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Archive for the ‘Gender and Sexuality’ Category



#MeToo and Liberation for All

Jan22

by: on January 22nd, 2018 | 1 Comment »

“I want to kiss you all over your smile.”

The poetic beauty struck me even while my entire body was contracting. The man speaking was drunk. I had asked him several times to stop calling me, at least not so late. He was married, with four children, 20 years my senior, and the president of the company I was working for at the time. I was in my late 20s. It was 1984.

Somehow, between the persistence of the phone calls and my repeated attempts to create boundaries while being human and caring, an unlikely friendship developed. Maybe because I was touched by the vulnerability at his core, or inspired by his brilliance and apparent openness. Slowly and painfully I realized, like so many women before and after me, that maintaining the budding friendship would require succumbing to the sexual overtures. I remember the moment of saying straight into his eyes: “Do you really want me to kiss you even if I don’t want to?” I was so shocked by his insistence in the face of my disinterest, that I lost my will; as if being seen solely as an instrument for his pleasure actually made me less of a person in my own right.

A relationship of two years emerged. It had its moments of true intimacy. And it was a difficult and complicated relationship. When the time came to end it, he predictably asked me to resign. I, unpredictably, declined. I loved my job and didn’t want to lose it. He protested, insisting that it would be difficult for him to see me daily after the breakup. I told him he could fire me, and that I would speak about why. To this day, I am astounded by my matter-of-fact courage.

Two years later, I discovered the literature on sexual harassment. My world exploded in understanding of what had happened; one of my own pivotal #MeToo moments. Even then, I knew I was relatively lucky. No ruined career. No watching him continue, with impunity, to victimize others.

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Empathetically Explaining Weinstein: A Counter-Intuitive Necessity

Nov1

by: John McFadden on November 1st, 2017 | 5 Comments »

Prison is where Harvey Weinstein should be, because, for one thing, there is zero guarantee that he will stop preying on women. He has said that he’s been trying for ten years to deal with his assaultive behavior, but he couldn’t stop. And although he said he’s seeking help from therapists, therapy can be a lengthy process for sexual predators. Perhaps if he had some compelling self-understanding, expression of remorse, and plan to repair the damage done to his victims, we might believe him. But his explanation of his disgusting behavior and his expressions of remorse have been trivial, as is his plan to repair the damage. He set up a scholarship for women directors at the University of Southern California. At this point, what woman would want to take his money? He doesn’t get that they’d feel that he’s buying them off, a practice he has used with some of his victims.

Perhaps it seems that I’m condemning him. But I’m only trying to be realistic about the damage he’s done and how oblivious he still is despite having been caught. I have to if I’m to be taken seriously when I advocate imprisoning him, as well as when I try to empathetically understand him. But empathy? Isn’t punishment what’s needed? And that is being done to him. He’s been paraded out in front of the entire civilized world and humiliated. Victims and their supporters are righteously angry at him, as well they should be. In their angry words is much needed detailing of both what he did and the harm his behavior caused. Without that, the public and our leaders would be less motivated to solve this problem. But there’s a problem with this reaction to any level of any harm.

The abject pain of public humiliation is, many therapists believe, the most unbearable punishment. It can break people without changing them. And what’s much worse, it can drive other perpetrators further into the shadows where they can more deftly ply their domination.

Whereas if we empathetically understood Harvey Weinstein, we’d be much more likely to reclaim him than we now are. And because he is widely known, the revelation of his eventual transformation would have broad impact. His example would enable other sexually assaultive people to seek help more than our current method does. That’s because the standard method is degrading, whereas empathetic understanding is not. So, it’s more inviting, making it more possible for a perpetrator to face his problem. And if a perpetrator also knows he will be treated with compassion and get genuine relief of what’s driving him to rape, he is much more likely to seek help and eventually make amends with his victims. These ideas apply best to people like Weinstein, men who are reasonably well educated and not severely mentally ill or lacking in genetic empathy.

