Monday, November 24, 2014

Creating Culture Change to End Street Harassment

Check our the article I wrote for Her Campus!

“Lookin’ good, ladies!” an inebriated guy in a moving car filled with his buddies yells out at me and my friends on Mt. Auburn Street by the Lampoon on a Friday night.

“Where you going?” a guy walking with his friend asks me and my friend outside the Au Bon Pain on Mass Ave on a Saturday night, making an obscene gesture.

“Smile, it’s not Monday!” a guy outside Widener Gate tells me as I walk to class on a Wednesday morning.

Catcalls. Wolf whistles. Creepy stares from guys on the street. Nearly every woman has experienced it. However, many women don’t know that this sort of behavior has a name: street harassment.

Continue reading here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Faith and Feminism: The Panel!

Check out the article I wrote for Manifesta!

As a feminist activist and a person of faith, both feminism and religion are integral parts of my life. My faith informs how I view the world just as much, if not more than, my being a feminist does. I would not be authentic if I did not proclaim myself to be a Jew, a feminist, and a Jewish feminist.

However, the intersection of feminism and religion is rarely discussed in either community. Among feminists, religion is often perceived as a sexist institution that has oppressed women for centuries; many people of faith, meanwhile, think of feminism as a threat to their values. In order to expand this conversation, on October 23, I moderated a panel called “Feminism and Faith: A Discussion.”

Continue reading here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Check out the article I wrote for Her Campus Harvard!

On October 29, I walked from the MAC Quad to Memorial Church in the rain with four other Harvard undergrads while carrying a mattress.

I wasn’t helping a friend move or doing work for Dorm Crew. Rather, I was participating in #CarryThatWeight – the national solidarity day for survivors of sexual assault on campus. The idea of carrying a mattress to show support was inspired by the art and activism of Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University student who is carrying a mattress around her campus as a form of protest until the person who raped her is expelled.

Universities across the country participated in this action. At Harvard, students carried a mattress around the Yard in shifts throughout the day. I joined in at 8pm, so it was cold, it was raining, and I wasn’t dressed for the weather--but I didn’t care. I knew that it was worth a half hour of discomfort if it meant that I could be part of something as historic and meaningful as Carry That Weight.

Continue reading here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Impact of Cultural Activities on Women's Assimilation

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Russia, a large portion of young Jews would attend secular reading groups. This was often a step in the path to assimilation: the events were not separated by sex, in stark contrast to most religious gatherings, and the topics of discussion were either completely divorced from religion or categorically anti-religious in nature. Young women who went to these events had more at stake then their male counterparts. In an attitude that prevails to contemporary times, Russian Jewish parents were harsher on their daughters than their sons for socializing with peers, especially non-Jewish ones, of the opposite sex. This double standard was, most likely, applied because of the dominant gender roles and expectations of the era: that women belong in the home and should not be found in the streets too often. However, Jewish parents probably also wanted to keep their daughters close to home in order to ensure Jewish continuity and exert as much control as possible over their daughters’ religious lives and future husbands.

Attending and performing in the theater were other activities that many Russian Jewish young men and women did in opposition to their parents’ wishes. As drama circles began to allow women to perform on stage in the early 1900s, an unheard of concept in previous generations, many women were attracted to the theater. It is possible that this was such a popular pursuit for young Jews because of plays’ depiction of the conflict that many felt between their religious upbringing and practice and secular aspirations and desires. These portrayals “were heavily gendered”; although both sexes’ conflicts revolved around the tension between religion and modernity and often ended in assimilation, women’s struggles had the added element of rebellion against gender roles and arranged marriages.

The public lending library also became a point of contention within the Jewish community. Although Russians began to advocate for libraries in the 1890s, it took over a decade for them to rise to popularity. This social phenomenon occurred to the dismay of Jewish religious leadership, who felt that the wide availability of secular books would lessen people’s desire to read religious texts and consequently threaten the security of the people’s religious observance. However, the availability of secular books turned out to be more dangerous for women’s religious observance, as more Jewish women than men in Russia used the public lending libraries. When the Yiddish word for to read was used about men, it was in reference to studying as for a religious purpose; however, the same word in reference to a woman referred to reading a storybook or book for pleasure. Women’s increased levels of reading was seen as problematic by the elders of the Jewish community, since it introduced Jewish women to a whole world that they had previously lacked knowledge of.

This introduction did lead Jewish women to leave religious practice. One Russian Jewish woman who lived at the beginning of the twentieth century, Sonia Ayerof, said, “After studying books on sociology, I came to the conclusion that God is a product of simple thinking and as people become more educated, they have less need for God. Soon I became a heretic and ceased living religiously. Our religious parents, understandably, were against our activity. What does a Jewish daughter need education for? Only to stray from the proper path.” 

Ayerof was not alone in leaving observant Judaism as a result of her reading. Popular literature portrayed young Jewish women who left religious life as a consequence of reading secular fiction, like Tevye’s daughter Chava in Sholom Aleichem’s “Chava.”

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Impact of Work and Activism on Women's Assimilation

Although they were barred from holding leadership positions within the community, most Russian Jewish women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were not subject to the cult of domesticity; instead, the ideal of the working woman was championed. As most Russian Jews were members of the working class, families depended on two incomes to survive and therefore could not afford the luxury of conferring domestic roles onto women. Wives were especially encouraged to work if their incomes could support the family alone, thereby allowing their husbands to sit in the beis medrash (house of study) and learn Torah and Talmud. Women participated in all sorts of work: Rebecca Himber Berg, a Russian Jewish woman who was raised in Lithuania in the 1880s, recalled that her mother’s stepmother ran a tavern, a neighboring widow ran a kosher meat business, and many Jewish women in the community did piecework in the home. During the same time period, Rose Pesotta reports that her great-aunt owned a store and her mother served as its bookkeeper.

Women’s presence in the workforce outside of the home facilitated and routinized interactions with the world at large, giving them a sense of independence as well as a social network. Coupled with their background in secular knowledge and the understanding that Jews could not be full members of Russian society, Jewish women’s daily experiences with the outside world led many to leave the fold.

The appeal of leadership positions and influence within secular sociopolitical movements like the General Jewish Labor Union, or Bund, also attracted observant Jewish women to leave their communities and assimilate. Although active Bund leaders were overwhelmingly male, there were opportunities for women to join and shape the Bundist experience: two out of thirteen of the Bund’s founders were women, as were six of the 48 most important Bundists before 1905. Overall, women comprised approximately a third of the Bund’s membership, but they were among the most active members, serving in roles from fundraisers to smugglers. As the Bund largely opposed Orthodoxy and religious practice, women who wanted to join basically had to assimilate.

Another part of the reason Jewish women flocked to the Bund was because of its (theoretical) dedication to gender equality. People involved in the Bund championed an overall remake of social conditions for Jews, the eradication of sexism and gender roles being one facet of this remodel. Practically speaking, most Bundists did not ponder gender issues extensively, but the overall Bundist socialist agenda supported parity between the sexes. Lyrics to a popular Bund song urged singers to “see to it that all are equal.” As many Jewish women chose to leave traditional Judaism and assimilate into secular culture and politics because of their dislike of the different treatment of the sexes in the Jewish community, this promise of gender equality attracted them.