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Archive for the ‘Sexuality’ Category

I’ve been reading my copy of the newest edition of Ms. Magazine all morning, and on the last page, as a part of its “No Comment” section, which features blatantly offensive advertisements for which people are encouraged to write to the offending advertisers and request that they be taken down, it features this:.
Now, in case you can’t see the print, the first step in how to ask for a raise is as follows: “It should start with your usual routine and all the things you do to feel your best, including showering with Summer’s Eve Feminine wash or throwing a packet f summer’s Eve Feminine Cleansing Cloths into your bag for a quick freshness pick-me-up during the day.” Steps 2-8 include eating a healthy breakfast, leaving early, and focusing on things you have done that show your worth. But, of course, Summer’s Eve comes first.

Now, I think we should all think about the fact that many doctors specifically recommend against douching, since a woman’s body naturally cleans itself. Douching simply covers up a smell–women should call their doctors if they feel that they have a serious problem. So, clearly, using Summer’s Eve is not going to help your vagina or body feel better and set you up for a good day.

Besides that, the problem with this ad is in the two problematic messages that it sends women. First, the obvious fact that it tells women to cover up their natural scent, as if there is something wrong with their bodies and their natural functions. Second, this ad makes it seem as if the most important thing for a woman to focus on in a workplace is, in fact, her womanhood—the fact that Summer’s Eve is first, and work advice only starts at #4 sends a message that it is more important for a woman to have a pleasant-smelling vagina than to present herself effectively to a boss. Now, at a time when women make less than men but are less likely to ask for a pay raise, I see this as a significant problem. According to the linked article from The Guardian, studies show that women tend to undervalue themselves and are afraid of being seen as pushy—women aren’t not asking for raises because they’re afraid of having their vaginas smell bad. As a society, we should be working to help women be more assertive in the workplace, and helping women learn to value themselves in the same way that their male counterparts do. We should not be teaching women to criticize their bodies and add to the already-existent worry inherent in asking for a raise.

So, write to Women’s Day and ask them to remove this offensive ad:
C.B. Fleet Company Inc.,
4615 Murray Place, Lynchburg, VA 24502
summerseve_cares@cpfleet.com

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This post is cross-posted at JWA

I was a little surprised to see how much frank talk about sex was featured in The Sisterhood this week. As a teenager, I am used to people around me talking about sex a lot–in real life, in movies, in songs, in basically every medium except in Jewish blogs. But that is no longer!

It was interesting for me to read about how many women have been affected by the lack of frank discussion of sex and sexuality in Judaism, and how many women go through their lives without really talking about sex or their sexual needs. On one hand, I find that foreign, because people around me talk about sex all the time. On the other hand, when I thought about it, so much of the portrayal of sex in the media is skewed–there is a lot of woman-bashing, perpetuation of sexual stereotypes, and very little emphasis on what women actually want. Sounds kind of similar to the complaints Jewish women have about their own lack of sexual literacy.

So I thought that I’d share this music video by Rihanna, an internationally known pop artist, as an example of some of the contradictions in the portrayal of sex in the media today and what they mean for the way women see their sexuality.

On one hand, the video is clearly very sexual, to the point that it is somewhat uncomfortable to watch. Rihanna wears very little clothing, and the entire video could be seen as demeaning to Rihanna in the way that she uses her body to get people to watch her video and listen to her music. However, if you listen to the lyrics, the discussion gets somewhat more complicated when she says things like “Boy, I want, want, want whatchu want, want, want,” “Relax, let me do it how I wanna” and “Babe, if I don’t feel it I ain’t faking, no, no.” She declares that she has sexual needs just like any man and makes it clear that she expects to be satisfied. The picture she paints is nowhere near perfect, clearly–Rude Boy doesn’t teach any kind of actual safe sex education. However, it still paints the picture of a strong woman who will not settle for a man who will not please her.

Personally, I think that it is important that songs like this exist. Its not my favorite song, to say the least, but I find it somewhat empowering to know that a woman can write a song about her sexual demands just like so many men write songs about what they want from women. And while it is easy to write Rude Boy off as an overly sexual pop video (which I believe it is, to an extent), it also serves as a counterpoint to too many overly sexual pop videos that portray women as having no sexual needs. Girls today, used to hearing songs like Right Round and Gimme Head (this is not a joke), have gotten used to only thinking about sex in terms of men’s needs. Is Rude Boy perfect? No. But is it a step in the right direction? I believe that it is.

Read the rest here

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Women of the Megillah

Tonight is Purim, so let’s talk about the two women in the Purim story: Vashti and Esther. (Of course there’s Zeresh, too, but she doesn’t really have that many lines.)

Vashti, the King’s first wife, loses her title as queen because she refuses to parade herself (many say naked) in front of the king and his drunken friends. And doing so rocks Shushan’s world. To quote the Megillah, Chapter 1:

Memuchan declared before the king and the ministers: “It is not against the King alone that Queen Vashti has sinned, but against all the ministers and all the nations in all the provinces of King Achashverosh. For word of the queen’s deed will reach all the women and it will belittle their husbands in their eyes. For they will say: ‘King Achashverosh commanded that Queen Vashti be brought before him, yet she did not come!'”