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Why Patriarchy Is Not about Men

Aug4

by: on August 4th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

In response to my recent newsletter, which I named “Tenderness, Vulnerability, and Mourning as a Response to Patriarchy“, I received two comments from men that led me to choose to write this piece. In two very different ways they pointed me to the reality that the word patriarchy is used in many ways; that some of those ways lead to a lot of misunderstanding; and that, in the process, men in particular get targeted in ways I never wish they did. In this piece I hope to rectify this a little bit. I start with pointing to what I mean by patriarchy, since I don’t yet have a definition that I am fully satisfied with. Most significantly, I speak to what patriarchy does or does not have to do with men and what it has to do with all of us. I also aim to make it clear what my very deep concerns are about continuing within the patriarchal paradigm that’s been with us, at least those of us who are part of Western civilization, for about 7,000 years. And I end by what I believe every single one of us can do about it.

What Is Patriarchy?

One of the things that make it difficult to speak about patriarchy, or any other system, to a mostly North American audience, is that the capacity to see systems as distinct from the individuals that live within and are affected by them has been systematically rooted out of most people’s awareness. Instead, everything is seen as an individual issue with only individual solutions.

This is, sadly, also the reason for why the main accomplishments of the 2nd wave of feminism (about which more below) in the US, for example, have been at the individual level, such as access to more kinds of jobs and to education, or increased reproductive choice. There has been very little change in the system that I call patriarchy, nor have the individual changes been open to women who are darker skinned and/or of limited economic means.

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A Response to “Overcoming Trump-ism” and More

Mar16

by: Gilbert Caldwell on March 16th, 2017 | Comments Off

Gilbert Caldwell of Asbury Park, New Jersey – a longtime Methodist pastor and activist in many progressive causes – offers a thoughtful and personal response to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s recent article on Tikkun.org, found at this link:

Overcoming Trump-ism

and to Rebecca Solnit’s article “Grounds for Hope” in the Winter 2017 issue of Tikkun Quarterly.

My re-reading of “Grounds For Hope” by Rebecca Solnit in the Winter 2017 issue of Tikkun has caused me to respond from a personal standpoint, as a clergyman in the United Methodist Church, and with reference to what Rabbi Lerner has written in his article “Overcoming Trump-ism.”

Solnit begins her article: “Your opponents would love to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win.” But, she writes; “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away … hope is about the future, grounds for hope lie in the records and recollections of the past.”


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Pew Report on Religion and Education Around the World

Dec16

by: Pew Research Center on December 16th, 2016 | Comments Off

Large gaps in education levels persist, but all faiths are making gains – particularly among women

Religious figures/people painted on a wall.WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 13, 2016) – Jews are more highly educated than any other major religious group around the world, while Muslims and Hindus tend to have the fewest years of formal schooling, according to a Pew Research Center global demographic study that shows wide disparities in average educational levels among religious groups.

At present, Jewish adults (ages 25 and older) have a global average of 13 years of formal schooling, compared with approximately nine years among Christians, eight years among Buddhists and six years among Muslims and Hindus. Religiously unaffiliated adults – those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – have spent an average of nine years in school, a little less than Christian adults worldwide, the study finds.

These gaps in educational attainment are partly a function of where religious groups are concentrated throughout the world. For instance, the vast majority of the world’s Jews live in the United States and Israel – two economically developed countries with high levels of education overall. And low levels of attainment among Hindus reflect the fact that 98% of Hindu adults live in the developing countries of India, Nepal and Bangladesh.


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From Apartheid to Trump

Nov21

by: Marisa Handler on November 21st, 2016 | Comments Off

Botha and Mandela holding each other's hands high in the air.

