Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Domestic Violence, Harvard, and TED

My college’s office of sexual assault prevention recently hosted a talk by Leslie Morgan Steiner. Steiner, a Harvard graduate, TED talk speaker, and author of Crazy Love, spoke about her experiences as a survivor of domestic violence and advocate for women and men in situations of abuse. You can find my notes on her speech here.

As a feminist and as a woman, I feel that one of the most important goals is to eradicate violence against women. Thank God, I have never experienced violence of any form firsthand, but this issue resonates with me nonetheless. I don’t know why ending violence against women is such a priority for me. I guess it just offends my sense of fairness and justice. I believe that violence against women should be one of the feminist movement’s highest priorities, because it is impossible for women to even dream of full equality if they are being physically, emotionally, mentally, or in any other way abused.

It was so inspiring to hear how Steiner was able to leave her negative experiences behind and build a new life for herself. Even though she went through hell, she was still able to move forward and not let what happened to her define the rest of her life.

Steiner stressed that part of the healing process for her was breaking the silence and telling people about how she had been subjected to domestic violence by her husband. Every survivor of violence has a different reaction to their experiences, and they are all completely legitimate; nobody should be stigmatized for speaking out or remaining silent. However, I do believe that it’s important for those survivors of domestic violence who feel comfortable discussing what happened to them to do so. Steiner said that she also believes it’s important to talk about it because “it normalizes it for me and makes me not embarrassed of it.”

Steiner pointed out that the US has a lot of great resources for survivors of abuse to get out of situations of violence and deal with the aftermath, but there is still “only a surface awareness of domestic violence.” She mentioned how even after what happened to Yeardley Love, a lacrosse player at the University of Virginia who was killed by her abusive ex-boyfriend, became common knowledge among undergrads, people continued to stand by as they witnessed abusive relationships.

This is an excellent point. From a personal perspective, my only exposure to domestic violence is through my feminist advocacy work and blogging. If I weren’t so into women’s rights-related topics, I would be woefully ignorant about violence against women. To me, this is a call for action. The feminist community, along with other communities that understand how problematic violence against women is, must educate society at large about the complexity of this issue. Although domestic violence may not be as pervasive in the US as it was 40 years ago, so much as one woman suffering from an abusive partner is one too many.

Overall, Steiner’s speech really resonated with me and gave me hope that violence against women will, someday, end. I certainly hope I can help facilitate that change in the world and make the US and every country a more hospitable place for women.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why I’m Going to the JOFA Conference (And Why You Should, Too!)

Every few years, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) convenes a conference where feminists get together and discuss gender issues within the Jewish community. The next conference will take place on December 7-8 at John Jay College in New York. I’ll be there, and so should you!

I’ll be going because I will be a speaker at the conference, and I mean, it would be difficult to give my presentation without actually attending the thing. Shameless self-promotion: you should come to the JOFA conference to hear me speak on a panel about blogging for change along with Sarah Seltzer and Sonia Isard, moderated by Gabi Birkner!

Even if I hadn’t been invited to speak at the conference, I would definitely be attending. I went to the conference in 2010 and had a really amazing, eye-opening experience. I was only in ninth grade at the time, but I learned so much about what Jewish feminism and activism means. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started blogging about Orthodox feminism less than six months later. Going to the 2010 conference gave me the tools to understand Jewish feminism and begin a journey to learn what it means to me personally. Knowing my previous experience with the JOFA conference, I can only imagine how much this upcoming conference will impact my sense of self and activism.

Part of why I’m extremely excited to attend the conference is because I really want to hear so many of the people who will be speaking. Everyone slated to speak is an expert in his or his field, and all of them are serious Jewish feminist rock stars. It’s an honor to be in the same room as these people, let alone to be a fellow speaker. Although I have no idea which sessions I’ll be attending yet – they’re all so good! – I’m particularly interested in a few, like Mirror Image: Eating Disorders in the Orthodox Community and Kaddish, Women’s Voices: Emotional and Personal Perspectives.

Unlike most conferences I attend, I’m not going to bring down the average age of attendance by 30 years. There will be other college students speaking at the JOFA conference, like my fellow 36 Under 36er Amram Altzman, as well as feminists still in high school. I really look forward to hearing what other feminists of my peer group have to say. I’m also glad that older feminists will get the opportunity to hear the voices of my generation, since it’s a perspective that is usually missed out on.

Another reason why I really can’t wait to go to the JOFA conference is because I can’t wait to meet more Orthodox feminists. I come from such a right-wing background, so it’s still a novelty for me to meet other people who think the same way as I do. Although I currently live in an environment where Orthodox feminism is accepted as legitimate, it’ll never get old to meet other people who are really active in feminist thought and activism. Ignoring the networking opportunities, it’ll just be so great to be among my kind.

Even if you don’t currently identify as a Jewish or Orthodox feminist, or are dismissive of feminism, the JOFA conference is still worth attending. You will learn so much about what feminism is and what its intersection with Orthodoxy means. I know that I have.

