Archives for category: Feminism

My relationship to Judaism has always been weird. When my parents were still together (they split when I was 4), we must have observed many of the rituals in the home, even though Fullerton, CA was a long way from the New York and DC locales of the rest of our family and heritage. Why do I say we must have? My Bobe (my mother’s mother – second generation American) relished telling a story of some early visit we made to see her and Zade (my mother’s father, first generation – arrived from Ukraine in 1912 or so, I think). It must have been when I first visited them in DC as a walking, talking person (as opposed to a toddler). The way she told it, I walked around the table, and looked at the candlesticks and wine glasses and large pictures of a pair of ancestors from the shtetl, and asked in all innocence, ‘Are you guys Jewish?’ My grandparents found this hilarious.

Nowadays. Between then and now, I’ve gone through periods of greater and lesser connection. At the moment, I’m starting to learn a little about Yiddish culture and taking a Yiddish class online. It’s a period of greater connection, let’s say. Last week, I was listening to The Shmooze, a podcast from the Yiddish Book Center. The interview subject was Judy Batalion, a playwright and author from Montreal who recounted the sources of her latest book, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos. She grew up knowing about Hannah Senesh, as I did – this one incredibly brave Hungarian Jewish woman living in Mandatory Palestine who parachuted into Nazi-occupied Hungary, was captured, tortured, and killed by firing squad in 1944. Batalion was researching other such women and found an entire book published in Yiddish in the US in 1948 or so, which told of other such brave women. And that book sank into obscurity, and Szenes (to use the original spelling) became the synecdoche in Hebrew school history for all those incredible women. This book one book sent Batalion on her own path, resulting in a 500-plus page book on the subject.

In that Shmooze interview, Batalion makes the point that those women did what they did out of a certain necessity, and for the simple reason that they risked less than the men by doing it. Men who were caught would have their trousers dropped, because only Jewish men were circumcised then. The women and girls had often gone to school with the non-Jewish girls, so their Polish was that spoken in the general populous, not the Polish of the yeshivabuchers who went to schools within the shtetl an mostly spoke Yiddish and Hebrew.

And this got me thinking about how we think about heroes, about Israel and its very male leadership. And, oddly, I read today about a female-created female superhero, Miss Fury, who had a 10-year run that ended in 1951. Not the same as actual heroes of the anti-Nazi resistance, but categorically similar, in that Fury’s creator, June Tarpé Mills, is another woman whose work was subsumed by the mid-20th century’s habit of glorifying the masculine and shutting away all the women who dared.

I think there’s a group psychology that comes into play in groups that need to be rescued. And I fear diving into what the survivors of the Holocaust had to deal with who then moved into a world where they could actively defend a new homeland but knew that they hadn’t been able to defend their previous homes. I’m an armchair psychologist at best. But hiding the stories of those girls and women who ran explosives between the ghettos and went out on other missions against the Nazi occupation serves to make a monolith of all the victims of the Holocaust. If all were victims, then the ghetto uprisings, and subsequent liquidations, were anomalies, rather than the rule. (Sometimes you hear someone say, ‘If I’d been in Germany, I would have fought back. Why didn’t the Jews fight back?’ The answer is, We did.)

There are a lot of people who study these matters of language and culture and history who know these things better than I do. But there’s one connection to draw about the decline of Yiddish and the loss of these stories. When Jews were settling in Palestine before World War I there were discussions of what the language of this new country (still a dream, but עם טירצו and all that) should be. Hebrew won out over Yiddish and there are a few what ifs regarding what that society would be like if things had gone the other way. I fear that the psychology of powerful men taking power would still fight for society to forget women who fought back.

The blog entry I couldn’t recall yesterday on why the word feminist shouldn’t exist is here:

He concludes:

I’m not saying to cut ‘feminist’ out of our lives cold-turkey, nor do I have any disdain for whypeople that use it to describe themselves. However, I do believe that by using ‘feminist’ to describe yourself, you’re feeding the idea that feminists should have to defend their position, when in reality it needs no defense. It implies that at some point you began to form feministic views in the same way you began to lean Democrat or Republican. One day, children will be embarrassed to have misogynistic and anti-gay relatives the same way we’re embarrassed to have racist ones now. Leave the long list of titles for the barbarians, the rest of us are just…people.

My friend Hope posted the following response to an anti-feminist rant singer Johnette Napolitano gave at a recent gig (copied in full with permission):

And what a shame that I was so terribly distracted by your little speech on feminism, and why you’re not a feminist.

I gather it started out on Twitter, and someone, whose opinion you discounted based on their age, called you out for eschewing the label “feminist,” while still espousing feminist ideals.

I’m 44. Maybe you’ll deem my opinion valid?

You said you weren’t a “feminist” but rather a “humanist,” and that you didn’t like “the woman box” — “woman musician,” “female singer,” “lady guitarist.”

