Archive for January, 2007

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craftyblogging

January 31, 2007

I used to post more about my crafts. But then I sort of stopped crocheting, and so there was nothing more to blog about. But then a friend-of-a-friend in San Francisco heard about my upcoming visit and was in need of a new yarmulke/kippah and suggested that we do an exchange of crafts. Little did he know that I blogged back in September about a fantasy I had of some sort of exchange of homemade Jewish ritual objects among the queers. Mostly I wanted to knit my crafts for others and felt sort of weird and silly about selling them to strangers. Well, hurray. In exchange for a beautiful driftwood mezuzah for my new apartment, I knitted a yarmulke on the plane ride over.
OK, so here’s my call again folks. If you want a kippah, choose your colors, size, and name your trade. It’s as good as yours. Saltyfemme at gmail.

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playing the gender game

January 26, 2007

So I wrote that post about femme and femininity. It felt revealing and very personal, and I also had that sinking feeling that I was saying something that is really obvious. So a few weeks passed, and I didn’t get too much feedback (blogs allow people to be passive and disengaged, as much as I personally happen to be a pretty engaged blog reader). And I figured that for the most part, I didn’t ask any questions that hadn’t been asked before.

Apparently, I was wrong. There are many feminists who still hate femininity, and still attribute it entirely to patriarchy, and who don’t really want to think about it with any kind of nuance. That post is from I Blame the Patriarchy, which I just started reading, but I guess I was still surprised that the name of the blog is taken so literally in the posts, almost to a fault. The author is clear to define femininity as the term is used on that specific blog. However, the definition is itself so patriarchal (taking away all agency re: femininity from women themselves) that I wanted to scream. An excerpt:

Femininity is a set of practices and behaviors (boob jobs, FGM, ‘beauty’, the ‘veil’, the flirty head-tilt, pornaliciousness, BDSM, fashion, compulsory pregnancy, marriage, et al) that are dangerous, painful, pink, or otherwise destructive; that compel female subordination; that exist only to benefit Dude Nation; that are overwhelmingly represented by ‘girly’ feminists as a ‘choice’; and that are overwhelmingly represented by godbags and other irritating conservatives as ‘natural instincts’.

I should also point out that in my handy mozilla wordsearch, neither the word ‘femme’ nor ‘queer’ exists anywhere in the post itself or the ensuing discussion (58 long comments). Interesting how the queer femme position complicates both sides of this debate: that femininity is inherently a tool of the patriarchy, and that femininity can be reclaimed without questioning and struggling with the ways that femininity is patriarchal. Also interesting that the queer femme is nowhere to be found in this thread. And I realize that my questions are novel. Stuck between these two positions is a hard place to be. But it helps to read why some feminists hate femininity so much – it helps me clarify why I agree to some extent, and why agreeing that femininity has been a tool of the patriarchy pushes me to own femininity and struggle with it instead of reject it. It’s the murky place of figuring out exactly how to do that that seems to really fuck people up.

And so I ask again, what does it mean to be a feminist and claim femininity, and not in the girly “I can’t get out of my comfort zone so I have to shave my legs and wear makeup but call it feminism to justify it” kind of way. In the way that my femininity belongs to me. Not to patriarchy. Seriously. Because I get to pick and choose; because I can control the way others respond to the gender I perform; because I still sport body hair with a sexy tank top and mascara and declare it as hot and mine and others respond in kind; because I don’t perform femininity for any man or even for any woman. I like femininity because I choose it, and not because I’ve been co-opted as a tool of the patriarchy. And I do it all as a feminist.

I also wonder what gender the femininity-hating feminists perform and how they make sense of it. Gender is a part of our world (a part that I actually enjoy) so I am genuinely curious as to how they see themselves and how they think others perceive them.

So how does being a queer femme give me special privilege to talk about femininity? Granted, I exist in this world and was socialized into the same one as straight women. At the same time, I imagine and seek out a world outside of the mainstream. In my attempts to stray from the mainstream, I realize also that the best way to fuck with patriarchy is to subvert it and not to reject it outright. Rejecting something means that you acknowledge its authority, power, and importance. It is completely exhausting and when it comes to gender, and to femininity more specifically, it doesn’t work. Queer femme means subverting femininity – gender is never meant to be taken at face value. It’s a game. The trick is figuring out the rules.

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choicers for life

January 22, 2007

Today is blog for choice day. The theme is “why I am pro-choice.” I look forward to read lots of other bloggers’ posts. I don’t have tons of new ideas to post, just a short essay.

