The Rising Voices Fellowship is a collaborative program created by the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) and Prozdor of Hebrew College. The fellowship is open to female-identified teens with a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism—particularly as it relates to issues of gender and equality. Learn more here!
In Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes argues that the main foundation of knowledge is one’s own mind: we think; therefore, we are. We can trust our subjective reality more than the objective one. It should follow from such a philosophical notion that people should not judge each other’s perceptions because no one can know what is really true. For a short time this winter, such a judgment was suspended, and everyone freely judged others.
When I was younger, I used to love watching Hannah Montana on television. The lead character, played by Miley Cyrus, lived a double life as pop sensation Hannah Montana. Cyrus had so many fans, so many young not-yet-teenagers who looked up to her. I remember going to see her in concert when I was in fourth grade. It was one of the highlights of my year.
The people of a certain culture devote an entire week of each year to commemorating one of the worst parts of their history. They taste bitter things to appreciate the suffering of their ancestors. They consciously abstain from consuming bread to remind themselves what was eaten—or rather, what was not eaten. They mourn the deaths of their ancient oppressors. They drink the metaphorical tears of their forefathers and foremothers. And year after year after year, they gather around tables to recount the suffering and the humiliation and the turmoil of their own people.
I am not opposed to documenting experiences through photographs—often looking at one picture is enough for me to remember an entire sequence of events that I would otherwise have forgotten. However, in an age of social media, the obsession with producing a photo that makes an event look fun, that makes the people involved look glamorous, can be a misrepresentation of the event.
In the film industry, 2011 was the year of casual sex. In January, Paramount Pictures released No Strings Attached, starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. The movie documents two best friends who think that introducing physical intimacy into their relationship won’t complicate things and that feelings will not be involved, resulting in a “no strings attached” relationship.
Through her blues music, Holmes inspired people all over America to take a stand for black equality. She performed at numerous rallies, advocating for civil rights for all; in fact, her music is often called the “soundtrack of the Civil Rights movement.”
2014 was a year when police brutality against black men was brought to the forefront of the American consciousness. The police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, along with no legal sentences for the perpetrators, arranged themselves into a pattern that was difficult for the public to miss. Among the responses were protests, riots, classroom discussions, and the swift rise of the hashtag “#blacklivesmatter.”
Of all the things I take for granted, the value I most often overlook is democracy. To reside in a thriving democratic country that gives a voice to its people and places checks and balances on its government is more than I can ever fully appreciate, and even though I have doubts about certain policies, at least I have the opportunity to voice these questions. As a young writer, I am especially grateful for my ability to articulate my opinions without fear of harm.
It’s hard to rise above the fray. To disregard all of the weight attached to us, to be free. There are many aspects of life that will try to ground us, to clip our wings and to take away our voices, but it is the voices that demand to be heard that guide us. Maya Angelou had one of those voices. In all aspects, she was a whirlwind force to be reckoned with. She excelled as a poet, author, singer, dancer, professor, screenwriter, actress, advocate, and avid feminist.
In a country where some consider being born a woman a capital offense, Malalai Joya is the epitome of bravery. An Afghani woman, Joya has overcome hardship, loss and great obstacles and yet has never given up on her quest to make the world a better place.
Often, when I see an article about Israel in a magazine or a newspaper, a gnawing sense of despair wells up in my chest. As the country’s political and class conflicts seems to stagnate and worsen, I have found it easier to avoid such news altogether. I don’t like feeling that way. I hate feeling that way. Though I may not always agree with the actions of the state, I am invested in Israel and want her to succeed and thrive. But as I grow older and more aware, my cynicism often diminishes my capacity for hope.
Andrew Sullivan came into my life when I entered high school. At that time, he was writing a blog for the Daily Beast called “The Dish” and I read it Every. Single. Day. He wrote about politics in Washington, the Iraq War, different facets of American culture, conservatism, Christianity. But what he is best known for his role in the fight for same sex marriage.
