Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tina Fey on "Legitimate Rape"

Sometimes all of my worlds come together and today none other than Tina Fey invoked my favorite sport (gymnastics) while discussing my favorite issue (women's reproductive rights) when she was speaking at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

When discussing Todd Akin's now infamous comments about the female body's ability to defend itself from rape sperm, Fey said that the following:

"Mr. Akin, I think you are confusing the phrase 'legitimate rape' with the phrase 'competitive gymnastics.'"


I want to be offended on behalf of gymnasts and fans everywhere but I'm afraid I can't. As much as I love the sport, anything that potentially drives home the message about women's choice is fine with me. (I also might be slightly blinded by my adoration for Tina Fey. Slightly.)

Check out the video of her speech here.


Why isn't rape called an abomination?

This week yet another Republican politician stepped into it--and by that I mean expressed their honest, deep seated views about rape and women's reproductive choices that are actually fairly mainstream within the leadership of the GOP. It truly sucks when you're caught on camera saying what you mean. (I'm looking at you Mitt Romney and what you think of the "47 percent.")

This time it's GOP senate hopeful Richard Mourdock who was caught saying, "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

Obviously by invoking God, this raises all kinds of interesting theological questions. If God approves of the end result--the pregnancy--does that mean He also approved of the "method of conception" as Paul Ryan elegantly put it? (For the record, I'm using male pronouns for the Deity because Mourdock's God can only be male if He were to approve of forcing a woman who got pregnant as a result of rape to carry a baby to term.) And if the crime was preordained and part of "God's plan" then why can't a medical procedure such as an abortion also be part of that plan?

All of this talk of babies and rape got me wondering--the same conservatives that debate what is rape and try to classify some forms as "legitimate" or "forcible" are also often the same folks who refer to homosexuality an "abomination," as somehow unnatural and something that should be stopped at all costs. (I mean, these folks hope to pass a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. Thankfully, that is unlikely.) And one of arguments made against homosexual relationships is that it's not natural since gay/lesbian sex can't lead to procreation. As if the majority of sexual activity that heterosexuals engage in is procreative in purpose. (As of this writing, I have yet to engage in any sort of procreative heterosexual sex. Thank God.)

Which got me thinking about rape and the Republican weak ass, reprehensible response to it. No one calls this violent act--the violation of another person's body--a perversion, unnatural or an abomination. Is it because rape can potentially result in a baby (despite Todd Akin's protestations to the contrary)? After all, the vice presidential nominee, an opponent to gay marriage, has signified that rape, while an unfortunate occurrence, is another "method of conception." This sort of thinking allows the ends to justify the means. Even if it doesn't go that far, the fact that rape can result in a child softens some Bible thumpers' perception of it. It can't be that awful. Cause look-a baby!

And let us not forget--things like marital rape weren't considered crimes until recently and this classification still meets resistance. After all, if we're operating from a strictly biblical framework, this wasn't considered a crime. A wife was a man's property and by virtue of the contract and ceremony, her consent was considered constant. When you think about, this sort of arrangement and thinking can make rape seem "natural." As in the "natural rights" of a husband. But sex between two consenting adults of the same gender is somehow considered "unnatural." And as we know from Republican bogeyman--science--and from visits to the zoo, same sex attraction and orientation occur naturally in nature.

So in short: baby = natural. No baby = unnatural.

If only the Bible hadn't gotten it so terribly wrong, terming homosexual acts "to'eivah" instead of placing this label on something that is actually unnatural and abominable act--rape.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Against Civility

Last week, I published a short defense of Sarah Silverman after the comedian was personally and viciously attacked by Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt in the pages of The Jewish Press

I normally don’t read comments on my articles—you tend to stop after you’ve been compared to a Nazi in a thread—but I broke my own rule and perused the ones that had cropped up. I guess I was just curious to see what my fellow Jews thought of this display of misogyny and the response to it. 

Of course, there were some in support of my piece (thanks!) and several against it (thanks person who thought I shouldn’t reproduce!). And there was one that I just couldn’t place. It was about civility. 

Specifically, one of the commenters very kindly pleaded for a return to civility. I’m not sure if she was referring to the substance of my article as being uncivil or if she was pointing to the previous comments or if she was referring to Silverman’s videos or Rosenblatt’s original letter. Or maybe she meant some combination thereof. I can’t be sure.

As well intentioned as this commenter is, I have a problem with cries of “civility” in general. They tend to suggest a false equivalency between two competing sets of ideas, that all sides in a debate are somehow legitimate. Cries for civility seems to suggest that our biggest concern should be whether or not we can sit down together and chat nicely. 