My being pro-choice has very little to do with abortion. I am pro-choice because we still live in an imperfect world. Because it still really sucks to be a woman. And because there is so much inequality, oppression, and hypocrisy in this country that we cannot afford any high horses.

Until we can figure out proper (i.e. real) sex education in this country and access to contraception for everyone, both unconditional and without the weight of Christian morality. Until the development of a cervical cancer vaccine makes everyone jump for joy instead of wonder whether it will turn our teenage daughters into sluts. Until the US government stops putting white fetuses above those of color. Until we can figure out why putting more money into AIDS research than military ambitions might actually be a more productive use of our money. Until the US government considers the life of a soldier in Iraq to be equally as important as that of an unborn fetus. Until the military superpower that is the US government can prove to the world that it actually does value life in any form. Until minimum wage is a living wage that can actually support a family. Until everyone can access proper health care. Until there stops being a double-standard when it comes to sexual morality for men and women. Until the government stops peeking into our bedrooms and punishing us when they don’t like what they see. Until everyone is aware of their own sexual power and uses it accordingly. Until anti-choicers understand that we are pro-life.

Not yet.

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Jewish philanthropists to Jewish 20-somethings: have more sex!

January 17, 2007

So everyone’s talking about this new marriage study with the absolutely *revolutionary* results: women need marriage less and less than the used to. I know, shocking. If you’ve never read John D’Emilio’s article, “Capitalism and Gay Identity,” you must. Now. If you don’t have access to it, please email me at saltyfemme@gmail.com, I will happily reply promptly with the article attached. I am dead serious. Do it.

Professor Stephanie Coontz, who wrote that fantastic NYTimes op-ed back in November about why marriage is no longer necessary and everyone should stop obsessing (OK, I’m paraphrasing a bit), is quoted again in the NYTimes article about the study:

This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people’s lives.

The article quotes a number of women, describing the myriad reasons why marriage is simply not at the top of their list of priorities. One woman (following the end of a 30-year marriage) remarked:

The benefits were completely unforeseen for me, the free time, the amount of time I get to spend with friends, the time I have alone, which I value tremendously, the flexibility in terms of work, travel and cultural events.

What I like here is that women aren’t supposed to be pouty and sad that they aren’t married – they can actually live it up and enjoy many other things in their lives. They can build community, enjoy their friends, travel, be flexible, do what they want.

I kind of ignored the article because frankly, nothing in it really surprised me, until I caught a glimpse of Michael Steinhardt’s little article in Contact Magazine (The Journal of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation). Before I get into the article, the mission of the JLN/Steinhardt foundation is, according to its website:

to revitalize Jewish identity through educational, religious and cultural initiatives that reach out to all Jews, with an emphasis on those who are on the margins of Jewish life.

All well and good. But I’d like to paraphrase it as, “to ensure that more Jews are marrying other Jews and creating more Jewish babies.” Sounds a little different, yes? Check out On Creating Jewish Honeymoon Retreats (scroll down to page 3). If you can ignore the nauseating heart-shaped picture of the happy heterosexual couple surrounded by Jewish stars, you can read all about Steinhardt’s ‘dream’ to create what he is calling ‘Jewish Honeymoon retreats.’ Writes Steinhardt:

If we are seeking an equivalent experience that builds on birthright’s successes, one option is a four-day retreat for young couples. Why couples? It is no secret that I am deeply concerned about Jewish demography. Thus, I relish the union of two individuals who produce progeny on the level of the Orthodox.

Let’s not kid ourselves: the purpose of birthright israel is to encourage unaffiliated young Jews to meet, marry, and shtup (those last two are sometimes reversible) other Jews. The next logical step is to figure out what to do with all these (now married) birthright alums. Yes.

Assumptions made (and I like lists):

-You know what, actually? Don’t forget the photo: only hets are worth targeting, because clearly they are the only ones capable of making babies.

-Talk about criteria for enriching your Jewish life! Granted, the married hets targeted for this potential program would presumably have benefited from Steinhardt’s other programs for “pre-marriage” hets and would have already enriched their Jewish lives as much as it’s even possible to enrich your Jewish life if you’re not married.

-It’s all about the babies. For those with the money, for those benefiting from programs created by those with the money, for pretty much everyone involved, quality is pushed only when quantity can be the outcome.

-Non-Orthodox Jews should clearly want to emulate the Orthodox, at least in their baby-making ways. At least he’s pretty conspicuous about what he wants.

But wait, there’s more!

