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Archive for the ‘Opportunities’ Category

This is a somewhat scattered Mother’s Day post. To start off, I’d like to say thank you, Kristof:

By United Nations estimates, 215 million women worldwide have an “unmet need” for family planning, meaning they don’t want to become pregnant but are not using effective contraception. The Guttmacher Institute, a widely respected research organization, estimates that if all the unmet need for contraception were met, the result would be 94,000 fewer women dying of pregnancy complications each year, and almost 25 million fewer abortions each year.

Read the rest of his column about how family planning could save lives across the globe and why we need to press our government for it here–it’s a lesson we should all be thinking about this Mother’s Day.

And, while you’re at it, instead of buying your mother, grandmother, step-mother, or any other kind of female maternal figure in your life flowers, chocolates, or a card, consider making a donation in her name instead. The Mother’s Day Movement was created last year after a group of women decided that the $14 billion that Americans spent on Mother’s Day flowers, cards, and meals could be better spent–they started a campaign to raise money for a charity that improves the lives of women and children. This year, they are raising money for Shining Hope for Communities, an organization that runs a community center, health clinic, and school for girls in Nairobi, Kenya. If this organization doesn’t strike your fancy, Kristof (in another column) gives some suggestions for many other organizations that help women, like The Fistula Foundation, an organization that helps women suffering from obstetric fistulas, a horrible condition that begins at birth that causes women to leak out waste, here. This year, my sister and I decided together to celebrate our mother (in addition to talking to her and expressing our love) by doing something to help women around the world–she’s always taught us to care about other people, especially women in suffering, and we knew she’d appreciate it a lot more than flowers.

And finally, Happy Mother’s Day! I hope that whether you live near, with, or halfway across the world from your mother/maternal figure (my current situation), you find a way to say thanks for all she does for you.

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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.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

While Thanksgiving is not a Jewish holiday (there’s an argument among rabbis on whether Jews should even observe it—the majority say we can, since it’s a secular holiday), it’s a significant day here in the United States, even if that just means people eat a lot today. Which it often does.

But, there are a lot of other things that happen on Thanksgiving, too. Like families coming together, and cooking together, and seeing people they haven’t seen all year. So, enjoy whatever tradition you do, and, even though this is kind of trite by now, spend a few minutes thinking about what you’re thankful for. There are a lot of things that are wrong with the world, and this blog ends up being a place to write about a lot of them, but even though discussing issues is important, it’s also important to step back and think about the good that we have in our lives. Personally, I’m thankful for a lot of things, including the fact that unlike many people, I have an abundance of food sitting in my refrigerator today, waiting to be eaten. But even regarding this blog I have things to be thankful for. I’m thankful to be privileged enough to be able to write about gender issues instead of living through most of them. I’m also thankful to have family and friends that support me in all of my endeavors (even those that fail), especially this blog.

So, Happy Thanksgiving!

PS: This is somewhat unrelated to the rest of the post, but I wanted to put it out there anyways. Today is a holiday revolving mainly around food, turkey in particular, and many people believe that without the turkey, Thanksgiving could not be Thanksgiving. However, I wanted to take a cue from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and say that we should choose what we want holidays to symbolize. Thanksgiving does not have to just be about turkey—we can create our own customs and personalize the holiday the way we want to. There is a cruel and harmful meat industry out there, one that is not necessarily the best thing to support on a holiday about giving thanks for the good in the world. Not having a turkey on Thanksgiving does not have to seem like something is being omitted—it can serve as a starting point for conversation, for talking about how we want to live our lives in a compassionate and caring way. Millions of turkeys do not have to be killed in order for us to enjoy Thanksgiving; Thanksgiving can be a day for creating personal customs, customs that are more aligned with what we believe and want to teach others. So, even if you’re not a vegetarian and not interested in becoming one, I’d say take time today to think about the food you’re eating, and talk to the people around your table it. Foer talks a lot about how we become attached to food because of the stories we attach to them; changing our eating habits does not have to get rid of these stories, but rather can serve as a chance to create new ones.

