Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for February, 2011

Changes

You’re probably going to start noticing some differences in the content of my posts here pretty soon (and perhaps the frequency with which they’re written).

Tomorrow, I’m going to be leaving for Poland with my grade, where I will spend approximately 10 days visiting concentration camps and the remains of what used to be a thriving Jewish community there. I’m expecting an emotional but very interesting trip.

Then, we’ll leave Poland and spend three months in Israel, touring and volunteering. I’m super excited–I’ve been to Israel many times before, but never for so long, and never with my friends. It’s going to be a great experience, full of learning, beautiful weather, and lots of hummus.

That being said, I’ll be sure to share whatever relevant experiences and thoughts I have while there (when I get computer/internet access). A Jewish teenage girl spending three months in Israel–who knows what Jewish feminist issues I’ll encounter? (Well, I have an idea–probably less American pop culture issues and more Israeli ones, for certain. And the sometimes absurd laws passed in Israel that majorly infringe on women.)

So, rather than saying goodbye, I’d prefer to say “see you from the other side of the world.”

Read Full Post »

GAGA

Last night I was lucky enough to see Lady Gaga in concert–it was fantastic. She was fantastic (her voice is really good), the show was fantastic, and the world that she created onstage was fantastic. If you’ve ever seen her live or in a video, you know what I mean. If you ever, ever get a chance to see her in concert, go–it was that good.

One thing that stood out about her show was the way the she constantly reminded the audience of the fact that she–or at the least the version of herself that she is onstage–is fake. She is a reflection of what her listeners and audience expect and what from her; she is there to be whatever we want and need her to be. Towards the beginning of the show, she spoke this, what she calls “The Manifesto of Little Monster,” aloud to us:

There is something heroic about the way my fans operate their cameras. So precisely, so intricately and so proudly. Like Kings writing the history of their people, is their prolific nature that both creates and procures what will later be perceived as the kingdom. So the real truth about Lady Gaga fans, my little monsters, lies in this sentiment: They are the Kings. They are the Queens. They write the history of the kingdom and I am something of a devoted Jester. It is in the theory of perception that we have established our bond, or the lie I should say, for which we kill. We are nothing without our image. Without our projection. Without the spiritual hologram of who we perceive ourselves to be or rather to become, in the future. When you are lonely, I will be lonely too. And this is the fame.”

What’s interesting about Lady Gaga, and what makes me love her, is that she is not just a pop-star with an image. She is an image–she epitomizes the postmodern idea that simulation and visual media can substitute for the real. There is no “real” Lady Gaga–she loudly proclaimed last night that the one thing she hates more than money is truth.

And yet, somehow, she constantly reminded us last night of the true and harsh realities of the world we live in. She talked about homeless LGBTQ youth, about societal pressures to be thin, and about people who feel they have no place in society–and proclaimed her show as a place where all the problems in society could come to die, proudly telling us that her Monster Ball is a safe-haven for all the freaks in the world. She blended her fake world with reality in order to subvert that reality.

If it were anyone else, I would have found a lot of the things Lady Gaga said last night to be cliche, and expected a lot of people in the audience to grimace. But when she said things like “I want you to walk out of her tonight not loving me more, but loving yourselves more,” the only response she got was resounding cheers. I was amazed at just how many people really do look to Gaga as affirmation of the fact that it’s okay to be weird and out of place–she’s really struck a chord.

A lot of pop stars are about image. But in embracing that fact and making it clear to her audience that she is simply creating an image for them, she has somehow been able to create the ultimate escape for her audience. It’s as if the very fact that she has been able to win us over with her fake world of acceptance and equality makes that world seem possible in real life.

PS: Gaga is also awesome and does a ton of charity work. She really does try to change the world we live in–she’s not all talk.

Read Full Post »

Nothing makes me sadder than the idea that Planned Parenthood would lose its government funding–something that, if some people in Congress get there way, could become a reality. Representative Mike Pence is currently sponsoring a bill that would deny government funding to any organization that provides abortions, regardless if they use government funds to pay for them. Planned Parenthood is one of those organizations; it currently receives over $300 million in government funding and contracts.

