Jewfem Blog

This is a classic example of what my father would call contrarian politics: i.e., The Republican Party beating the Democrats in getting a woman into the Oval Office. Unbelievable, really. Just for the record, though, if Sarah Palin gets elected, I would like history to show that Hillary Clinton got her there. McCain would not have sought out Palin had millions of women not spent the past year screaming for Hillary. It's just a little sad to me that McCain was able to read the pulse of the women of the country better than Obama. Or at least his advisors were. Either McCain is a brilliant study of American society, or he's brilliant at picking advisors.Whichever way, I have no doubt that millions of American women who voted for Hillary are about to move over to McCain. If the elections were to be held tomorrow, McCain would win in a landslide. And I completely sympathiz

I contributed this essay to a highly recommended website - New Jewish Thought, which my friend Dr Keith Kahn Harris cofounded. UK-based (note the headline spelling), they address important issues in Jewish culture, society and justice. The story that broke recently about former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s use of political ties for personal business use is not a mere technicality. This is not about legal loopholes or trivial regulations. At stake here is no less than the soul of the Jewish people.

Women's piety is now a source of punishment. Women who want to stay in synagogue until the end are now locked in -- at least that's what happened in Safed. This, of course, to protect the men from, heaven forbid, leaving synagogue when there are women are the street (gasp!) From Ynet [Hat tip: Avinoam Taub] Guests that have recently stayed in cabins in Safed owned by the city's Hasidic Breslov community were surprised to discover that a new list of guidelines was being imposed: Women had to dress according to Meah Shearim standards (meaning long sleeves, long skirt, stockings, and a head cover for married women). But apparently this was not enough for the community to meet its own modesty requirements, and recently a new rule was implemented, requiring different exit times from the synagogue following Shabbat prayers. According to the new rule, women must leave the synagogue before the 'Aleinu Leshabeach' prayer is recited, after which the women's gallery is locked for 15 minutes, during which the men make their exit. The women's gallery is then reopened to allow those who didn't make it out in time to leave. What will they come up with next? Leashes for women? (I shouldn't plant any seeds. The people behind this are obviously open to anything that humiliates women....)

Hillary's speech at the Democratic National Convention was nothing short of presidential. Which makes the whole turn of events tragic. When Hillary was running, the testosterone-dominated pundit-pool gave her no credit and no chance. She was criticized for being too aggressive, criticized when she dared show a tear, scrutinized for her cleavage and her pants-suits, and painted as egocentric for not rolling over to let Obama win. Today, when she made one of the greatest speeches in recent American history (yes, maybe even more powerful than Obama's race-speech), these male pundits are calling it a "home run", saying that "finally" she is doing what America needs. The Huffington Post especially had one man after another with ridiculous sports metaphors calling Hillary's speech a victory. Victory for whom, I wonder. It's as Gloria Steinem recently said, Men are admired when they win, and women are admired when they lose. (PS -- I JUST DISCOVERED that Susan Faludi, one of the best investigative authors of all time, has written up similar ideas but much better in yesterday's NY Times.)

It seems every man on the planet has an opinion about what women should wear. Most recently, the Union for Progressive Judaism published an essay by Marc Rosenstein about his experience with an interfaith dialogue group in birthright. Several, but not all, of the Arab women were wearing the hijab (head scarf). One of the birthrighters asked for an explanation of the hijab, and how the wearers felt about it. One student put it like this: “My body is very precious to me and it makes me feel empowered, in control, not to expose it to just anyone.” By contrast, he writes: I asked the Americans if anything struck them as interesting, surprising, upsetting, etc., a few of the girls asked, “How come the boys only seem to want to talk about sex?” Perhaps it is relevant to point out at this point that the standard dress for American teenage girls touring Israel is tight short shorts and tops ranging from t-shirts to v-neck t-shirts to various forms of halter and crop-tops. Is the point that perhaps a hijab is better for Jewish girls than a crop top? Hmmmm…. He didn’t say that of course, but the point he is trying to make about cultural relativism could easily slide into that conclusion. Far be it for me to suggest that halter tops are healthier for girls than a hijab. On the contrary, both the hijab and the halter emerge from messages that a woman’s body is to be gazed at by men and effectively a woman’s choice of clothing comes down to their sexuality in the eyes of others. They are equally bad for women and reflect two extremes of the same problem — the sexualizing of the woman’s entire identity through male gaze on her body. What bothers me about Rosentein’s essay is the absolute dichotomy between these two “choices” — as if, it’s either a hijab or a halter. The problem with the Muslim women’s response, as with the response of Orthodox women, is that it assumes that this is the only way to avoid male sexual gaze. I will cover myself up so as not to be seen. It may, in fact, feel much better that way than wearing the halter. Sure, I don’t want to be stared at either, so I’ll stand behind a curtain. But the dichotomy is disingenuous and promoted by men. It’s not “brainwashing” but it is undoubtedly male socialization of women. There is a vital third choice, which is a woman’s decision to internalize her OWN feeling of her body, to dress according to her own feelings of comfort, to not necessarily expose every inch of flesh but not cover every inch of flesh either. There is a wide range in between. The problem is that all of these choices are ones created by men for women. The idea of a woman feeling for herself and owning her own body is not represented in either extreme. There is one other point that disturbs...

