Thursday, February 28, 2013

Women in Business

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I'm saddened, but not surprised, that women are still wildly underrepresented in the business world. Although women represent about half of the global population, they hold very few positions of power within corporations and businesses. Although the business world is much better to women now than it was 50 years ago, it's still far from a perfectly equal environment for both sexes. I certainly hope that the next generation will see a marked change in this arena. We need a proportional share of the decision making seats. If not, well, the business world will just continue to go at the rate it's currently at. I think we all agree that's not the direction anyone wants to go in. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

NEDAwareness Week and Operation Beautiful

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This post is part of NEDAwareness Week, where everyone who wants to end eating disroders raises awareness about the issue.

I go to a private all-girls school. While the stereotype that we’re all a bunch of lesbians and catty bullies is definitely false, the stereotype that we’re all suffering from eating disorders is not too far from the truth.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Certainly there are a lot of girls at my school - I would say the large majority of the student body - who would never dream of starving themselves, vomiting up their lunch, going online to find thinspiration, or do anything of that sort. However, a sizable percentage of girls at my school are, in my opinion, unhealthily worried about their physical appearance, especially body weight. Sometimes it seems I can’t go a day without walking into the bathroom and hearing two girls counting calories or bragging how much time they spent on the elliptical. Lunchtime always depresses me, since the amount of girls eating bunny food is much too high for my liking.

It’s just so sad and unfortunate that our society has brainwashed girls to always feel inadequate, that teenage (and post-teenage) females for the need to shed pounds, add another layer of make up, do something to conform to today’s beauty standards. No one person can change this phenomenon; as depressing as it is, this will only end when a social shift occurs.

Until then, individual people CAN make a difference. I’ve begun to try and make change through the Operation Beautiful campaign. Operation Beautiful was created by Caitlin Boyle in order to end negative self-talk and thoughts among young women. Boyle was fed up by women’s constant dieting and feelings of inadequacy, so she stuck a post-it note on a bathroom mirror with a positive message about body image. This became the Operation Beautiful campaign. I’ve read about it for the past several years, but I finally decided to participate in it this year. I’m tired of hearing absolutely beautiful, intelligent, friendly girls in my school complain about how they look. So I’m doing something about it by putting sticky notes with positive messages on mirrors in my school.

Yes, the cleaning staff takes them down every night, and every once in a while I’ll find one in the garbage, but they’re worth replenishing. Whenever someone sees me putting one up, they always begin to smile and say “ooooh, you’re the one who’s doing that?” I know that people have taken notice of these notes, and in a positive ways. If even one girl is boosted for a minute because of one of my Operation Beautiful sticky notes, my mission is accomplished.

There are only three student bathrooms in my school, so it’s not too hard for me to put sticky notes in all of them on a regular basis. However, even if you go to a big school with hundreds of students and innumerable bathrooms, I strongly suggest you participate in Operation Beautiful anyway. Posting these sticky notes has also helped me, since I’ve been struggling with some weight gain in the past few months.

Some suggestions of what to say:
Girl you’re amazing just the way you are
You are beautiful in every single way
It’s what’s underneath the skin, the beauty that shines within
Don’t hide yourself in regret, just love yourself and you’re set
It’s the weight of your ideas, not your body, that counts
The inside is what’s important
You are beautiful the way you are. Right NOW. No matter what you think.
The human body is the best work of art
Even the models we see in magazines wish they could look like their own images
You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.
You are already good enough.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Have A Meaningful Fast and Chag Sameach!

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

Today is Ta'anit Esther, the fast day commemorating the biblical Queen Esther's three days of fasting before approaching King Ahasuerus. Purim, the holiday celebrating the Jews’ survival of an attempted genocidal plot in ancient Persia, will be on Sunday. There are a number of strong women in the Purim story, notably Queen Esther, the Jewish woman who saved her people.

Some cool Purim articles to read:

The Polish Queen Esther - this article, which discusses an eerily similar situation in medieval Poland to the Purim story, is absolutely fascinating.

Another Feminist Purim Spiel - for those of you who have been following me for a while, this article appeared on the Ms. magazine blog.

Ta'anit Esther is International Agunah Day - a video narrated by Dr. Rachel Levmore, Rabbinical Court Advocate, to keep yourself aware that agunah (a husband denying his wife a Jewish divorce), unfortunately, still exists.

Help Agunah on Ta’anit Esther - a post I published to commemorate International Agunah Advocacy Day.

