Tikkun Olam Tuesday: 6/11/13

If you have ever subscribed to the TEDtalks Channel on YouTube then you already know how overwhelming it is to have a constant stream of interesting videos popping up in your subscription feed. It’s impossible and stressful to attempt to keep up with all the brilliant ideas on the internet, but I still try (and fail)!

I have learned so much from TEDtalks. I have been inspired and informed by these talks. However, I finally found a speech that I feel I could have given:

David R. Dow: Lessons from death row inmates

I have said most of these exact words to my husband more times than I can count. 

You thought I was a girl with a cause when you read what I had to say about Animal Testing, but the truth is this is my cause. If I knew how to make people care more about protecting children than they do about punishing criminals – how to get people to want to commit their tax dollars to interventions that spare children from becoming criminals – this is the cause that I would devote my life to solving. But I don’t know how and so today I will just re-post this TEDtalk in a small attempt to promote these thoughts.


Tikkun Olam Tuesday: The Purity Myth

I have already mentioned my love for Rachel Held Evans’ blog, but I have specifically been enthralled by her year-long series about Sexuality and The Church. Many of the books on the reading list for this series didn’t seem like a good fit for me – I would get too frustrated reading them, too focused on hermeneutics, or I feared that they would make me cry. However, Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth seemed right up my alley. Just the kind of thing that this one-time Cultural Studies major would love.

Having finished The Purity Myth, I am beyond frustrated and not sure what I think exactly. I am particularly confused because I expected to fully support her argument/writing from beginning to end. I was cheering Jessica on through all of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, but hit a wall in Chapter 3.

I love where Jessica began. What I kept thinking as I read the beginning of her argument was that she makes such a good point – counter-culture is just the other side of the same coin that is mainstream culture. You can’t shift paradigms with a counter-culture; large shifts can only be made when one thinks out of the box. If there is mainstream culture and counter-culture, what is most compelling is to think about the 3rd option. This is where I thought she was heading.

But then Jessica got really bogged down in telling the reader not only what Conservative Christianity is doing to set women back a century, but also what their “true intentions” are. It is her value judgments about what Conservative Christian writers/churches/etc “really believe” that I found difficult to wade through.

There were glimmers of what I was hoping she would say and the arguments I was hoping she would make. In Chapter 3 “Forever Young,” p.62-63, Jessica writes

“Bratz dolls, provocative Halloween costumes, and panty-less pop singers dominate public discourse and outrage, while even more obvious (and, arguably, more dangerous) sexualization of girls – like trafficking, rape, and child pornography – isn’t given nearly the same amount of attention. It’s no coincidence that these more serious issues are ones that overwhelmingly affect low-income girls, girls of color, and young women who don’t match the American virginal ideal.”

I was really hoping that she would discuss human trafficking, rape, and the plight of women outside of the United States in more detail. It’s like the story Rachel Held Evans wrote about Zarmina; her experience impacted how Rachel felt about your own experience as a Christian and a woman. What do the stories of women elsewhere in the world tell us (women of any faith or religion) about how we should treat women in the United States? And is the way we treat women in the United States complicit somehow in the way women are treated around the world? If we, in “developed nations,” reduce women to their sexuality, do we and can we have any authority to protect women in the rest of the word from being reduced to their sexuality and suffering because of it? Which is to say nothing about violence against women in these “developed nations.” I kept waiting for her to go in that direction, but instead she spent the bulk of Chapter 3 telling me what was “really going on” at Purity Dances.

Jessica actually echoed the frustration that I was feeling in a footnote in Chapter 3, on page 67,

“When I first came across purity balls, I wondered if my feminism had jaded me too much. Maybe they were just daddy/daughter dances that I was imbuing with sexual meaning. So I showed my father some video footage of a purity ball and asked what he thought. The color drained from his face and he said, ‘Jessica, that’s truly fucking weird.'”

