This JewFem blog focuses on feminist issues in Jewish life. It tackles Jewish education, synagogue life, Israel, Jewish community, bits of pop culture, and more. This blog is written by Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman, writer, educator, and researcher, contributing writer at the Forward Sisterhood, author of the book, “The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World”.
Whenever I hear the term "kallah teacher", I cringe.
Maybe it's the result of my own experience meeting with the kallah teacher of my community before I got married 22 years ago. The sexless, humorlous rebbetzin taught us all the religious laws involved in going to the mikveh before having sex. There was nothing in the entire experience that actually suggested that sex was going to be a wonderful, enjoyable experience for women. It was more like, this is what halakha tells you to do to get clean (excuse me, "pure", as rabbis like to insist, as if there is actually a difference). There was nothing in the classes that taught us about intimacy, sexuality or our own sensuality.
Maybe it's the way in which kallah teachers tend to morph halakha and OCD. Preparing a woman for marital intimacy by teacher her to obsessively count, internally check and scrub, pluck and rub your skin until its raw before dunking naked in front of the strange woman who declared your body "kasher". (Very romantic.)
Maybe it's the whole notion that all you have to do in order to be happy in marriage and life is to follow the rules. Don't think, don't feel, don't experience. Just go through the handbook and everything will fall into place. Maybe that's the big lie here, passed down from generation to generation of women, like a recipe for gefilte fish. Just do what you're supposed to do, like everyone else, and everyone will be happy. That's how it works, right?
Maybe it's the fact that we're still doing "kallah" teachers rather than courses for men and women together. I mean, sure, my now-husband had a class for grooms in the living room with the rabbi while the brides sat in the kitchen with the rebbetzin (symbolic?). But then men are pretty much learning a watered down, kind of passive version of what the women are learning. It's kind of like, "Hey guys, your wife is going to be doing all this internal-cleaning-purity stuff that you don't really want to know the details about. Just humor her and buy her flowers and everything will be fine. She'll let you know if she needs you to show her undies to the rabbi." It's preparing women for a gendered life starting in the bedroom and continuing everywhere else.
It's possible that kallah classes have gotten better since I got married-- after all, there are all sorts of programs out there that supposedly train women to be a different kind of kallah teacher. And then there are women who are "trained" to look at the stained undies instead of men. Whoo-hoo.....Can't wait to ask a WOMAN these questions instead of a man.....Um, no.
Pardon me if I'm skeptical about all of this. First of all, just because a kallah teacher is sweeter, younger, nicer or more "trained" than my stubby rebbetzin was, the fundamentals of what she is teaching have not changed. It's all still a very bad version of...
Or: How to feel good about ourselves and about our bodies: Things they didn’t teach us at the Ulpana
By Tiferet Shacham
Translated from Hebrew by Elana Maryles Sztokman
I decided to address this letter to girls, since I myself am a girl who learned in Ulpana (religious girls’ high school in Israel –EMS), along with other girls. However, I believe that boys who are graduates of the yeshiva high schools might also find this interesting.
I’ll preface this by saying that I have no intention of minimizing the importance of keeping the commandment of negiya (“touch” – the practice of not touching members of the opposite sex at all – EMS) and the commandment of modesty. I myself kept the commandment of negiya while I was at the Ulpana and I decided to continue that practice. However, from my experience, prohibitions and religious laws have already been discussed with you ad nauseum, along with a zillion reasons to keep negiya. Therefore, I will discuss things that they don’t teach you in homeroom class or in the course on “Family”.
One last point of introduction: There is a problem generally with the topic of positive sexuality. There are problems in our society and our culture in every social sector. These problems will obviously surface in the religious sector as well. It’s reasonable to think that in certain sectors, certain phenomena will be influenced by that sector’s particular value system, and it is reasonable to have this kind of discussion using the language and jargon of the sector. I certainly do not mean to imply that these problems belong only to the religious sector, or even that they are more common in the religious sector. Also, Jewish religion and law are not the source of these problems. Please do not read this as an attack on a particular sector or on halakha itself. Moreover, even if you are not an Ulpana graduate yourself, there might be some helpful insights here for you as well.
Don’t worry: You’re completely normal
Sexuality is an important and healthy part of human life. You don’t have to be sexually active in order to feel comfortable with your sexuality. As in every area of life, everyone is different when it comes to their sexuality. There are those who don’t feel any kind of sexual attraction; there are those who think about it all day; there are those in between; there are those for whom it comes in time, later in life, or in cycles. It doesn’t matter what your sexuality is like. Know that it’s normal. There is nothing wrong with what you feel or don’t feel sexually.
Moreover, most of adolescence is marked by sexual confusion, and what you felt yesterday will likely be different from what you feel today. That’s okay too. Do not rush to label yourself. Be curious. Again, in order to be curious and to know yourself and your sexuality, there is no need to be sexually active. It’s important first to...
The induction of the new Knesset this week raised some crucial issues for women in Israeli society, but you’d never know it from following the news. The blogosphere was abuzz this week, but not with stories about the significant strides made by women — for example, the record number of women Knesset members and party leaders; the fact that the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party, the only religious party with women on its list and gender issues in its platform, now holds a key position in coalition negotiations; or the fact that negotiations hinge in large part on demands for mandatory conscription of haredi men, a plan with serious implications for women in the status of women IDF. All of these issues may potentially affect women’s lives and status in Israel, but apparently they’re all, well, boring. The real news, apparently (even here at the Sisterhood) was what Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s wife wore to the inauguration.
There are many good reasons why Sara Netanyahu’s dress should not be news. For one thing, she is not a lawmaker and therefore should not be the focus of the story. The news of the day should have been about 120 incoming legislators, 48 of whom are completely new to the institution and 27 of whom are women. It should have been about issues on the national agenda and the civic mission of the new Knesset, not on spouses’ clothing.
Second of all, if Sara Netanyahu had any relevance on the events of the day, it is related to her ideas and influence on the most powerful man in the country. It took Netanyahu several days after the elections to contact Naftali Bennet, the head of Habayit Hayehudi, reportedly because Sara doesn’t like him. If we want to discuss Sara’s role in the Israel, we should be talking about why she doesn’t want Bennet in the coalition, and how her taste in politicians — not her taste in clothing — will impact Israel’s government.
Finally, and most importantly, the discussion of Sara’s attire reduces our public discourse, especially about women, and drags us all into the gutter. This whole story is more of a reflection about us as a society than it is about Sara’s taste. What does it say about our values when, on the day when we are forming a new government that will impact every aspect of our civic lives, all we are interested in is the so-called fashion police? Consider how shallow it is to care more about style than substance as we empty our minds and completely undermine our lawmakers. After all, if we are asking them to represent us and then demonstrate an undying commitment to rubbish, how will our lawmakers interpret “the needs and interests of the people” when it comes to creating legislation on our behalf? One can only wonder. How can we ask them to take us seriously when we don’t take ourselves seriously?
Significantly, several lawmakers from different sides of the...
Clothes may not make the man, but apparently they do make the woman. In America, it seems that no matter how successful, intelligent or high-ranking a woman is, she will ultimately be measured by her looks. At least that’s the message gleaned from a recent interview Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan:
Interviewer: Okay. Which designers do you prefer? Clinton: What designers of clothes? Interviewer: Yes. Clinton: Would you ever ask a man that question? Interviewer: Probably not. Probably not.
Depressingly, this is not the first time that Clinton — whose resume boasts titles such as Secretary of State, former New York Senator and former 2008 Democratic presidential candidate — has faced sexist commentary objectifying her body rather than respecting her work. As the Guardian asked, “She’s hoping to become the most powerful woman in the world — so why does Hillary Clinton wear such uninspiring clothes?” Fox News talked about her “nagging voice,” and when the Huffington Post ran a caption competition for a photo of Clinton with her mouth open, the obnoxious entries started rolling in. News cycles have devoted extensive coverage to her pants, her ankles, her skin and, perhaps most notoriously, her cleavage. During the 2008 elections, the Women’s Media Center compiled a compelling video montage of the pervasive sexism that women like Clinton have had to endure.
Of course, Clinton is not the only woman facing this overbearing obsession with her appearance. Recent examples of this kind of sexism have included media commentary on Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s “fashion sense”, Democratic Party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s hair, and New York State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s make-up. I submit that professional women in a variety of fields deal with opinions of their work based on unspoken judgments about their appearance all the time.
Society’s obsession with women’s appearance causes definite damage to women in many aspects of our lives. A research report by the Name it. Change it. campaign of the Women’s Media Center shows that sexism in any form hurts female candidates, and makes nearly every potential voter, from the undecided to initial supporters, less likely to cast a ballot for them. “Nearly seven in ten voters report being less likely to vote for Jane Smith after they hear her being called an ice queen and a mean girl; as well as more strongly sexist language,” the report concluded. “Sexism costs a woman an average of 10 points in favorability.” In the sports arena, female athletes, even those with gold medals, are also judged on their looks. Gabby Douglas’ hair to wit.
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/161213/who-cares-what-hillary-clinton-wears/#ixzz23eBkuyXR...
Just because I wear pants, it doesn’t mean I lack dignity. Or self-respect. Or even modesty.
Which is why I find pieces, like this one, suggesting that dignity for a woman means excessive body-cover, so offensive.
When rabbis or anyone else claim that women need to cover their skin, their elbows, ankles and necks for the sake of “dignity” or “self-respect” or “protecting sexuality,” what that means is that people who dress like me are not dignified. We are overly sexualized. We might as well be walking naked on the subway platform. But It is just not true.
My body is mine alone, and I project that in my clothes. Not floor-sweeping skirts, not scarves to my forehead or necklines that choke. No, I wear pants, sometimes jeans, sometimes shorts and, yes, sometimes even sleeveless tops. I wear clothes that are comfortable, that feel good, that let me move and sit on the floor or in a chair, that enable me to ride a bike or climb a tree if I so choose, that let me wear my hair in a ponytail or in a scrunchie or even just down. Ultimately my hair is mine alone, as are my elbows, my neck, my ankles and skin. Before I look in a mirror, I look inward and ask myself how I feel about my body at this moment, and I let my inner voice of self-respect guide me.
In addition Gavriella Lerner’s assertion of choice followed by an admission that she does what she believes is expected of her according to halacha is a classic Orthodox non-sequitur. As in, I choose to do what I’m told.
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/150237/#ixzz1lbssqs7z...