You know why we need feminism? Because of “the woman box,” for starters. There are two kinds of musicians: “musicians,” and “female musicians.” Guess which one is the default setting? I’ll give you a hint: It doesn’t have ovaries.*

It’s like the brouhaha over “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter.” Do all lives matter? Of course. But no one is saying that white lives don’t matter.

Feminism is about leveling the playing field and giving women equal opportunities as men. Are you seriously saying you’re opposed to that?

*Generalizing, of course. There are plenty of transmen, intersex men, XXY men, and other men who have or have had ovaries.

That nails it quite well, sadly. Another blogger, Amy Steele, called Napolitano on this as well.

Politics? Again?
I haven’t written on politics in a while. A couple of months ago I was working up something on feminism based on another entry I’d read on the subject of feminism. A male blogger whose name and article I don’t have to hand suggested that feminism is a strange word because supporting the rights of all to equal treatment under the law should be the default position. My aunt Karen, a professor of law and long-time writer on matters of gender, argues that there are three related terms: feminism, as above; antifeminism, the position that women are somehow less than men and should occupy only limited space in family, law, and discourse; and pre-feminism, the position of those who don’t yet recognise that women are disadvantaged by dint of gender in more ways than we know how to count and with one or two eye-opening experiences will move to the other side. She discussed a male student of hers (possibly in a family law course) married to a female naval officer – not a man likely to overlook or be daunted by a capable woman. I don’t recall precisely what Karen said her lecture covered, but the man was compelled to change his views on not only the issues faced by his wife but of all women struggling for acknowledgement in the working world. (My conversation with Karen was almost two months ago and I was certain I had notes on the matter, but I have lost them.) 

 I was alerted by a facebook link to This page contains a manifesto of sorts for women leaving the tech industry. I would direct you to read it – it runs about 500 words.

On a certain level I’m fascinated (and horrified) by the treatment women receive in the tech industry. The main thing that surprises me about Tableflip is that it hasn’t happened sooner. I’m pretty sure Ellen Pao’s recent court case has a lot to do with it, but that might only be because the verdict seemed so egregiously wrong, and it was so well-publicised. 

The writers also explicitly push back at the whole Lean In concept. When that book came out, I heard a couple of interviews with its author, Sheryl Sandberg. While astoundingly accomplished and obviously brilliant (Harvard, McKinsey, Google, FB, etc.), she seems generally unaware of how hard most people have to work to get even a tenth as far as she has. So I’m not too surprised that equally brilliant women who haven’t had quite Sandberg’s career path are keen to do something about it. 

 I’ve been in tech for about 15 years now – I started in customer support for a hot cable broadband firm that tanked in the year I worked there (coincidence is not causation). I was then mentored into technical documentation by a fantastic and fantastically capable woman. I did mostly contract work for a couple of years before I moved to Europe. In Prague I spent a few years at Systinet (now a subsidiary of HP), surrounded by about a hundred mostly young, mostly male developers out of CVUT (the Czech technical university). I recall three women: reception, HR, and a brilliant, intuitive Slovak woman named Bea. The company was ecstatic to have her – at one point she left to spend a period in Australia with no plan to return. When she returned to Prague about a year later, she didn’t have to ask twice. They may have asked her which team she wanted to work with. Alas she died of a very swift illness several years ago. Never got to see how far her brain would take her.

I don’t think Systinet mistreated its one female developer, but they didn’t work too hard to recruit more. 

I moved from there to Sun Microsystems (now a subsidiary of Oracle). I had a large number of female colleagues there – I think Sun nurtured its female staff, but most of the politics went on in California. I knew people who’d been with Sun for 10, 15, 20 years, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t subverted in their quests for advancement and equality. Just that I didn’t see it directly. The dozen or so mostly white males at the top of the company probably say enough about female advancement there, however. 

 In Nederland, I’ve worked primarily for two relatively old firms in which the same story plays out – very few female developers and no women above a certain level on the food chain. A couple of product owners, a few developers. My current company is a 30-year old producer of enterprise resource software. I’m pretty sure the highest woman there is a bold brash Afrikaner who holds a bespoke position between the product owners and the management team. I’m not sure whether the scenario plays out the same way here as it does in the Silicon Valley of the tableflip folks, but I have my suspicions. 

 The Tableflip manifesto gives a major hat tip to a blogger (new to me, but this isn’t surprising) named Amelia Greenhall who is fierce and articulate in her articles about how women are treated in the boardroom and the media and in her advocacy of how women can advance in the world on their own (not leaning in) terms. I’m now busily flipping through her blog and wishing I could follow every link. One of several neat things her writing provides is insight into the tech world from both developer and human standpoints. A long entry on twitter DM etiquette doesn’t just say, ‘don’t be a creep,’ but tells why DMs from new male followers creep out female twitter users. And next to that, she’ll post about how to get ahead (fairly!) in publishing and pop in some satire as well. (It took me a couple reads to get her piece on Uber investor Jason Calicanis.)