Sigh… perhaps her father wasn’t the best audience for that question? I don’t know.

I can’t speak about Purity Dances with any authority, so while I may think they are ‘weird,’ I can’t speak to what is “really going on” within that particular area of Purity Culture. And, problematically, I just didn’t feel like I could trust that Jessica had any more authority to evaluate Purity Dances than I did. I am so frustrated by my lack of reliable primary sources on this topic. The only place I could think to come from was to compare a Purity Dance to a Bat Mitzvah. While the Bat Mitzvah as an institution is fraught with its own complicated pitfalls – particularly as it relates to the potential cost of the event – as a rite of passage I think it’s focus is good. The process of becoming Bat Mitzvah focuses not only on Biblical education, but also on ownership of one’s own Judaism. There is actually a prayer that the parents say during a Bat Mitzvah, abdicating all responsibility for the child’s ritual life from that day forth. This, when done correctly, is empowering and seems like a much better model for our daughter’s stepping into religious life as young women. However, that doesn’t mean I’m willing to write off any Father-Daughter dance as all-bad. In fact, while I was reading this chapter, Sarah Bessey wrote beautifully about her father taking her daughter to a dance. It would seem that from Jessica Valenti’s writing in this chapter, that she would see no value in any (Grand)Father-Daughter dances. It seems to me that Jessica’s focus, while not entirely wrong, is at least slightly off.

I kept reading the book, rushing through it in fact, hoping that she would revisit the groundwork that she laid down in the first two chapters. And she did at the very end of the book, but only in a footnote! Here is what I was hoping she would say the whole time, but she hid it in a footnote! In Chapter 10, “Post-Virgin World,” on p. 213, Jessica says

“For the record: I think virginity is fine, just as I think having sex is fine. I don’t really care what women do sexually, and neither should you. In fact, that’s the point. I believe that young woman’s decision to have sex, or not, shouldn’t impact how she’s seen as a moral actor.”


(In all fairness to Jessica, this message echoes throughout the book, but I felt like she consistently buried it, devoting only a sentence here or there to this idea. Like in Chapter 4, “The Porn Connection,” on p. 96, when she said “the thing is, naked women aren’t the problem – a woman believing her only value is sexual is what’s dangerous.” Yes, Jessica, Yes! I so wanted her to say more about this. And I just felt like she didn’t.)

I truly felt like this was the message of the book, but it got so lost in her condemnation of Conservative Christian women writers. And yet, I didn’t feel like Jessica offered a flushed out model to replace the specific Conservative Christian model that she spent so much time condemning In Chapter 5, “Classroom Chastity,” on p. 120,

“I believe it’s time to take a stance on sex education that isn’t so passive – young people deserve accurate and comprehensive sex education not just because they’re going to have sex, but because there’s nothing wrong with having sex. Allowing educators to equate sexuality with shame and disease is not the way to go; we are doing our children a great disservice. Not only are we lying to them, we’re also robbing them of the joy that a healthy sex life (as a teenager or in adulthood) can provide.”

So I’m left wanting more from Jessica. In Chapter 10, Jessica discusses ways for women to get involved in pro-women causes and conversations, but I wanted more. How do we teach young women that they are so much more than their sexuality, while also answering the question of what they should “do with” their sexuality? Can a teenager even have a healthy sex life? She puts that claim out there, but where is the evidence to back that up? Just because I don’t believe that teenage or pre-marital sex condemns a woman to a life of poverty/shame/disease, does that mean that necessarily it follows that teenage or pre-marital sex is necessarily healthy and joyful?

I also wish that Jessica had handled with more care the Conservative Christian women writers with whom she disagrees. How do we find a way to support women whose view of sexuality and gender roles is so radically different from our own? Are we really pro-women if we can’t find a way to respect those women who disagree with us? As I have been reading recent news stories about the Women of the Wall and I pray that they will be safe, I can’t stop thinking about how hard it is to be a woman. It should always be safe to be a woman when you are with other women, right? Can’t we at least start there?