Planned Parenthood has recently been under attack by anti-choice organizations. Live Action, an anti-choice group whose website features the headline “Exposing Planned Parenthood’s Cover-up of Child Sex Trafficking” hired actors to conduct sting operations in twelve clinics in six states to expose the alleged horrors occurring in the hands of Planned Parenthood. As Gail Collins summarizes,:

Live Action hired an actor who posed as a pimp and told Planned Parenthood counselors that he might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from “one of the girls I manage.” He followed up with questions about how to obtain contraceptives and abortions, while indicating that some of his “girls” were under age and illegally in the country.

One counselor, shockingly, gave the “pimp” advice on how to game the system and was summarily fired when the video came out. But the others seem to have answered his questions accurately and flatly. Planned Parenthood says that after the man left, all the counselors — including the one who was fired — reported the conversation to their supervisors, who called the authorities. (One Arizona police department, the organization said, refused to file a report.)

No one looks good giving information to pimps. But even pimps and prostitutes need information about sexual health–the counselors were simply doing their job. And, contrary to what Live Action wants people to think, Planned Parenthood has “a zero tolerance of nonreporting anything that would endanger a minor” just like public clinics or hospitals, according to president Cecile Richards.

What makes these attacks so sad is that Planned Parenthood provides 1.85 million low-income women with family-planning and medical assistance every year. Planned Parenthood is not an abortion clinic; it provides women with pap smears, STD tests, and screening for breast and cervical cancer, and helps newly pregnant women weigh abortion, adoption, and having a baby in a nonjudgmental and informative way.

In addition to being an important and necessary resource for women who do not feel comfortable going anywhere else for reproductive health care, Planned Parenthood also saves the government a lot of money. For every dollar spent on publicly funded family planning services, Medicaid saves $4.02 the next year. Getting rid of Planned Parenthood could effectively cost taxpayers 1.2 billion dollars.

So please, please, sign this, a petition to save Planned Parenthood and keep its government funding.

Read Full Post »

A few months ago, I realized that I wanted to start wearing Tallit and Tefillin. Not because I had some grand change in ideology, but because I realized that doing so actually goes along with the ideology I’ve professed to have for quite some time.

I’ve always believed in egalitarianism, the idea that men and women should have the same obligations in regards to Judaism. However, until reading On the Ordination of Women as Rabbis by Rabbi Joel Roth, I hadn’t quite thought about the extent to which that belief should apply to everyday practice, including Mitzvot that are traditionally associated with only men. In his responsum, Rabbi Roth creates a justification for ordaining women as rabbis. In doing so, he discusses the fact that women are traditionally exempt from positive time-bound commandments, such as wearing Tallit (performed in the morning) because performing the Mitzvot would inhibit them from performing their duties at home. Roth brings up the idea that, for a woman who wishes for more to be expected of her than mothering, there could and should be another option: accepting full obligation of all Mitzvot upon herself, including positive time-bound ones. (His discussion of what this would entail and how it would affect people is quite long and nuanced, and worth a read.)

After reading his responsum, I realized that, in truth, I feel obligated to perform all Mitzvot–I see no reason why a male friend of mine should be obligated to perform Mitzvot that I am not. But with this realization came another one–that for years, I’ve been justifying my decision to not wear a Kippah, Tallit, or Tefillin with the word “comfort,” but that doing so is actually quite hypocritical of me. To put it simply: if I were a boy, I’d be wearing them, so why aren’t I?

And so, with that idea in mind, a few weeks ago I decided to try out a Tallit. At my school (or ex-school, as I’m about to graduate), we pray every morning, and so I asked one of our rabbis to teach me the blessing and how to put it on, and I wore it. I was immediately surprised at how comfortable it felt–wrapping myself up in the fabric made me feel warm and homey. It also just felt right–like I was differentiating between my day-to-day clothes and my prayer clothes and setting myself up to focus. That night my father took me to the local Judaica store in order to buy one of my own. We argued for a while about the color scheme, as I wanted to buy the plain blue, white, and silver Tallit that many boys wear at school, and he wanted me to buy a more feminine one. However, after both explaining my belief that if everyone’s obligated we can all wear the same type of Tallit and feeling the silky texture of a slightly more feminine but still simple white and blue Tallit, we settled on a beautiful Tallit that I have worn since that day.