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A few quick words about the Facebook “I like it” meme that was supposedly created to raise awareness for breast cancer.

Two days ago, I was surprised by the fact that half of my female Facebook friends’ statuses consisted of “I like it,” followed by some surface (which, upon asking, you could find out is the surface on which they supposedly like to keep their purses.) I think it’s silly, but more than that, I think it leads to complacency where complacency should not be. Yes, saying something with implicit sexual meaning is a great way to get people’s attention to a cause, but nothing about saying “I like it” and responding to questions about a status by saying that it is to raise awareness about breast cancer actually does anything to fight breast cancer. Unlike a lot of important causes that people do not often like to talk about (ulcerative colitis and depression, for example), people love talking about breast cancer–the idea of it, that is. Anywhere you look, you can find a pink ribbon or wristband for breast cancer awareness. But few people like to actually do anything to work towards fighting and preventing breast cancer–and that’s what we need to encourage, not awareness that breast cancer exists.

We need to tell women that if they have high density breasts, mammograms may not be able to detect cancerous growths in their breasts. We need to tell women about their risk factors and what they can do to try to prevent breast cancer. We need to teach girls how to do a breast self-exam. These are the things we should be doing–not spreading the world that breast cancer exists. There’s nothing bad or malicious about the “I like it” meme (from a sociological point of view it’s actually pretty fascinating), but I think that just like last year’s bra color fad, it’s very much a wasted opportunity.

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This post is cross posted at JWA

The end of summer marks the beginning of a relatively short but tumultuous season for the high school student: the college application process. The Common Application went up August 1, and with it came a slew of essays that students across the country must finish by January. Topics range from choice of major to hobbies to why you want to go to a particular school. I’ve been slowly working my way through them, and I found myself trying to answer the question of what activities I plan to pursue at college.

I had not expected that question, and decided to look through a list of clubs and organizations at one of the schools for which I was applying to get a better idea of what is out there outside of basic things like sports and Hillel. In my search, I and stumbled upon a group that seemed so obvious that I was surprised I hadn’t though of it before: Students for Choice. Some campus pro-choice groups affiliate themselves with the Feminist Majority Foundation, others with NARAL Pro-Choice America, and others are unaffiliated, but I realized (happily) that all of the schools to which I am applying have some kind of pro-choice organization, and that it is natural and incredibly likely that I will join and take on some kind of leadership role.

Why does this matter to anyone but me, you’re asking. Here’s the thing: lots of organizations have an impact on college campuses, but I think that pro-choice groups in particular are relevant at this point in time. From a New York Times magazine article about how the difficulties involved in training and recruiting abortion providers to a New York Magazine article about how today’s younger generation is significantly more pro-life than the generation before it, often it seems that my generation just doesn’t care as much as our parents did about abortion. Some people say that it is because of a growing feeling of distance from the urgency of Roe v. Wade, and I’m inclined to agree with them—if I think about the people my age that I know who are pro-choice, it is not usually an active thing, but just another issue like caring about the environment or gay rights. When the Stupak and Nelson amendments came along earlier this year with provisions that many people said were trying to restrict access to abortion, none of my friends talked about it at all.  Now, my experience is anecdotal, and should not be trusted to represent all of America. However, it makes sense to me that a generation of girls born knowing that they have access to birth control and abortion would not feel as passionately about protecting that right as one that had to fight for it to begin with.

There is a long history of pro-choice Jewish activists in America, from Gloria Steinem (her father was Jewish) to Sonia Pressman Fuentes and Betty Friedan, two of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which since the sixties has worked towards advancing women’s wellbeing, including securing their reproductive rights through access to birth control and abortion. But just as in the general population, there seems to be a growing anti-choice sentiment among the Jewish community, exemplified by the fact that In Shifra’s Arms, a specifically Jewish crisis pregnancy center based in the DC area, and Friends of Efrat, an organization dedicated to “saving” children in Israel, have come into existence. Seeing the shift within the Jewish community hits even closer to home.