Rosh Hodesh Adar II - another article I wrote that talks about Adar, the Jewish month that Purim happens in, and a lot of weird correlations it has to my family.

Lilith's Purim page - more links to articles about Purim and women.

Artwork above made by yours truly!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Black Holes of Davida: Michael Bloomberg

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Since Michael Bloomberg has been mayor of New York City, my hometown and current city of residence, since I was seven years old, he’s the only mayor I can really remember. Ever since I was able to form an opinion on Bloomberg, I’ve felt pretty neutrally about him; I had never heard of anything he’d done that made me squee in delight or gasp in horror.

As a result, I was really taken aback when I read that Bloomberg had said “I know for a fact that any self-respecting woman who walks past a construction site and doesn’t get a whistle will turn around and walk past again and again until she does get one.” It was recorded by Bloomberg LP employees in The Portable Bloomberg: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg, a 1990 book dedicated to record the mayor’s more memorable comments.

I had to read the quotation twice for its actual meaning to set in. At first, I was confused; is he trying to say that women will purposely walk past construction sites, even multiple times, to garner attention from the workers there? No, that can’t be, I must have read that incorrectly. Everyone knows that women don’t like that, that women will cross the street to avoid construction sites and the unwanted comments that often come with them. Then I read the quotation a second time and realized that my eyes hadn’t deceived me.

It’s so upsetting to find out that the man who has led my hometown for the past decade is so insensitive to street harassment, an issue so close to my heart. Bloomberg made it seem like women want and even vie for the chance to be catcalled. In reality, the polar opposite is true: women feel unsafe and humiliated and just plain grossed out when they are harassed on the street. I daresay that few people would go out of their way to have such an experience.

Upon doing research on Bloomberg’s history with sex discrimination, his track record is far from clean. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a class-action lawsuit against Bloomberg LP for 72 women who suffered from pregnancy-related discrimination. Another statement in The Portable Bloomberg is “If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale’s.” He also told NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn “Do you pay a lot to make your hair be two colors? Because now it’s three with the gray.” (Considering his own hair is gray, he’s got a lot of chutzpah to say this.) Had I known all this, I wouldn’t have been so surprised that Bloomberg was so insensitive towards street harassment.

Well, Bloomberg’s final term will be up in November, and the mayoral position will be up for grabs. I certainly hope that his replacement will be more understanding of street harassment, and recognize the fact that it’s not just a catcall. It’s a women’s rights issue.

For now, I dub Bloomberg an inductee to the Black Holes of Davida - people who let us feminists down by advocating misogyny, sexism, abuse, and other anti-woman thoughts and actions.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Feminist Movie Review: Hansel and Gretel

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I recently saw the movie Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I’m not going to ruin the entire plot for those of you who haven’t seen it, but basically, the lovable siblings become a pair of professional witch hunters. It wasn’t my type of movie, but I did enjoy it, although I could’ve lived with less blood and gore.

Going into the movie, I was curious as to what the gender portrayal of the witches would be. I was unsurprised, but nonetheless slightly disappointed, that only women were shown as witches.

I suppose Hansel and Gretel was just being (mostly) historically accurate, as traditionally, women were the ones accused of witchcraft. One reason for this is because healers were usually women, and people were often suspicious of what they perceived as healers’ supernatural powers. Midwives were especially susceptible, as grieving parents of an infant who died would often accuse the midwife of murdering their child through witchcraft. Widows and older women were another especially victimized demographic, largely because they lacked a man to protect them from people’s speculation. Since the witch hysteria occurred in Europe and America when Christianity was the dominant religion, it was spurred on by medieval Christian teachings that women were the perpetrators of sin, as they understood it from Original Sin.

Although most accused witches were women, numerous men were also suspected of witchcraft and executed. Men were usually labeled as witches so the accuser could exact revenge or gain financially or politically. Unfortunately, Hansel and Gretel decided to ignore the viability of men as witches and only depicted them as women.

I also was interested to notice how the movie showed witches of color. As the story takes place in a small town in nineteenth century Europe, all of the characters are white. However, towards the end of the movie, witches from all over the globe make an appearance. One Asian witch is shown. However, that is the end of the diversity; every other witch shown is white.

