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Archive for the ‘Privilege’ Category

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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Ever since I saw Sex and the City 2 a week ago, I’ve been struggling to figure out what to say in this blog post. I’m a huge fan of the series, and (I won’t even try to link here, because there are so many people who disagree/agree with this statement) I do believe that it had a sense of feminism to it, from the way it portrayed strong female friendships to the way that it worked to normalize women’s sexual needs. But the first movie seemed overblown and excessive to me, and I found this to be even worse. Not just because the plot seemed to be missing, but also because I left feeling that its attempt at feminism was somewhat…offensive.

Take, for example, the portrayal of Muslim women as completely oppressed. In one scene, Carrie and the others stare (somewhat creepily) at a woman in a niqab (she is completely covered up), marveling at how she manages to eat a French fry and at how she has no freedom. Now, there are a lot of issues for women in the Muslim world—such as not being allowed to drive on public roads in Saudi Arabia. But, as this article in Salon points out, not once do the female protagonists try to engage Muslim women in conversation on these issues. The only interactions we see are at the end, when a group of Muslim women help them to run away from an angry mob of men—kind, certainly, but somewhat unrealistic. Having actual discussions with Muslim women about their society and their religious world and choices, or at least about their fashion or something would have given those women a voice, exactly what Carrie is complaining that they don’t have.

Similarly, singing “I am Woman” on karaoke and having the entire room (full of Arab men, belly-dancers, etc.) join in seems nice, but a weird juxtaposition to the extreme oppression portrayed throughout the rest of the movie. That’s another theme that runs throughout the movie—contradictions. On one hand, Samantha, as usual, demands that women be allowed to express themselves sexually by proudly holding up packs of condoms in the souk to prove that women do, in fact, have sex; this could be seen as quite the attempt at feminism. However, for me, at least, feminism also has comes hand in hand with some kind of respect. A respect of women, their bodies, and their wishes, but also a respect of other people at the same time. And while personally, I am glad to live in a country where women can wear low-cut shirts without feeling out of place or inciting a mob, going to a country where women are expected to dress modestly and blatantly doing the opposite is, well, rude. Yes, she was suffering through the hot flashes of menopause, I know, and had her medicines taken away by the government. But respect is still respect, and the other three women seemed to be able to deal with not covering up completely while still acting with more respect.

I have a lot more to say about this movie. I chose to write about respect and religion because I think it relates to from the rib and the way that Judaism also struggles to balance respect for people’s beliefs with more modern ideas. But, briefly another topic, here is an interesting defense of the movie for allowing women to complain about how hard marriage is, for allowing women to talk about not always loving the responsibilities of parenting, and for what it is—a movie about luxury. I found the consumerism and blatant excess to be much, much too much, but I knew that it would be going into the movie, and I even knew that from watching the series, so I think it is something to get past. I also do agree that the movie did provide for some interesting female dialogue—some dialogue that would have been better served had it been in a different movie.

I knew I would go see this movie, and if there’s a third one, I’ll see it again. That’s the kind of fan I am. But I miss the series and the way that I walked away from each episode thinking that while these women had problems to deal with (because that’s life), they also knew how to take care of themselves and each other. This time, I walked away feeling that the characters who I had grown to love were kind of pathetic. And that is a sad feeling to have.

PS: Did no one else find it weird that the solution to Carrie’s cheating was to give her an engagement ring two years after their wedding? Because the trials of marriage, love, and commitment can be solved by having a man put his mark on a woman with a sparkly ring…?

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This is cross-posted at Jewesses with Attitude.

As I embark on my final days of high school, I am working feverishly hard (well, let’s face it – senioritis makes me say I’m going to do so) on my senior project. My project, a collection of interviews with New York Jewish women on the intersection of Judaism and feminism (how appropriate!), is an exploration of how personal identity can be shaped by external forces/movements.

I started out the project by interviewing my grandmother who is eighty-seven. When asked if she experienced anti-Semitism, she answered “all the time.” When asked if she experienced sexism, she answered, “never.” My next interview was with Sophia who is sixteen.  When asked the same question, she gave the inverse answer, experiencing sexism all the time, but never anti-Semitism.

Read the rest here.

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Last Thursday I was sitting in one of my favorite cafes with my friends and doing what seniors say they hate to do yet secretly love: talking about college acceptances. In lieu of discussing my college acceptance and the criteria I must have somehow arbitrarily met, I was told that I was a “cliche” in being a writer, feminist, white Jewish girl from New York City (i.e. all of the labels that explicitly define who I am…and who about a thousand other people are as well).

I admit that I was at first taken off guard by the cumulative label. I mean, who wants to be a cliche? Who wants to have all the attributes they thought made them unique make them so similar to others?