Tikkun Olam Tuesday: Oklahoma

The pictures coming out of Oklahoma following yesterday afternoon’s tornado are overwhelming. I have lived in the South my entire life, so I have no first-hand experience with tornadoes. The idea of a tornado really strikes fear into my heart like nothing else. I have lived through more hurricanes and nor’easters than I can count and they certainly can leave a lot of substantial devastation in their wake. That being said, tornadoes seem to choose their victims with a humbling randomness and they come with little to no warning; it’s like nothing that I’ve ever known with a hurricane. As I look at this picture, I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel for your house to be full intact while the house next door is leveled (or vice versa). All I can think is, there but for the Grace of G-d go I.

So I’m going to publish the same list of charities that you can find elsewhere on the internet, because beyond donating and praying, I don’t know what else to do. 

Salvation Army
Supporters are encouraged to give online at http://www.SalvationArmyUSA.org or by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769). You can also text the word “STORM” to 80888 to make a $10 donation through your mobile phone; to confirm your gift, respond with the word “Yes.”

Samaritan’s Purse
Samaritan’s Purse has deployed a team to Moore, Oklahoma and will respond to the current needs in any way they can.

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, in partnership with Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, is asking that the public support all rescue, recovery and disaster relief efforts with donations of cash to your favorite responding charity. Financial donations will allow disaster relief agencies to purchase whatever items are deemed necessary without resulting in the additional burden of securing warehouse space and volunteers to work donated product.
To make a tax deductible donation to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, go to http://www.regionalfoodbank.org or call 604-7111 or text FOOD to 32333 to give $10 to relief efforts.

Feeding America
Feeding America will deliver truckloads of food, water and supplies to impacted areas through its network of more than 200 food banks and 61,000 agencies. The organization’s food banks will also set up additional dropoff sites.

American Red Cross
People who wish to make a donation can support American Red Cross Disaster Relief, which helps provide food, shelter and emotional support to those affected by disasters like the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma and Texas as well as disasters big and small throughout the United States by visiting redcross.org, dialing 1-800-REDCROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Tikkun Olam Tuesday: In Defense of Princess Culture

My Saturday plans were slightly derailed by a marathon of – first – Animal Planet’s show Too Cute and – second – ABC Family’s screening of Enchanted and Tangled.

Some small background on me: my mother came from a big family, so she was accustomed to a lot of noise in her house. So when my siblings left home for College and I was the only child left in the house, the television was often on in the background just for the added noise. When I am home alone, I usually fall back on similar behavior, turning on a movie, television, YouTube, iTunes, a Podcast, TedTalks, or SOMETHING as background noise. I just operate better with some kind of white noise around me. But when that white noise involves Amy Adams and/or Rapunzel, I’m not as productive as I might otherwise be. All of that being said, here’s the point: I am an unabashed fan of the Disney Princesses. I really don’t know if this puts me in the majority or not. I get the sense that it does, but I also feel like I hear a lot of Disney Princess-bashing. Maybe it’s that I’m in a minority of people who love all the Disney Princesses and also self-identify as a feminist. I’m not entirely sure. In March, I read an article by Mayim Bialik (whom I also adore) about what’s wrong with Princess culture. I really love most of what Mayim has to say on her Kveller blog. But I take issue with the implication in her blog that science and Disney Princesses are mutually exclusive. That feminism and Disney Princess culture are mutually exclusive. That the Disney Princesses are teaching young girls the wrong thing. But in the midst of my taking offense, I also – like any good Jewish woman – have self-doubt and guilt. I doubt my conviction. By forsaking my Saturday afternoon for Enchanted and Tangled, am I a party to a culture that seeks to perpetuate gender stereotypes and oppress women. Do I need to re-examine my attitudes so that if I one day have a daughter, I don’t raise her with detrimental gender stereotypes unfitting a good feminist mother/role model?

