Breast Cancer Awareness Month employs some tactics that I find problematic—but the cause is important for all of us.
The conversation is one that needs to be had.
We need to move past the shock-tactics of declaring our love of ta-tas and move into a conversation about how we can offer screening and care to those who don’t have access to it. We need to have conversations that don’t exclude men, but instead discuss the real importance of awareness for everyone. We need to make breast cancer awareness about saving lives, not putting sexualized versions of female anatomy on pedestals.
A few months after I started working at the Jewish Women’s Archive, I was taking the last bus home from a raucous karaoke night on the other side of town. Being from the Midwest originally (read: overly friendly), it was only natural that I strike up a conversation with the bus driver. As our conversation roamed from the weather to current labor issues in the MBTA, I shared a story with him about Rose Schneiderman, a Jewish woman labor activist who had I had been researching for a work-related project. The conversation was so lively I missed my stop and had to walk four extra blocks home.
When I think about that night, I remember the pride that I felt about sharing part of Jewish history with this guy, and how grateful I was that my Jewish identity was giving me a lens through which to connect with others (even non-Jews!) and understand complicated issues in my community.
As a female-bodied person who wears clothing typically reserved for men and occasionally uses male pronouns, I know the world of bluriness. I walk through it everyday, and I see the way it is threatening to people. I have compassion for Sarah, because I see her in the face of all those who struggle with excellent intentions to locate my gender in their understanding of the world. I know the ways in which it pushes me outside of community, and I see the ways in which sharing my whole self with people allows them to bring me in. It is an experience of deep pain and of greater joy. Of pure laughter and the laughter that comes in response to the sheer absurdity of any given moment in my life. To be sure, it is not only genderqueer or trans* identified people who live in the bluriness or on the edge. People with disabilities, those of lower economic classes, single parents, interfaith members of our community — they also live in the blurriness, on the edge of at least one boundary or another.
And so I read this week’s Torah portion as a caution. As a call to notice, to investigate, to counter moments when a blurred line is making us uncomfortable or when we are too narrowly prescribing a person’s identity.
As a feminist, a Jew, and a sometimes-writer, I should have had Letty Cottin Pogrebin on my top 10 list of awesome people I’d love to have dinner with someday. I can’t believe that I didn’t know about this incredible writer-activist until this summer, when I began working at the New Center for Arts and Culture. As soon as I heard that Letty co-founded Ms. magazine, her New Center program quickly became my most highly anticipated of our fall season. And I realized that I needed to know more about her than what my quick online search produced.
While I knew her New Center discussion with Robin Young would focus on her latest book, How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, I decided to start with her seminal work, Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America. Published in the early 1990s, I couldn’t help but read her book with a bit of curiosity: how far (or not) have things come for us as women and Jews in America, over 20 years later? And, how can we further adopt Letty’s ideas and practices? For too long, I’ve been frustrated that many in my generation see feminism as a dirty word, and that we don’t recognize the struggles of women before us that have allowed us advantages we take for granted. Reading about Letty’s life and work has been a catalyst for how I think about my own feminism and Jewish identity.
This week I learned about a blog that had taken up the mantle of “fat-shaming week.” For a week, this blog posted shaming and demeaning content about fat women. The stated reason behind fat-shaming week is that the fat-acceptance movement is attempting to change beauty standards, and that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. They believe that shame will get people to lose weight, and that will ultimately make people healthier and benefit society. Here are some titles of posts they published:
- 5 Reasons Fat Girls Don’t Deserve Love
- Always Take Photos of Fat Women
- 5 Ways to Bully Fat Sluts on a Date
I’ll let that sink in for a minute.
This week marks the anniversary of Gertrude Berg’s television debut as housewife Molly Goldberg. This week also marks the fourth episode of ABC’s new show, The Goldbergs. Interestingly enough: same name, different show—and very different times.
Because there are few things in the world I like more than TV, I decided to sit down this week and honor Gertrude Berg by diving right into The Goldbergs.
It turns out that “Jewish Funny” has become evidence-based. Results from the recent Pew Study “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” four in 10 of the 5.3 million religious and cultural Jews surveyed consider a sense of humor essential to Jewish identity. Having a sense of humor is part of our communications and value system. It’s as if we have a framework for which we see the world that lets us find and enjoy the irony of life’s complications. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the words “irony” and “oy” both have an “o” and a “y”.