Actually, I do. A cliche is a series of interests that string together through the intersection of ideas. I am a cliche because the various movements I am passionate about are connected by media, geography, and ideals. Being a cliche allows me to tap into all these aspects of my life to benefit the whole. I write about Judaism and feminism. Living in New York City allows me to openly embrace both. Not to mention that I started this blog on the basis of that intersection so you can say this blog is an expression of a cliche.

So yeah – I am a total cliche. And I love it. And I will continue to embrace it with writing and with analyzing the various aspects of my life with a critical eye so that I do not compromise one interest in favor of another.

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A few hours ago, my plane landed from one central diaspora locale to another. I just returned from Boca Raton…specifically Century Village, an almost all-Jewish retirement community with buses coming back and forth from the built-in synagogue daily. I, like anyone under the age of 85 there, was visiting my grandparents who fit the cookie-cutter stereotype of the bubbie and zadie. They identify as ethnically Jewish. They are Conservative. They are white. They mingle exclusively with people who look and think like them. If you’re in Century Village for too long, you can forget that these people are far from representative of the overall American-Jewish population.

Lucky for me, I found this blog to keep me in check. A Mixedjewgirl World where “an Afro-Jewish Sociologist tackles race, class, gender, religion, and sexuality” is basically a handbook for how to become both racially and culturally aware concerning Judaism, which is too often portrayed as homogeneous in concentrated communities like Boca, but really is not. This super-cool and knowledgeable blogger has some seriously bad-ass thoughts on all areas of intersectionality.

Here’s some:

Clueless is no excuse

1 ~ Reach out to other Jews across difference because you will find our commonalities exceed our differences by far.

2 ~ Do not assume that Jewish history and the current Jewish population is comprised most significantly of Jews of European culture ancestry.

3 ~ Consider that within the customs and traditions of the Jewish people, there is a great diversity of language, culture, custom and color. Be willing to reach for and stay connected to the diversity of the Jewish people.

4 ~ Do not assume that because a person has dark skin that they must be a convert. This is not necessarily true or fair to individuals that have been Jewish all of their lives.

5 ~ Learn to value the “inner” Jew in yourself so that you can better appreciate it in others.

And here’s more.

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I took a class earlier this year on Israel and its development, and one thing that we learned really struck me: we learned that at as Kibbutzim, a kind of collective lifestyle that is unique to Israel, were beginning to really develop in the early 1900’s, newly married couples had to share their tents with a third person because of a lack of room on their Kibbutz. And while that may not seem like such a big deal at first, after watching a video about it in which women recalled the embarrassment and discomfort that they experienced at the pure lack of privacy, I realized that it was.

This practice no longer happens, as it was a product of necessity and very much a short-term solution to the problem of space ( and as Kibbutzim developed and grew, there was no longer a need.) But the sheer awkwardness and discomfort of the situation is still relevant. Living with someone else in the same room, a couple days after your marriage? Awkward. And after being stuck inside for the past two days during a snowstorm I have realized that I definitely take my space and privacy for granted, so it’s impressive to think that young men and women (these pioneers were in their teens, early twenties) were willing to give that up for the sake of a collective.  For me at least, it would take a lot of motivation, much more than I can imagine having. It’s hard to imagine being as passionate about a dream as they were, but part of that is because my life today is so different from life on a nascent Kibbutz. (And things always seem more ideal in hindsight).

I think it’s an interesting historical anecdote, especially when you think about how different Israel is today. And, on a lighter note: the women used to call the third people “primus” after the primus stove, a three-legged stove that was popular in the early twentieth century, in an attempt to make light of the situation.

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Take the terms

  • Jewish
  • girl
  • liberal
  • white
  • college-educated
  • privileged
  • New York City

and I bet you’re subconsciously (or perhaps consciously if you’re sociologically savvy) associating them together. That very association is one of the internal struggles I face when perpetuating the creation of this blog – who is it for? Who’s reading it? Who’s really getting something out of it? And then there’s the other problem – I don’t want these words to be associated with each other because I want the definition of Judaism to expand to the masses who identify as Jewish and these labels just don’t allow for that. Also, how can I speak for those these words do not account for when these words account for me?

My brain started whirring with these terms as I researched one of my fave feminist books, Girldrive. As soon as I finish this post, I’m heading over to Bluestockings to listen to some serious feminist voices like those of Jennifer Baumgardner, Nona Willis Aronowitz, and Susan Bee. These women have so much in common and one of these traits is that they are all Jewish.

When asked if she and co-author Emma Bee Bernstein gave any thought to their privilege when writing Girldrive, Aronowitz wrote, “We realized that we were two white, Jewish, college-educated New Yorkers, but we also knew that we were lucky enough to have the intellectual and cultural capital to propel a movement we believe in.

I am still struggling to discover why exactly Judaism and privilege are so closely connected in American society, but I can totally get behind the work Emma and Nona have done with Girldrive and with using their learned privilege for good. This blog is a work of the intellectual and cultural capital I have experienced and I wish to propel this movement I believe in…for everyone who wants to embrace it.

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