Photo by Damien du Toit: Creative Commons

In October of 1988, my family emigrated from apartheid South Africa to the U.S. It had taken my parents four years to secure sponsors and visas for us. At the time, P.W. Botha was President of South Africa; the man was an inveterate racist and leader of the National Party, which constructed the apartheid system. Botha was not budging in response to either sanctions or the anti-apartheid movement, and it looked like the country was headed for a bloody civil war. We considered ourselves fortunate to get out. I remember entering junior high school in the San Fernando Valley, stunned and delighted by the diversity that filled the hallways, by the fact that there were black teachers, counselors, and even politicians. In comparison to the society I grew up in, this country appeared a bastion of freedom and justice.

Trump is giving a speech with his daughter and American flags behind him.

Photo by Michael Vadon: Creative Commons

Twenty-eight years later, I am profoundly grateful for the life and opportunities this country has afforded me. So, on the Tuesday night of the election, I watched with shock as a man who is undeniably racist – not to mention misogynist and xenophobic – was democratically elected to the highest office in the country. No, he didn’t win the popular vote; and yes, the Electoral College is an obsolete system. Nonetheless, half the country voted for this man. Indeed, we are more divided than we knew.

And so like many of us, I am struggling to integrate what feels like dystopian fiction. For now, I am grieving and letting myself be stunned. I am caring for myself and those I love the best I can. And, I am reminding myself what I know in my bones to be true: that in order for genuine healing to come, the darkness must emerge. It must be seen, recognized, and understood before it can transform and deliver its gifts.

I know this from personal experience, and I know this also because I come from a country where the darkness was not hidden. The racism was overt, and grotesque. My eleven-year-old peers in Cape Town actually believed black people were less intelligent than white people. They thought it entirely appropriate that a black adult should address a white child as “little madam” or “little master.” In a sense, for the African National Congress and its allies, there was a clear enemy, and an obvious goal: apartheid was wrong, and it needed to end. And when it did in 1994, there was a collective process to hold perpetrators accountable and to work through the grief, anger, and guilt. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission wasn’t perfect, but it allowed the country to come together, to begin to forgive and move on. Things are far from rosy right now in the land of my birth – “Ha, you have your own Zuma now!” a South African commented on Facebook in the wake of Trump’s victory – but it is a thriving democracy, with a free press and a black government, which is worlds better than what it was.

Things haven’t been quite so clear here as they were in apartheid South Africa. For many, many years the darkness has been hidden, brushed aside, or denied altogether. After coming to the U.S., it took a few months for me to even see there was racism in this society; it took a few years to begin to understand that it was equally corrosive, perhaps actually more so for being hidden or denied.


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On Turning Sixty: Counsel From My Inner Wisdom on How to Live

Oct12

by: Charles Burack on October 12th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Notes on Turning 60 From Charles Burack

Sow Seeds of Gratefulness and Forgiveness

Wake up with thanks on your lips. Throughout the day behold the goodness everywhere, even amidst the pain and violence. See the light within and behind the darkness. Accept what is and support what should be. Nurture the holiness waiting to be born. Appreciate small deeds and seemingly ordinary events, knowing every action creates endless ripples in the ocean of existence and beyond. Prize your life by maintaining healthy habits. Have faith in — and discover for yourself — the sanctity of existence and its boundless Source. Drift off to sleep with gratitude in your heart.

Forgive others who have hurt you and don’t let grievances fester. Kindly express your hurt feelings and describe the actions that aggrieve you while refraining from critical judgments and character attacks. Request what you need to repair the connection. Apologize and make amends to those you have hurt. Forgive yourself for your mistakes.

Be a Disciple of Peace

Take time each day to be still and silent as a tree. Slow down, pay attention to your experience, make inner silence your basic mode of being. Centering practices, such as prayer, meditation, and yoga, bring you to your quiet core. Many people center themselves through relaxed walking, singing, swimming, or spending time in nature. As you rest in the stillness, you may encounter the formless Reality that endlessly generates all forms.