But as Lindy West (marry me!) over at Jezebel recently wrote in her appraisal of the “culture wars” and her desire to win them—“Not all ideas are created equal.”

This is isn’t like sitting down at a Michelin rated restaurant and ordering from the menu. In that scenario, anything you choose will be delicious. In the above example, you’re being asked to choose between a tender steak and rotten eggs. Who in his right mind would choose rotten eggs? 

Advocating in favor of women’s second-class status (both in secular and Jewish settings) or the continued oppression of minorities are the rotten eggs on the menu of ideas. Sorry if that’s “uncivil” of me to note in such a blunt way, but there you have it. I might be uncivil. But I’m also right. Or at least should be in a society that purports to strive for equality for all before the law.

You know what’s truly uncivil? Shackling a woman and dragging her across the floor for the crime of wearing a prayer shawl on the women’s side of the Western Wall. Forcing women to literally sit at the back of the bus. Removing them from ads and public life in Jerusalem for the sake of “modesty” and “decency.” These words are a mere hop, jump, and skip from “civil.” 
Not a lot of people have openly supported these actions outside of the ultra-Orthodox community. But rabbis, leaders, and other officials continue to speak out in favor of an unequal framework in which these actions make sense, at least at the extreme end of the spectrum. When you continue to assert that women have different “souls,” which mind you, is something that can never be proven, it should not be surprising when some try to codify this “difference” into rules regarding dress, behavior, and aspirations. 

And heaven forfend if you’re a woman who expresses that she does not fit the so-called womanly mold, you’re pathologized, just as Rosenblatt did to Silverman. He didn’t attack her ideas (the most recent video argued pretty forcefully about the injustice of voter ID laws), but her choices as a human being, her decision to not have children.

He could not possibly accept that she simply doesn’t fit the “feminine ideal” and that’s okay. Why?  Because the structure of halacha and Orthodox Judaism depends upon women fulfilling the mother-wife role. After all, one of the rationales I was taught about why women are not obligated in “time bound” mitzvot is because of their duties in the home. But what happens to strictures such as these when women are necessarily mothers and wives above all else? Does this mean that these laws have outlived their usefulness?

As far as civility goes—unlike Rosenblatt, most of his critics did not attack him personally. They attacked his arguments, his beliefs about women and their role in the world. I didn’t question his life choices and write something like, “Hey, why did you become a rabbi? Is it because you didn’t do well on the SATs and couldn’t get into a good college?” Of course, I have no idea what his SAT scores were or if he has always wanted to be a rabbi or if he event went to college. I’m merely using this as an example of uncivil discourse that I didn’t engage in. I didn’t suppose to know about him personally. I stuck to his arguments in my response. (With a dash of snark for entertainment value.) Though Rosenblatt didn’t use “vulgar” language, his attacks on Silverman’s person could be categorized as uncivil.

This doesn’t matter all that much. Silverman is hardly a shrinking violet and can more than defend herself. (I’d like to think that she finds the talk about her uterus very amusing.)  And civility, while admirable, is not the highest virtue is. Justice is. Equality is. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

My GymCastic Stint

As I already posted about on this site about a month ago--there's a new gymnastics podcast in town, punnily called "GymCastic." (Download it from iTunes or Stitcher) And this week I joined the podcast crew, which should be something of a more regular thing. It was a lot of fun. 

I'm really excited about the potential of a podcast such as one like GymCastic (so kudos to Jessica O'Beirne for all the work she's put into it). What I and many other gymnastics fans have always wanted has been an in-depth, intelligent discussion of the sport that has been sorely lacking in the mainstream media. The reason for the shallowness of the analysis is easy to understand--the researchers and commentators aren't thinking about what the knowledgeable fan wishes to see and hear. Rather, they're tasked with appealing to the largest possible audience, most of whom follow gymnastics only during Olympic years. (Still, I think they underestimate this segment of the population, who can certainly handle a bit more. My friends, all of whom are not fans of the sport, often complain about the silliness of mainstream broadcasts at the Olympics.)

Of course, it doesn't have to all be serious. We're not exactly discussing the drug war. (I just saw the documentary The House I Live In so that is very much on my brain.) It's gymnastics--it should be fun both in practice and discussion. Hence Uncle Tim's hilarious question for this week's guest, 2008 and 2012 Olympian Jonathan Horton about the varying degrees of hirsuteness of male gymnasts. At times, my thoughts have drifted to the body hair habits of male gymnasts. But Uncle Tim had the courage to ask Horton about it. He's the real journalist. 

