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Archive for the ‘Gender and Sexuality’ Category



Hirsi Ali, Islam, and Cultural Relativism: The Brandeis Controversy

Apr23

by: on April 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Hirsi Ali. Credit: Creative Commons

I write this on Easter Sunday. A little less than a month from now, on May 18, 2014, Brandeis University will hold its sixty-third commencement ceremony. I shall not be there; I am south of the Equator in Brazil. Someone else also will not be there —Somali feminist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I am glad she will not be. An invitation extended to her was withdrawn by the president of the university, Fred Lawrence. Many of the faculty had signed a letter of protest and the Muslim Students Association had added its voice. Yet, the whole episode leaves me with bittersweet taste. I was left with a nagging question. Ross Douhat in the New York Times said that the university should just come out and confess its bias: “I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.” Elsewhere in the media the dustup at Brandeis was portrayed as a speed-bump in the battle over free speech. It was much more. In an age of identity politics can we criticize the formerly colonized or semi-colonized “Two-Thirds World” (in the faculty letter’s terminology)? How to address female genital mutilation in Somalia, slavery in Mauritania and the lynching of gays in Kenya? Especially when such occurrences are clothed with the authority of religion, how do we respond?

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How Jews Brought America to the Tipping Point on Marriage Equality: Lessons for the Next Social Justice Issues

Mar27

by: Amy Dean on March 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

In a few short years, same-sex marriage went from being an untouchable political hot potato to a broadly accepted civil right in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. Jews, and their social justice organizations, helped make that happen. In fact, this magazine was a prophetic voice of marriage equality, supporting same-sex unions in the early 1990s and helping to lay the groundwork for the current wave of victories.

Bend The Arc members participate in the SF Gay Pride Parade. Credit: Bend The Arc.

The story of Jews’ contributions has continuing political relevance. The campaign for marriage equality offers valuable lessons for how to break through public resistance on other issues that Jewish groups are now addressing, including economic justice initiatives like paid sick leave, rights for domestic workers, and raising the minimum wage.

A forward-thinking strategy, combined with local and regional organizing, could be key to helping Jewish activists win victories on other issues that may seem unwinnable today, either because of intransigence in Congress or because they don’t yet have popular support. For example, Congress is nowhere near passing the $15 minimum wage that has become the clarion call of several campaigns for workers’ rights. It may seem equally farfetched to imagine that all workers could earn and receive paid sick time, or paid family leave, or that domestic workers such as nannies and housekeepers could enjoy the same rights to livable wages and safe workplaces that workers in other industries receive.

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Israeli Women Who Have Stood Up to the Occupation for 26 Years

Mar13

by: Keren Manor & Shiraz Grinbaum on March 13th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

A Project by Keren Manor & Shiraz Girnbaum at Activestills.org (Crossposted from +972 Magazine)

In honor of International Women’s Day, Activestills paid tribute to more than a quarter century of anti-occupation activism by the ‘Women in Black’ group in Israel. Every Friday since 1988, the women have stood in themain squares of cities or at highway junctions with signs calling to end the Israeli occupation. Often spat at,cursed or violently harassed by passersby, they have become, for us, a symbol of persistence.


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Female Rabbis at the Tent of Meeting?

Feb21

by: Rabbi Galina Trefil on February 21st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

The female rabbinate is a progressive sign of equality between the sexes; a bold, new stroke written out in the history of Judaism, whose pages have always been male-dominated…or so it is frequently assumed. As the old adage goes though: there is nothing new under the sun. While, at one point, a female rabbinate was unthinkable, its ever-growing numbers are giving rise to the question if the position is indeed new or if, instead, modern Judaism has decided to come full-circle. Is there evidence that professional female spiritual leadership ever existed in the Torah?

“He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.”–Exodus 38:8

It is a sentence that packs a spiritual punch so subtle that it seems many don’t even notice its potential revelation. Once attention is drawn to it, one might then question what the position of these women entailed; expect some immediate follow-up giving details. However, this is where such curiosity will meet with strict disappointment, as this mention stands alone. Not only was this particular passage vague, but the Tannakh as a whole remains so. Only once more are these women ever referred to at all, in Samuel 2:22, where it states: “Now Eli was very old and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.”