For breaking news and conference updates, as well as all-around Jewish feminist inspiration and information, follow JOFA on Twitter or like JOFA on Facebook

You can register for the conference here.

Worried about travel and registration cost? An under-30 discount and limited scholarships are available, or attend the entire 1.5 day conference for FREE by volunteering for one shift. Additionally, travel stipends are available for those traveling from outside of the Tri-State Area, and groups of 5 or more are eligible for a 15% discount on registration. For more information on any of these options, email conference@jofa.org.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An Orthodox Feminist Takes on College

As an Orthodox Jew, feminist activist, and first-year college student, I’ve got a pretty full schedule to balance. I’ve previously written about how being a feminist has influenced my perspective on being an undergrad, but I have yet to explore how being Orthodox impacts both my feminism and collegiate career.

Being a feminist in a patriarchal society is no simple mater. However, so far, I’ve found college to be a pretty conducive place for feminism and other social equality movements. There’s a sizable feminist community on campus, every member of which is absolutely fabulous and truly dedicated to making the world a better place for women and men alike. Numerous gender-related events occur every week, from screenings of documentaries like 12th and Delaware to speeches by New York Times columnist Gail Collins. All of the upperclass feminists I’ve met have strongly encouraged me and other first-years to get involved in activist work; my first semester of college hasn’t even ended, and I’m already on the board of an on-campus feminist organization and write for the college’s feminist magazine. Even in groups that are not specifically gendered or activist-oriented, I have found and fostered several feminist-friendly spaces.

Not everybody I meet on campus is as involved in gender issues as I am. Although I have encountered some insensitivity or misunderstanding when I’ve espoused feminist ideals or used the word feminist, the typical reaction is a few respectful questions about what exactly feminism is. Consequently, I’ve had some really interesting, eye-opening conversations with a varied group of people about gender issues.

Just like my feminism has been flourishing, my Judaism has also been thriving. The Hillel at my school is home to a vibrant and active Jewish community filled with truly inspiring individuals. The Orthodox community at my college is strong and tight-knit; I know that I will always have a core group of frum kids and rabbinical staff to rely on. I’ve yet to experience any anti-Semitism or discrimination based on my halakhic observance. Non-observant Jewish students and students from different faiths have all been extremely tolerant and respectful of my beliefs and practices, and so has the school administration and faculty. I haven’t found it difficult to be frum in the slightest.

In the same way that I feel comfortable expressing my feminism and my Judaism on campus, I have also found spaces for Jewish feminism. No matter my location, merging my Judaism and my feminism is an integral part of my life. The fact that I’m on a secular college campus makes no difference. I will always observe halakha, and I will always stand up for the rights of women.

Never for a moment have I felt that I have to choose between the two and only have one or the other. I have certainly never felt this way in college. The Hillel, which is the hub of Jewish life on campus, is extremely sensitive to gender and sexuality issues. All of the rabbis on staff are feminists who are involved in social justice in some way or another. This year was the first Simchat Torah where I was closer to the Torah than the ceiling, and I had the chance to participate in a partnership minyan one Friday night. Women’s learning is fostered in the beit midrash, and Hillel often hosts speakers who are women.

As a frum feminist undergrad, I’m planning on going to the JOFA conference in New York from December 7-8. Although I will be a speaker at the conference, I would attend regardless. I went to my first JOFA conference when I was in ninth grade, and I greatly enjoyed my experience; writing about my impressions of that conference was one of the first articles I ever published. Looking through the schedule, I genuinely have no idea how I’m going to choose which panels and speakers to go to, since they all look so interesting and eye-opening. For the future of Jewish feminist activism, it’s imperative for other college students and recent grads to come to this conference. We are the next generation, and we must learn from the women who are currently battling in the field.

Overall, I have found several forums to express the Jewish, feminist, and Jewish feminist facets to my identity on campus. If I have had all of these opportunities in my first semester alone, I can only imagine what the next three and a half years will be like. I know that attending the JOFA conference will help enhance my sense of identity and develop all of its facets.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Women's Wealth and the Nonprofit Sector

I found the infographic below so interesting when I first stumbled upon it. Although I'm not entirely sure that all of the statistics are completely correct (I'm sure I've seen numbers higher than 38% of households where the wife's income exceeds the husband's), the overall sentiment of women having less access to wealth than men despite having more education is there. It's not surprising, seeing as poverty is feminized, but nonetheless intriguing to see the stats and comparisons between men and women. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Video: Mary Lambert's "I Know Girls"

A feminist organization I'm on the board of at my college recently co-sponsored a Mary Lambert concert on campus. Consequently, I was privileged to hear Lambert perform her spoken word poem "I Know Girls" at the concert. Although I, like most people I've met, was only familiar with Lambert's appearance as the female vocalist in Macklemore's "Same Love," I became absolutely obsessed with her work after hearing her. She is one of the most powerful performers I've ever seen, and even more compelling in person than online. I can't even begin to say how much I love "I Know Girls." Seriously, take the five minutes and watch it. Your life will be changed.