(I'm always a little taken aback when a gymnast raises his arm to salute and there's a large tuft of hair under his arm. But then again, I have no problem with that in the context of everyday life. Maybe it's just the combo of spandex and body hair that is surprising and jarring?)

Obviously, this--recording and producing a podcast--is new for all of us involved and we hope to show improvement as we move forward. (I already know from recording interviews for articles that I say "like" and "um" far too much for comfort. I cringe as I'm forced to listen while transcribing. I will work on that.) And I have no doubt that the Gymternet will freely share feedback and suggestions. We're not exactly a quiet, passive lot.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why do all Jewish women have the same haircut?

Today a good friend of mine told me the following story:

A coworker approached her and asked, "Do you know what a sheital is?" She nodded that she did, but wondered why her non-Jewish colleague was questioning her about the hair coverings of some Orthodox Jewish women. 

He said that he had been riding the F train with his boyfriend when he noticed that several women in his car all seemed to have identical haircuts. He motioned to women of the Orthodox females nearby, who all seemed to be sporting the same severe, stiff bobs.

"That's because they're all wearing wigs!" his boyfriend replied. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Defense of Sarah Silverman

Today on Jewcy, I published a defense of comedian Sarah Silverman, who was recently publicly castigated by Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt for being political instead of maternal. He suggests--well that's actually too mild of a word--that Silverman should fill the void in

Part of me hesitated before writing this. After all, Rosenblatt and The Jewish Press were clearly trolling the Internet for hits, and wouldn't I be showering more attention on them? And for god sake, it's The Jewish Press. My zaidie used to call it the "The Jewish Mess." It wasn't even taken seriously in my Orthodox Jewish high school. One of my rabbis told the following joke:

A man approaches his rabbi with a question. "Rabbi, can I read the Jewish Press in the bathroom?" [In case you're wondering why this is even a question--the paper technically contains words of Torah, and bringing it into a restroom might pose halachic issues. Now back to the joke for the big finish.]
The wiseass rabbi responds, "The real question is whether you're allowed to take it out of the bathroom." 

And before you claim that I'm being unfair and all "liberal media elite" all over The Jewish Press, here's their just published "counterpoint" to Rosenblatt's piece. Yori Yanover argues that motherhood shouldn't be compulsory because it's the only path to femininity. Women should have babies because of GDP. In the words of James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid."

But like any faux feminist, he cannot resist taking a shot at women (even as he claims to defend them). Check out this choice morsel:

"Seriously, folks, it’s OK to pursue a career in whatever you want to do – but first make a few babies, while your bodies are still pink and juicy and robust, and babies can happen to you without fertility doctors and crazy-making hormonal treatments that will turn sweet, loving wives into homicidal maniacs. "

Why thank you for permitting me to have a career! You're too kind. But I'm glad that you kept it "real" for me by reminding me that my physical youth and "pink" body is what matters. And thanks for reinforcing the whole "hormonal women are crazy" stereotype. Why didn't you just write "Bitches be crazy" and call it a day?

Anyway, even if it adds to the attention Rosenblatt has already received, I'm glad I responded. Despite the progress women have made over the last century, we're still told that the only we can reach our potential is by marrying and having children. Men are not held to that standard. They're not asked how they will handle the rigors of a challenging job while also raising a family. (That's what wives are for, silly rabbit!) Tabloids don't recycle headlines about George Clooney's sad childless state. Those magazine covers were solely devoted to a single, unbetrothed Jennifer Aniston. And let us not forget this past decade of Republican anti-choice legislation, which all seeks to reinforce the idea that a woman's most important responsibility is to have kids. That's why they're all--"if she gets pregnant, she stays pregnant" and such.

This is not meant to insult women who do wish to become mothers (and I'm certainly open to the idea of becoming one myself even if some commenters have already expressed the desire that I do not procreate). It's merely to argue for the expansion of the definition of what it means to be a woman. It should not hinge on whether or not you choose to procreate.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Which gymnast should be in ABC's new celebrity diving reality show?

ABC has recently announced that it has acquired the rights to the Dutch diving reality show Celebrity Splash. It features "famous" folks obviously culled from the D-list as they jump headlong into a pool, praying not to die. It seems sort of thing should not be legal, much less entertainment. Modern day equivalent of the Roman gladiator matches?

Anyway, given Shawn Johnson's success on Dancing With The Stars, I was wondering which gymnast should be tapped to participate in this competition. Gymnasts are even better suited to diving than they are to dancing (I think you guys all know my feelings about gymnasts and dance at this point.)

Here's the press reel for the show:

The Limits of Cultural Sensitivity?

