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Archive for the ‘Bad-Asses’ Category

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.

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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.

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This post is cross-posted at JWA

This weekend has been very exciting for me–the synagogue that my family belongs to is hosting Sara Hurwitz as a guest speaker. For those of you haven’t heard of her: after studying for seven years at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, she was given the title of “maharat” by Rabbi Avi Weiss (an Orthodox rabbi) in March 2009, and deemed a spiritual and halachic leader. Few people understood that maharat meant spiritual and halachic leader, and so Rabbi Weiss changed her title to rabba. However, the Rabbinic Council of America, a group of mainly modern Orthodox American rabbis, considered expelling Weiss from their group because of the similarities between the word “rabba” and “rabbi,” and so Weiss changed her title back to maharat. And that’s where we stand today—Hurwitz is now the head of Yeshivat Maharat, which trains women to become spiritual and halachic leaders in their communities. Hurwitz is also a full member of the rabbinic staff of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, where she teaches, officiates at life cycle events and advises congregants on halachic issues.

You can probably see why I was so excited to meet her.

Last night, after dinner, Rabba (she still refers to herself as a rabba, and I’m certainly not one to object) Hurwitz invited the congregation to join her in a Talmudic case study of Yalta. Who is Yalta, you might ask? Great question–most of the congregation had never even heard of her (we’d only heard of the treaty). Yalta is a woman mentioned in various parts of the Talmud, known as being the wife of Rabbi Nachman, a famous rabbi, as well as the daughter of the exilarch (who is essentially the secular leader of the Jewish community). Hurwitz taught and analyzed with us three stories that mention Yalta, and then led us in discussion of the implications of her role as a female in the Jewish community.

The first source discussed the fact that Yalta was known to be carried on alanki on Shabbat, something that is usually prohibited (as it is seen as work). The source suggested that perhaps she was allowed to do so because she was needed quickly by someone in the community (a known exception to the rule), implying that she played a significant role in the community and had some kind of authority. Not such a small accomplishment for a woman living in Talmudic times.

The second source described a guest, Rabbi Ulla, coming to dinner at Rabbi Nachman’s house and refusing to pass a cup that had been blessed to Yalta after Nachman requested he do so. Instead, he cited a verse saying that “the fruit of a woman’s body is blessed from the fruit of a man’s body”. Enraged, Yalta stormed away from the table and broke four hundred jars of wine in her cellar. Nachman turned to Ulla and asked him, once again, to give her the juice, which he refused, and then she retorted that “gossip comes from pedlars and vermin from rags.” No one was exactly sure what that last line meant. However, the story itself involves some interesting symbolism: the line that Ulla quotes treats women like a vessel that must be blessed (and fertilized) by a man. In breaking four hundred bottles of wine, Yalta (quite dramatically) shows Ulla the necessity of a vessel–without the vessel holding in the wine, nothing can be contained, just as without a woman, man cannot reproduce. Hurwitz acknowledged the excess in Yalta’s actions, but also emphasized the powerful message that she sent.

The final source we discussed was one that I found to be particularly relevant to Hurwitz’s own struggle as a Jewish woman authority. The source discussed an instance where Yalta brought a sample of her menstrual fluids to Rabbi Bar Hana to judge if it was “clean,” meaning that her period was over, or “unclean.” He said that it was unclean, and so she turned to Rabbi Isaac (they were apparently in the Beit Midrash, or house of study), who initially agreed with Rabbi Bar Hana. However, she told Rabbi Isaac that on every other occasion, Rabbi Bar Hana had ruled such blood clean, and that only on that day did he rule in unclean because he had something in his eye, and so Rabbi Isaac finally ruled it clean. The source then goes into a discussion of when you can believe a woman on her menstrual fluids, which is a weird and interesting discussion for another time. What Hurwitz emphasized was that Yalta clearly knew that her blood was clean, but she chose to go to the rabbis anyway to ask if it was clean–and only then did she argue her point. She tried to challenge authority without trying to ignore it–she wanted to bring about change from within the system.

And that, I think, is Hurwitz’s thinly veiled metaphor for herself. In listening and talking to Hurwitz this weekend (she was nice enough to answer a few of my questions after speaking), it became clear to me that while she is very much trying to challenge traditional authority and pave the way for women to take on new and important roles in Orthodox Judaism, she also has a deep and unwavering respect for Orthodox Judaism and its traditional system. I asked her last night if she had ever considered going to a place like the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she would not have to deal with the complaints of the RCA, etc, and she responded that she never had–that she feels at home in the Orthodox world, and that it is important to her to bring about change while working within the framework of the system that is in place. Even though I find myself more comfortable outside the Orthodox realm and within a less traditional sphere, I have a lot of respect for her commitment to being both an Orthodox Jew and a female authority and leader. Learning with her this weekend was great, not just because I discovered Yalta, who was quite the rebel, but also because I had the opportunity to see a room full of Modern Orthodox Jews engaged by an intelligent, educated woman on Halachic issues–a site that I don’t see too often, but that could hopefully become commonplace in the next decade or two.