7:30 PM, Wednesday night, as I roll up my sleeves to tackle the sink full of dishes, my head is stacked with all sorts of political questions: Am I using too much water? Is the detergent environmentally friendly? Is the municipality going to change the rates on water after the elections? Did we feed the leftovers to the cat? Didanyone feed the Chinese workers down the road? The notion that our everyday decisions have political implications is one of the great contributions of feminism. The phrase “the personal is political” was coined by Carol Hanisch her 1969 essay called "The Personal is Political" (Redstockings collection “Feminist Revolution”, March 1969), that defends consciousness-raising against the charge that it is "therapy." Hanisch states, "One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems.” This is one of those amazing insights that make you wonder why it had to be created in the first place. It is an understanding of the world and life that continues to ring true on an everyday basis, providing me with a profound framework with which to makes sense of some of life’s most challenging encounters. Rebecca Waring, Washing Dishes

One of my favorite songs, a cheeky, feisty comment on education called "Nothing" from A Chorus Line, sung by a Peurto Rican woman named "Morales", always makes me wonder if my surname of birth, Maryles, is originally Spanish. It just sounds so similar. (MAH-ruh-lis is how our New York branch of the family pronounces it). The song, combined with a bit of family lore about the mysterious origins of some Sephardic customs despite our obviously Ashkenazi roots (the biggest outrage in family history is misnagdim marrying hassidim), has always made me think that Maryles must be a mispronunciation of Morales. This week, Ilearned that I was totally wrong. My cousin Harry Maryles -- second cousin once removed, famed blogospherer of the Chicago clan -- did some research and found out that Maryles is originally an acronym connected to our ancestor, the Yaraslover Rebbe. Cousin Harry wrote a blog about it this week, "The Funny Last Name" which of course was immediately e-shuttled around the New York Maryleses in cyberspace.

I wish Tsippi Livni would speak. Fifty percent of the population are in dire need of representation. We are closer today to getting a top woman leader in Israel than we have been since Golda Meir. So many people in Israel want Tsippi Livni to win. The problem is, we still don't know who Tsippi Livni really is. The photo from Sunday's cabinet meeting was particularly bad for her and for women generally. She sat there, head bowed, like a child, next to our lame duck Guinness-level unpopular prime minister as he protected her. The caption read: "Olmert says to Barak: You meant to attack me but instead you attacked [poor] Tsippi." Okay, I added the "poor" but it might have well have said that. She sat there, letting Olmert do all the talking for her and she lay still in her comfortable chair, a silent second in sort-of command. That posture could not be worse for a woman trying to be Prime Minister. Letting a man fight with another man over hurting the poor damsel? How far we have regressed with one photo op.

What is it about the word “feminism” that makes some women squirm and some men shudder? Even people who believe in much of what feminism stands for – human dignity for all, repairing social injustices, offering equal opportunities and respect for women – often prefer not to call themselves feminists. Why is that?

Jay Leno might chalk this up to the bizarre, but I would chalk it up to a particular Orthodox Judaism version of bizarre. This is from this weekend’s Yediot: The family of a dead man insisted on having the corpse of a woman removed from the grave next to him, you know, so as not to cause excessive frivolity between the sexes. I kid you not. Last week, the family of Riva Brozovsky, z”l, of Tiberias were horrified to discover, during their week of shiva no less, that their beloved’s body had been exhumed and placed elsewhere, apparently next to a woman instead of a man, at the request of the family of the adjacent dead man. The man's family is obviously pathological in their fear/hatred of women’s bodies, but I’m pretty shocked that the cemetery people agreed. It is astounding how readily they accepted this insane narrative that men and women should not lie next to each other, even in death. They agreed it was “rare” but made no apologies or promises never to do that again. And you know what's really upsetting -- they didn’t even bother saying to the man’s family, hey buddy, why don’t YOU guys move? It's ALWAYS the woman who has to accommodate herself to the man's insipid requests. It's maddening! And it's just plain mad! Orthodoxy has created this monster with its acute obsession with separating of the sexes. It reminds me of one of my husband’s favorite jokes: Why do Orthodox Jews forbid men and women from sleeping together? Because it may lead to mixed dancing…. Haha