This is not the first time that I have reflected on this issue and it is not the first time that I have decided that, not only do I not have any problems with the Disney Princess, but I also think that the Disney Princesses will be excellent role models for my daughters.

We could mince words about the how Princess culture has very little to with the Princesses themselves (very few of them actually wear pink). But I don’t want to just be defensive here. I want to talk about why I am an advocate for the Princesses.

The Princesses embody female individuality. The Princesses rebuff societal and familial expectations placed on them solely because they are women and daughters. While the Princesses are usually aware that others scorn their behavior, they always sing about wanting something more for themselves. These are not women that settle. They stay true to themselves. They dream. They hope. And they occasionally cry about dashed hopes, but they pick themselves back up and try again. They maintain a positive attitude. They are kind. They love their neighbor (although they usually don’t want to marry their neighbor). They are gracious. They fight for the ones they love. They are strong. And it doesn’t hurt that they have the cutest pets.

Yes, each Disney Princess is a damsel-in-distress. But while this complaint has some merit, what I think is most significant is that none of the princesses view themselves as damsels-in-distress. None of them embrace passivity. Even Sleeping Beauty, the consummate damsel-in-distress defies her foster mothers by going out into the forest and falling in love with a handsome stranger. She balks at the suggestion that she would leave her peasant life for royalty and an arranged marriage.

The Princess stories are filled with not only excellent female role models, but they are also filled with female villains. The Disney Universe is largely gendered female and I think that is positive for our daughters. If anything, my problem with the Disney Universe is not the representation of the Princesses, but rather the Disney representation of the Disney Princes. The Princes rarely talk! They have little to no personality. With rare exception, the Princes do little more than fight the villain and win the hand of the Princess. Which brings me to this TEDtalk: Colin Stokes: How Movies Teach Manhood. Colin does such an excellent job of making his point, I have little to add.

I will say that I understand why the Disney Princess are an easy target.

Flynn Rider

But in demonizing Sleeping Beauty in her pink (no, blue!) dress, we distract ourselves from the more insidious messaging being heaped upon our children. I’m cracking jokes in the middle trying to make a profound argument, because it’s hard for me to talk about uncomfortable topics. However, my little jokes are counter-productive, so I’ll defer back to Colin who makes the excellent case for why these cartoon representations matter.

I guess my Saturday afternoon wasn’t totally wasted.

PS. It is worth noting, also that the Disney Princess Universe struggles with addressing race. That’s not the intended focus of this post, but I thought it would be negligent not to acknowledge this other area of poor representation within the Disney Universe.

Tikkun Olam Tuesday: Interfaith Cooperation

Let me preface this by saying that I have nothing against Interfaith gatherings, in theory. I am a little shy of these events, in practice, because I am so used to being the “token-Jew” at what is actual an Ecumenical event.

So that is why I might have rolled my eyes when I read the title of this article. But give me some credit, I read the article despite my hesitation. And I actually cheered at my desk when I got to the end of this article from the HuffPo, 3 Reasons Interfaith Efforts Matter More Than Ever. Again, I have no problem with the idea of an Interfaith memorial service. However, I do not see the desired long-term gains being accomplished by making a perfunctory gesture toward the inclusion of members of minority groups.

Eboo Patel hits the nail on the head when he writes:

“An interfaith prayer service is only one place to see multiple traditions coming together to heal a community. Imagine how much interfaith cooperation there was in the operating rooms of Boston hospitals last week, where medical professionals of all faiths were working together to save lives and limbs.


These times require all of us to be interfaith leaders, to signal clearly that the worst elements of every tradition represent nobody. The murderers of all communities belong only to one community: the community of murderers. We have to expand our knowledge base of the various contributions diverse communities make to our nation and world, to bring into mutually enriching discussion not just people from different backgrounds but diverse identities within individuals.”

