Ancient Egypt, Nazi Germany, and High School Classrooms: Is There Such a Thing as an Innocent Bystander?
There is little more frustrating than being punished for something that you did not do. The extra homework assignments because a few classmates were talking, no sandals to work because one girl stubbed her toe, no more school-wide pancake breakfasts because one group of students did not clean up their lunch, the trampoline is off-limits because one person couldn’t follow the rules. So many instances when one person, or one small group of people, ruined it for everybody.
Boxes of slide reels still cover my repurposed kitchen table. To help with storage, a nearby closet offers enough space for a whopping twelve boxes for a total of sixteen, all compiled by my paternal Grandfather. I’m no mathematician but I can easily calculate that, with sixteen boxes of eighty slides, there must be over twelve hundred squares of film.
I feel a certain amount of discomfort in posting on JWA’s blog the glowing, cheerful recipes so common this time of year. As a Jewish organization that focuses on women’s history and feminism, what does it mean to fill our blog with recipes for baked goods and brisket? Though we boast an increasingly robust number of male readers, JWA reaches mainly women. Do I want to bombard them with tips for cooking for a large family during the holidays? No, not really.
Recently I have become aware of Meninist Twitter, an account with thousands of followers. An account whose purposes, as far as I can tell, are to argue that true gender equality means fighting for men's rights, to claim that women have an agenda that involves disadvantaging men, and, of course, to ridicule feminism.
Since the return of Rachel Menken in Season 7, JWA's Judith Rosenbaum and Tara Metal have been having a blast writing about Mad Men on the blog. After Sunday's series finale (sob!) they had one last chat about Don's legacy, Peggy's love life, and Joan's feminism.
I’m late to the party of commentary on last week’s episode, The Milk and Honey Route, and anyway, all thoughts are running to this evening’s looming end. So I offer some general reflections instead.
Anger is powerful. Anger is useful. If you insult me at the bowling alley, I am bound to bowl a strike right after. I tend to utilize anger in three areas: passive aggressive, the rare occasions where I engage in competitions, and talking about feminist issues. Not to sound like an angry feminist, but there is a lot to be angry about on that front.
Ilana has always been a giver; it’s how she was raised and it makes her feel whole. She’s a preschool teacher, a babysitter, a loving daughter, the truest friend I know. Her personal goals have always revolved around caring for others. She doesn’t do this out of obligation, but because human service work and caring for her loved ones fulfills her.
Disclaimer: I am a Boston girl/New Englander, born and bred. I am a Patriots fan, and I like Tom Brady (I honestly don’t understand how someone could NOT like him, but that’s a different post). I enjoy football, even though my relationship with sports is complicated as I am also a feminist.
I am mad as hell about the Tom Brady suspension.
And it has nothing at all to do with whether or not he cheated.
Jewish women are having a moment. At the end of 2014, Flavorwire published an article entitled “2014 Was—Secretly—The Year of the Jewish Woman.” It profiled Jewish women who made news in culture in the past year: Abbi Glazer and Ilana Jacobson of the Comedy Central show Broad City, Jill Soloway, the writer of the groundbreaking show Transparent, and Jenny Slate, the comedian who starred in the romantic comedy Obvious Child, among others.
Looking down at my beautiful daughter in my arms, I sometimes wonder what on earth took me so long. Bringing her into our lives was a long journey that did not begin with agency and governmental red tape, but with a dream I was afraid to let die. The decision to end our efforts with infertility treatments, though they that were slowly killing my husband and me, was incredibly difficult.
I have an immense amount of respect for more traditional Jewish communities, Ashkenazi and Sephardi alike. Judaism cannot and should not be only one thing; and our culture’s ability to be both united and extraordinarily multi-faceted is part of what makes it so beautiful.
This week’s episode finally brought the moment I’ve been waiting for: when the women’s movement makes its arrival on the scene, if only in passing mention. I practically stood up and cheered when Joan sat, calm but radiating power, on Jim Hobart’s couch and challenged him with the mention of Betty Friedan, the EEOC, and the sit-ins at the Ladies’ Home Journal. It seemed that now, after years of struggling on her own, she had a team of women to back her up.
We’ve all seen—and heard of—the impossible standards to which women are held: be skinny, beautiful, athletic, and put together, but also be “natural” and be “yourself.” Don’t change yourself for a man, but don’t scare him off by being too honest or “real” from the get-go either. Be smart and informed, but don’t let your intelligence outshine his, or else his masculinity might be threatened. Be a perfect mother and wife, but make sure you’re also highly accomplished at work.
Every woman in my family has been on a diet for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of family parties: everyone surrounded by lovingly prepared dishes, saying “oh god, I shouldn’t eat this” and “I’m not eating carbs right now” as they piled their plates with lasagna and bread. That was the deal: diets weren’t really adhered to, but they were talked about incessantly.
After moving from Tel Aviv to Berlin about five years ago, I started noticing that the sheer number of commemorative objects scattered around the city is quite astounding. Berlin has seen more radical changes in the last 150 years then most cities have in the last 1,000. From the Prussians to the German Kaiser, from the Weimar republic to Nazi times and subsequently division and reunification, it is a city of many identities.
So, when prompted with the question, “Which piece of culture would you like history to forget?” I truly couldn’t think of anything. To willingly want to erase a historical cultural record really shows no regard for history at all. The culture we create is a reflection of our values during that period. Books, movies, TV, music, are the most compelling historical records we have of the mood of a society, and this includes the ugly parts.
The struggle between career and family is one that women have wrestled with for decades, and there seem to be no easy solutions on the horizon. Work vs. home. “Office wives” and romantic partners. Kids or promotions. The battles rage on, illuminated by think pieces and parsed by university studies, but the essential question of what is most worthwhile and meaningful in life remains unanswered.
I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that my love of Mad Men stems from its focus on the gender politics of the 1960s. (When the first episode aired, I remember watching with my husband and exclaiming, “It’s like my graduate studies come to life!”). So while I found this episode frustrating in many ways (why has Glen Bishop returned and what was that scene with Betty in the kitchen??), it was at least somewhat satisfying to see women’s growing confidence and opportunity emerge from an otherwise depressing storyline.
Sometimes, my shame overwhelms me mid-phrase, and I am only able to get half-way through the final word: “What a bi…” before I chastise myself thoroughly. “Stop it. You are a feminist now, Eliza. You are supposed to be better than this.”
We need to pay strict attention to what messages we get from the media and how those messages perpetuate violence and misogyny. Violent and offensive lyrics, such as those in “Animals,” glorify and romanticize sexualized violence, causing distorted views on healthy relationships. Objectification and violence toward women can too easily become mainstream when popular celebrities endorse this behavior.
I was Jewish and a woman and had no idea that neither was welcomed or acknowledged in the world of television writing in the 1960s. Not that such topics were on my mind when I was forced by sad happenstance to become widowed at the age of 31 and left to support my three young children. I had to get a job.
UGH. I enjoyed only one scene in this episode, and it was Don’s visit to the Francis household. Betty looked glorious in her ultra-feminine housewife drag, and I appreciated the moment when Don looked back at Betty, Henry, and his two sons, clearly farklempt about the nuclear family he could have had.
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.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on July 25, 2016) <http://jwa.org/blog>.