Israel & gay cash + Israelis distance themselves from settlements – kinda.

I was away! But now I’m back. And while I was away, I wrote the following two pieces for The Forward:

1) Israel Loves Gay Cash — Just Not Gay Marriage: 

What do you reckon is the busiest time of year for Tel Aviv’s hotels — maybe the High Holidays? Perhaps Christmas/New Year’s, when America’s families are on vacation? How about Gay Pride Week?

Bingo!

…Tel Aviv’s message is clear: Come, have fun! We love your party attitude and your wallet!

To which Israel’s national government can only add: Just don’t fall in love and try to get married.

Even as Tel Aviv was raking in that sweet, sweet gay cash, a few miles away in Jerusalem the Knesset spent Wednesday rejecting a marriage equality bill…. To read the rest, click here.

2) Would Israelis Be Kidnapped If Not For Settlements?

On Monday the New York Times reported that the recent abduction of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank has raised a “hushed debate [within Israeli society] over the conduct of Jewish settlers.”

While I think it’s fair to point out that Israel’s reactions to the kidnappings have been marked more by anger and prayer than debate (however hushed), the simple fact that any questions whatsoever have been posed in conversation with an American reporter is significant and reflects a broader shift in attitudes toward the settlement project.

Earlier this month, Justice Minister (and one-time right-wing stalwart) Tzipi Livni was quite blunt: “It’s time to say things exactly as they are: The settlement enterprise is a security, economic and moral burden that is aimed at preventing us from ever coming to [a peace agreement].” Moreover, a recent study found that a growing majority of Israelis no longer support that enterprise.

It’s important to note, however, that if the citizenry shares Livni’s general sense of disapproval, they do not appear to share her reasoning: 71% of those surveyed say settler violence against Israel’s military keeps them from “identifying with” their settler brethren; 59% say the settlements are bad for Israel’s relationship with the U.S. The violence of some settlers against Palestinians, the financial drain on Israel’s increasingly inequitable society, or the obstacle that settlements pose to achieving a workable resolution of the conflict do not appear to be major concerns. In fact, while 52% support a full or partial withdrawal from occupied territory in the framework of an accord with the Palestinian Authority, 31% support full or partial annexation — where the difference lies between partial withdrawal and partial annexation is unclear…. To read the rest, click here.

A response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Call for Reparations” from within Judaism.

In the Hebrew tradition prophets cry out in the wilderness in part because their audience tends to be uninterested in the message. If the people were ready, after all, they wouldn’t need a prophet. “The prophet faces a coalition of callousness and established authority, and undertakes to stop a mighty stream with mere words,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote. “The purpose of prophecy is to conquer callousness, to change the inner man as well as to revolutionize history.”

Last week, The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates published “The Case for Reparations,” a remarkable piece that in many ways calls to mind Rabbi Heschel’s portrayal of prophetic literature: Facing a coalition of callousness and established authority, Coates offers “mere words,” with the intent of revolutionizing history. How might an American Jew respond?

To keep reading, please go to The Forward.

Thing I would like to tattoo on Bill Maher’s forehead inre: Islam.

 

That in reply to this.

And if you’d like to see just a little of the endless stream of Muslim condemnation (to which no one seems to listen) of extremist violence, click here.

Women’s bodies as a delivery mechanism for statements about men’s power.

I wrote the above headline as a tweet last week, just after reading about the recent stabbing death of a teenage Palestinian girl by her brother, “for allegedly shaming her family.”

Ever since writing those 72 characters, though, I can’t stop thinking about them. Because that’s it, that’s the whole story: Women’s bodies are used as a delivery mechanism for statements about men’s power. Everywhere. All the time.

Honor killings are perhaps the most obvious case (the kind of case that allows Westerners to feel that we’re off the hook on these issues) because a family’s honor is defined by how chaste the men are able to keep their women. If the women stray (or are perceived to have strayed) from a very narrow definition of proper behavior, in certain cultures and circumstances the men are not only free to kill the women, they’re expected to.

But women’s bodies are not just the delivery mechanism for statements about men’s power in Foreign Places that are Far Away. They’re used for making such statements all around the globe, every day, all day.

