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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ 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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I’ve been meaning to watch if for a while, and this weekend I finally made time to watch MTV’s “No Easy Decision” special. Famous for the shows “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” on December 28th MTV aired “No Easy Decision” (at 11:30 PM) to portray one of the alternatives to teen pregnancy: abortion. I’ve never watched “Teen Mom” or “16 and Pregnant,” but from what I’ve seen of MTV, I was initially expecting the show to be bad and melodramatic. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be incredibly moving, informative, and pragmatic–and I would encourage everyone to watch it.

“No Easy Decision” is about 30 minutes long. The first five minutes introduce us to Markai Durham, a teenager previously featured on “16 and Pregnant” after giving birth to her daughter Zakaria. Pregnant again after missing her shot of Depo-Provera, she and her boyfriend James weigh their options–having another baby and struggling to raise, feed, and take care of two children, or having an abortion, something that they both are hesitant to do. (When someone suggests adoption, Markai immediately responds that she’d be too in love with the child by the time it was born to give it up–something that many people overlook when they push adoption on women with unwanted pregnancies.) After consulting with a women’s clinic (we watch the phone conversation, listening to the friendly and informative woman on the other end of the phone and watching Markai cry) and a close friend, and numerous tearful conversations with James, the two decide that having an abortion is the decision that would make most sense for them, Zakaria, and their unborn child.

Abortion is not portrayed as an easy thing to do. After the procedure, Markai struggles with her decision, wondering what it would be like to have another child. She and Mark go out to dinner, and she talks about how the counselor and argue after Mark refers to the unborn child (which Markai refers to as a bunch of cells) as a “thing”–she feels sensitive and defensive about her decision. Markai tells the camera that choosing abortion was the “toughest decision ever,” and that she wouldn’t choose it as a first option for anyone, but that “it’s not the right time” because she’d have to sacrifice so much of her life, Mark’s life, and her daughter’s life in order to raise another child. In a follow-up interview, Markai says that she feels sadness, but not regret.

The show concludes with an interview with three women–Markai, Natalia, and Katie–about how they feel after having abortions. I thought it was amazing to hear the three women’s stories because they were all so different–it showed how abortion doesn’t simply apply to one type of woman. Katie got pregnant the summer before her senior year in college (she had bad reactions to her birth control, and didn’t know that throwing up her pill meant she was not protected), two weeks before her 18-year old sister gave birth to her son. She chose to get an abortion after seeing how much her sister had to deal with during her pregnancy, and realizing that she did not want to go through the same. Natalia had an abortion at 17 after discovering she was pregnant. I found her story particularly moving because she had to go to court, alone, in order to get an abortion–she did not want to tell her parents, and because she lived in one of the 35 states that require parental consent, she had to plead in front of a judge in order to waive the requirement, something that she (similar to many girls) found to be necessary but emotionally trying. Her only assistance in paying for the abortion came from her ex-boyfriend; in order to pay the $750 dollars that her abortion was to cost, she sold back her high school prom ticket. That struck a chord with me, as a girl about to go to prom, because it was so raw and real–a girl my age had to go through that whole ordeal alone. All three of the girl’s stories were different, but they seemed to agree on the idea that their decisions were “parenting decisions”–that they made their decisions not just thinking about what kind of life they wanted for themselves, but also what kind of life they want for their children.

As Lynn Harris of Salon writes, one of the best things about the show is that in addition to everything else, it includes medically accurate information about abortion procedures and the challenge of finding the right birth control method. It also makes it clear that abortion is not a rare, dangerous procedure: Dr. Drew, the host, explains that about 750,000 girls in the U.S. get pregnant every year, and that nearly a third of those teen pregnancies end in abortion. He says that abortion is “among the safest, most common medical procedures in the US” and cites an oft-ignored figure, the fact that 1/3 of all women in America will have an abortion at one point their lives.

At a time when few television shows are willing to openly discuss or portray abortion, MTV’s “No Easy Decision” is an incredibly important and engaging addition. The show made me cry, not just because the girls’ stories were moving, but because stories like theirs are so rarely told. Abortion can be and is the right choice for many women, and needs to be treated as such–bringing an unwanted child into this world is not good for the parents, the child, or society.

PS: If you want to show support for the three women who shared their stories (something many, many women are afraid to do), go to 16 and Loved, created by Exhale, and share your thoughts.

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Debbie Friedman died yesterday at age 59 after years of suffering from multiple sclerosis. For those of you who have not heard of her, she is a Jewish singer/songwriter, famous for writing Jewish folk/rock music that has become popular in many Conservative and Reform synagogues and schools. The above link is a really nice obituary, if you’re interested.

One thing that Debbie Friedman is famous for is her use of gender-sensitive language. In the song L’chi Lach she uses the female command “L’chi Lach” instead of “Lech Lecha,” the command that is found in the Torah, to show that Sarah was commanded to make the same journey that Abraham made.

It’s a beautiful song, I think–and one that is a welcome addition to the plethora of male-centered Judaica that we have today.

From “Not by Might” to her rendition of “Misheberach,” I’ve heard and learned so many of Debbie Friedman’s songs since I was a little girl: her music has been a huge presence in my repertoire of Jewish music. Although it’s a tragedy that she died at such a young age and after so much suffering, I know that her legacy will live on in the memories and voices of the Jewish community.

