What Women Really Think

Oct. 24 2014 4:42 PM

Jewish Women Forced to Use Tiny Torah and Magnifying Glass to Celebrate Bat Mitzvah

Let me tell you a story; it may sound familiar. In it, Jews are forced to come up with sneaky ways to practice their religion in secret.

Excited to celebrate the age on which one accepts the Jewish commandments as an adult—the age of mitzvah—a young adult has prepared to read from the Torah. A group assembles and they joyously march to the holiest place of worship they know, but the people praying there stop them from entering with the Torah they’ve brought. They are not discouraged! They have a back-up plan: a 200-year-old miniature scroll lent to them by a London family. They march in with the tiny Torah, hidden away. To read it, the young adult uses a magnifying glass.

And thus with cleverness and subterfuge, despite the difficulty and discouragement from the people attempting to stop the event, the young adult enters adulthood.

This isn’t some tale from Nazi-era Europe. This happened this morning, Oct. 24, 2014, in Jerusalem. The Jews hoping to celebrate? They were women. And the people trying to stop them? Other Jews.

Last year, my colleague Dahlia Lithwick reported on the Women of the Wall, the group behind this clever—and embarrassingly necessary—celebratory tactic. Since 1988, at the start of each new Hebrew month (tonight marks the beginning of Cheshvan) these women come to pray at the Western Wall. And each month, other Jews tell them it’s not OK. As Lithwick wrote:

On any given day on the men’s side you’ll hear boisterous public services and song. On ordinary days, on the women’s side—in keeping with the Orthodox prohibition on hearing women’s voices raised in song—you can hear women praying softly by themselves and to themselves. But once a month on rosh hodesh, the celebration of the new Jewish month, the Women of the Wall show up to do their thing. That’s what they are asking for: an hour a month.

The New York Times, in their coverage of what they are calling the first “full” bat mitzvah at the Western Wall, makes a similar comparison—noting the differences between the men’s side, where ”rowdy bar mitzvah ceremonies for boys are common,” and the women’s side, where they’re forbidden. (In traditional services, men and women sit separately during prayers.) I’ve been to the Western Wall more times than I can count, and let’s put it this way: I have never been there when a bar mitzvah—a celebration for a boy—was not taking place.

After the 2013 arrests of some of these women, again, for praying and reading from the Torah, the Jerusalem magistrates’ court ruled that they were not disturbing public order—which, the Times reports, “effectively overturned a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court ruling barring practices that might offend more traditional worshipers at the site.” Yet the rabbis who control the Western Wall continue to prohibit these women from entering with a Torah or using one of the many that are kept on the men’s side.

The police, on the other hand, were not as interested. The Times ends their coverage of this hilarious and unnecessary tale with a dose of reality.

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the police, said the security forces were more focused Friday on preventing unrest in the Aksa mosque compound and in some predominantly Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, where tensions are running high. Some scattered disturbances were reported.

In other words, the police are busy with more important things. The people policing these women should be, too. I have to ask, again: How long will educated, committed women want to be a part of a community that doesn’t want them?

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Oct. 24 2014 12:22 PM

“Men’s Rights” Group Tries To Lure Visitors Away From Anti–Domestic Violence Website

Until recently, an online community of anti-feminist men (and a couple of women) who consider themselves "men's rights activists" were content to perform most of their "activism" by complaining about women online and overwhelming the comment sections of any feminist website, rendering them virtually unusable for people who actually want to discuss feminism. But under the direction of Paul Elam for the site A Voice For Men, they've upped their game a bit in the past few months, holding a small conference to complain about how men are victimized by feminism and, of course, egging on Gamergate.

But now Elam and his crew at A Voice For Men have done something that's outright shocking in its ugliness. It seems they're trying to undermine a Canadian anti-domestic violence organization, the White Ribbon Campaign, by setting up a copycat website that's clearly aimed at bamboozling people searching for the White Ribbon Campaign. The real White Ribbon Campaign is at whiteribbon.ca, where you can find information about preventing domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as order materials and hire speakers for community efforts.

Elam, however, purchased the URL whiteribbon.org and created a website with a similar aesthetic and the tagline "End Violence Against Everyone." The clear hope here is to divert traffic and hopefully funds away from the White Ribbon Campaign, straight into the pockets of "men's rights activists."