Rape. Sexual assault. Workplace harassment. Street harassment. Domestic violence. In each case, the attacker or harasser is making clear that his victim (and whoever else might be listening) knows who’s got power over whom. The victim’s body is a tool toward these ends.

Likewise the fight to legally prevent women from having access to the reproductive health care of our choice. When male politicians and cultural leaders declare that pregnant women are “hosts”, or that women who want access to birth control as part of their healthcare are uncontrolled sluts and/or prostitutes, or ask if women want access to abortions, why can’t men have access to rape? — they’re declaring their right to deny women physical autonomy.

When women don’t earn as much as men for the same work, and are only sporadically allowed access to the same work; when women cannot afford to better the physical conditions of their lives without the aid of a better-paid husband; when it continues to be culturally suspect if a man is supported by a woman, and culturally rewarded if a man earns enough money to “allow” his wife to not work — women’s physical productivity is a tool with which men assert or declare their power in the workplace, in society, and at home.

Polygamy; male “scoring” vs. female “sluttiness”; women as cooks but not as chefs; women as accessories but not as leads; women told to be pleasant to men who are rude; women told they’re not Real Geeks; pre-teens who can’t walk to school without hearing grown men talk about their bodies; girls and women told to shape and re-shape their bodies by an entertainment business dominated by men — all are direct examples or outgrowths of the same principle, a principle that frequently overlaps with others: Brown men may not be seen as having as much power as white men, nor poor men as much power as the rich, the cultural elite need to be protected from the unwashed, all of it in an endless cycle of social drama and jockeying for position. As is often true for oppressed populations, some women support this status quo, serving to perpetuate the very system that hurts them and their sisters — but their involvement doesn’t change the basic fact.

And that basic fact is this: At the end of the day, I cannot be sure that my body is mine. My daughter cannot be sure that her body is hers. Our bodies are free game to whatever man needs to tell the world that he is powerful. Our human right to physical autonomy is not a given.

Women’s bodies are delivery mechanisms for statements about men’s power. Everywhere. Every day.

All damn day long.

Playing catch-up: Me in The Forward.

Last week I also started writing for The Forward, which is a very nice thing! I’ll be cutting-and-pasting the top and then linking to the rest, but unlike Haaretz, there’s no registration/paywall so if you really want to read to the end, it’ll be a little easier. I’m a bit behind though, so following you’ll find TWO tops, and TWO links. (Because I’m behind, but ultimately thorough).

Are Gas Chambers Making a Comeback in U.S.?

Lying at the heart of every political position I hold is an undying faith in human fallibility. Not only might we get things wrong, we will get things wrong – just as we got things wrong last week and last year and last war, forever and ever, back and back, all the way into our misty past.

Fortunately, history is chock-a-block with examples that prove my faith to be unassailable. In fact, it’s hard to know which example would be most illustrative here. Knowing the world is flat? Check. How about knowing we’d be greeted as liberators? Check and check. Or no, I have one: Gas chambers.

Gas chambers. Just saying the words fills the mind with horror and images unbidden – though I’ll bet they don’t involve Wyoming.

to read the rest, please click here.

What Yair Netanyahu’s Norwegian Dating Game Tells Us

It’s easy for liberal Jews to write off the hullabaloo regarding the dating habits of one of Israel’s better known sons as just that: Hullabaloo. Sound and fury signifying nothing, or maybe signifying a prurient interest in famous lives, or possibly signifying a helplessly stultified and hidebound worldview that has nothing to do with us. Or, you know, politics.

But the Sturm und Drang in certain Jewish circles about Yair Netanyahu’s (maybe?) girlfriend is bigger than that – as evidenced by the speed with which his father the Prime Minister has turned around to deny the romance. It goes to the heart of the Jewish experience and the soul of our people. Who are we, how do we define ourselves? Whether or not we realize it, that’s what we’re talking about, and ultimately, these questions go to the heart and soul of how the Jewish faith is conducted everywhere, not least in the Jewish State.

to read the rest, please click here.

 

 

What is normal? On the changing of American social discourse.