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Trump: Jung’s Warning

Oct11

by: Thanissara Mary Weinberg on October 11th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

We are in a red alert situation. Like the Ebola Virus, Trump is tearing up the fabric of American society. Actually, he is worse than Ebola. Ebola eats at the flesh, but Trump is eating at America’s soul. This war for the soul of America is building to a terrifying possible outcome: the election of President Donald Trump. On Sept 21, 375 top scientists and 30 Noble Prize winners, including Stephen Hawking, warned in a signed, open letterthat a Trump presidency would have “severe and long-lasting” consequences, both for the planet and for the United States’ credibility.

When Trump first appeared on the scene in his red emperor’s power tie gambit, this warning from Carl Jung kept floating in the back of my mind:

“We know today that in the unconscious of every individual there are instinctive propensities or psychic systems charged with considerable tension. When they are helped in one way or another to break through into consciousness, and the latter has no opportunity to intercept them in higher forms, they sweep everything before them like a torrent and turn men into creatures for whom the word ‘beast’ is still too good to name. They can then only be called ‘devils.’ To evoke such phenomena in the masses, all that is needed is a few possessed persons, or only one. If this unconscious disposition should happen to be one which is common to the great majority of the nation, then a single one of these complex-ridden individuals, who at the same time sets himself up as a megaphone, is enough to precipitate a catastrophe.”

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The Big, Orange Shofar

Oct10

by: Mike Rothbaum on October 10th, 2016 | Comments Off

Donald Trump shouting with an orange face.

If Donald Trump’s campaign was hoping for strong support from American Jews, they are surely disappointed. Trump’s support among Jewish voters is at an historically low 19%. There is an active website with contributions from rabbis and Jewish leaders called jewsagainsttrump.com. The Jewish social justice organization Bend the Arc has shared a satirical video of Jewish grandparents threatening to haunt their offspring if they vote for Trump. Rabbis, normally fearful of running afoul of congregants and IRS regulations, are openly considering speaking against the man on the High Holidays.

For many Jews, the choice is obvious. Trump’s use of xenophobic language about Latinos plays to white America’s basest instincts. His record of slurs against women he finds unattractive is shameful; and his boasting about assaulting women he does find attractive even more so. He all but bragged at the first Presidential debate about his record of shady business ethics. His proposals for a “shutdown” of immigration from Muslim nations calls to mind the religious bigotry that has plagued Jewish communities over the centuries. And there is, of course, the stereotypical Jew-hatred Trump himself shared in a room of Jews, during a meeting with the Republican Jewish Coalition, in which he referred to Jews as deal “negotiators” and claimed we would not support him “because I don’t want your money.”

For Jews, of course, this isn’t just election time. It’s also the Yamim Noraim, the awesome days in which we are invited to confront our own failings and shortcomings. A key part of that process is the sounding of the shofar. The cry of the shofar is designed to wake us up from our ethical slumber, an alarm clock of the conscience.

So while it may make us feel good, or even smug, to say that we’re better than Mr. Trump, to do so would miss the point of this time of year. Our reaction to Trump’s candidacy, instead, is an invitation to look at our own actions, as individuals and in Jewish community. What if we saw him not just as a man who evokes hatred and fear, but as a walking talking wake-up call, a big orange shofar reminding us to get our own houses in order? Consider the following:

  • Racism and xenophobia. Most Jews are rightly outraged by Trump’s shocking comments about Mexicans, and his support of racist stop-and-frisk policing initiatives. But what is our record as Jews? Do we respect and honor the 1-in-5 Jews in our communities who are Jews of color? Do we actively support Jews of color taking leadership positions? Do Ashkenazi Jews say “we Jews” when we really mean “white Jews?” Do we ensure our publicity materials and school textbooks feature Jews of color? If we are employers and landlords, do we give fair consideration to people of color as employees and renters? Do we challenge a criminal justice system that unfairly and disproportionately targets people of color?
  • Sexism and misogyny. Trump’s comments about women are despicable. But they reflect a culture that too often judges women’s worth by their appearance. How do we challenge that culture? Do we pressure Jewish women to “look pretty” so they can “find a husband?” Do we challenge gender roles that shut women out of our most cherished Jewish rituals? Do we raise up young girls to be scholars? Do our congregations consider women as rabbinical candidates? Do we challenge congregants who say they could “never pray with a woman rabbi,” or who judge the women who do serve as rabbis on the basis of their hair and clothes?
  • Business Ethics. Trump made jaw-dropping comments boasting how it was “smart business” not to pay contractors and skirt his tax obligations. How do we fare on that score? Do we see paying workers and supporting the public good as the mitzvot that they are? Do we take seriously the volumes of Jewish learning regarding business ethics, or subordinate those teachings to “more important” mitzvot like kashrut and Shabbat observance? Do we see supporting civil society and keeping “honest scales” as the holy obligations that they are?
  • Islamophobia.  While we’re right to challenge Jew-hatred and ensure our safety and the safety of our children, do we do what we can to make sure that doesn’t slide into bigotry? Do we criticize Muslim Jew-hatred and give a pass to the Jew-hatred that comes from our Christian neighbors? Have we made the effort to meet the Muslims who live in our towns, go to our schools, work in our offices?
  • Jew-hatred. Trump’s snide remarks about Jewish “negotiators” were rightly condemned. But how many times have we heard the same language used within the walls of our own homes and communities? Do we make the easy joke about Jews being cheap? When we hear our kids make these kinds of jokes, do we challenge our children to love themselves and take pride in their remarkable heritage of learning, personal and social ethics, and tzedakah?

One last thought. Donald Trump is, sadly, not the only one to make regrettable comments during this election season. While it pales in comparison to Trump’s despicable record, it was nonetheless disappointing that Hillary Clinton labeled half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are, indeed, deplorable. But there is a difference between labeling actions deplorable, and writing off people as deplorable. To take Judaism seriously, and to take the process of teshuvah seriously, means to reject the idea that people are irredeemable.  To her credit, Clinton has since apologized for the statement.

“Free will is granted to all,” wrote the Rambam, the renowned medieval Jewish commentator. “There is no one who can prevent a person from doing good or bad,” he continued. We ourselves decide “whether to be learned or ignorant, compassionate or cruel, generous or miserly.”

As the new year dawns, and the election season mercifully comes to a close, may we commit to making ourselves and our communities learned, compassionate, and generous. And having done so, may we commit to bringing that same spirit to our neighbors, or towns, and — God willing — our whole world.

A slightly different version of this article was first published in The Blogs section on The Times of Israel and reprinted with their permission.

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Rabbi Mike Rothbaum serves as Bay Area Co-Chair for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, and lives withhis husband, Anthony Russell, in Oakland. He has been extensively involved with faith-based social justice organizations, and spoken widely at conferences and rallies, from Moishe House to the House of Representatives. His writing and speaking has been featured in Tikkun, the Huffington Post, KQED radio, CNN, and Zeek.

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Policing Pride

Sep1

by: Sofie Werthan on September 1st, 2016 | Comments Off

The theme of San Francisco Pride 2016 was “For Racial and Economic Justice.” One of the parade’s grand marshals was scheduled to represent Black Lives Matter. However, divergent reactions to the Orlando nightclub massacre and other issues of violence exposed tensions among Pride’s organizers and some LGBTQ communities of color.

The relationship between police officers and the Black community is currently at the center of an ongoing national discussion about racism, violence, safety, and law enforcement in the U.S. following a string of high-profile police shootings of Black citizens and retaliatory shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

As the nation reflects on the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement, activists across the country are mobilizing to dismantle structural and interpersonal white privilege and supremacy and rethinking the future of policing. Recognizing the primacy of this movement, it is necessary that members of the LGBTQ communities join this struggle by discussing and fighting against the alliance between white LGBTQ people and the police.

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