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This is just a short post to draw your attention to a new exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York called Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism. It is not necessarily a collection of Jewish feminist art, but rather a collection of feminist art drawn mainly from the Jewish Museum’s collection, and that often deals with feminism within the context of Judaism. I have not (yet) gotten to see the exhibit, since I don’t live in New York, but The New York Times seems to think it’s pretty great–full of “smart, nervy works that grapple with feminism and Judaism, often simultaneously.”

The curator, Daniel Belasco, published a piece in Lilith about the exhibit, lending some insight as to what went into the selection of the included pieces. He talks about his selection of large pieces for their visual power, as well as abstract pieces to challenge the viewer to think and feel. He talks about how he made a point of including male artists’ work in the show, stressing his belief that “for an exhibition to argue about the ‘triumph’ of feminism in art, to only present works by women would undermine the point by showing its effect on half the art world.” It’s an interesting piece to read, even if you don’t see the show, as it touches on the power of painting as a medium in itself as well as a means of empowering feminism. It also has some full-page color pictures of paintings that are featured in the exhibit, if you’re interested.

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This post is cross-posted at JWA

There was a really interesting article in The New York Times last week by Kristof about individuals who are, in effect, creating foreign aid on their own. He writes about various people who, feeling passionately about helping the world, got up, changed their lives, and simply, did it. He tells a few stories, highlighting the fact that many of the members of the “Do-It-Yourself Foreign Aid Revolution” are women. One that I find to be particularly interesting is the story of Elizabeth Scharpf. While interning for a summer in Mozambique with the World Bank, she learned that many women were hesitant to go to work while menstruating because of the high cost of feminine hygiene products. When she came back to Harvard, she asked around, and discovered that a similar problem existed in many countries around the globe, but that it was often a topic too taboo to discuss.

So she came home, contacted people she knew in pharmaceuticals and biotech, and tried to design a company to produce cheap sanitary pads that women could distribute through a franchise system. After discovering that commercial pads were expensive to manufacture because of pricey raw materials, she got together a team that designed a pad made out of banana fibers that proved to be eco-friendly, absorbent, and significantly cheaper to produce. After winning a grant and a fellowship, Scharpf has created an organization called Sustainable Health Enterprises that will begin manufacturing pads next year in Rwanda and that is advocating for the Rwandan government to lift the 18 percent sales tax on feminine hygiene products to make them more affordable.

It’s unclear how much of an effect the banana-fiber pads will have. Perhaps they will still be too expensive for families to buy, or girls will still miss school because of menstrual cramps. There are studies that show that providing girls with pads actually increases school attendance, and studies that show that bicycles would help more than pads; the pads’ immediate effects are still an unknown.

However, I think that even if her project does not have grand, sweeping results, it’s important to think about the fact that this is exactly the type of innovation that our world needs today: ideas that take into account and carefully consider monetary, environmental, and social concerns. Often times, we think about philanthropy just in terms of giving money, and forget that money needs to go somewhere—and that where it goes matters. Instead of trying to pay for women’s sanitary pads and continue to supply women with them, Scharpf is trying to create a sustainable system that can exist without a constant stream of money from outside donors. Not only that, but she’s trying to empower women by filling an obvious void in their lives, and relieving them of one more burden preventing them from going to school. It takes a lot of time to change a society in which women are expected to miss school often, but providing them with the tools they need to allow them to feel comfortable school is the first step.

I wanted to share this with you all because I think it’s an interesting and important story, but also because as Jewish women we should remember that we’re part of a long train of healthcare activism. Lillian Wald, the woman who first coined the term “public health nurse,” was a leader of a movement of nurses who worked outside of hospitals inside poor communities. These women, taking a new and novel approach to healthcare, worked on preventative health as well as treatment of ailing patients. Under Wald’s influence, the New York Board of Health began to organize the first public nursing system in the world. Wald did not just work for a short-term solution to a problem, but rather succeeded at shaping a long-term healthcare system. With her in mind, we should applaud women like Scharpf for their innovation and efforts.

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My stepmother just sent me this note from NIF (the New Israel Fund), an organization that is near and dear to her heart. What separates NIF from other US-based groups dealing with Israel is its focus on domestic issues, which are often overlooked in light of Israel’s international political symbolism. Domestic issues all around the world are in large part comprised of issues of women’s rights, which, as we know quite well, intersect with marriage rights.

Check out this release from NIF:

This Sunday, for the second year in a row, NIF is sponsoring a wedding. It’s Tu B’Av, Israel’s Valentine’s Day, and like most Jewish weddings in Israel there will be flowers, dancing and a chuppah. But unlike most weddings in Israel, this one will be a Jewish alternative ceremony, joining the lives of two young people without the assistance or interference of Israel’s Orthodox-only Chief Rabbinate.