Factually speaking, the concept of witchcraft existed in pretty much every society in the world in the nineteenth century. The Atharvaveda is an Indian book of spells and charms, assumedly used by witches. In West Africa, an obayifo is a witch or vampire-like creature who can possess animals to kill people, inhabit people’s bodies, kill children, and weaken crops. Brujos and brujas are South American witches of both sexes, conceived through a fusion of Spanish, Portuguese, and Native American folk beliefs about magic.

Despite the fact that so many non-white cultures have concepts of witchcraft, past the token Asian witch, everyone in Hansel and Gretel was white. Would it have been so difficult to cast more non-white actors as witches? If a witch could travel to Europe from Asia, certainly witches in Africa and South America could hop on their broomsticks and make their way over.

Well, the end of the movie definitely made it possible for a sequel. Let’s hope that if there is a follow-up movie, witches will be from both sexes and more races rather than predominantly white women.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Second Annual Star of Davida Essay Contest - EXTENDED!

A few months ago, I announced the Second Annual Star of Davida Essay Contest. The deadline I established then is February 28, but I have decided to extend it by six weeks to April 12! 

Description: The theme was inspired by the Tumblr Who Needs Feminism?. Answer the question “Why do you need feminism?” Go crazy with your response, so long as it’s between 200 - 800 words.

Some Ideas You Can Write About:
I need feminism because...
double standards are unfair.
I shouldn't have to avoid mirrors to feel good about myself.
men should be able to be sensitive without being called "gay."
I want to feel safe when I walk alone at night.
women should be able to count in a minyan.
I'm tired of being a victim of street harassment.
slut-shaming is not acceptable.
just because I don't want to get married doesn't mean I'm a lesbian.
I should be able to lay tefillin even though I'm a girl.
there should be more strong women characters in movies and on TV.
I don't want to have to be Superwoman.
rape culture has to end.

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: APRIL 12, 2013

Eligibility: Any and all students (from preschool to a PhD program) 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!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Feminist Book Review: All in the Family

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

Robert O. Self aptly dedicated his newest book, All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s, to “my family.” True to its title, the book explores the political and cultural changes in America from the 1960s on, as well as the impact these transformations had on American conceptions of the family and gender roles.

Self introduces the era by discussing societal expectations of the American man in the 1960s: namely, that he was a heterosexual, patriotic breadwinner whose paycheck was large enough to support his family without any additional income. These expectations were “contingent on female domesticity,” or what Betty Friedan would come to call the feminine mystique of women dropping any career-related aspirations in order to become housewives and mothers. Although Americans aspired to and expected men and women to follow these prescribed roles, Self explains that these expectations did not represent reality, as not all men were heterosexual, many men opposed the war in Vietnam and many married women and mothers worked outside of the home in order to make ends meet.

This is just one of many misconceptions that Self manages to clear up in All in the Family. With his expert research and skilled analysis, he manages to contextualize the history of the family and thereby analyze how it impacted politics, legislation, social expectations and American culture at large.

The author goes into a detailed exploration of identity politics and how fraught they were (and still are). He brings forth the story of Juanita Ramos, a lesbian Puerto Rican-born New Yorker. Within male-dominated nationalist Puerto Rican circles, she was marginalized because of her sex and sexual orientation. The women’s liberation movement, while supportive of lesbians, was mostly made up of straight, white, middle-class women unable to truly include someone so different. Ramos’ story is indicative of the difficulty many women faced in the 1960s and 70s, when the world was not yet advanced enough to understand the complexity behind identity and the many factors that comprise a person’s self and place in the world.

It’s an unfortunate turn of events that many modern-day gay rights activists are largely ignorant of the rich history of the movement. It is of interest to note that Self’s research on this topic, as well as every other chapter in the book, is impeccable. He traces the roots of what was called the homophile movement until modern day, from early attempts at inclusion in mainstream society to the right-wing response against expanded gay rights. Knowing the history of the fight for equal rights is essential to understanding the current state of the battle.

Another intriguing point that Self makes in All in the Family is that, originally, the battle for the legalization of abortion was a male-dominated one. In the early 1960s, dialogue about abortion wasn’t even about women’s health and well being: It centered around population control and marital privacy. The absurdity of this fact is clear. As ridiculous as it may be, reproductive rights are still legislated by those who are not directly impacted by them. The 2012 election and ongoing War on Women are clear evidence of this unfortunate trend, with women such Lisa Brown shunned from the Michigan House floor for using the technical term for female genitalia, and terms such as“legitimate rape” added to the national lexicon.