Last week we took a look at some of the aid programs that are being shut down due to the government standoff. As the shutdown stretches into its second week, families who rely on assistance are becoming more endangered—and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
When media coverage focuses on our lack of a panda-cam in the National Zoo, I begin to question our priorities. It is, of course, upsetting that our National Parks, monuments and museums are closed; yet I wonder if these fluffier “human interest” stories detract from what our national conversation should really entail? Jokes from late night talk show hosts and the zeitgeist of the internet seem to hang on sardonic jabs at the government—which makes the shutdown appear to be a game.
In fact, the effects of the shutdown on food insecure families in America are life threatening. The more I learn, the angrier I get. Just yesterday a friend of mine from Louisiana shared on her Facebook account that the school lunch program at the elementary school she teaches in was in danger of being discontinued. A large percentage of her students rely on this program for their one stable meal of the day. At the risk of putting it too simply, that just doesn’t seem right.
Being a woman in science isn’t an easy accomplishment. It’s a hard field to break into, and it’s a hard field to shine in. I reached out to a few of my friends who make their living through science, and they all agreed—this subject is tricky on so many levels. It’s hard to navigate, and the politics that get in the way end up being both external and internal. The article in the New York Times wasn’t a groundbreaking discovery—no one is shocked to hear that girls have it tough in the world of science. But it’s good to keep the conversation going—and to remind ourselves that we have shoulders like Gertrude Elion’s to stand on.
The government shut down is on everyone’s mind—as it should be. Day two and we are all holding our collective breath. As of right now, I’m safe from the effects, but my family isn’t. My sister—a federal employee—is home, without pay, busy cleaning her basement when she should be out there making the world a better place.
My sister isn’t the only woman feeling the burn. Slate took a look at the ways the government shut down is impacting women in an article entitled Seven Ways the Government Shutdown Will Hit Women Hardest. Programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) are included on the list of "non-essential" government services shut down during the stand off.
After 48 jam-packed hours with the board, I feel good about my role with the JWA. But it is not just the board that keeps my enthusiasm afloat—it is the JWA mission. Our users, readers, and community echo the passion our board and staff feels.
This morning I woke up, back in Boston, to my normal routine—which includes checking my email before I even get out of bed. Still on a high from my JWA infused weekend, I discovered that a friend sent me an article my way entitled “American Jews Losing Their Religion.”
A Pew Research study hit the web this morning stating “one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.”
Photographers like Arbus, Goldin, and Leibovitz have brought their own unique worldviews–perspectives that were certainly informed by their religious background and gender identities–to their works. Their groundbreaking art has paved the way for contemporary young Jewish women aspiring to capture the moment through the camera. Their legacy will always stay in the hearts and minds of people around the globe, their photos stirring the hearts of simple people and arts aficionados alike.
Last week at a planning meeting for the Girls Night Out event, I was asked to respond to the question: “Why do you want a mikveh?”
Many in the room shared answers about their personal immersions, family experiences, or just generally liking the idea of the place. When it came my turn, I looked at the woman next to me and said, “I want a mikveh because it is a radical feminist act to have one. It’s more political than you know.”
This morning, upon my arrival to JWA’s office, I walked over to Jordyn’s office to say good morning.
She greeted me with a question: “I know you’re a nerd… But, are you a gamer?”
Jordyn continued her line of questioning by asking me if I knew anything about the new Grand Theft Auto game that was just released. While I haven’t devotedly played video games in over ten years, I appreciate the world of gaming and have many friends—and two brothers—who certainly identify as gamers.
In fact when I got to Yale, people didn’t believe I was from Texas, although they still asked if I had cows. Serious though I was, I couldn’t believe they were, so I sardonically said, “Only about 300.” To which they replied, “Is that a lot?” At that point I was truly incredulous, asking if they actually thought I was serious. However, the real craziness hit when it would come up that I was Jewish. The seriously puzzled response was,
“But I thought you said were from Texas…there aren’t any Jews in Texas.” As if they could possibly know that. As if it could be true.