I’m sure the links from Ms Greenhall’s entries can keep me busy for an awfully long time, but the timesink involved will be a good diversion from the trio of Kos, AmericaBlog, and Crooks & Liars which generally keep me distracted. 

 And here’s to learning more, including
10 Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn
by Soraya L. Chemaly which also requires dissemination. I’d like to believe I’m slightly more aware of the male things I do that Chernaly finds so bloody frustrating, but I’m still far from excising them.

Police cautions to be scrapped in England and Walesn

The warnings in question are those sometimes offered to minor offenders rather than charging them with an offence.

The reasoning offered is that ‘victims shouldn’t ‘feel that criminals are walking away scot-free.’

I definitely appreciate that the recommended new system includes making apologies and restitution to victims. This is a step in the right direction. As is scrapping verbal warnings for violent offences including rape. That the current justice system hasn’t taken rape seriously enough to prosecute consistently in Britain makes my skin crawl.

Much to be said on that.

What worries me, however, is a trend towards giving victims a say in how punishment is administered. I think it undermines a push towards a system of properly blind justice. Because the systems in (to be fair) most of the world don’t actually work as they should, we might think that giving the victim a say in punishment will make it more fair, more just. The fact is, however, that someone who has been victimised is likely to want something harsher for the perpetrator than the crime might merit.

Less probable is the likelihood that victims might face retribution from the perpetrator’s circle if they are seen as having had a hand in a criminal’s sentencing.

To be honest, the article seems to be a bit of a hodgepodge. The new program is a pilot to see how better to prosecute low-level crime. This I can support, I think. The last line of the piece is possibly the kicker: 230,000 cautions were issued in England and Wales last year. How does that compare to the number of crimes reported? To the number of not guilty verdicts in crimes that went to trial? To the number of wrongful accusations?How about the speed of trials? Recidivism rates of first-time offenders over time. One of the only quotes in the article comes from the shadow justice secretary. This is an issue because it’s an extended attack on prosecution policy under the Cameron government. This doesn’t help the reader understand the new programme and the writer doesn’t do anything to challenge the bias of the speaker who is trying only to score points against the Cameron government.

Another story in the news this weekend is about a push to get photos of politicians wearing t-shirts that read ‘This is what a feminist looks like’. In theory, I think this idea is fine. Cameron would’t put one on and took flack for it. This, I think is less fine. Don’t give a non-feminist a hard time for not putting on a shirt that publicises a campaign in which he obviously and honestly doesn’t believe. Give him flack for not doing things in his rather huge power that don’t benefit women. The t-shirt campaign is throwing soft balls to politicians who aren’t doing the work of making people’s lives better. It’s easy for Clegg and Miliband to jump on the bandwagon, because women, theoretically are a more important part of their constituencies than they are of Cameron’s.

When we’re after some substantive discussion on the subject, who jumps in but News Corp. No love lost between me and the Murdoch empire, but it’s not as though they work to make the discourse clearer and policy differences more stark. No. What does the Daily Mail report, as reported on the BBC this morning?

The Mail reports that the shirts (which retail for 45 quid, profits donated to charity) are made by women paid 62p per hour in Maurtius sweat shops. The charity in question, The Fawcett Society claims they were promised the shirts were made ‘ethically in the UK’. Halfway down the BBC article a Fawcett rep is quoted as saying “At this stage, we require evidence to back up the claims being made by a journalist at the Mail on Sunday.” The Beeb might have started their article on the matter the same way. When reading anything published in a News Corp paper (or spouted on their TV stations – Fox News to start with), your first question should always be, ‘In what way is this person lying to me?’

(I wish I had jotted down a recent Wall Street Journal piece that Rachel Maddow quoted. She goes all out against Fox News several times a week, but just because the WSJ used to be respectable doesn’t mean it still is since its takeover by News Corp a few years ago.)

…that even after the system metes out something that gets called justice, they still have the short end of things. Kat Lister’s got a really good write-up on HuffPo about how male perpetrators of violence are remembered and their victims forgotten, or worse.

Her Name Was Reeva Steenkamp

The meat of the story isn’t so much that Simon Jenkins couldn’t be bothered to name Reeva Steenkamp in his Guardian defense of Oscar Pistorius’ very short jail sentence. It’s that in article after article, we read of how the perpetrators have their lives ruined. Lister cites another Guardian article, this one claiming rapist “Ched Evans will never really be free”. Evans’ 22 year old victim has had to move and change her name after her name was made public on the internet. Lister writes, “If we’re discussing freedom, one might consider lifelong anonymity and online abuse the real prison here. So why is her freedom less of a consideration than his?”

Damn good question.

We have a lot of work to do.