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I’m very excited to be writing this post from a couch in my grandparents’ apartment in Israel–I’m visiting over winter break.

The last time I visited Israel was a year and a half ago. When I arrived here a week ago, I soon realized how much had changed within my family now that three of my cousins are in the army. They’ve been in the army since earlier this year, but before I arrived I didn’t quite grasp what that meant and how much it changes things. My grandfather is turning 80 this weekend (the reason for my family’s visit), and one of my cousins simply won’t be able to come to our party because he isn’t allowed to leave his base this weekend. The only communication I’ve had with him since being here was a quick phone-call. Another cousin is training to be a pilot, and while I will get to see him at the party, I have yet to see or hear from him during our entire visit here. The more my family misses the absent cousins, the more it seems we do nothing but talk about them and the work they’re doing.

What I’ve found strangest is seeing people my age prepare for the army right now. As I’ve been working on applying to college and thinking about what I want to do with my life, they’ve been going through testing to see how they’ll be serving their country for the next few years. Even though I know quite a few people going into the army here, it still surprises me that I’ll be starting college at least two or three years before them–and that while I’m spending time thinking about myself and trying to have a “college experience”, they’ll be learning to think less about themselves and instead to think about their unit and the goals of a group.

In America, I feel like I’m constantly being told that I’ll figure everything out in college–that I’ll make my best friends, discover a career path, and somehow manage to explore a million different new things. While I’m not sure all of that will happen (I hope it does), I do know that for many Americans, college is a chance to live away from your parents, feed yourself, and begin to get a taste of what independence feels like. But in Israel, you don’t live alone after high school–you live and work with a group of people all the time. Even the most raucous and rambunctious teenagers are forced to learn discipline. And, instead of trying to go as far away from home as possible (what? never!), many Israelis my age look forward to coming home every other weekend and getting a chance to take a break from their tiring work.

This trip has been kind of a reality check for me. I know America and Israel are very different countries with very different security needs and capabilities, and that at least in the foreseeable future, there won’t be a draft in America, so I’ll never have the experience of being required to serve my country. But I do think there’s something I can learn from the way Israelis look at serving in the army. I’ve talked to quite a few people about their impending draft and asked them why they didn’t just say they were crazy, get out of the draft, and go to college–and they looked at me like I was crazy. They told me that they want to serve because they know that Israeli soldiers, both fighters and those who do administrative work, allow Israel to flourish and prosper as it does–that without them, Israel could not be the what it is today. Even though to me giving up two or three years of my life seems like a burden, to many Israelis it is not just a duty, but something they look forward to.

That, I think, is what I want to remember as I head towards college. During senior year, I’ve often fallen into the habit of stressing so much about my college essays and potential acceptances that I forget to think about other people. I can only imagine what it will be like when I don’t have my family around me to yell at me and keep me somewhat grounded. And so, when that happens, I hope to think about my cousins and friend serving their country in Israel, and remember that there’s an entire world out there of needs and responsibilities that are bigger than myself–and that even though my needs may seem incredibly pressing, I need to take time to think about other people and my community as a whole.

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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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Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE), a collection of groups working to fight sexual assault in Edmonton, Canada announced Friday the creation of the “Don’t Be That Guy” Campaign. The title sounds strange, but the campaign itself is definitely worth looking at.

The ads, which are supposed to target males between the ages of 18 and 24, will be posted in print, on buses, and in urinals in bars. There will be three different ads, and their messages read as follows:

“Just because you help her home … doesn’t mean you get to help yourself.”

“Just because she isn’t saying no … doesn’t mean she’s saying yes.” (This features an image of a woman passed out on a couch.)

“Just because she’s drunk doesn’t mean she wants to f***.”

The messages were chosen after testing among focus groups showed that the messages clearly resonated with young men. The Edmonton police reports that over half of the sexual assault cases it dealt with last year had alcohol as a factor.

The linked article mentions a study in the UK that showed that 48% of men ages 18 to 25 who were polled did not consider it rape if the woman was too drunk to know what was happening. I find that to be incredibly scary–and it makes me think that these ads are not only useful, but necessary. There is often a lot of talk about the ambiguous line of who is to blame for rape when the girl chooses to drink enough to become intoxicated, and these discussions, when respectful, can be interesting and important to have–but it is still important to remember that a woman who is passed out or drunk beyond cognizance cannot give consent. Rather than dealing with this blame game after the fact, this ad campaign is trying to prevent rape from happening by reminding men that consent is still consent, and that even if you can take advantage of a drunk person, you should choose not to.

There are a lot of campaigns out there targeting women and urging them to be uber-cautious when going out with men–and there are people who finds these campaigns to be excessive and dismissive of women’s sexual desires and choices. Personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with reminding women to be careful when they go out, and to make sure that they’re safe–it’s just smart. Telling women to be careful is not equivalent to telling them not to have sex; it is simply telling them to look out for themselves.

That being said, I think this campaign is important because it moves beyond simply encouraging women to look out for themselves and turns to men, the people being accused of rape, and reminds them that consent from women who are unconscious or extremely drunk is not actually consent. It targets them (hopefully) preemptively–and therefore can hopefully lead to a change in the mindset of men who once thought it would be okay to take advantage of an incredibly drunk woman. In order to prevent rape, both women and men need to be aware of how it happens and try to prevent it through their personal actions.

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