I was reminded of this post today and decided to re-up it. Because why not?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the broad American social struggle of the past 60-odd years, about what ties the whole messy package together. I’ve been thinking about how for the vast majority of human history, men have ruled the roost, but only men of a certain socio-economic standing — something that has varied from culture to culture (much as the ethnicity, religion, and geographical seat of these men has varied), but has always translated to “power.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in this country, in this time, when white, Christian men of a certain socio-economic standing (and heteronormative identity) complain that something is being ripped from their hands, that order hangs in the balance, they’re right.

They’re right, because ever since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement (or, in fact, ever since abolition and universal suffrage, but more comprehensively since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement), more and more people have been chipping away – tchink, tchink, tchink – at that order, and the central American discourse has become about who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior.

Like everything else in human history, there’s no straight trajectory, if only because the Human Venn Diagram is too messy. Black men are men; white women are white; rich Asian Americans are rich; Christians with handicaps are Christians; and every one of them is something else besides.

But if we look at the arc of American social and political upheaval since about 1955, that’s what it comes down to: Who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior?

Within those questions are, of course, many other questions (not least, of course: Where does your right to help shape our discourse impinge on mine? And: What are the words with which we may reasonably hold that discourse?), and every individual and community struggle is unique. I’m not trying to draw unwarranted parallels, or erase diversity of experience — it just strikes me that when history looks back in 100, 200 years, that’s what people will see: A massive upheaval of norms and mores, from all corners and all comers, a mighty tussle, often with individuals and communities tumbling over and on top of each other and each other’s needs and rights as we all continue to chip away  – tchink, tchink, tchink – at what was once Normal.

Seeing this arc, seeing a unifying question that goes beyond the rather imprecise metrics of “equality” and “perfecting our union,” helps me also to grasp what we in social justice circles so clumsily call “intersectionality” — because really, if in my struggle to achieve the space to contribute to the social compact and determine its parameters, I leave others behind, what have I accomplished? My struggle to achieve, say, the right to decide my own body’s future is entirely of a piece — is wrapped in the same garment of destiny — as that of a black man to wear a hoodie without suspicion, and a trans* woman to live as her most authentic self, and a Muslim in a wheelchair to both wear her hijab and have access to her classes.

What we’ve been saying for the last six decades, with more and more people listening as the years fly and crawl by, is that all of this belongs to all of us. We all get to say what society is and does. We all get to set and then move the boundaries of what’s ok. We are — all of us, even (often) the straight, white dudes — rethinking and reshaping the social compact itself.

This strikes me as a fundamentally American thing to do — wasn’t Independence the breaking of one compact to build something new? Isn’t our very Idea rooted in an ever-expanding circle of rights and interconnected responsibilities? Our system is flawed, positively riddled with imperfections, but it’s structured to allow us to continuously fix those flaws. It’s fundamentally American to do so.

Maybe this isn’t a particularly new idea. Many people have probably said and written similar things, and I’m late to the understanding. But this has been a fascinating notion for me to consider, and, ultimately, a tremendously hopeful one. This is our conversation, and we’re changing the rules — right now. Together. All of us.

Re-up: The social implications of a cookie.

“Training the world” — my essay about little girls and body image — has kind of gone slow-mo viral since I posted it last month, first getting decent attention here, then getting picked up by xoJane, then suddenly getting *huge* attention here, then getting picked up by the Huffington Post, and then, just today, getting picked up by HuffPost Canada. I’m so pleased, because if ever there was a post that I would want to go viral, that’s the one — I believe that we do real damage to our girls when we fail to address the ways in which our social norms and mores encourage them to loathe and distrust the only body they will ever have, and we need to talk about that.

But I genuinely believe that we are doing no less damage to ourselves. And so, I decided to re-up the following (first posted this past summer). I think anyone who found this blog because of “Training the world” will find it of interest, too. Thank you so much for being here!

___________

chocolate chip cookieJust once, when I happen to be in a group of women, I’d like to have a cookie without having to consider the social implications of having a cookie.