That is not to say that, despite my cynicism, we can’t gain some ground by coming together for an Interfaith memorial service. However, I think that Interfaith cooperation that happens unintentionally, outside of a religious service and out of the context of a national tragedy, can do more to foster harmony and fight discrimination than we credit.

Tikkun Olam Tuesday 4/16/13

It seems significant (in my little corner of the world) that Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) should fall on Tuesday, which (in my little corner of the world) is now Tikkun Olam Tuesday. There is much to say about Israel. I don’t necessarily envision this blog as a place to say those things. I think of this blog as a place to talk about what it means to be Jewish in the South. But I suppose that it’s not possible to fully discuss what it’s like to be Jewish anywhere without discussing Israel. That being said, I’m going to have to think a LOT longer before I put all of my thoughts and feelings about Israel onto the internet. And that’s not going to happen today.

Yesterday, I watched the news, filled with stories about bombings and earthquakes and death and tragedy. Today, I listen to Hatikvah and I am filled with hope. Hope for a world repaired. 

Tikkun Olam Tuesday

This is a difficult post for me to write, because it’s hard for me to talk about “ugly” topics. It feels … impolite. My mother didn’t raise me to be impolite. So this is where my Southern upbringing differentiates me and other Southern Jews from our Northern counterparts. My Long Island family members would have no trouble talking openly and loudly about such an unpleasant topic. However this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. Remember those two little bunnies from Sunday’s post, well here’s another picture of them:

Sally & Linus

When I look at their sweet faces, it helps me remember why I must speak out against animal testing in cosmetics and beauty products. And that, friends, is what today’s post is about. I am still being a little cowardly, in that this post is not about the horrors of animal testing, but instead, it’s an excuse for me to share good news. You may not know this, but 2013 has been a good year for the fight against animal testing in beauty products!

In the first half of March, the EU law banning the sale of cosmetics tested on animals officially went into effect. While there are still some lingering questions about how the Cosmetics Regulation will be interpreted and executed, this is still a wonderful step forward.

I want to believe that government regulation isn’t necessary to stop animal testing on beauty products. I wish the free market could take care of this on its own, but sadly, there is already government regulation in some countries, for example China, that requires brands to test on animals. That’s right, the Chinese government requires brands to test on animals in order to retail in China. Many companies that had been historically cruelty-free began testing their products on animals or paying for 3rd party testing in order to have access to the sizable Chinese market. See this list of beauty brands selling in China. With some governments institutionalizing cruelty, it is necessary that other governmental bodies regulate against this same cruelty.

While I applaud the EU, I also applaud companies that refuse to abide by China’s animal testing mandate and leave the market. There is much to be celebrated here. I eagerly look forward to the day when China approves non-animal cosmetic tests.

I wish I could say that I understand how hard it is to only buy cruelty-free. Many cruelty-free products are not as good as X Brand or more expensive than X Brand or harder to find than X Brand. But you know what, buying only cruelty-free products is not hard. You know what’s hard: being a slave is hard. And we Jews have spent the past 8 days remembering when we were slaves and celebrating that we are no longer slaves. At our Seders we say, “Once we were slaves in Egypt, and now we are free.” The language is clear – the Passover story didn’t just happen to our ancestors, it happened to us. That we who were once slaves would financially support a system that enslaves defenseless bunnies so that we can have better, cheaper, and more readily available mascara, is absurd, inexcusable, and – dare I say – not Jewish. We can do better. It’s really not hard. PETA has done a phenomenal job compiling lists of cruelty-free brands. I understand that many of us, and I include myself in this category, take issue with some of PETA’s methods. If you feel like some of their methods are objectionable, I’m not asking you to give PETA any money, but please take advantage of the information they make freely available. This isn’t about any one organization. It’s about Tikkun Olam.

Ok, maybe I’m not as polite as I like to think I am. But, you know what, I think my mother will forgive me for this lapse in etiquette. After all, she really loves her grandbunnies.