Sunday, September 14, 2014

A feminist at the Shabbos meal.

When I was a little girl we used to travel to Toronto, Canada to visit my Bubbie and Zayde. And to Monticello, New York to visit Grandma and Grandpa. (May they rest in peace.)

To the outsider, Shabbos meals were anti-feminist. Bubbie and/or Grandma both cooked and served the food, and sat at the table and listened as Zayde and/or Grandpa led the goings-on.

The men made kiddush, doled out the wine, gave us bread after the traditional washing of hands.

But you wouldn't want to "liberate" them, Norma Rae. Had you dared the women would have tossed you out on the doorstep by your ears. The kitchen was actually "her-space," and the women knew that we could gather there "getting food ready" and just let the men do the men thing.

We could participate in the table conversation or not, but it wasn't in the end "our" conversation.

"The neck turns the head," Bubbie used to say. Traditional Orthodox feminism is that the woman tells the man what to do, but subtly. Is it simplistic? Yes. Does it work most of the time? I doubt it. From what I saw from my grandparents, they did things together. Good marries are about half and half. 

But you can preserve the image of who's running things. 

Here is the positive about having a parallel gendered culture, for Jewish women. It insulates us from unwanted sexual attention. (Although apparently not Jewish boys, judging from the amount of literature now coming out about sexual molestation of them by male teachers...very disturbing.) 

It's liberating to create safe spaces for expression. It values the role of mothers and enables questioning of relationship status quos.

But of course it's hurt as well. It does create the image that women are separate and inferior - even if it's a token image - because women don't "learn" or "lead" like the men do. It creates a disjuncture between home and work, because at work women absolutely can and do take charge. And it's not fair to men or women to shovel them into roles that don't necessarily fit.

It's important to emphasize that you can be spiritual and completely outside of religion, but if you choose a religion then your spirituality is intimately tied to actual knowledge of the religious texts. In my experience Jewish schools vary as far as education goes, a lot, but when you get a good teacher who really sits there and talks to you it can change your life. 

And vice versa, a bad teacher is like eating pizza with a bug in it, you never want to eat it again and then it takes a really long time, if ever to dip your toe into those waters.

As far as me, I have an unbelievable aversion to any expression of sexist shit, but I also crave a warm and family-oriented meal, generally. 

I also get a little bit panicky sitting with people for too long of a time, being much more comfortable thinking about the thoughts running through my own head. 

So if I had to drive that train and run the kind of kitchen that my grandmothers did, it would sink me. But the notion of a place and a time and a structure, just stopping to hang out with family and friends to celebrate and be warm about our faith, is beautiful. 

I wouldn't want to be "on display" in that kind of setting - I actually prefer the traditional ways of my youth, hanging back with the women in the kitchen. It feels more proper. 

But the next generation is very different about it. I don't think that setup totally works for them.

But that's what feminism is, right? We get to choose what we want to do.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how we structure it, as long as nobody is trying to dominate anybody else.
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Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Girls" Season 3: Hannah, Feminism, and the Addict(ive) Jessa

Now it's onto HBO's "Girls" Season 3.

I have a lot of trouble watching this show, and yet. Here I am binge-watching.

It is not at all self-serving, poorly acted, or lacking in any mechanical kind of way. Just the opposite, the show is brilliant. It's Lena Dunham's mind encased in glass. And she is "crazy," but not truly; it's what happens when you're super-sensitive to the stuff everybody else doesn't get or successfully ignores.

She is "out there" in a way that's watchable. I have to.

I don't like the sex scenes. It's like "Sex and the City," I think they could have gotten the point across without being NC-17.

It's exploitive of the actors personally when shows force them to appear nude and to engage in sex with others in public.

I don't like the anti-feminism. Lena/Hannah can't rent a car by herself, she needs her boyfriend Adam to do it. Hannah supports him, while he whines and loses his keys and is "delicate" and has sex with someone else and then just...skates away from it.

I don't like it that one of the moms says that "men hurt women, that's what they do, get over it."

They actually debate whether a woman can be President.

But I know Lena's making us actually question all of these things, because she doesn't like them.

You say that you believe a woman can be President, but do you really?

Are you really onboard with all the difficult steps and choices along the way? What a woman has to do, and discard in order to get there?

I am not sure that you are.

Do you say one thing, as a woman who supports women's empowerment, but then actually do and think another?

About the sex...there is a very big difference between sex and sexuality. I know, really that Lena is trying to get to something past the human body, same as "Sex and the City" before that.

In fact sexuality is the universe of human emotion around the concept of sex. It is the girl in one of the episodes who "huffs lighter fluid" and blames her early molestation but can't admit that she is a lesbian, and that is why.

In the graphic-ness of the show, Dunham forces us to see what the characters are doing to themselves, and each other, through their use and abuse of the body and the body in intimacy with other people.

Jessa, an addict who has lost all semblance of innocence, is the only one of the characters with  no sympathy left for herself or anyone else.

You know that she is in serious need of some help. But you respect her refusal to ask for it. She knows better.

She is honest, too. Sitting there in rehab she tells each person, right to their face, what their problem is. "It's the vest," she tells the lesbian. And then has sex with her, which she later calls an act of kindness.

It was.

I watch the show and feel the pain that Jessa feels. She's so scarred and so scared. There is something so repetitive about what she's going through. There's nothing left for her to do.

She reminds me of Robert Downey Jr.'s character in "Less Than Zero," the one who died.

Lena Dunham understands women. That's why "Girls" is a great show.

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Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Comment on Penelope Trunk's Blog, "Could 9/11 Ever Become A Time Of Celebration?"

Here's Penelope's blog

And my response, below.