Analysis of the simple math shows that, if they existed from the time of the Exodus to the time of Eli, the position the women played in relation to the holy sanctuary stood steady for several hundred years.

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Why Are So Many White Men So Angry and What Can We Do About It

Feb21

by: on February 21st, 2014 | 6 Comments »

Michael Kimmel’s popular new book Angry White Men, describes the rage of American men who have been cast out of their dominant roles within the economy, the family and personal life. The book does not discuss mass murder, but the fact that men are killing large numbers of people in America indicates a level of rage with no socially constructive outlet. Kimmel correctly notes the way white men are demoted from the economic and social dominance they once had. He blames white men’s now lowered position on two developments. One is a vaguely referenced “neo-liberal agenda”. The second is the movements for economic, political and civil rights for women and minorities. The civil rights and the feminist movements permitted more minorities and women to compete for jobs formerly reserved for white males.

The book explores a wide range of white male attempts to recoup their lost hegemony. One is “hate radio” where voices like Rush Limbaugh’s channel men’s confusion over their changed roles into hatred for “feminazis” and minorities who take “their” jobs.

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Sex, Vulnerability, and Power

Dec6

by: on December 6th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

If I thought I was treading difficult territory when starting to write about money, writing about sex feels even more risky. It’s even more private, in some ways more charged, and equally considered off limits. I am only doing it because the conversation I had with a dear friend was so inspiring to us, that it seemed to me that what emerged might offer something of value to others, and I was encouraged by my friend’s enthusiastic response. I hope I don’t live to regret this choice.

The starting point of our conversation was a recognition of a peculiar way in which so much that is related to sex gets talked about as if we have no power or choice: either sexual attraction is “there,” and we “must” follow it; or it’s not, and we “can’t” enter a sexual relationship.

Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Erotic

For years I have felt a persistent discomfort when people around me talk about sex. One of the most important things in the world for me is something about honoring human dignity. Within this, I’ve always wanted speaking about or engaging in sexual relationships to be done in a way that honors that human dignity.

I often wonder what life was like in earlier cultures, before the split between the sexual and the spiritual was institutionalized, before the body became the site of sin, before being spiritual became associated with celibacy, asceticism, and withdrawal from the world. Were the conversations different? Did the experience of being sexual feel different?

When we have a powerful desire for something that has been associated with sin, or is seen as “animal-like,” this creates a strong tension. If, on top of that, we have been trained to believe that in order to sustain the social order we need to suppress what we want, the complexity of what happens can easily lead to a complex response that allows us to choose to follow the desire by playing with the edge of “badness” while telling ourselves that we have no choice, that the very experience of sexual desire takes us out of control.

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Pope Francis on the “Different Species of Human” a.k.a. Women

Nov27

by: on November 27th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

Over at the National Catholic Reporter, Sister Maureen Fielder has an intriguing critique of Pope Francis’s public discussion on women. In sum, on the subjects of women and gender, Pope Francis’s comments make Sister Maureen want to cry. I sympathize.

In his already widely-discussed document “Evangelli Guadium,”which translates as “Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis has once again slammed the door shut on the ordination of women, as if the first time around last July was not enough. In the new document the pope writes, “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion.”

Yet for those of us who support women’s ordination, what is arguably even more disturbing than the pope’s continuation of the exclusion of women from the priesthood is the language he employs to justify his position. As Sister Maureen writes,

He talks about women’s “sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess.” He mentions “the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood.” In another sentence, he talks about the “feminine genius.”

I am firmly of the belief that when average men, “regular fellas,” use this kind of over-the-top flattery to describe women it’s usually because they have an ulterior motive. Since Tikkun Daily is a family-oriented blog, I won’t get more specific about that male ulterior motive, other than to say that its precise location can be found below the belly button, but above the thighs.