During my commute from work yesterday, I stumbled upon an eyebrow-raising website. Playboy—yes, Playboy —was heralding consent as the new sexy on college campuses.
Party with Playboy, it appeared, had elected to veer away from their traditional rating of the top ten drinking and partying schools, instead offering the Top Ten Party Commandments as a “guide for a consensual good time.”
What is it about being Texan and Jewish that fills me with such pride? I think it’s the unexpectedness of it. I enthusiastically say, “Howdy y’all!” to friends and receive strange stares and sudden cases of the giggles. When I tell people where I’m from they reply, “You don’t sound Texan…or look Texan.” In the same way, people are often told they don’t “look” or “sound” Jewish. What does this even mean? Why are people still bogged down by stereotypes of cowboys and yentas and all other characters associated with Texas and Judaism? Why do I need to prove my Texan-ness or Jewish-ness with how I speak or act or look?
In 1945 a young, beautiful, Jewish woman by the name of Bess Myerson threw her hat in the ring for the title of Miss America. Bess was told she’d have better luck with the competition if she changed her name to something a little less Jewish—but she wasn’t having it. Bess entered the contest with her Jewish identity intact.
Orginally published by ZEEK Magazine.
Tonight at Kol Nidre services, I will chant the prayer that absolves me from all oaths taken the previous year. The thing is — just yesterday I took an oath, alongside 119 women on a very hot day in the shadow of the US Capitol building, an oath that I (with the organization I represent, the National Council of Jewish Women) plan to keep. In part, we promised to:
"create a House United for fair immigration reform, a House United through my family, my community and my place of work, a House United for justice and equality for all and especially for the women and children who make up three-quarters of all immigrants but whose needs are woefully ignored by our failed system."
And we put our bodies on the line to reinforce our commitment to this promise.
The first time someone called me a “feminist” I was in the 3rd grade.
I had raised my hand for the billionth time to voice my concern that we weren’t talking enough about women and girls in our history lessons. I was specifically upset that Cornelia Jackson, daughter of famed Newton, MA abolitionist William Jackson, was barely discussed in our class, despite having her diary (or a fictionalized account of it—my memory is hazy on the details) at our disposal. My teacher, trying to humor me, said she would look into it. My classmate (let’s call him Brian for his protection) at the adjacent desk rolled his eyes and said, “Oh my god, can you please stop being such a feminist?”
I looked at Brian for a moment and then said… “No.”
It seems fitting that in the midst of our own Jewish time of reflection, we encounter a day of reflection for all Americans. Twelve years ago today, our nation was struck by an unparalleled tragedy. As an organization that is dedicated to the sometimes painful art of remembering, we pause to reflect.
When we think back on that harrowing day, our sadness at the loss of life is buoyed by the memory of people coming together, reaching out with acts large and small. Our challenge is to preserve the legacy of that day as one not framed by terror and tragedy, but one that regularly reminds us that even in the worst of times, we each have something to offer and we each can make a difference by acting on our best natures.
In the initial brainstorming stages of the Rising Voices Fellowship I sat down with quite a few teenagers, and I learned quite a few things. I heard a lot of helpful (and surprising) statements about how feminism is perceived by high schoolers. I discovered that while the Internet is an undeniable force in young peoples lives, it’s not the be-all and end-all of community building. I was impressed over and over again by the thoughtful way that these young women saw themselves in relationship to a long history of Jewish women. I promise you (and not just because I’m invested in the fellowship) that when we launch Rising Voices you will be glued to your screen reading the blog posts of 11th and 12th graders.
I also learned that I might be old—or at least I experienced high school in a different time.
Judaism does not shy away from the pain of these longings on Rosh Hashanah—in fact, it confronts them head on. This year more than ever I am struck by the stories we read about Sarah and Hannah during these two days. During the holiday we read of Sarah’s yearning for a child and her surprise at conceiving even after her cycle had stopped. And of Hannah’s burning desire for a child that, after many years, finally came to be. What connects these stories of barren women yearning for children and the name of Rosh Hashanah as Hayom Harat Olam (the Day of the World’s Conception)?
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on November 28, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog>.