Throughout his discussions of every movement, Self takes pains to include voices and opinions representing every viewpoint. He quotes women like Barbara Gittings, a radical lesbian feminist, as well as Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative activist who fought against women’s gains. Including such a diverse array of voices enhances the reader’s understanding of the era.

While All in the Family is undeniably an excellent and informative nonfiction, it is not without its flaws. Self tends to forget that the reader is not necessarily a historian, and often neglects to provide adequate background information.

Although we live in a very different world than the one that existed in the 1960s and 1970s, in many ways it is still the same. Where feminists fought for the right to have an abortion in the late 1960s and early 1970s, modern-day feminists have to ensure that the reproductive rights our mothers secured remain intact. Reading All in the Family will give everyone, from the novice feminist to the longtime activist, the ability to understand the battles that have been waged and the things that still need to be fought for.

This was cross-posted at the Ms. magazine blog

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Star of Davida Interviews Naomi Less

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

Although many people don’t realize it, Jewish women are actually pretty cool performers. Cass Elliot (born Ellen Cohen), Amy Winehouse, P!nk (her mother’s maiden name is Kugel), Paula Abdul, Regina Spektor…the list can go on and on. Within the religious sphere, there are certainly rocking Jewish women who are shattering gender stereotypes with their music while simultaneously connecting with God. One such woman is Naomi Less.

Less created Jewish Chicks Rock, an umbrella organization for the activities and programs she has developed to ensure that girls become “resilient, strong, and healthy individuals…[who can] shine and rock.” She explains that breaking gender stereotypes is so important to her because the Jewish community “needs to reflect all the voices in the community… if there are only male voices, you’re not actually getting the perspective of all Jewish people.” I could not agree with Less more. If we want to see the Jewish community flourish, it is imperative that everyone’s thoughts are heard and considered. Otherwise, the Jewish community is not truly inclusive, and people will feel alienated from a religion and society that has the potential to be a beautiful place for Jews of every persuasion.

Last summer, I attended Genesis at Brandeis University, an academic program for Jewish high school students. I cannot even begin to fully express how awesome Genesis, and its sister arts program BIMA, is; I mean it when I say that I literally had the best time of my life there. Less also had an extremely positive experience with Jewish summer camps. “Eight weeks wasn’t long enough for me,” she explains with a laugh. As a result, she does programs and workshops with camps to help kids develop their Jewish identities and relationship with their Creator. “The kids actually get the opportunity to process and understand what they’re experiencing so they can make meaning for themselves,” Less said. I think it’s so beautiful that she is giving campers the opportunity to find themselves and where they stand on the religious spectrum.

I was really interested by the fact that Less leads worship services, considering she is a lay person and performer, not a member of the clergy. “I want to facilitate an experience that allows people to grapple with meaning, to investigate in an immersive way the meaning of the prayers, and how it relates - or if it relates - to their lives, in accessible way,” she explained. Over the past few years, I have really begun to understand the importance of tefillah (prayer), and done my best to delve into the text of the tefillot so as to best connect to my Creator. However, all of this effort on my part would have been unnecessary if my Orthodox day school had instilled a love of tefillah in me during my nine years at the school. Before I really began to appreciate tefillah, I know that I would have greatly benefited from one of Less’ prayer services and workshops, as she makes the text accessible, understandable, and personal, thereby empowering the individual in his or her Judaism. “Our tradition, the Talmud, is about commentary, and that your voice is as important as an ancient voice,” she said.

One of the many causes close to Less’ heart is marriage equality and LGBT+ rights. “I’ve been a lover of Keshet [an organization for LGBT+ Jews] for many years,” she said. Less underscored the importance of including LGBT+ Jews as “equal participants…who are valued for their personhood, not defined by their sexuality.” Less developed the training initiative Addressing Evaded Issues in Jewish Education, which deals with common problems among teenagers, from academic pressure to body image to sexuality, that educators have difficulty handling properly. Less brought this initiative to Keshet, where it was so successful that the organization made it part of its training institute.

Less will actually be performing a livestreamed concert through Jewish Rock Radio benefiting Keshet tomorrow, February 6 at 8:30 PM. “When Jewish Rock Radio told me who the beneficiary would be for the concert I’m doing, I was thrilled because this is an organization that would’ve been on my shortlist. Keshet’s great at activating people and giving them concrete actions to do,” she said.

I feel safe saying that as an active Jew, dedicated performer, and social justice activist, Naomi Less is truly a Jewish chick who rocks.

Make sure to get your e-ticket to this online concert here