Thursday, August 28, 2014

On Administrative Assistants: Why “Secretary” Shouldn’t Be A Bad Word

In my senior year of high school, I was working on yearbook and often needed the principal’s approval for editorial decisions, so the office became my frequent hangout. Because I was in their workspace so much, I made friends with all of the secretaries. Getting close with school secretaries was something I had always done, though; my mother worked in secretarial positions for many years, and she always taught me to act like a mensch towards secretaries. Beyond the fact that they are human beings who deserve to be treated with respect, it’s often incredibly valuable to have a friend who can make you copies and slip you a few dollars from the petty cash stash. Secretaries are the ones who get stuff done.

And so, I have always spoken to serctearies in the same manner I would speak to any elder. I guess it’s just because of my mom’s influence, but I always go out of my way to be courteous to secretaries. When I got tagged to #feedthedeed on Facebook a few months back, I never bothered doing it. I thought it was wonderful that my Facebook friends were going out of their way to show their appreciation for secretaries, security guards, custodians, and other people with “menial” jobs, but didn’t see the need to do it myself. I treat all of the secretaries with whom I interact with politeness every day, so why do I need to take photos of it and post them on social media to prove it?

The fact that Facebook campaigns like #feedthedeed exist just come to show that my attitude is not terribly widespread. It’s no secret that secretaries are usually devalued in our society. I have always known this to be true, based off of my peers’ (and superiors’) treatment of the same secretaries who I befriended. So I guess I understand why a new euphemism for secretary, administrative assistant, has started to become popular. When I first heard it in high school, it took me a moment to get past the fancy jargon and realize that the chief administrative assistant really just means head secretary. But I don’t blame the women who worked in the school office for opting to describe their job as administrative assistant instead of secretary. If secretaries don’t get much respect in our society, maybe administrative assistants will.

But why even is there shame in being a secretary? Secretarial positions are jobs like everything else, behind a desk and answering phone calls from 9-5. Well, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that secretaries are predominantly women [find percentage]. Devaluing secretaries is part of blaming women for their own oppression, stigmatizing them for serving in submissive, low-paying positions while simultaneously blocking them from achieving higher-paying, more prestigious positions by stopping their progress (or any hopes of it) with a glass ceiling.

My default will always be to call them secretaries, but if they wish to be administrative assistants instead, then those of us on the opposite side of the desk should honor that preference. But regardless of their label, we need to stop thinking of secretaries as beneath us and start treating them as the equals they are. They’re people, and should be treated with respect by virtue of their humanity. Women especially should take pains to show solidarity with secretaries, since we are all subjects to the same oppression. A fragmented movement is a weak one. How can we hope to dismantle the power structures that keep us down if we do not fight together? 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Cycle of Objectification at the Brooklyn Cyclones

Although I don’t really do sports, one of my friends’ dads had tickets for a Minor League baseball game, so a few of us went for kicks. We were all mildly grossed out by the amount of ten-year-old boys hanging out near the cheerleaders, but whatever, they’re kids, right? What really creeped us out were the dads who ogled the cheerleaders. We were particularly disturbed by one sitting on the aisle with his son who, when a cheerleader passed him, made an unsolicited comment to her, something like “can I friend you on Facebook?” She just gave the guy a withering look as she walked by and ignored him.

When my friends and I left the game, we had to walk past this guy to exit. I was walking alongside one friend, who the guy touched on the arm and said something like “careful how you walk up the stairs” – totally and completely unnecessary advice. Because we’re both shomeret negiah, meaning that we don’t touch guys, the immediate reaction was just to move away. I physically pulled her towards me, farther from him. We kept walking, but I, The Feminist, couldn’t let him go without saying something. “Yeah, you should probably avoid touching strange women,” I said. (I know, great comeback, right?) He responded as we walked up the stairs, but I didn’t care to pay attention and neither did my friend.

We’re all already over this guy, but I’m still like, what even was that? Why did this guy feel that he had the right to ask that cheerleader for her Facebook information, and then to touch a strange teenage girl on the arm? Well, I don’t think any of us were surprised that his son was one of the boys who was hanging out by the cheerleaders.

But that made me really sad. It’s a cycle of objectification, like father like son. Through modeling, this man is raising his son to think of women as pretty items who shake their pom-poms for men’s benefit. By asking that cheerleader for her Facebook info, he was showing that it’s okay to be interested in a woman solely based on her physical appearance, and that it’s okay to creepily ask such a woman for some sort of relationship. He violated my friend’s space by touching her on the arm without her permission, which sent the message to his son that men are entitled to unlimited access to women’s bodies. And that’s just really not okay.