But more important, newlyweds are entering a period in which they are more reflective about life and are more open to spiritual and communal connections to a larger people. It is a period in which values are sought and refined. It is an excellent opportunity to present a new gift, that of a meaningful retreat.

He makes marriage sound like an experience that changes you fundamentally, that makes you have perspective on your life that you didn’t have the day before, etc. IT’S A PIECE OF PAPER, a contract, a document. A really problematic one at that. Why do we have to aim our enrichment of ‘spiritual and communal connections’ at married couples?

A Jewish retreat experience for a young couple would transmit a vital communication of Common Jewish values. It would also serve as a short training course — without the distractions of everyday life — on how to incorporate and practice Judaism in the context of a household.

One more time – why wait until marriage to transmit Jewish values and lessons on incorporating Judaism in the context of a household? Don’t I need that too, Mr. Steinhardt? Isn’t my household Jewish, even though I don’t have a husband and *gasp* don’t ever plan to have one?

What do I do with these two articles juxtaposed? Why did I even bother to put them together? I guess I just wanted to point out that if the Jewish philanthropists are interested in enhancing Jewish life, they should do just that, plain and simple. Steinhardt does it with a lot of their programs, for which I respect them. But it seems that there’s a huge discrepancy between the older generation’s dependency on the marriage fairy tale and what is important for young Jews and how they live Jewishness in their own lives. For me and for my friends, finding and creating community and spaces in which to learn, grow, and exchange information are key pieces to Jewish identity. Using marriage and babies as a cornerstone for Jewish identity is a farce, considering the statistics cited in the NYTimes article. And frankly, ‘dreams’ like this, even when they don’t come true, offend me as a queer person and as someone who would like to think of herself as more than a machine for Jewish babies.

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do your laundry

January 13, 2007

I’m feeling very mixed about the airing of dirty laundry. I’m talking specifically about the airing of dirty Jewish laundry. I think depending on how you go about it, sometimes airing dirty laundry is the only way to actually make some change.

A story has been coming out over the last month or so about an incident that occurred on a Jerusalem bus last month, where a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman was harassed and then beaten up by a pack of Haredi men who were angry that she refused to move to the back of the bus. (Read the personal account here and also check out the coverage in Ha’aretz.). To sum it up: apparently there are some Egged buses that are mehadrin buses (Egged is the national government-funded bus company in Israel, mehadrin means that men and women sit separately and no music is played), this woman was not riding on one of them. She was asked to move to the back, she refused, and a group of men kicked her, pushed her, spat on her, pulled off her head covering, and generally left her physically and emotionally bruised.

Issues this brings up: where do you draw the line when it comes to what religion can dictate in a government-funded system? I’m not going to say that Egged doesn’t have rules mandated by Jewish law, because Egged buses do not run on Shabbat. In a Jewish state, who gets to define tzniut (modesty)? Is this an issue the Haredi community should be dealing with internally? My main point is that this issue is that like many questions, it requires a tremendous amount of context to understand both the incident itself and the gravity of the incident. And when I see posts on mainstream non-Jewish blogs (blogs that I respect, I should add) that don’t really delve into any context or even any details, I feel very frustrated – and not because I think that what the group of men did was OK or excusable in any context, but because it can’t really be understood in a two paragraph news clipping with the subject line ‘woman beaten for existing.’ (it has been changed since its initial posting).

And then we have the infamous video of the Hevron settler (a woman) taunting her Palestinian neighbor: “sharmuuuuuta!” (sharmuta = whore). I don’t even want to get into the grossness of a woman calling another woman a whore, especially with a culprit who is supposed to be some sort of “pious” religious woman. Beyond that, it’s interesting to note that the settlers in this particular neighborhood of Hevron called Tel Rumeida are notorious for abusing their Palestinian neighbors. (yes, this article is written by Gidon Levy, another writer criticized for airing dirty laundry). The video to which I linked above was taken by the Palestinian woman’s 16-year old daughter, who gave the video to B’tselem. And then it made its way to YouTube. And now, suddenly, the media and the police are paying attention (click here, here, and here). Palestinians living in this neighborhood say that their complaints over the years have fallen on deaf ears. Through the propagation of this video, perhaps their fate is changing.