So that’s why it is so important to have pro-choice groups on college campuses: even if young people can take their right to choose for granted at this very moment, they shouldn’t. Yes, women can get abortions legally in America, but that is not the end of the story; from crisis pregnancy centers that try to mislead women away from getting an abortion to intimidation and violence towards abortion providers, there are still plenty of problems with abortion in America today. Not to mention the idea that down the road, there is always the terrifying prospect of abortion being banned again. So that’s why I believe that it’s important for me to join a pro-choice group when I go to college: because reproductive rights are important, because I want to make sure that abortion stays legal and safe for women, but also because I want my peers to learn to appreciate and want to protect the rights that we have been lucky enough to have been born with.

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Today, August 26, is Women’s Equality Day, created in commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. In 1971 Congress designated this date to remember the amendment that gave women an equal say in the voting process, as well as to think about and focus on equality looking forward. JWA has a great roundup of recent interesting articles relating to women’s suffrage, as well as a post on the lessons we (in the U.S.) should take away from it. I’d recommend checking them out.

Meanwhile, I’d also like to take some time to think about the lack of equality that still exists for many women today across the world. Yes, there are some issues in the United States, but there are some huge and pressing issues across the world. For example, take Equality Now, an organization whose mission is to protect the human rights of females across the world. Currently, it has campaigns focusing on rape, domestic violence, reproductive rights, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and denying women equal access to economic opportunity and political participation. Some of these things we think about on a regular basis, but most often we, or I at least, just live our regular lives. Think about it—how often do you think about girls sold into prostitution or the fact that female genital mutilation can lead to infertility, hemorrhages, urine retention, and open sores, among other things? And the fact that 98% of women in Somalia go through genital mutilation? For me, it’s not that often. So today, I’d say, think about those things for a while. And tell people. Maybe do a Google search and find out some things, and send some links around to raise awareness. And then, if you feel inflamed, take action by writing a letter to officials around the world about issues that are going on right now. (Examples: raids on women’s shelters, giving women equality under laws, etc.) Maybe it won’t do that much, but maybe it will—and the act of investing yourself in an issue will probably make you feel more connected to it and more likely to care about and discuss it with others.

Also, if you’re interested: President Obama’s speech about Women’s Equality Day. He talks about the gender pay gap, lack of women in science, business, and Congress, and other issues in America, as well as his hopes for working on women’s equality issues inside and outside of the U.S. He also talks about how he established the White House Council on Women and Girls in order to try to deal with these issues (did you know it has its own blog?). The creation of the council is in itself important as a symbol, but it also seems (from reading through this blog) that the administration is interested in furthering women’s equality, from the rights of Native American women to women entrepreneurs across Africa. That’s also worth a read.

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Women, do you have to ask your father/boyfriend/brother/husband/uncle/distant-male-cousin to travel/study/work/go to court? If so, there are others who have to do the same. There are others who want to work with you to allow for independent decision-making. There are others who want you to have these rights. If this is not the case and you are not required BY LAW and by social codes to seek male validation in all walks of life, then please join the fight to have the rights of fellow women recognized as well.

In all the fundamental ways, there is very little that separates us from women across the world. The devastating inequality is due to the little differences – the differences in culture/religion, but even those differences become similarities when we think of how the international community is able to interact in the 21st century. Through social media especially, similarities override differences in a fight to end oppression. In Saudi Arabia, all women (of every age) are required to have permission from male guardians to complete rudimentary tasks that are essential in living a full life. Unfortunately, there are many people who support this patriarchal system of oppression and utter male dominance.

There is a new Facebook page, Women Don’t Need Guardians, that seeks to create a virtual community of people with one thing in common: the desire for independence and universal human rights. Become a fan of this page by clicking the “Like” button in the corner and become an ally because there really is not that much that separates us (Jewish, Muslim, Middle Eastern, American, etc.); there is far more that draws us together.

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