No, this guy did not ruin our time at the baseball game, and we still had tons of fun. As I said before, we’re completely over him, and he really didn’t have a significant impact on any of our lives. Witnessing his exploits firsthand just made me sad that he existed, that men like him exist at all. For me, incidents like this come to prove that we need feminism now just as much as we’ve ever needed it. It’s not just about the cheerleader’s Facebook privacy and my friend’s right to personal space. It’s about men’s unthinking attitude and consequent behavior towards women, and how that needs to change. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An Open Letter to My Bais Yaakov Education

Check out the article I wrote for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA)'s blog, The Torch!

To My Bais Yaakov Education,

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I made the jump from a coed, Modern Orthodox elementary school to a Bais Yaakov-type high school. In truth, I had no concept. However, I do not regret attending such a right-wing high school for a moment, and am proud to affiliate myself with you.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: there were points where, as a feminist, I really wasn’t sure if I could make it through.

Continue reading here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

JAP? Nah, I'm a JAF.

Check out the article I wrote for the Jewesses with Attitude blog!

...At the 2013 JOFA conference panel “‘Slut!: The Shame Effect,” the feminist author and slut-shaming expert Leora Tanenbaum said, “I fervently hope for the day when we can all use slut as a feminist punch line that exposes the absurdity of the double standard, but we’re not there yet.” I feel the same way about the word JAP. One day, Western society will get to the point where the misogyny and anti-Semitism that it carries are no longer relevant. Until then, I’d rather subvert the term or avoid it altogether. It’s much more fun to smash the patriarchy than perpetuate it.

Read the full article here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

This is My Wall

The first time I saw the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, was when I went to Israel through Taglit-Birthright in January. My trip leaders wanted to make our first viewing of this holy site special and memorable, so they had us all walk blindfolded to an overlook that would afford us a panorama view of the Wall. When we removed the scarves over our eyes, I was in awe. The only coherent thought I could think was this is my Wall, this is MY Wall.

I spent the last six weeks on a summer program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, so I took full advantage of my proximity to the Kotel. Because it is the last remaining part of the holy Temple, tradition holds that prayers recited there are particularly potent, so I find it particularly powerful. I never went a week without going to the Wall at least once, and there were days where I went for each of the three daily prayer services, just because I could. Even when the US State Department recommended staying away from the Kotel because of the threat of anti-Jewish violence, I went anyway. I wouldn’t let terrorism keep me from my Wall or rob me of my chance to pray.

Normally I would go to the Kotel on my own or with a friend or two, in order to spend time on self-reflection and quiet prayer. However, this past Rosh Hodesh, I opted to join Women of the Wall (WoW)’s monthly prayer service. WoW is an all-women prayer group that meets in the women’s section of the Kotel, reciting prayers that are usually reserved for a quorum of ten men and wearing traditionally masculine ritual garments like tefillin, kippot, and tallitot. As the Kotel is maintained by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which is run by an Orthodox rabbi in a manner that adheres to normative Orthodox halakha (law), WoW’s practices have led to a lot of controversy since their genesis in 1988.

Although I am Orthodox and I follow halakha in the same way as the Heritage Foundation does, I do not believe in imposing my religious beliefs on others. Consequently, I believe that the Kotel should be run in a manner that respects Jews from every denomination, so it can be a place where Jews are allowed and encouraged to connect to their Creator in whatever way feels right. Israel is a Jewish state, not an Orthodox one, and the prayers that are said at its holiest site should reflect that.

And so I joined WoW while I was in Jerusalem. It was a truly meaningful experience for me, helping me unlock even more holiness from the Kotel. The sound of one hundred women’s voices rising together was exceptionally powerful. The sense of sisterhood I felt among us – native Israelis, Ethiopian immigrants, American tourists, mothers and daughters praying under the same tallit, Orthodox women in long sleeves and mid-calf skirts – was incredibly strong. Despite our religious and political differences, we all stood beside each other in solidarity, speaking to the same God, affirming each other’s right to pray in the way she feels most comfortable.

I got to the Wall a few minutes after WoW began the service, so I stood at the back and sang along quietly. Barely two minutes later, a woman in a kippah and tallit came over to me. “Come towards the front,” she said, and pulled me into the middle of the group. “We want people like you.” I knew that “people like you” meant “people who are conspicuously Orthodox,” as my mode of dress and choice of prayerbook outed me. But putting the political motivations aside, her desire to include me in the group was incredibly affirming. It was refreshing to know that my presence mattered to her; nobody has ever before gone out of his or her way to make me feel like I belong in any prayer space.