On the website, you can read a bunch of articles pushing the claim that female violence against men is just as bad a problem—if not worse—than male violence against women. (This is a common claim used to deflect attention away from the realities of domestic violence, but it's simply not true by any reasonable measure.) For instance, the site makes excuses for Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice: "So Ray Rice was not guilty of beating up on a completely defenseless woman," because she "was not some cowering woman in the corner covering her face with her arms."

Another article describes domestic violence as a mutual behavior, almost a form of foreplay: "It’s impulse, reckless dysfunction that as many times as not has the two people in the bedroom enjoying make up sex not long after it is over, and then building the tension between them till it happens again." 

Their misguided attempts to discredit others only make clear the extent to which they see the success of our equality-driven, evidence-based, ally-focussed work on gender justice as a real threat to their ill-informed, isolated views on this issue. This latest example is clear evidence of their insincerity and lack of commitment to developing compassionate solutions for the issues they claim to care about. It also showcases their real focus: attacking, harassing and directing anger towards others.

Blogger David Futrelle discovered this website and a couple of other sites have picked up the story; Paul Elam is furious. He responded to his critics at A Voice For Men by saying, "Go right straight to Hell, you gang of bigoted, lying scumbags. That is, if Hell will even have you pieces of shit." He also justified trying to trick people by pointing out that "White Ribbon Campaign is not trademarked by anyone. Deal with it."

The White Ribbon Campaign says they are "exploring all of our options" but that they "will not be engaging with this group in a public screaming match."

Oct. 24 2014 8:19 AM

Online Misogyny Levels Up as Gamergate Targets Gawker

Gamergate, a diffuse but relentless online anti-feminist movement aimed at drubbing feminist women out of game development and criticism, continues to expand the scope of its attacks. First it started as a traditional anti-feminist campaign, targeting individual women in hopes that they'd quit the industry rather than suffer any longer. When that didn't work, they moved into targeting advertisers of websites that hire feminist women. They were sadly successful when Intel pulled its advertising from a website Gamasutra, which had offended the Gamergaters by running a piece that argued video games should be for everyone instead of just for angry white guys. Now the circle of victims has expanded even beyond just the gaming press, as the website Gawker is being threatened with the loss of its Mercedes advertising after Mercedes got a deluge of emails from Gamergaters who take offense at the multiple pieces Gawker and its sister sites have run criticizing Gamergate. 

Sure, Gamergaters inevitably claim some moral high ground in attacking Gawker. The B.S. excuse this time is to pretend that writer Sam Biddle was dead serious when he tweeted something that is an obvious joke. At this point, no one in the media is bamboozled by the lies and obfuscations of Gamergaters, who, like the Know-Nothings of 19th century, prefer to play dumb to outsiders about their real goals. That's what makes it so confusing to see companies like Mercedes, Intel, and Adobe give any credence to a bunch of squalling from an online army of mostly teenage boys and social maladepts who are worried that girls are going to ruin the experience of playing Call of Duty. These people don't speak for the majority of anyone-—not gamers, not computer users, and certainly not Mercedes buyers-—so why so much fear?

The likely truth is they don't want the hassle. Most of these big corporations desperately want to be perceived as floating above the ugly fray of politics. Intel pulled its advertising from Gamasutra and then issued a mealy-mouthed apology after the fact, saying, "Our action inadvertently created a perception that we are somehow taking sides in an increasingly bitter debate in the gaming community." Adobe pulled a similar stunt, rushing to agree with Gamergate attacks on Gawker while claiming some kind of general anti-bullying stance. It's like watching a kid fight back against a bully who is torturing him and have the teacher put them both in detention. Bullies like those of Gamergate know how to exploit the desire not to "take sides" in order to force people to take the bully's side against the victim. 

Gamergate doesn't have good arguments, which is why they dissemble and hand-wave rather than engaging in honest debate about the role of women in gaming. But the power they do have is what a colleague of mine characterized as "asymmetrical warfare": Gamergaters, particularly since they recruit so heavily amongst teenagers and young men, have nothing but time and nothing to lose, making it relatively easy for them to target advertisers with these campaigns. 

Many feminist writers know this phenomenon very well, having been targeted for over a decade now by an online guerrilla campaign of "men's rights activists" and other anti-feminists who dogpile individual women with harassment in hopes of driving them to quit writing. But this kind of behavior was the online equivalent of street harassment, conducted on Twitter and in blog comments and meant to be seen only by the target herself and maybe an audience of your bros, but not really a public statement.