This happened to me recently — I was at a little teacher-organized gathering of kids and parents, having a brief conversation with a small handful of women. One turned to the rest of us and said “I want a cookie. Does anyone else want a cookie?” and as one, the rest of us smiled and said no. The cookie-fetcher then said “Well, now I feel bad, I’ll be the only one taking a cookie!” and came back with an apple.

Now, I am a fan of apples and have nothing against them. Apples are a fine thing. And sometimes I genuinely do not want a cookie.

But I have no idea if I wanted a cookie in that moment or not. I just know that when I’m in a gathering of women (particularly if I don’t know them very well), I almost never reach for sweets. I am a woman of Joan-esque proportions, minus all the foundation garments, and I know that I live in a society that has a lot of opinions about women of my size and the consumption of baked goods.

I do not talk about it, will not bond (as so many of us are trained to do) over self-hatred, will not discuss anyone’s weight, exercise program, dress size, or shape (unless it’s to be conspicuously comfortable with the fact that I am large-bosomed). I know that sometimes these conversations can be perfectly healthy and self-affirming, but they too often are not, and I lack the skills to judge each and every conversation on the spot, so I participate in none.

But I am too good at hearing the whispers passing through people’s minds (or the whispers that I fear might be passing there, or the whispers of girls with whom I went to junior high, or the ones on TV) — and so while I will not engage in the body-shaming, neither will I engage in the cookie-eating.

Unless I do. Unless I make a conscience choice to make a political statement and have a cookie in front of God and everybody. Nearly as soon as the apple-bearing woman returned with her apple, I was sorry I hadn’t said some suburban-mom version of “Hellyeah I’ll have a motherfucking cookie!!” Because women need to see each other eating normally, enjoying their food, not weighing every bite. We model behavior for each other, we owe that to each other. I don’t know if I wanted a cookie, but I should have had one.

I always have one when there are kids around, especially if those kids are girls. If the kids are girls, I’ll have two cookies, and talk about how good they are, and counter any self-hating, food-limiting, body-slagging talk that may bubble up as quickly as I can. Because I’m the adult, and I need to model behavior for them, I owe that to them, to show them that women can eat normally, enjoy their food, not weigh every bite.

I don’t blame Women. And I certainly don’t blame the women I happened to be with today, or any women with whom I happen to find myself. I blame All Of Us. I blame society as individuals and society as a collective. I blame me, I blame the magazines at the grocery store, I blame 100-calorie packs and the corporate mind that conceived of them. I blame the air we breathe. I even kind of blame religion, because we have forever bought and sold a terrible, soul-killing notion that our bodies are bad, that they must be controlled, that not controlling our bodies in some vague, amorphous way (because we have to eat something, there’s no avoiding that, so constant vigilance is the only way) is a failure, a sin, something to be condemned, to be shunned, to be mocked, to be shamed. As if God did not know what He was doing when He created us. As if God did not make each and everyone of us to love and be loved, for who we are. For who and how He made us.

All of this, on every cookie (or piece of cake, or scoop of ice cream) that I eat in public. All of it.

Sometimes, I wish I could just eat a cookie.

In case you missed it, here’s the memo.

Women, no matter how successful, powerful, or influential, must display their bodies for public consumption, and direct their gaze toward men.

Mika Brzezinski posing with Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough.

Mika Brzezinski posing with Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough.

There is a bright, shining line between the above, and Miley Cyrus’s routine at the VMAs (a bright, shining line that appears to have eluded Mika Brzezinski).

There’s a reason that the following picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono remains so odd, and so powerful.

lennon ono

A few resources re: Manning’s transition from Bradley to Chelsea.

Not an expert, not a member of the LGBTQ community, etc, etc, all the caveats. Also, FWIW, I’m pretty convinced that Manning’s massive leak to Julian Assange, a foreign national, in the knowledge that Assange would turn around and indiscriminately dump unprecedented amounts of classified information into the public domain was not a good, right, or smart thing to do. Aside from anything else, Manning was a soldier at the time, and had taken an oath. As Josh Marshall wrote at TPM yesterday

Soldiers get in huge trouble for going AWOL, even though one individual soldier abandoning his post seldom does much damage to a country or an army. This is a far graver insubordination with incalculably more widespread consequences….. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason. And even then I’m not sure that means you get off scott free.