I spent this weekend in Montreal as a presenter at Le Mood (otherwise known as Limmud when not in french speaking Quebec). Though I enjoyed many great classes perhaps my favorite one led by Amal Elsana-Alh'jooj, a Bedouin who was born and raised in one of the many unrecognized towns in the Negev.

From a young age, she helped create organizations to advance the plight of women for Bedouins. Seriously, the list of her accomplishments is really, really long and you can find them all here.

One of the points she stressed repeatedly was how she, as a woman, was oppressed twice--first by the patriarchally structured Bedouin society and then by the Israelis, who claiming cultural sensitivity, would at times not deal with her or ask to speak to a male representative from her tribe instead. That she had grassroots support from her community should've been enough for the Israelis to give her support and recognize the legitimacy of her position. (They eventually did.)

This claim of "cultural sensitivity" especially when it comes to matters of gender and equality has always rankled me. If you (personally and as a society) espouse values of equality and justice then you have to at least be willing to acknowledge trespasses when they're right in front of your face. The argument--"This what they believe," or "this is the way they live" should not be the end of the discussion. This is an excuse I've often heard brought up when discussing the organization of Haredi communities and it drives me nuts. If I believe that egalitarianism is an imperative, why would I then be accepting of it in certain circumstances?

While I'm not suggesting that we force communities to change their ways--i.e. invasions--I also don't think that we should shrug and simply say, "This is their way of life." Misogyny should not be tolerated in the name of "cultural sensitivity," whether we encounter it in an Islamic, Jewish or Christian community. And if there are women from those communities agitating for rights and opportunities at the grassroots, we should not turn away from them because we don't want to offend the patriarchal powers victimizing them. Is it truly our goal to be sensitive to the oppressors? What does that make us?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Was Adam the star of the earliest known rom-com?

This week we begin the Torah cycle anew with the story of Creation--you know, the "scientific" theory that is just as valid as evolution because all sides in a debate are basically equivalent.

My politics aside, as I was thinking about this week's parsha, it struck me (for the first time) just how much Adam, in his plaint for a "helpmate" sounded so much like a lady star in a rom com forced to sit alone at the singles table at a wedding for the umpteenth time.

So I wrote a short post for Jewcy about the lessons of rib giving and the implications for finding one's mate. Here's a snippet:

Adam was lonely and noticed that everyone else—all of the newly created animals—had a complement. Bulls had cows. Male monkeys had female monkeys. (I suppose he Adam could’ve been patient until some of those female chimps evolved into suitable partners, but he was solidly in the Creationist camp.) Like the lead female character in every romantic comedy for the last twenty years, he was tired of being stuck alone at the singles table.

You can read the rest of the post here

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Should Rabbis Judges Women's Fashions?

Thank God I have the most wonderful friends who send me beautiful little gems like the PSA below that was found in one of Orthodox community magazines.

But instead of warnings about smoking or drinking while pregnant, you've got a rabbi informing married women that their bodies, when seen by others, causes irreparable spiritual harm. 

"For those that give attention even her hands or face descend to gehinnom," which refers to the Jewish notion of a hellish afterlife. Wait a minute--I thought the adage went, "Idle hands are the devil's worship." Maybe it's also "Visible hands are the devil's worship." I can't be sure because I'm not a Calvinist.

And not only that--she will also bear the responsibility for the impure thoughts and sins of every man she passes. Because men are creatures with so little impulse control that the mere sight of stray collarbone will send them into a sexual tizzy, right?

But it gets better. At the very bottom, the ad stipulates, "A Rav should be consulted before wearing any questionable articles of clothing."

"Questionable" sartorial choices doesn't just have to refer to necklines and skirt length, right? I'm sure these rabbis would love to judge whether I should pair my leopard print top with a yellow tulip skirt. (Actually that one is a no-brainer. Of course I should wear that outfit every day, weather permitting.)

But how awesome would it be to have a rabbinic guest judge on Project Runway to rule on the ensembles alongside Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia? He wouldn't be there to offer opinions on whether designers successfully fulfilled the requirements of that week's task. He won't care whether or black or vertical stripes are slimming. But he would be able to judge whether the women (models, designers, and judges) are giant sluts in the eyes of God. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Coffice Romances

In today's New York Post, I have written an article about the phenomenon of freelancer's searching for love in their office away from the office--the coffee shop. It's punnily called, "A Latte Love."

This evolved out of my own dating experiences. I have dated three guys I met while working at my local "coffice." One I actually went out with several times and when things ended (from my end, mostly), I noticed that he disappeared from our mutual caffeine watering hole. This got me thinking about the new rules for the informal freelance workplace.

Check it out here