The relative invisibility allowed the harassers to claim the victims are exaggerating the extent of the abuse, but it also limited the actual damage the harassment could do. Victims could turn off Twitter mentions, refuse to read the comments, or get rid of comments altogether. They could decide that they won't be silenced by this harassment, because what they have to say matters more to them than the emotional price that's extracted from them for saying it. 

Which is why Gamergate is so worrisome, because it represents a shift away from targeting individual women and towards targeting notoriously skittish advertisers. It does mean it will be harder for the harassers to deny that they're actively working to silence feminists online, but the tradeoff is, as we've seen with Intel and possibly Mercedes, it might just work. The recent surge in positive attention and Beyoncé endorsements for feminism owes a lot to the relative freedom online media provides women who write about women's issues, so it's no wonder those who want to shut it all down are getting more aggressive. Whether or not it works, however, remains to be seen. 

Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM

Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause

“What is more offensive? A little girl saying ‘fuck’ or the fucking unequal and sexist way society treats girls and women?” That is the premise of a new ad for progressive apparel company FCKH8, which recruited a group of little girls, dressed them in frilly princess costumes and plastic tiaras, and instructed them to swear like sailors to promote feminist causes. (Also: to sell T-shirts.) “What the fuck? I’m not some pretty fucking helpless princess in distress!” one shrieks. “Here’s a hot tip!” another yells. “Stop telling girls how to dress, and start teaching boys not to fucking rape.” Later, a special co-star joins in: A boy, also dressed like a princess, screaming, “Bro, when you tell a boy it’s bad to act ‘like a girl,’ it’s because you think it’s bad to be a girl.” As one of his fellow little princesses says: “Fuck that sexist shit.”  

As BuzzFeed notes, ad producer Mike Kon has “defended” the ad, writing: “Some adults may be uncomfortable with how these little girls are using a bad word for a good cause. It is shocking what they are saying, but the real shock is that women are still paid less than men for the same work in 2014, not the use of the F-word.” Eh. Videos of kids cursing are YouTube staples that are mostly passed around for the adorable factor, not shock value. The ad works because it’s fun to watch girls and boys shatter precious princess tropes and refreshing to see little kids straightforwardly announce the necessity of feminism at a time when grown men and women are still tip-toeing around the word. Plus, it's hard to criticize cute little kids, even when the statistics they spit out about the pay gap and the rates of sexual assault are a little fuzzy, and mining political causes to sell T-shirts is a little crass. Well-played, adults.  

Oct. 23 2014 8:51 AM

The Male-Dominated Culture of Business in Tech Is Not Great for Women

A few weeks ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put his foot in it at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women and Computing. He said women shouldn’t ask for raises because, “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise.” A new report out today from Catalyst shows that the system isn’t working out so great, at least for women who are on the business side of tech companies.

Catalyst surveyed nearly 6,000 MBA grads working in business roles in tech companies in the U.S. and Canada. Women with MBAs are six percent less likely to take their first post-MBA job in the tech industry, compared to men. Of those who do enter tech, women MBAs are hobbled by their gender: They are significantly more likely to start off at an entry-level job than their male counterparts (55 percent of women start off entry-level, compared with 39 percent of men), and because they’re starting at a lower level, they earn less money. (The Wall Street Journal has a good accounting of how these salary differentials can have huge impacts over time.)

It’s not just the pay gap that’s an issue for women. I talked to two women who work on the business side of tech companies, and their experiences jibe completely with Catalyst’s research.

Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM

Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married

This article originally appeared in Science of Us.

When you’re in a new relationship, you waste endless words telling your partner how much you looove him or her. After you’re married, the conversations shift to the things that really matter. Things like dinner. 

That’s what one data scientist discovered about her own relationship, anyway. For a recent anniversary, Alice Zhao analyzed all the texts she and her husband had ever sent each other, from the first flirty days of dating to their current status as newlyweds. Here’s her interpretation of how her relationship changed, judging strictly from the ever-so-romantic world of text-message logs:

Oct. 22 2014 1:19 PM

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Abstinence-only sex education has fallen out of favor in recent years, after repeated studies show it not only doesn't convince kids to abstain but that it is likely to discourage kids from using contraception when they do have sex. But while it's good to shift toward a more realistic sex ed approach that accepts that most people will start having sex in their late teens, we still have to educate younger teenagers, particularly middle schoolers, who should delay having sex for a few more years at least. Does an abstain-for-now message work better on young teens than the abstain-until-marriage message did? New research from the the Wellesley Centers for Women shows that yes, a comprehensive sex education program that includes messaging about abstaining for now produces impressive results.

Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM

On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.

This summer, the Pew Research Center surveyed 2,849 web users about their experiences with online harassment—anything from being “called offensive names” to being physically threatened or stalked. In a report released today, Pew found that 44 percent of men and 37 percent of women who use the internet reported experiencing harassment there. Men “are somewhat more likely than women to experience certain less severe forms of harassment like name-calling and being embarrassed,” Pew found, but they’re also more likely to receive physical threats—I’d call that “severe.” Meanwhile, “women are significantly more likely than men to report being stalked or sexually harassed on the internet.” And women aged 18 to 24 are at a heightened risk of receiving harassment of every kind: They are “uniquely likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment, while also not escaping the high rates of other types of harassment common to young people in general,” like physical threats.

At a glance, Pew’s findings conform to the gender split in crime victimization in general: Men are more likely to be murdered or violently assaulted by strangers, while women are more likely to be abused by their partners, stalked, or sexually assaulted, and young women in particular are targeted for gendered forms of violence. But while offline crime victimization surveys deal in precise definitions—even if they don't always define crimes the same way—“online harassment” remains an amorphous category. Pew did not define terms like “offensive names,” “physically threatened,” “stalked,” “sexually harassed,” “harassed for a sustained period,” or “purposefully embarrass” in its interviews. (What’s the difference between being stalked and “harassed for a sustained period?”) The survey questions were often devoid of context: Eighteen percent of users said they believed online dating sites to be more “welcoming to women” than men, but were they referring to the likelihood of women actually getting a response on these sites (high) and not considering the probability of women getting harassed in the process (also high)? It's impossible to know. Meanwhile, while men were much more likely than women to report being harassed on gaming sites, 44 percent of users agreed that online gaming was more welcoming to men than women. Because half of harassed users said they didn't know the identity of the person harassing them, the gender breakdown of online harassers remains unclear.

Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

When Jerry Maguire hit theaters in December of 1996, 27-year-old Renée Zellweger was tagged as Hollywood’s new “It Girl.” By January, Toronto Star lifestyle reporter Judy Gerstel was praising the actress’s staying power: “In a business that regards lovely young things as a raw, renewable resource—witness Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler of recent memory—Zellweger is here to stay.” But by March, Gerstel had replaced Zellweger with another young blonde: Hope Davis, she wrote, was “This year's Renée Zellweger.” Wasn’t Renée Zellweger supposed to be that year’s Renée Zellweger? “It Girl” is both a welcome and a warning shot.

Actresses who receive the label are said to possess an ineffable quality that defies the vocabulary of even the most competent critics. Gerstel pegged Zellweger as a “beguiling concoction of wholesomeness, ingenuousness, vulnerability and sensuality.” And in her review of Jerry Maguire, New York Times critic Janet Maslin praised Zellweger’s “open, eager, unconventionally pretty face,” and noted that her “fetching ordinariness” was somehow “quite extraordinary.” The word these writers were searching for was “young.”

Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech

In 2010, Scott Roeder was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the 2009 murder of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller. But that doesn't mean he's given up his hobby of threatening abortion providers. Roeder is now in a court battle with the Kansas Department of Corrections, arguing that they violated his freedom of speech rights when they disciplined him for making threats against Julie Burkhart, the woman who reopened an abortion clinic in the Wichita location where Tiller's clinic used to be. Roeder got "45 days in disciplinary segregation with no outside communication," reports the Topeka Capital-Journal, for comments he made during a phone call with David Leach of the radical anti-choice group Army of God. 

Leach posted a recording of the phone interview on YouTube in 2013, which RH Reality Check reported on at the time. Here's Roeder:

It is a little bit death-defying for someone to walk back in there... and reopen a murder mill where a man was stopped. It’s almost like putting a target on your back, saying, “Well, let’s see if you can shoot ME!" I have to go back to what Pastor Mike Bray said: If 100 abortionists were shot, they would probably go out of business. I think eight have been shot, so we’ve got 92 to go. Maybe she’ll be number nine. I don’t know, but she’s kind of painting a target on her.

Earlier in the call, Leach said that reopening an abortion clinic is "not the act of someone who values their own safety," to which Roeder eagerly agreed.