So, after reading this, you can probably see why there’s been a lot of talk in the feminist world about Vashti—about how she’s portrayed as a “bad queen” by Judaism but how in reality, she actually deserves a lot of respect for being a self-respecting woman and standing up for herself. (I’d have to agree.) But I, for one, have never been taught to think of her as the “bad queen”; in fact, when I was a little girl I and my friends used to dress up as both Vashti and Esther. (When you’re five, a queen is a queen.)

Even so, there are apparently a lot of stories in the Talmud about the villainous acts that Vashti commits. About how her refusal was pure arrogance, about how she allegedly descends from Nebuchadnezzar (who destroyed the temple), about how she abused Jewish female slaves, and about how she feared Judaism because it made people “unconquerable.” Now, I’m not sure what to make of these stories, because a lot of Midrash is somewhat fable. And also because I’m not sure where the origins of these stories could be (because there is zero mention of these things in the actual Megillah), but I don’t feel that I have a right to write these stories off. So I’ve mentioned them for the sake of mentioning, but because I haven’t studied them in-depth I’m going to stick with discussing the text from the Megillah.

Vashti stood up to the king. Motives aside, she did something that got her in a lot of trouble, but that she believed would be best for her and her body. And the Megillah offers a very realistic depiction of what happens when women do just that: a lot of times they get kicked out, maybe from a palace or maybe from their homes. But in a less extreme sense, sometimes when you stand up for something you get “kicked out” in that you get judged, or someone labels you as “just a feminist” and writes you off. And it happens. And while when it was created I don’t think the Megillah was calling out for this to change, I think that now, many many years later, we can read the Megillah every year and use it as a jumping-off point for discussions of the reality of women in this world. And not just women, but people as a whole who stand up for themselves and their dignity and are forced to deal with undeserved consequences.

To finish, I will touch on Esther: yes, she was beautiful, and loved for her looks. And yes, she did take quite the nudging from Mordechai to save the Jews. But she does represent another kind of feminist, the kind who uses her femininity and beauty to her advantage in order to sway the King and gain, although in a roundabout way, power. And while people can judge her for doing so, in the end, it works—and she makes the choice to get things the only way she sees possible in her time period. (Because really, if we think about when the Megillah was written, her actions make a lot more sense than if we think about them now.) And so the Megillah teaches us, somewhat surprisingly, to be like Esther, and to do what you need to do, even if it means using your beauty (but don’t take this as the only interpretation please, because a lot of people will argue that Jewish texts honor modesty above all).

But now, I don’t think we have to choose any more. There is room for both Esthers and Vashtis, women who want to use their bodies and charms to get things, and women who will do no such thing. (I am not abdicating for selling your body here, do not worry. I’m talking about doing things like wearing “royal garments” at opportune times, and letting the King feel pampered.) But there are also women in the middle, women who uphold an incredibly high standard of self-respect but who also know when a charming smile can work wonders. And all of these women can be feminists, in that they make their choices for themselves because they believe they are doing what will be the best for them.

Happy Purim!

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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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Only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, only two days after President Obama spoke of Auschwitz before the SOTU, the South strikes again. With what? This time, a Virginia school system has banned the latest version of The Diary of Anne Frank – a young girl’s account of Nazi Germany up to her death – from being taught. And their reasoning just really tops this all of: homosexuality and sexually explicit content.

According to WaPo:

The diary documents the daily life of a Jewish girl in Amsterdam during World War II. Frank started writing on her 13th birthday, shortly before her family went into hiding in an annex of an office building. The version of the diary in question includes passages previously excluded from the widely read original edition, first published in Dutch in 1947. That book was arranged by her father, the only survivor in her immediate family. Some of the extra passages detail her emerging sexual desires; others include unflattering descriptions of her mother and other people living together.

Anne Frank was a young girl with a tragic life, a life that she documented. I do not know if Anne Frank intended to write for a worldwide audience. I do not know if she even wanted her writing shared. I also do not know if Anne Frank thought that she, along with 11 million others, would die before their time. At least the life of Anne Frank lived on through her written words.

Emerging sexual desires are actually normal for a teenage girl to experience. This was perhaps the one normalcy Anne Frank experienced during her time in hiding. And treating them as inappropriate furthers a taboo on discussing sex, especially in the schools, where students are beginning to have sex or have unanswered questions concerning it. As for “homosexual content,” how dare a school ban a book on that premise? How dare a school make sure that the only books students read are heteronormative? How dare a school do such a thing when there are bound to be homosexual students around who are wondering why a book which only hints at sexuality would be regarded as taboo? This is blatant homophobia and license for it to continue within a legislated school system.

This young girl has changed the hearts and thoughts of millions who have read her, many of whom have been assigned her diary as school assignments. The Diary of Anne Frank is tragic and accessible and it is not meant to be cut short because her life was cut short enough.

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