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Penelope,

You drop a mention of harboring a Palestinian who supported the overthrow of Israel.

Then you say you’re sort of sympathetic, but don’t ask me any questions, because this is a blog about something else.

As a Jew, where do you stand?

How about as a human being? What do you believe?

If you don’t know what to believe, couldn’t you at least study a little bit before making any kind of statement at all?

You would find that Israel (although imperfect in many serious ways) was settled by Jews who bought the land and who were happy to have a fairly tiny bit of it.

The Arabs in Israel could not tolerate the concept of a Jewish state and so attacked them from the very start.

Note, it was not the concept of coexistence that was a problem. It was the idea of a State itself.

Where before there was…nothing.

What gave birth to Zionism (the belief in a Jewish national state) was NOT racism or even religious conviction. Rather it was the fact that we were routinely RAPED, ROBBED, MURDERED, and EXPELLED from our homes and our countries.

Zionism is about Jewish empowerment. It is about the will to live as a free people in our own land. Israel is a FREE country where there are 1.7 million Arab citizens and just about every political stripe you can imagine, including Arabs in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament).

Israel promotes free speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of life choices, including for people who are gay, who don’t believe in G-d, and who would like to see the Jews wiped off the face of the planet, not to mention off of the land.

The Jews in Israel support the Palestinians, only to have that support turned into supplies for terrorists who literally sit up day and night thinking up ways to murder Jews.

The terrorists say, “We love death like you love life.”

Before you were ever born, millions, millions, millions of people died so that you could live freely as a Jew in the United States.

Not to mention as a Jew in Israel, if that is what you want.

The Palestinian for whom you are sympathetic – well so am I.

But unfortunately he is part of a totalitarian system of hatred.

Anyone, anyone who tries to make peace with Israel is branded a “collaborator.” You can go onto LiveLeak or YouTube and find videos of what happens to them…they get brutalized and dragged through the streets.

Please, think about what you write, before you write it. Think about the impact. Don’t think that you, or your sons, are exempt from the hatred that swirls all around us.

Plenty of people want to see Jews dead, just because we’re Jews, and it’s not about holding an “anti-Israel policy point of view.”

Including Tariq and his father, probably, if they’re leading an anti-Israel movement.

That’s who you had sleeping in your home, and taking your $40.

Dannielle

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Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.

It's 9/11 & I'm Angry

I wanted to write about other things today.

  • Why pop culture is essential to digital engagement. (Because you have to speak to things that are relatable to the masses, not interesting specifically to you in your context.)
  • Why having a positive attitude is so important at work. (Because it is the nature of people at work to bond over negativity, and negativity is toxic and feeds on itself.)
  • Some of the most important lessons I've ever learned from executives. (To be positive/professional/have a great work ethic. That being loud is not the same as being effective. To put the bottom line of what you're saying up front.)
  • Who I aspire to be as an executive. (Sol Berenson, from the show "Homeland," who acted as the head of the CIA for a time. Because he has phenomenal judgment, uncrackable loyalty to his people, delegates leadership to them, sees the vision of peace in his head at all times. Doesn't give a flying fig about his ego. Has colleagues, friends, and loved ones for life.)
  • Why government has such a hard time speaking in the people's terms. (Because we are so full of ourselves, think that government has to be stuffy, find it nearly impossible to put ourselves in the people's shoes, want to preserve the idea that our subject matter is so incredibly esoteric that no Earthly being can ever figure it out.

But I can't, because it's the anniversary of 9/11, and I'm so angry. I remember being at home and watching the planes fly into the World Trade Center and thinking it was some kind of joke or mistake or technical glitch...

but it was a nightmare and I had to run to the elementary school and pick up my kids and I was afraid they wouldn't make it home, that they would bomb more of the D.C. area...

and my husband was stuck in the city and I thought that I would never see him again.

So I am so, so angry that anybody dared to carry out such an attack on our Nation, that so many people died and for absolutely nothing.

I visualize them screaming, and choking and running. The smoke. The jumping. The endless, endless death.

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Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Power of "Good Shabbos" & Saying Hello To People Generally


So we've started to keep Shabbos more. I don't drive, which is driving me a little bit crazy actually, don't go to Starbucks or Barnes & Noble or shopping. I don't do laundry.

I feel unproductive on Shabbos, but paradoxically more at peace. The family is together. Although I still use the computer, too much and they complain that I'm not paying enough attention. Plus there is no fancy Shabbos meal waiting when we get home from our morning walk.

But one really nice thing is how people say "Good Shabbos" to us. I can't tell exactly how we landed on that side of the dividing line that says, you're one of us even though you don't go to synagogue enough and even though you aren't as religious. But it feels really good to be part of things.

We have these narrow sidewalks near the synagogue, and each and every person, or almost each, says "Good Shabbos."

I thought to myself yesterday that this very small gesture means so much. 

  • You can know the entire Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). 
  • You can stand in synagogue all day. 
  • You can check wads of romaine lettuce for bugs to make sure you're within spec as to what an observant person is supposed to do. 

But if you can't say hello to a person, if you can't make them feel warm and welcome and part of the same Jewish community as you on a Sabbath, then you're a colossal asshole and don't understand the first thing about Judaism.

The same principle holds true at work. 

You can have all the management platitudes about core values, all the corporate newsletters, all the intranets and nice speeches. 

But if people can't say a simple hello in the hallway then something is seriously wrong, and the office is a miserable place to be.

One of the things I learned in school was the evil nature of "sinas chinam," literally hating on each other for no reason at all. 

We still haven't learned. But there is evidence in my little world that things are getting better. 

I like it.

Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government.