Western feminists have a habit of writing about and advocating for “first world” issues: body image, television and gaming tropes, the wage gap, you name it. It’s logical to be most concerned with the society in which you live and on which you have the most influence, and there’s nothing wrong with this reality.
With the newly popular theme of including feminist ideals in advertising—such as Pantene’s campaign against apologizing—I can’t help but express my gratitude. It’s nice of these companies to give a brief hint at achieving societal equality.
This Girl Can is a nonprofit based in the UK that “is here to inspire women to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgment is a barrier that can be overcome.” In their main video campaign, women of all races, shapes, and ability levels are featured exercising and enjoying themselves. They are proud of who they are and are proud of their active lifestyles.
You would have to live under a rock to avoid advertising in our 21st century capitalist society. Whether it's billboards as we cruise down the highway, pop-ups on our laptops, or commercials crammed between the cliffhangers of our favorite shows, ads pervade nearly every facet of our lives. Naturally, businesses and nonprofits are constantly searching for new and innovative ways to grab our attention and our money. It should come as no surprise, then, that more and more ad campaigns have begun to cater to a target demographic's ideals and values.
Dove tells me I am beautiful as I am. Pantene exposes the double standard between men and women. Always reminds me that “like a girl” should never be an insult.
And suddenly I am transported into a golden era of feminism wherein I feel completely comfortable with my appearance, my life goals, and my femininity.
Or maybe not.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a woman with a pimple on the cover of a magazine. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a woman with small breasts or a big stomach in an advertisement. The only time I’ve ever seen a woman in an ad with even slightly dry skin is in a “before” image.
“The greatest skin care discovery of all time!” boasts the 1957 black and white commercial, showing a still of the New York skyline. The camera then pans up to show a flock of white doves flying away, leaving a giant white Dove soap bar to fill the screen. The crackling voice explains the benefits of using a Dove bar instead of another soap product, demonstrating this by having a beautiful blonde young woman wash each side of her face with a different product.
Advertising is advertising is advertising. I will preach this from the mountaintops. When people talk about the cultural ramifications of “feminist” advertising, I have to roll my eyes a little bit. Advertising has one main goal: to sell people things. The methods employed to make people buy these things might change but advertising is not deep, it’s not intellectual, and frankly, I don’t think it’s all that important.
These advertisements, written roughly forty to fifty years ago, speak for themselves. (I found them in a blog post called “Vintage Politically-Incorrect Advertising”—never have I been more grateful for political correctness.) Interestingly, all of them seemed to be aimed at men. I suspect the reason for that is a simple one: the men, at the least in the eyes of the ad men, were the ones with the money in their pockets.
I have never prioritized shaving my legs. I’ve always found it a nuisance and a burden and have therefore generally avoided it all together. When questioned why, I would always come up with answers such as “bending over in the shower is too much work” or “I was in a rush,” but recently, after seeing a very thought provoking photo in which a women is depicted shaving flowers off her body, I began to further question my reasons for not shaving my legs.
My grandfather starts every Pesach Seder with the same opening lines. He talks about how he can remember being at the Seder table with his grandfather, who was once at a Seder table with his grandfather, and if you follow the generations back only a few more times you are right back at the original Pesach celebration, the escape from Egypt. These few words add so much meaning to my Pesach experience; I feel a direct relation to the Jews who escaped slavery so long ago. But while I love being able to draw this connection to the ancient past, something has always struck me about this tale: how come women are not part of this story of family linkage?
I do not break rules. I color inside the lines, a textbook example of a goody two-shoes. This is mainly because I am afraid of what will happen if I am caught breaking the rules. More specifically, I am afraid of the question of “why.” I like to have reasons for everything that I do, and so a question like, “Why did you hop that fence?” or “Why did you eat ice cream for breakfast?” leave me feeling like a complete deer in the headlights.
If you had asked me two years ago if I thought of myself as a rebel, I would have been completely taken aback. I also would have said “no!” in a shocked tone, and ask you what on earth had led to that conclusion. I’ve always thought of rebels as people who resist authority or control and honestly, I don’t resist.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Rising Voices." (Viewed on April 18, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices>.