In Israel, the only way to have a legally recognized wedding is to have an Orthodox ceremony, and the only way to have an Orthodox ceremony is to meet the ever-harsher requirements of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate.  Yulia and Stas, the bride and groom, are choosing a public ceremony in Tel Aviv to help raise awareness about the need for a civil marriage alternative in Israel.

By sundown on Sunday, Yulia and Stas will have had a Jewish wedding, but not one recognized by the laws of the State of Israel. Like many couples who wish to avoid the involvement of the Orthodox rabbinate in their wedding, Yulia and Stas will have to get married outside of Israel in order for their union to be legally recognized in their own country.

The need for a civil wedding option in Israel was driven home dramatically during the last few weeks, as emotions have flared in Israel and throughout the diaspora over the Rotem bill legislation introduced into the Knesset that, if passed, will grant the ultra-Orthodox an iron monopoly on conversion and on who is a Jew.

It’s one thing to get married in the United States, where a marriage does not have to involve religion and where the core issue at hand is denial of same-sex marriages. In Israel, there is another issue that falls under the umbrella of marriage equality: denominational representation. The ultra-Orthodox rabbinate controls marriage laws in Israel where there is not an option for a justice of the peace AND there is no such thing as a marriage that is not performed by an Orthodox rabbi in observance of very specific halakha.

The scary part is that many of these ultra-Orthodox rituals and observances go against the beliefs of the majority of the population. A marriage, an act that is supposed to create a union of two identities, ends up contradicting the beliefs of the two people who are united.

So take action now and contact Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to recognize all forms of Judaism as valid.

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This post is cross-posted at Jewesses with Attitude

I already wrote about The Seventeen Magazine Project but I wanted to write about Jamie Keiles, the actual girl who ran the project,  because I personally find her to be incredibly inspirational.  She started the Seventeen Magazine Project in May, in which she promised to use the magazine’s beauty, diet, exercise, and activity tips for an entire month. And use them she did—she chronicled her adventures in her blog, complete with pictures of herself and data analysis of various aspects of the magazine.

Her month ended (and she graduated high school) and she has now started a new blog called Teenagerie, in which she writes about teenagers, from the media’s portrayal of them (us, really, for me) to trends about things as everyday as deodorant. The blog is new, with its first entry on July 3, but she seems to keep consistently pumping out entries—something that anyone who writes for a blog knows is difficult to do.  Her posts range from speculative to well-researched, but I’m consistently impressed by the way that she uses phrases like “I’m not sure” and “I think,” phrases that people often neglect to use, to show that she recognizes that she’s still figuring things out and that there can be opinions besides her own; she frequently asks for suggestions from readers, and even had no qualms admitting that she doesn’t “know enough about asexuality to write about the topic.”  Even when I disagree with what she says, I love the fact that she is careful to be respectful.

One of the things that impresses me most about Jamie is that she keeps coming up with new projects and new ideas, and has attracted a large enough audience that it is clear that she is not just writing for her own benefit. Either she’s really lucky, or she’s an independent feminist dynamo who knows how to get people’s attention: she was interviewed on NPR , written about in the Ms. Magazine blog, and one of her charts was even featured in the Huffington Post.  That’s pretty big for an eighteen year old who just graduated high school.

I think that maybe a lot of this attention comes from the fact that Jamie writes in a way that makes you just want to be her best friend.  In one of her two posts about prom, she wrote:

We were required to spend the first hour of prom eating. The menu included a salad, which I didn’t touch, sourdough bread, and stuffed shells or lemon chicken. Nobody seemed excited to eat this food. Instead, there was a lot of polite, adult socializing, which was maybe the strangest part of the whole night. After, we were all let into the ballroom and we danced. The DJ wasn’t very good, and played mostly oldies. Nothing made me feel closer to my peers than grinding to ABC by the Jackson 5. My date, who doesn’t usually dance, danced with me the entire time, and even liked it. The room was a sauna of adolescent awkwardness, and we were very sweaty by the end of the evening. My hair eventually retreated to its natural fur-like texture and triangular shape. I didn’t really care though, because I was having a great time.

Afterward, we headed to a party at Dominique’s boyfriend’s house, where we swam, talked, and stayed up until 5 am. In the morning, we had pancakes. As far as I know, most other social groups did similar things. I am not aware of anyone who died or got arrested. Maybe someone got pregnant, but we won’t know for a few weeks. I’ll let you know!

It’s gems like that—funny, somewhat awkwardly self-aware, but also genuine and not egotistical—that made me keep reading throughout her entire project, and that make me excited for her new one. Maybe it’s just because I’m a teenager myself and can relate to her on that level, but I also think that older readers can (and do) read her writing and feel reassured that there are intelligent, insightful teenagers out there today, who maybe even remind them of themselves when they were younger.

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