how to get women at the polls in the upcoming 2012 election. You can read my full notes here.

I was glad that the webinar made sure to stress that it’s important to get as many women as possible voting this year, regardless of party affiliation. “This is also a 100% nonpartisan campaign, it’s only about the…issues,” Fountain made sure to mention. This AAUW campaign isn’t about pushing a specific candidate; it just wants to ensure that women can get to the polls and vote for the contender whose beliefs they agree with.

Another thing that really made me happy is that this campaign’s focus is on younger women, specifically those aged 18-31, with a special emphasis on college-age women. In my personal experiences, I have noticed that older feminists tend to ignore or underestimate the younger generation, so I’m glad that they’re beginning to realize that we’re extremely capable and can hold a lot of power. After all, the 20-year-old’s vote and the 60-year-old’s vote count just the same.

Since I’m not 18 yet and therefore can’t vote (I’ll be a few months too young for the 2012 election), I made sure to ask if there was anything I could do as a minor to help the cause. “I think [teens and other people who can’t vote] can usually help register voters, double check just to make sure. They can do pep talks too. I’m glad to see young people want to participate!” Fountain responded. As a blogger, I also asked what I can do to help out in that sense. “Bloggers should promote what we’re doing, when we have upcoming registration drives and where they’re located…make sure to promote…the candidate and issue forums [that AAUW will be orchestrating]. Going to them and live blogging them would be great. Also link to congressional voting records as we get those, since they’re fantastic, and link to our tumblr page.” Expect to see a bunch of new links on the Blogs, Sites, and Phone Numbers page, as well as times and dates of upcoming AAUW-related functions!

I’m really looking forward to keeping in touch with this NOW-AAUW campaign. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, and she treasured the right to vote so much. No matter what the election was for, she always made it her business to get to the polls, even for minor positions like judges. In many ways, I feel that it’s part of my legacy to make sure that as many women as physically possible can exercise suffrage, a right that feminists fought a long and hard battle for. Happy voting!