Jewfem Blog

Mike Pence’s Israel Trip Was An Affront To Women: @TheForward

Women were segregated at the Western Wall this week. During Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the Kotel, female journalists were relegated to the back. The segregation came not during a religious event but rather during a diplomatic visit. And the women who were sent to the back of the pack were not praying women but rather professional journalists and photographers. They had to stand behind the men and behind a fence and could not see what was happening. They didn’t take it lying down. As journalist Noga Tarnopolsky who was there, wrote on Twitter, “This was an aberrant first.”  And yet, the episode was not abnormal in a country like Israel, where the exclusion of women has become increasingly normalized, not only at the Kotel but also on planes, in trains, and at cemeteries. But this was still a new low for women. It was not abnormal for Israel — nor for their guest, Mike Pence. Pence is infamous for his retrograde views of women, brought his views on women with him on his trip to Israel. This is a man who believes that working women stunt their children’s growth. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed a record number of anti-abortion bills, including the infamous HEA 1337 that bans abortion even in cases of unviable fetuses, and demands the burial of all potential fetus remains — including menstrual blood.  As if that weren’t enough, Pence tried to redefine “rape” in a bill in order to limit access to abortion, even for women who would die without care. He also cosponsored the appalling “personhood” legislation that could ban birth control. Politico dubbed Pence a “one man crusade” against women’s reproductive health when he led the campaign to completely defund Planned Parenthood. From the evil to absurd, Pence once used Mulan as proof that women should not serve in the military. Less funny is the fact that he famously refuses to sit alone with a woman who is not his wife, which would prevent women from working, say, as a chief of staff or as vice president. His refusal to be alone with women also maintains the annoying presumption that women are always a sexual temptation to men, no matter what the circumstances.   Rather than taking a stand against Pence’s misogyny, Israel was quick to accommodate it with their own. In the space of an hour at the Kotel, Pence’s visit became the occasion for sending women back even further than usual by preventing professional women from working side by side with their male counterparts. When both radical religious Judaism and radical religious Christianity intersect on the oppression of women, we are all in trouble. Read more:

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When ultra-Orthodoxy targets women in Israel: NPR podcast

"Radicalization is getting worse, for sure. At the same time, the vision of equal rights, equal participation and women's power — all of that is getting stronger around the world," says gender sociologist Elana Sztokman, author of a book called The War on Women in Israel.   Read the rest here. Or, listen to this NPR podcast about ultra-Orthodox battles against women in Israel.

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Women excluded from the New York Times!

Here is the letter I wrote to the New York Times about the absence of female voices from their aritcle on the exclusion of women:  Dear Mr Bronner and Ms Kershner, While it’s nice for you to take interest in the exclusion of women among haredim, your own exclusion of women in the process is nothing less than outrageous. I refer to your article "Israelis Facing a Seismic Rift Over Role of Women", in which exactly one woman was quoted in the article., out of eight interviewees, and she was left to the end. One woman! You interviewed and quoted one man after another, some of whom really have nothing to do with the issue, have done absolutely nothing about the problem, and have no real expertise in gender issues  (Moshe Halbertal? Jonathan Rosenblum? Who are they other than religious men with opinions and status? They have done NOTHING on the issue and know NOTHING about gender!) Meanwhile, the dozens of women's organizations, researchers and activists remain hidden and subsumed -- no less so than women sitting behind a partition in synagogue. The women who have put their blood, sweat and tears into this issue, as well as their scholarship, wisdom and reputations, are silenced. By no less than the NY Times. By you! What the men in black coats do to women on the bus, you have done to professional women leaders and activists. Hanna Kehat, Lili Ben Ami, Tammy Katsabian, Rachel Azaria – these are some of the women on the frontlines who you silenced. It’s the exclusion of women’s professional voices from the New York TImes. It's easy to point fingers, isn't it. It's very convenient to say that "they" have a problem, those "strange" ones who wear odd clothing and abide by their own set of rules. But it's much harder to look inward at one's own culture, where discrimination is more subtle, not because of official "rules' but simply because of an absence of a social or cultural consciousness. Because you don’t care. Because it’s easier for guys to play the power game with each other – “Hey, Halbertal’s in my smartphone, I’ll just get a quote” – rather than to see the women doing the real work and give credit where credit is due. I ask which is a more troubling issue -- women sitting in the back of the bus, or women's voices, expertise and professional leadership being completely ignored in the media. Not such a simple answer, is it. The Times would do well to analyze the representation of women on its own pages, and for reporters to ask themselves who they see and who remains invisible. Sincerely,Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman