FROM EVERYDAY FEMINISM
The current United States presidential election has many people on edge.
Therapists around the country are reporting spikes in patients dealing with election anxiety. Clinical psychologist Stephen HollandtoldThe Atlantic, “Among people who are not Trump supporters, we’re hearing a higher level of concern and dismay than I’ve probably heard in any election cycle, in 25 years of clinical work.”
Selfreporter Haley Goldberg evendescribed the feelingas “right in my chest, a tightening sensation that sent adrenaline through the rest of my body. It felt like I was gearing up to run away from a bear. But, unfortunately, I couldn’t physically run away from the source of my anxiety: Election 2016.”
Political Anxiety Disorder, says theWall Street Journal, is definitely a thing. Although this may ring true in all elections, this time the anxiety is different. This time, one of the primary causes isDonald Trump.
For some people, the anxiety comes from Trump’s proposed policies, which include banning all Muslims, and building a wall between Mexico because, in his view, all Mexicans are rapists.
For many others, though, the language and rhetoric coming out of the elections isn’t just about policy, but is actually personal.
One Mexican-American young woman named Carmencreated a powerful videoin which she responds to the fear that she has felt since hearing Trump’s attacks on Mexicans. “To witness a prominent politician speaking on national television saying these things to a cheering crowd is just unreal,” she says. “Am I supposed to feel ashamed of myself? Or where I come from? It had me questioning my heritage.”
Another woman named Tali Liben Yarmushdescribed the shamethat Trump evokes whenhe calls women fat, or when he described Rosie O’Donnell as a “pig.” “It is not meaningless to me that a man who is running for president thinks it is okay to tell a woman he disagrees with that she is a ‘fat pig,’” she writes.
“Do you not think it will affect some other young and impressionable girl when she hears him say that one of his opponents was too ugly to be president? What kind of message are we sending to children when we tell them it’s okay to call people we don’t like ‘disgusting,’ or to tell them they have the ‘face of a dog?’”
The reason why this year’s election has caused a heightened and exacerbated sense of anxiety among many people is because Trump’s language is not your typical political rhetoric. In fact, the language he employs comes straight out the handbook oftoxic masculinity.
That is, he uses toxic tactics ofemotional abuse– especially emotional abuse aimed at women – in order to put other people down. The tactics are powerful, emotionally violent, and often disarming against their victims.
For many people who have lived with abusers, this election brings back terrifying memories. As author Pam Houston, a survivor of child abuse,wrote, “Maybe it’s because I grew up in my father’s house that I can see Trump so clearly for what he is. A desperately insecure bully,...
Listen to this fabulous podcast about Vashti, the woman who preceded Queen Vashti, by Hannah Turquoise Reich Radio National Australia (spoiler -- I'm in it :-) )
Cross-posted from the Jerusalem Post Op-eds
Last week, I registered to vote in the American elections. It is the first time in my nearly 25 years in Israel that I plan to vote as an American. I am doing it because I love the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president of the United States, and am excited about helping her get into office. She is an outstanding candidate and would likely be one of the best presidents America has ever had. And also, it would be an amazing thing for women everywhere.
Sadly, however, I realize that I am in a minority among Americans living in Israel. I heard some strange things at the registration event. “I don’t know much about the candidates,” one women admitted, “but I think I’ll vote for Trump.” Another woman said, “Trump is a good businessman.” I guess news about his 3,500 lawsuits, four bankruptcies and habit of cheating his suppliers hasn’t reached Tel Aviv.
I have been having a hard time finding a strong cadre of support for Hillary in Israel. An online group of olim for Hillary has only a handful of members. And two weeks ago, I was trying to find someone to go with to attend a pro-Hillary meeting in Jerusalem, and I could not get one person in my entire city of Modi’in to come with me. The apathy was palpable.
Meanwhile Trump seems to have a base of support in Israel that, while mind-blowing in some ways, is not entirely surprising. The idea that Trump is “good for Israel” while Hillary is “bad for Israel” has been filling up my Facebook feed for a while. In the previous presidential election, 85 percent of eligible US voters living in Israel supported the Republican nominee, according to the supposedly non-partisan iVote Israel, and the organization Republicans Overseas assumes this to still be true. In fact, Trump announced that he is opening up a campaign headquarters here to connect with his voter base.
The Trump support among olim reflects some troubling realities about what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Trump is a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic reality television show performer and conspiracy theory aficionado. His voters, a group dominated by what Professor Michael Kimmel terms “Angry White Men,” seem to like that about him. Yet among Americans here in Israel, none of that seems to even matter – because here, the only thing that matters is his stance on Israel. Which means the candidate with the most right-wing, militaristic and unilateral approach to the Palestinian-Israel conflict is considered the most pro-Israel. It is why Trump received an astounding standing ovation at the AIPAC convention. Some Jews are willing to ignore everything about him as long as he says that the Jews are right and the Palestinians are wrong.
For the record, Clinton is very vocal about fighting terrorism and protecting Israel’s security, and is known to be pro armed forces when needed – in fact, she is considered too war-hawkish by her critics.
The Israeli government – currently in the midst of various financial crises like a doctors’ strike and a revolt by municipalities protesting major cuts to education – has miraculously found 10 million NIS for something that until now has never really existed. That is: non-Orthodox mikvehs.
The new initiative to create non-Orthodox ritual baths is the result of a compromise of sorts in which ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Moshe Gafni, who heads the Knesset Finance Committee, pushed through his “Mikveh Law” that gives municipalities the power to ban non-Orthodox Jews from immersing in state-funded mikvehs for their own personal use.
The bill is a disaster, another act of zealot control over who gets to convert to Judaism and over who gets to decide who the gatekeepers of the Jewish people are – only this time the debate takes place over the uncovered bodies of the most vulnerable members of the tribe at their most delicate, intimate moment.
Israeli lawmaker Moshe Gafni
The idea that the state – any state – should be passing bills about any of this is outrageous, a violation of basic rights to privacy and the privacy of spiritual practice, and a huge stain on the State of Israel.
This new jolt of funding for this new thing called non-Orthodox mikvehs, which comes from the Prime Minister’s Office for Diaspora Affairs is meant to be a salve for Jews of the world. After all, it seems to be acknowledging the legitimacy of non-Orthodox conversion. And it is real money for real facilities, which is always nice. But this actually might have the opposite effect. It is a way of marking and denoting non-Orthodox Jews as officially “other”.
There is currently one mikveh in Israel that is considered by the state to be “not Orthodox” – that is, the mikveh in Hannaton run by Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David. Although she has a doctorate from Bar Ilan University on the Jewish law, or_halakha_, of mikveh practice and has Orthodox ordination as a rabbi, these credentials are not recognized by the state as giving her authority to run a mikveh.
Read the rest at The Forward: http://forward.com/sisterhood/347527/why-israel-funding-non-orthodox-mikvehs-is-a-step-forward-and-backward/...
Bambi Sheleg, a giant of Israeli journalism, a woman of courage, keen intelligence, and unyieliding commitment to truth and justice, died today at the age of 58. Her presence will be fiercely missed. Below is a profile I wrote about her six years ago for The Forward.
In June 2006, the Supreme Court of Israel handed down one of the most important but barely publicized rulings in the history of the Jewish state. The decision to cancel the Law for the Privatization of Prisons halted a process that would have abdicated an unprecedented amount of state authority — that is, the correctional system — to private bodies. Remarkable in this story is not only how quietly the law nearly took effect, but also how the Supreme Court came to its conclusion. The decision was credited to a magazine, Eretz Acheret (“A Different Place”), in particular the April-May 2006 issue, titled, “Can the State abdicate its role as responsible for the correctional system?”
COURTESY OF BAMBI SHELEG
Against the Grain: Bambi Sheleg (above) started the magazine Eretz Acheret. The latest issue (right) is titled ?Art Outside of Tel Aviv? and examines artistic trends in the city.
Bambi Sheleg, the soft-spoken founder and editor-in-chief of Eretz Acheret, recalls this event fondly. “It was an incredible moment,” she said humbly of the victory. “This is why we founded the magazine, to influence the social agenda in Israel and offer a deep analysis of the issues critical to Israel’s identity.”
Sheleg, 52, a mother of three who is married to writer Yair Sheleg, was born in Chile and moved to Israel at age 12. Her family is Religious Zionist, and she began her journalism career as a writer and editor at Nekuda, the magazine of the settler movement. At a certain point, though, she started having doubts about her ideological home. “I was in the religious ‘camp’,” she said, “but sometimes I felt that I connected more with people outside my camp.”
Her sense of inner turmoil came to a head with the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. “I asked myself, ‘How can it be that the divisions between sectors in Israeli society are so strong that they can bring someone to commit murder?’” she recalled. “And I realized that, as a member of the media, I was contributing to the problem. In fact, I was the problem.”
Following the assassination, Sheleg quit her job and began developing a vision for an alternative media in Israel, one that is not ratings based but rather not-for-profit, replacing the journalistic “If it bleeds, it leads” thirst for violence with an ethic that seeks to build connections between people. “In the mainstream media, radicals get all the attention,” she explained, drawing a diagram of a pizza pie to illustrate her point. “Israel has all kinds of sectors — Jews, Arabs, Haredim. See here, where the crust is? Those are the radicals in each social sector… The rest of us are much closer to one another than to...
Some people look at this photo and see the beauty of diversity at the Olympics. Maybe. But I also see something else. I see women in two different cultures trapped in their cultures' demands about women's bodies and appearance. Opposite cultures, same problem of sexual objectification.
On the right we have women athletes who, no matter what their physical and mental accomplishments, are forced to abide by rules intended to maximize their sexual appeal to gazing heterosexual males. The beach volleyball athletes have been among the most objectified, photographed from behind, valued for their cleavage and skin, commented on for sexual appeal of their skin rather than for their athletic prowess. You are more likely to come across a photo of a volleyball player's behind than one of her slamming the ball.
On the left we have a different form of sexual objectification from a radically different culture, one similarly controlled and dominated by men who view women primarily as sex objects. In the culture on the left, the response to this outlook is to maintain extreme, maximum coverage for women. It is the opposite response to the same position of men believing women are primarily objects to look at, the same men controlling their culture by maintaining norms of women's body cover/uncover.
Both of these women have overcome their positions as sexual artifacts to achieve a place in the Olympics. That is incredible. Doubly incredible -- like Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels. Women often have to work within the rules of their cultures in order to achieve their dreams for this life. Sometimes that is doable and sometimes it just isn't. So this is a picture of women choosing to abide by the rules of their cultures, no matter how sexist and misogynistic, and succeeding in overcoming these excessive obstacles in order to great things and to be great.
But it doesn't address the deeper problem. In neither of these cultures are women allowed to prioritize their own comfort or desire. Women in both cultures -- secular and religious cultures -- are molded from the age of zero to be conscious of being watched and gazed upon. In neither secular or religious culture are women and girls allowed to just *be* with their bodies, to dress for *comfort*, to choose based on their own inner feelings and a sense of their own contours rather that on proscriptions of the men dominating their cultures. This is a problem worldwide, the absence of legitimacy for women's comfort and women's desires and women's body autonomy. And so with all the different types of inspiration that this picture generates, it also generates a very strong outrage that women still have to put up with this.
Portrait of women in the world, 2016.
Some days I think, all am I doing in life is unlearning all the wrong things I was taught growing up. So much of what I was taught -- about people, about women, about relationships, about money, about being Jewish, about Israel, about race, about motherhood, about sex, about how to live my life, about what is really important -- turned out to be profoundly wrong. I think I've spent the past 25 years reteaching myself how to live.
This is okay when the process is spread out over a few decades. After all, change is hard, so doing it gradually can be better than ripping the bandaid right off. But I think that the election is particularly painful because it is about this, about realizing that so much of what we thought was correct was really not correct at all. That maybe the American version of freedom and democracy has not turned out to be the greatest one on earth in practice. Income inequality, gender inequality, racism, verbal violence, physical violence, sexual violence -- these are some big stains on American culture. America really is not doing so well in a lot of ways, and in fact has a poor record on lots of vital issues: America is the only western country not to have parental leave, it is one of the few that has still never had a woman president, and in fact it comes 97th in world in terms of representation of women in the legislature. 97th in the world! And look how hard it is to advance women -- as I read this week, one of the most qualified candidates ever to run is running against one of the most unqualified candidates ever to run, and the race is close! So this election is forcing a lot of Americans to face the fact that the "great America" of the past may have been a myth. Like Happy Days, it never really existed. That is a tough reality to stomach. And the realization that so much of what we were brought up on to believe to be true was actually racist, sexist and xenophobic. At least the way I was brought up.
I think about this so often vis a vis Hillary Clinton. She was completely vilified in my house when she came into the public eye in the early 90s. She was proof that working women were a plague on American culture. She was held up as the model of the cold, heartless, selfish, ugly, bad mother. She was that ridiculous feminist trying to be a man. Why can't these women just accept their own difference, I would hear. (Which was a euphemism for, why can't women be satisfied as unpaid, unfulfilled housewives?) You don't have to be a man to be equal, we heard. You can be equal and different. This, as I listened to members of my family describe how a woman cannot be a lawyer because she is too emotional, or how a woman...
In Canberra, Australia, after I gave a talk at the Jewish community about gender and religion in Israel, I dialogued with the community Rabbi Aron Meltzer (pictured here) about the women in the Jewish community generally. A man in the audience then got up and said, “There is no such thing as Orthodox feminism.” He argued that Orthodoxy and feminism cannot coexist, that any woman who is still Orthodox cannot possibly be feminist, and that only by joining the Reform or Progressive movement will women ever find equality. Community president Yael Cass reminded the guy that even the progressive movement still suffers from sexism and gender inequality. And I pointed out that leaving Orthodoxy is a very painful choice for many women for whom orthodoxy is their whole lives. I also told him that he needed to be nicer to Orthodox women (and possibly women generally – after all, a man telling a woman that he is more feminist than she is, well, that’s already suspect.) I also quoted my friend Dr Susan Weiss who likes to say that we are all compromising with the patriarchy – Orthodox women, Jewish women, women running for president – we are all compromising.
Then a woman named Sarit raised her hand and said that actually she would like to see the Orthodox minyan become more accommodating to women. (The small community holds two services, one Orthodox and one Progressive.) The rabbi said he fully concurred, as others in the audience nodded in agreement. The rabbi talked about having two young daughters and about his concern about their engagement with the services. Another woman disagreed, saying she is very happy to stand in the back and cut the cake for the Kiddush while the men do all the ritual work. But Sarit responded that this kind of disengagement feels wrong for her. The rabbi encouraged the discussion and said that the new structure in planning will have a partition down the middle and will explore other ways to encourage women’s involvement.
I went over to Sarit after the event to congratulate her on speaking out and leading the change. She said, “Oh, I’m not a leader. I’m not going to do that.” I found that surprising and perhaps not surprising, given the kind of Sheryl Sandberg-esque descriptions of women’s lives, especially those who hesitate to ‘lean in’. I told Sarit that she doesn’t have to call herself a leader or any other label, but that she should just keep speaking out about what she wants. She was hesitant.
The next night, my last night in Canberra, I went out to dinner with some of the amazing women of the community, including Yael, Sarit, and others (Anita Shroot, Barbara, Judith Eisner, and Di Hirsch). As this is the country’s capital, the community is composed of extremely intelligent, professional, serious and smart women. Over vegan Vietnamese food, we talked about challenges of dealing with naysayers and haters. I shared some of my experiences with anti-feminist men and...
Here is an excerpt of an essay I wrote for the ABC Religion and Ethics column in advance of my NCJW Scholar-in-Residence tour of Australia that commences next week:
There are some strange things happening around the world when it comes to gender. And I'm not just referring to the Queen of England driving around the Saudi prince in a Range Rover, just to prove that women can drive.
I'm talking about the American presidential elections.
The current American campaign is likely to be a race between the Neanderthal and the feminist, or between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In this bizarre reality, there currently seem to be roughly the same amount of people who believe that it is time for a woman to be president as there are those who believe that women are merely valued for the perkiness of their breasts.
It is difficult to reconcile this dual reality, what I call the Clinton-Trump paradox. How can it possibly be that two completely oppositional views about the status of women have equal weight in the public mindset? Yet, this is the reality not just in the United States but in many places around the world.
These two trends seem to coexist - one being a drive to advance women's economic and political opportunities, and the other a drive to send women back to the Playboy mansion.
Inequality in Israel
I see this paradox here in Israel, where I have been conducting research on gender issues in society for over a decade. On the one hand, there have been some interesting strides towards gender equality. The Knesset has a record 32 (out of 120) women legislators - a steady increase over the past 20 years - including many powerful feminists who are dedicated to advancing gender equality. Israel has had a female Supreme Court justice, a woman heads the Bank of Israel, and Israel was one of the first countries to have a female prime minister (although that was in 1969 and hasn't been repeated).
The army, a notorious bastion of militaristic male machismo, has opened up many interesting roles for women - and in fact remains the only country in the world where all 18 year old young men and women have mandatory conscription.
Israel has some of the most progressive feminist legislation in the world: mandatory 14 week parental leave, free state-funded child care from age three, a prohibition against firing pregnant women, and far reaching laws against sexual harassment. And interestingly, to its shame and credit, Israel is the only country in the world where a former president is sitting in jail for crimes of rape. It's a shame that a president can be a rapist, but enormous credit that he was caught, tried, convicted and treated just like every other sexual predator.
On the other hand, many indicators show Israeli women falling behind. Women make a paltry 66% of what men make - a figure that hasn't moved significantly in over thirty years, placing Israel at seventy-first in...
Israel was one of the first countries to elect a female head of state – Golda Meir – but that hasn’t happened again since 1969, the year I was born.
Israel ranks 53rd in the world out of 135 on the Gender Index of the World Economic Forum – ahead of the Arab states, but way behind most Scandinavian and European countries. Other countries that might be of interest : (see chart on the right)
Iceland is number 1
Rwanda is 6
Philippines is 7
Nicaragua is 12
France at 15
Namibia is 16
South Africa is 17
UK at 18
Latvia is 20
US at 28
Canada at 30
Israel’s ranking on gender has gone DOWN over the past decade – in 2004 Israel ranked 35…
Motherhood and fertility
Israel offers paid parental leave of up to 14 weeks, for men or women.
Israel has free childcare above age of three
It is illegal to fire pregnant women in Israel or to make pregnant workers do any lifting
Israel literally pays women to have babies
Abortion is legal under certain conditions, but all women who seek abortions have to be evaluated by a panel.
A heterosexual married woman in her childbearing years usually cannot get a legal abortion without a medical reason unless the abortion panel declares her effectively insane.
A woman who wants an abortion because she doesn’t want to have children also has to be declared by the panel mentally unwell.
Abortion is free for secular teenage girls, but religious girls in national service have to pay for it.
On the rank of economic equality alone, Israel ranks 71st out of 135 countries.
Women make, on average, 66% of what men make, a statistic that hasn’t significantly moved in over three decades.
Arab women are on the bottom of Israel’s economic totem pole: According to the Adva Center, the average Jewish man makes 11,833 NIS per month; the average Jewish woman makes 7,414 NIS per month; the average Arab man makes 6,383 NIS per month; the average Arab woman makes 4,956 NIS per month – less than half of what a Jewish man makes.
The average monthly wage of women managers is 73% that of male managers.
Even though 65% of state workers are women, less than a third reach the level of senior management.
Of the 106 government authorities, only four have a woman director.
Only 1 in five hi-tech workers are women
In academia , 48.3 percent of Israeli women have 13 or more years of schooling compared to 45.4 percent of men.
Only one in every five Israeli professors is a woman.
Almost six times more men than women run their own businesses.
Of the 100 top traded companies, only six are run by women
Of the top 500 companies, only 5.4% are run by women, down from 8% in 2010
Only 4% of boards chairs are women, down from 5% in 2010
18% of members of the boards are women.