At the same time, I’m also pretty well convinced the the level of government and military freak out over Manning’s actions does not accurately reflect the damage done, the intent, or the person responsible. As Amy Davidson wrote in The New Yorker yesterday: “This sentence, given all we know about Manning and what he did (and what was done to him), is a strikingly harsh one.”

I highly recommend that you read both pieces (both of which also discuss the Edward Snowden case and both of which are excellent, in very different ways), but, that’s not what I’m here about.

This morning Manning came out as transgender, and asked to be called Chelsea and referred to with female pronouns henceforth. I happen to have read something at Boing Boing some time ago (possibly as long as two years ago) that indicated that Manning identified as a woman — a hugely complicating factor for anyone making the kind of moral and ethical choices that the then-20 year old Manning felt duty-bound to make (as Davidson wrote yesterday [before the request had been made to transition to female pronouns]: “He thought, his lawyer argued in the trial, that he might save someone, or everyone”).

As far as I’m concerned, you are who you tell me you are. Chelsea Manning is a woman. Period, full-stop — and it’s a matter of sheer good manners and civility to refer to her as such. Whether or not I agree with the actions which earned her a dishonorable discharge and 8-35 years at Fort Leavenworth is utterly and completely beside that point.

So. Here are just a few resources that I’ve found useful as I’ve attempted in recent years to become more familiar with the reality of trans folks. I hope you find them helpful, and would love any added recommendations.

  1. Transgender Terminology – a vocabulary resource (the good, the bad, and the don’t-ever), by GLAAD.
  2. Led by the Child Who Simply Knew – a beautiful feature article in the Boston Globe about a girl who knew she was a girl even though her family thought she and her twin brother were both boys.
  3. How To Make Love to a Trans Person – a beautiful poem about how we talk about bodies and making love: “Break those words open/ Like a paramedic cracking ribs…. Scratch new definitions on the bones.”
  4. A good (brief) definition and explanation of “cisgender,” a recently coined term which roughly means people who identify with the gender they were assigned (“it’s a girl!”) at birth.
  5. And finally, I’ve posted it before, I’m posting it again – Hank Green’s video on Human Sexuality. It’s remarkable, and less than four minutes long.

Kissing vs. injustice.

That Vladimir Putin. He’s a piece of work. As you likely know, last month he signed into law new legislation that forbids “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors” — ie: the “gay propaganda law,” ie: the law which holds that Russians can be arrested for discussing LGBTQ rights and relationships within the hearing of children, ie: the reason some folks are talking about boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled for Sochi.

After winning the 4X400m relay with their team at the IAAF track championships in Moscow, Russian runners Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firov had a different idea — in the tradition of Jesse Owen, who showed up despite Hitler’s hate, they showed up with a kiss, “to protest their own country’s anti-gay propaganda laws.”

This isn’t the first protest of Russia’s laws that penalize anyone for talking about homosexuality in front of children, but it’s the most visible one done by Russian athletes. U.S. runner Nick Symmonds dedicated his silver medal in the 800m to his gay friends back home, and Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro painted her nails in a rainbow in honor of LGBT pride.

…One of the reasons many LGBT sports leaders are against a boycott of the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is because more can be accomplished by LGBT athletes and their allies standing atop the medal stand with pride.

I’m not gay, I’m not an athlete, I don’t even much watch the Olympics when they roll around, so there is a level at which none of what I might say matters. I do think that the officials involved and sponsoring corporations must do something to protest this gross abuse of civil rights, but I also think that people who spend their lives building to a single moment should not be forced to deny themselves that moment because of the assholery of a nation’s government. That on the contrary, as the President suggested at a recent press conference, the best response to Putin is for LGBTQ athletes to go, to win, and to get up on that podium and fly their flags. I don’t know what I would do were I one of those athletes.

But I’m grateful to the two women who defied their nation’s leaders with a kiss, and I hope that their act is just one of many to come. To defy injustice with love — that’s a world in which I want to live.

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