Jewfem Blog

When are sexist jokes part of a culture of sexual abuse?

Are sexist jokes harmless? The ball-and-chain jokes about wives and mothers in laws, the comments about women's body parts, the hardy-har-har about blondes who have no brains? Are these harmless or are they actually a form of abuse?These are some of the questions that have come up since I wrote my piece two weeks ago about non-contact sexual abuse. Can jokes be abuse? But they are just so "normal"? How can that be abuse?Consider this: What some of us may have been taught is "normal": a family sits around the table for shabbat lunch. the men of the family -- father, uncle, brother-in-law, all busy telling jokes are about women, about men and sex. about women's bodies, about women's dumbness or stupidity or lack of common sense. Meanwhile, the women are serving and the men are sitting. Men get to deliver opinions and women get to be servers. The house may even have a rule that men get served first. And at the same time, girls who are too opinionated are called "provocative", or "annoying", or "chutzpahdik" or "disrespectful". And their bodies are commented on during all this. Whose skirt is too short. Which women in synagogue wore skirts that were too short. Who gained weight or lost weight. Who should go on a diet. Who should be losing weight. Who "looks great". This is what is happening in the house.Consider the experience of the 10 year old girl in all this. What is she experiencing about her body? About what it means to get attention? About what it means to be correct as a woman? What is going through her mind? What kind of relationships is she developing with her body? With her sexuality? With men? With power and voice? What is she internalizing? What kinds of relationships might she eventually have with boys and men? What kinds of body issues might she have?Now imagine this: The girl desperately wants her smart, charismatic father to love her and admire her. She wants to be in his circle. she tried having opinions but got punished for that. so she tries another tack. she makes a sexist joke. She makes the kind of joke her father would make about, say, Kim Kardashian's ass. She knows it is considered funny, even if she doesn't really get why. But she is smart enough to know how to fit in and get some attention. The father looks at her, stunned, and then laughs in pride. Later he will say that she is his smartest daughter. Almost like a boy. She is like his vicarious son. She is so smart.What has this girl internalized? Think about it. When is a joke not just a joke but part of a culture of sexual abuse? Even when there is no actual touching involved......

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On Freundel, Amanda Todd, Erin Andrews and the real trauma of video voyeurism

A few months ago, a fifteen-year-old girl named Lee was taking a shower, she thought alone. When she went to school the next day and found her classmates laughing at her, she learned that a boy in her school in Beersheba had installed a camera in the stall. Now, thanks to Whatsapp, her naked body was on everyone’s phone. She was mortified. Although the school expelled the boy and her family filed charges, the boy was returned shortly thereafter, following a debate of the Education Committee of the Knesset. And to add salt to her wounds, last week, the Israel police announced that they are closing the case. “The situation does not warrant a criminal investigation,” they told Lee’s parents. Although Lee’s lawyer says the family plans to appeal since “the boy’s actions are clearly against the law,” for Lee it is almost irrelevant. She has not returned to school.   The story, which barely made any headlines in Israel or elsewhere, is part of a phenomenon known as “video voyeurism”, a psychopathic set of behaviors the impact of which has multiplied a result of technological advances. What was once a problem of so-called “peeping toms” hiding in bushes is now a worldwide epidemic of men who use microscopic video cameras and both the regular and “dark” internet to shame victims for perpetuity. Victims can have their intimate photos or videos taken and shared with the entire world without their knowledge.   We do not yet have an effective name for the type of trauma that a girl or woman experiences when the entire world sees her naked. It is a type of trauma that did not exist in the world before the past decade. And it includes a magnitude of shame that we do not yet, as a society, fully comprehend.   Imagine going to a job interview or on a date, only to discover that the first thing Google has shown the person sitting across from you is a photo of you naked. There is a shame in this experience that, according to experts in sexual assault, can be even worse than rape. As sportscaster Erin Andrews said this week about her own experience of falling victim to video voyeurism, “Oh my God ….. I was naked all over the Internet”. She says that "every single day, either I get a tweet or somebody makes a comment in the paper or somebody sends me a still of the video to my Twitter or someone screams it at me in the stands and I’m right back to this…I feel so embarrassed and I am so ashamed.” Even with the perpetrator in prison for stalking, the impact on the victim will never be erased because, well, the internet. It is like being forced to walk around in public naked every single day.   Take for example the story of Amanda Todd, the Canadian girl who fell victim to an online pedophile. As most 12-year-olds, she enjoyed hanging out with her friends, listening to music and playing...

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When High-Profile Sexual Predators Find High-Profile Support

  Image: YouTube Many members of the Jewish community are scratching their heads these days about the seemingly bizarre decision by the board of the Riverdale Jewish Center to keep on Jonathan Rosenblatt as their communal rabbi despite significant evidence that he has been acting inappropriately in his leadership role. To be fair there are people like Dr Steven Bayme who, according to the New York Times , decided that they cannot morally justify staying in such a synagogue, despite four decades of commitment, and for that they should be commended. And yet, despite what seems like an obvious history of violations of some basic moral and Jewish tenets, the board is retaining Rosenblatt, making victims of sexual abuse and their allies question the ethical backbone of the entire Orthodox community. In fact, though, we should not be so surprised by the support that Rosenblatt has gotten from some of his balabusim and some of his peers. There is a long list of sexual predators and other Torah offenders who have received enviable support even as their sins come to light. Motti Elon, for example, who was convicted of sexual assault against his male students, has a strong following in Israel and abroad, and is frequently invited as a lecturer around the country. Marc Gafni , another long-time sexual offender, is considered a celebrity in many places, while his offenses barely find mention in his bio or on his Wikipedia page (“Best-selling author” it is). Michael Broyde , whose bizarre crimes of fraud were not sexual but nevertheless far out of the bounds of Torah, seems to be leading a new minyan of followers. And while Barry Freundel is largely condemned for his outrageously hurtful crimes of mikveh voyeurism, he had many vocal supporters before the undeniable evidence against him came to light, and many voices of support during sentencing – including Orthodox machers and pundits declaring, “It’s not rape” and therefore he should have gotten a much shorter sentence. It is not only in the Jewish world where high-profile sexual predators find high-profile support. It has taken dozens of testimonies of women and several decades before anyone began taking seriously the allegations against Bill Cosby – and he still has some major celebrity supporters. Accusations against Dominique Kahn-Strauss were dismissed by some of his peers with a jovial, “Everyone knows he likes women.” And in fact all we have to do is look to the Supreme Court where Clarence Thomas has been sitting silently for over two decades despite powerful testimony about sexual harassment against him. It seems as if it is often easier for men in positions of power to wiggle out of accusations of sexual abuse than it is for victims to be believed. This dynamic has a lot to do with bystander phenomenon. As Judith Herman wrote in her trail-blazing book “Trauma and Recovery,” all that abusers need from the world is passivity in order to continue abusing. Intervention, which benefits the victims, is much harder to receive than passivity. The default position of the observing world, of...

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