Perhaps this feeling of otherness is the reason why I have always had a hard time speaking up within religious spaces. Whenever I recited the mourners’ prayer, Kaddish, for my father, I chose to say it under my breath as a man said it aloud. I was never comfortable enough to say it too loudly, and certainly not on my own. Praying with WoW showed me that women can speak up within religious spaces, and that’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s good. It’s desirable. Praying with WoW helped me claim the Wall, and by extension all spaces of prayer, as my own.

One time when I was sitting at the Wall reciting Psalms, I placed my thumb in a depression in the rock. I spread the rest of my hand out onto the Wall, and I realized that all my fingers fit perfectly into other depressions in the stone. It was awing to realize that my foremothers have been sitting in this same spot for thousands of years, pressing their hands into the Wall’s face, praying to the same God that I still pray to today. I had never felt so connected to my history before.

And I am 100% positive that WoW is a continuation of that tradition.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

I was nominated by the wonderful Zoe of the blog La Vie En Zoe for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award! I’m totally flattered that she finds Star of Davida inspiring, and am so touched that she nominated me. Because we write in different genres and have different blogging styles, I think it’s great that we can transcend our dissimilarities and appreciate each other’s writing.

The rules of the award are as follows:
  1. Thank and follow the person who nominated you.
  2. List seven facts about yourself.
  3. Nominate other bloggers who you find inspiring.

So, here goes nothing…seven facts about me!
  1. My bright pink laptop shell is covered in feminist stickers from a pack I bought in this awesome patriotic, progressive indie store in Philadelphia. My favorites say “sisterhood is powerful,” “we can do it” (Rosie the Riveter reference, anyone?), “feminism is the answer,” and the quotation “my advice to the women’s clubs of America is to raise more hell and fewer dahlias.”
  2. I love chewing ice. Like, if you want to get me a birthday gift, I’ll be totally happy with ice. Preferably from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, but I’ll take Starbucks too.
  3. Although I am a born and bred American, I have always been a vocal ally of Israel and consider it to be my true homeland. Having spent the past six weeks studying abroad in Jerusalem, my unwavering support for this country has only been strengthened.
  4. I recently started a Tumblr called Far Beyond Pearls, where I’m going to be writing about more general, random stuff about my life.
  5. When blogging doesn’t pay the bills, I do freelance work for a Chabad-Lubavitch children’s magazine and serve as a mashgicha (kosher supervisor) at my campus’ kosher kitchen.
  6. My fandoms are Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and Supernatural.
  7. I’m a sucker for stuffed animals. Really, all things fluffy have a special place in my heart. My bed is covered in fluffy stuffies, and when I’m home, my dog joins my collection. 

And now, bloggers who I find inspiring:
  1. Avigayil from V’Tzivanu. I am privileged to call Avigayil a personal friend, and her dedication to doing mitzvot (commandments) never ceases to amaze me. V’Tzivanu, her collection of women’s stories about laying tefillin, has given me a new perspective on claiming traditionally masculine mitzvot.
  2. The blogger from Nerd with a Voice. Her honesty about her struggles as a halakha (Jewish law) observant Orthodox girl in the 21st century is refreshing, and I can definitely relate to her on many levels. It’s always good to know that you’re not the only one, and this blog definitely confirms that.
  3. Shira from On the Fringe. She was one of the first bloggers I ever followed, so I was humbled when she gave me advice when we e-met. Shira’s been part of the Jewish feminist and blogging communities for many years, so her dedication and tenacity is something I really respect.
  4. Hadass from Riot Grrrl in Israel. A radical Zionist Israeli, zine-making, Third Wave punk musician feminist who describes herself as being infected by the grrrlVIRUS. She’s a badass, and her blog is beyond awesome; I always love checking in and reading up on what she has to say.
  5. Elan from Pop Chassid. Although long blog posts tend to surpass my attention span, Elan’s are so deeply introspective and thoughtful that I (usually) find the patience to read them. I always come away from his blog hopeful that the present and future of Orthodoxy.
  6. The blogger from Jewish Single Mother by Choice. I’ve been following JSMBC for quite a while, and it’s been a privilege to follow her journey in single parenting. It’s not easy and it’s not glamorous to raise a little one alone, but she shows that it’s completely possible and rewarding for everybody involved.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

These Pogroms Are Personal

Check out the article I wrote for The Crimson!

For me, the word pogrom evokes black and white images of Cossacks attacking Jews living in the shtetl, scenes from movies like Fiddler on the Roof, back in the times of olde when Jews were unequal before the law.

Well, pogroms have happened in France several times throughout the past couple of weeks, so maybe they’re not as antiquated as I thought.

Continue reading here.