I hadn’t had an opportunity to try Tefillin until yesterday thanks to many snow days and the end of school, but yesterday I woke up early, drove to school, came to Minyan, and was lucky enough to be taught by a peer how to put Tefillin on both my head and my arm. As a teacher had previously explained to me, they were very uncomfortable–they just felt weird. However, as he also explained, I found that weirdness to be very appealing–in his words, it had a kind of “shock effect.” Wearing the Tefillin on my head and my arm made me look and feel like I was not only praying, but like I was doing something overtly different from my normal life. Putting on and taking off Tefillin is somewhat laborious and time consuming–you can’t just immediately walk out into your normal life and move on like you can with a Tallit. I found that differentiation, that conscious effort, to be very powerful, and if I end up praying again on a daily basis (I’m graduating now), I’ll want to buy some and wear them (they’re pretty expensive.)

One of the best things about these two recent experiences was looking around the room and seeing both boys and girls wearing Tallit and Tefillin, comfortably (or uncomfortably, as the case may be) praying as a group. Instead of feeling different, I was one of them–obligated and fulfilling my obligation.

Read Full Post »

This post is cross-posted at JWA

It’s an exciting, scary, and revolutionary time in Egypt right now. In spite of our opinions on the political implications of the anti-Mubarak and pro-Mubarak protests, I think we can all appreciate the large amount of Egyptian female revolutionaries with roles in the spotlight. I read an interesting article on this in the New York Times today that described the surprisingly large involvement of women in the protests in Egypt.

In particular, the article talked about a woman named Asmaa Mahfouz. Mahfouz is part of the April 6 Youth Movement, a group of young people who use the internet to organize people against Mubarak and his rule. She posted a video online a few weeks ago holding a sign that declared that she would protest against Mubarak, and that in order to have hope, people must take a strong and visible stance. Her video was seen as bold, both for its complete lack of anonymity, something that is not particularly prevalent in online activism (Mahfouz made popular something that Amr Ezz, another founder of the April 6 Movement calls “visual blogging”), and because she was a woman. In Egypt, women traditionally are expected to not take on radical and inflammatory roles, and her doing so was quite the big deal. But both elements of surprise seemed to work out for her–in response to her video, dozens of people posted videos with signs of their own, promising to go out and protest in the massive January 25 protests.

Despite her efforts, men still make up the majority of protesters–something that is not surprising in such a traditional country. However, one thing that I found interesting was this quote from Ezz in the article, explaining why men, perhaps even more than women, were motivated by Mahfouz: “The fact that a woman was able to do this made the men feel challenged, and they wanted to do the same.” According to Ezz, because men were so uncomfortable with seeing a woman in a prominent role, they felt the need to assert their authority once again by dedicating themselves to the movement: essentially, sexism, or at least traditionally repressive gender roles, helped Mahfouz’s message to affect men. The idea seems a little backwards and weird, but if true, has helped Mahfouz’s video to be quite effective.

Even though the protests are majority male, many women are participating. Women march down the streets with men and even lead groups of protesters. The aforementioned article highlights Mariam Soliman, a 28-year-old woman who led a group of both men and women in chants against Mubarak. Asked about her role, she responded:

“I am an Egyptian woman, a regular woman rejecting injustice and corruption in my country…women have to go down and participate and demand their rights, or is it going to be the men who fight for our rights?”

I find this quote to be very powerful, and something that women across the world can relate to–even if we’re not dealing with revolution, it’s important to remember that if we don’t speak up for things we believe in, we cannot expect anyone else to. Being a woman does not make us any less affected by national and international issues. I admire the female Egyptian protesters for taking the fate of their country into their own hands, even when it goes against much of what has been expected of them throughout their lives. We can’t be sure that this will affect gender roles after all of the turmoil has passed, as a lot of what happens will depend on what kind of government is in place. However, at least for now, women in Egypt are taking on new, exciting, and important roles, and it’s certainly something to celebrate.

Read Full Post »