I worry about people making generalizations about Jews, about Israelis, etc. And I conclude that I believe in a broad exchange of information, in the power that we access through the internet to raise voices that have been silenced and to question things that we take for granted. And I will take the chance that issues will be raised without context and void of nuance if it means that people will start talking and that change is somehow possible (in a world that feels more and more hopeless). If internet coverage means that the Israeli public will have to wake up about the dangers of letting settlers run amok, about not allowing religious people to think that the way that they practice Judaism is the *only* way, then great. Hopefully there will always be the few who will write the context, and perhaps even more who will be interested enough to read it and engage with it. And I continue to think that through the internet and blogs, concrete change can be made. Maybe the only way we can do our laundry is if people are watching.

tags: Judaism, Israel/Palestine, feminism

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name that acronym: NPR, HPV, STI, HIV/AIDS

January 9, 2007

Two quick items relating to sexual health and media:

The first is a new NPR show still in preliminary stages. NPR loves to create podcasts and I, in turn, love to listen. They are making weekly 15-minute podcasts they are calling Rough Cuts – snippets from some pilot segments of a new show. Listeners are supposed to leave their reactions and suggestions in the comments section of a blog, linked from the NPR website. They haven’t yet named the show, but the motto is “Nothing is assumed.”

The most recent podcast, which I listened to this morning, deals with HPV – what it is, how it’s contracted, and how to get tested for it. The difference between this show and another, we are told at the end, is that the producers looked for nontraditional guests for talking about particular topics. In this case, the interviewer spoke with two women’s health advocates, both who have experienced HPV firsthand (as opposed to speaking with a doctor or a public health expert). Both women work for organizations whose mission is to research and educate on HPV and cervical cancer.

The podcast is pretty short and definitely worth a listen, and I think for a ‘rough cut,’ it’s pretty good – they talked at length about how little most women seem to know about HPV, and that a startling 95% of cervical cancer cases originated with HPV. I found it surprising that while they mentioned the new HPV vaccine, they did not address the political issues and arguments around it in any kind of detail, which to me are the most interesting – after all, what good is a vaccine if right-wing fundamentalists refuse to allow it to young women for fear that it will turn them into sluts overnight? (oh, I love abstinence-only education).

I should say that I love the idea of talking to nontraditional experts about issues like this. These women are more than qualified to talk about HPV, perhaps even more so than a doctor. I also like a show that attempts to not make assumptions. It has potential to be a bit less staged and more accessible than your typical NPR fare. I’m not sure what the topics of the upcoming podcasts will be but I am certainly looking forward.

The other quick piece is that NYC Mayor Bloomberg is spearheading a plan to make NYC-brand condoms in a variety of colors, with the condoms and packaging corresponding to different subway lines! I think this is really fantastic. Safe sex + NYC merchandise, all in one package. As Gothamist points out, NYC has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the country. This is a much-needed project, and it seems like they’re going about it through “marketable” means. (Thanks to Gothamist for linkage).

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salty miscellany

January 7, 2007

I’d like to start by saying that I’m not exactly meant for journalism –the stories below all came out between roughly 3-7 days ago. But I’m assuming none of you read saltyfemme to catch breaking news. So I’m sure you don’t mind.

-Some words about former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek (who died last week) from Ha’aretz’s Gidon Levy that you won’t read in the New York Times:

[Kollek] brought approximately 200,000 Jews to the occupied territories – perhaps more than any other person. The settlement enterprise owes a great historic debt to Kollek.

The act of [the] unification [of
Jerusalem in 1967] was an act of occupation and the fact that a charming and charismatic figure like Kollek presided over it does not change a thing. Kollek demolished a neighborhood in the Old City and built the new neighborhoods on Palestinian land for Jews only – apartheid at its worst – and this should also be remembered in the balance of his considerable achievements.

Full text.

-On NPR listeners: On the Media’s Brooke Gladstone goes meta and sorts through some of the stereotypes of the classic ‘liberal’ NPR listener. (from last weekend’s show)

-Also from On the Media from the same show: a parody of public radio that could only have been written by the intimately involved. W-ACLU, 87.1-ALL THE WAY TO THE LEFT ON YOUR RADIO DIAL.” Not worth reading the transcript (it won’t be funny) but give it a listen. Janine Garofalo and Tony Shalhoub provide voices and perfect irony.

Out of the closet in Hollywood: good for the gays? (I always love that question, good for the gays, good for the Jews. Does anyone even know what that means?). Perhaps it perpetuates the American stereotype of gays: rich, white, and male!

-Not that I have anything to prove to any of you, but I’ve been told that I lack a sense of humor and that I live in a bubble, and I guess those two things go together sometimes. And I want to set the record straight. I love Justin Timberlake. And I also think the clip below could’ve been an advertisement for Babeland or Good Vibes. (I’m a few weeks late, but I don’t watch SNL – thanks to Snuggles for bringing it to my attention).

-finally, check out new comments on the femme post. And then post yours!