But Pope Francis is not a “regular fella” – he’s the pope. So why is this pope, who otherwise wrote a thoughtful document on the spiritual dimensions of economic inequality, employing such patronizing language about half of the human population? As a 76-year-old pope, his motives are clearly different from “regular fellas” on the hunt for – to borrow a term from singer Ciara – “goodies.” But the pope clearly wants something from Catholic women nonetheless: their ecclesiastical submission.

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Everyday Life in a Transphobic World: Reflections on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Nov20

by: on November 20th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

safe

Credit: Lauren Quock (laurenquock.com).

The annual reading of the names of those murdered in the past year for being transgender is a somber reminder that the United States is dangerous place for trans people – particularly trans women and trans people of color. But the once- or twice-a-week murders we memorialize represent a small fraction of verbal and physical violence trans people experience on a daily basis. And as the campaign against the California law safeguarding rights of transgender school children demonstrates, nothing arouses violently anti-trans sentiment like the specter of trans girls and women using public restrooms.

In a country in which it’s still legal in many states to fire people for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, the right to use a public restroom may seem like small potatoes. But as a trans woman who regularly uses women’s rooms at work, in stores, in libraries and other public spaces, the fear of being verbally harassed, physically assaulted or even arrested is a daily fact of life.

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Catholic Bishops Elect New Leader, Still Insist on Conflating Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion

Nov12

by: on November 12th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Credit: Creative Commons

“Accordingly, Jewish difference challenges Christians not first to speak but to hear speech not their own, not simply to love but to consent to the prospect of being loved by an other.”

Amen.

Karl Plank, a Jewish literature and thought professor at Davidson College, penned those words for his section of the book Merton and Judaism, an excellent multi-author examination of Cistercian monk Thomas Merton’s relationship with Judaism, including an examination of his correspondence with his contemporary, Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Plank is on to something mighty big with the quoted passage: namely, the strong tendency in Christendom to contort the very concept of love itself into a personal power tool. As if Person A (the high and mighty Christian) is a spiritual masterpiece, oozing with divine love, almost selfless, and Person B (Person A’s peer) is just a lowly, selfish desperado, lost and confused, and in need of Person A’s oh-so transcendent love and wisdom. Of course, the whole relationship or interaction between Person A and Person B has nothing whatsoever to do with real love, but is rather part and parcel of Person A’s gambit to assert their dominance – moral, spiritual, you name it – in their social universe.

Person B is merely the conduit to achieve that end.

Gay Catholics who are sick and tired of the never-ending “love the sinner, hate the sin” claptrap from Catholic clergymen would do well to meditate on Karl Plank’s insight into Christian-Jewish relations and, I would certainly argue, apply it to what is now and has been happening between gay lay Catholics and Catholic priests, and the bishops in particular. Namely, the former becoming nothing more than conduits for the latter’s efforts at the self-purgation of their own homosexual desires.

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My Life with a Pink Water Bottle

Oct19

by: on October 19th, 2013 | 7 Comments »

I used to wake up early on Sunday mornings to play pickup basketball with a group of 30-something men in Pittsburgh. This ‘over-thirty’ game comprised a collection of largely successful men still young enough to move without creaking, but old enough to show up to a gym knowing teenage phenoms and college-age athletes were not welcome.

For months, as a 39-year-old, short Jewish guy, nothing about me really stood out. That is, until I brought my wife’s pink water bottle after misplacing my own. Suddenly, I was noticed.

Taking a swig before our first game, one guy sarcastically said, “Nice bottle,” while lacing up his neon-green Nikes. It was the first word he’d ever spoken to me. I wasn’t amused.

“Where’d you get that thing?” asked another man as teams were being chosen, tipped off by the sudden conversation.

“At the store,” I replied, surprised by such clear and overt machismo in response to nothing more than a color from this group of 30-something business men.

When, after several games, a third man during a break in the action said, “You need to get rid of that thing,” I knew that I would not be returning to play with these guys.

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