Thursday Round-Up


There is far too much going on in the world, and much too little time to write about it…

But I have some good ones this week!

Culture & Media

The Worst Toys for Girls List

This Huffington Post list shows how toy manufacturers and retailers want your girl to aspire to: She can be a maid, or even a Hooter’s girl!

Pro-Virginity, Anti-Feminist Folks Make The Purity Myth Trailer Terrifying

Jezebel reviews the documentary The Purity Myth – based on feminist writer and Feministing founder Jessica  Valenti’s book of the same name.

“The film visits the places the book visited, but since the antics of pro-virginity culture were captured on camera this time around, it’s now infinitely more gif-able. From the creepy father-daughter “purity balls” where young women promise their dads that they won’t let anyone’s penis inside of them until God says it’s okay to the fearmongering but charismatic pro-virginity speakers who claim a link between female sexual activity and sterility, parts of the film (like parts of the book) would be hilarious if they weren’t so scary.”

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From the Queer Blogosphere:

A friend posted this on Facebook. Not sure where it originated. But it’s sooo true!

Is this what BDSM is to you?

Weekly Trope:

This week’s trope: In TV and movies, when a bit of salacious BDSM is desired, there is only one scenario… All Women Are Doms, All Men Are Subs

Why we should just leave Kim Kardashian alone:

My new favorite blogger, Rachael, from the Social Justice League, writes about what’s wrong with the backlash of hatred against Kardashian and Co. — namely, that it’s sexist.

Shakesville concurs — here’s their post on the Kardashians.

Women's Activism

Not news, but recently came across several really amazing photo albums from International Women’s Day back in March. Nice to see! (click pics to see albums)

Women raise their hands as they shout slogans during a protest on International Women’s Day in Ahmedabad

Lebanese women working at an advertising company in Beirut dress like men and pose for pictures to make a statement about gender inequalities

In Israel

Refusing to go to the back of the bus

Tanya Rosenblit is being hailed by some as the Israeli Rosa Parks. Last week, she got on a bus from the town of Ashdod to Jerusalem. An Ultra-Orthodox man insisted she move to the back of the bus. She refused. The bus was stopped, police were called… Read all about it here.

And here’s another way kowtowing to the Ultra-Orthodox misogyny endangers women’s lives:

(Or: How can you educate women about breast cancer if you can’t use the word “breast”?)

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Equal Rights for Renting Women’s Bodies?

Another hot topic causing me distress these days: The fight for equality for gay men under Israel’s surrogacy laws. Grrrrr, talk about a can of worms. I’ve already butted heads with people I usually like and agree with on this. Here’s why.

Most people I know – of liberal leanings – have this kneejerk reaction: Yes! Equality for gays! Enhanced rights and opportunity for parenthood for gay couples! Yay!

Have you figured out what’s missing in this scenario? Yes, indeed – the same person who is being stashed out of site on an increasingly frequent basis: The woman.

Who is providing these surrogacy services? Who is looking out for her interests? Is there even any discussion about it? Any medical, legal, ethical, financial, or psychological standards being adhered to? Or being crafted, if there aren’t any in place?

Surrogate Mothers, India

How many people know what is involved from a health perspective (physical and mental) for the woman providing her body as a service? Versus how many people are jumping in with both feet with accusations of “Homophobia!!” at even the hint that such a discussion should take place?

(And let’s be very clear: no one in the discussion I’m referring to is advocating that heterosexuals should be allowed to this, while homosexuals should not.)

Why is it so easy to ignore the woman?

Here’s some background:

Israel was the first country in the world to legalize surrogacy, in 1996. While some (liberal?) feminists celebrated this as a victory for a woman’s legal freedoms (for example, to enter contracts, and autonomy to determine what to do with her body), other (radical?) feminists immediately classified the practice in the context of a patriarchal society’s attempt to use women’s bodies to further patriarchal ends.

But maybe some more background about Israel and the issue of procreation is needed here.

Israel is unique in its pro-natal attitudes, especially compared to other Western countries, in the sense that having children (Jewish children) is considered an imperative. Not only a cultural imperative, not simply a religious imperative, it is also a political imperative. This is for several reasons:

In the aftermath of the holocaust, many believed that Jews must reproduce to replace the 6 million lost. Others, including the political leadership of the time, viewed child-bearing as a military imperative – women must produce soldiers for the army (first Israeli prime minister Ben-Gurion famously wrote that “Any Jewish woman who, as far as it depends on her, does not bring into the world at least four healthy children is shirking her duty to the nation, like a soldier who evades military service.”). Part of it is traditional – Judaism is family-centric. Part is purely religious – the ultra-orthodox in Israel have a birth rate that is twice that of Muslims, and four times that of secular Jews.

Over the past few decades, one of the most common themes has been the “demographic threat” – if Israel wants to maintain both its identity as a Jewish state and remain a democracy, it simply must maintain a Jewish majority in relation to the Arab population. (Or, for more right-wing sectors, simply “winning out” vs. the Palestinians is the point, without regard to the democratic nature of the country.)

Whatever the reasons, the imperative is deeply ingrained in the culture, which places pressure and socializes people to place child-bearing at the top of their life priorities. It also created a legal and medical system in which parenthood is encouraged and state-supported through:

  • Reproductive technologies. Israel is the leading country in the world in in-vitro fertilization, leads in development of reproductive technologies, and also provides financial support for the procedures.
    (I can (and maybe will) write entirely separate posts about the negative effects this has on women, and how many of the procedures are untested, how low a concern safety is, on the cultural impact on women of being state-sponsored wombs… But alas this post is on another topic which I shall promptly get back to.)
  • Support of single-parenthood, through various methods including sperm banks (artificial insemination, IVF), adoption (international) and of course –
  • Surrogacy.

Okay. So now you might be getting an inkling of what parenthood means to Israelis.

And of course, the fight for equality and recognition of LGBT people’s rights to become parents, and creating legal and societal mechanisms for parenthood to be a realistic possibility, is an important one.

So, what’s actually going on?

As I said, Israel legalized surrogacy in 1996, and was the first country to do so. There have been various judicial decisions along the way determining who can do it, where, how… The bottom line is that under the current rules, only heterosexual couples can hire a surrogate to carry a child for them. This can occur either in Israel or abroad. Homosexual couples or single people cannot (as far as I understand it) contract a surrogate in Israel.

Gay couples can hire a surrogate in the US or India, but a court decision last year regarding DNA tests for both fathers has created some hindrance even to this practice.

So recently, a campaign began to change the law – though a Facebook page (in Hebrew) and an Internet petition. This has brought the discussion back to the forefront in both LGBT and feminist circles, as well as to the broader media and legal communities.

Another Facebook page – Gays Against Surrogacy (in Hebrew) – soon followed. As I mentioned before, claims of homophobia quickly surfaced.

And hence my personal frustration:

First of all, the LGBT association – or Aguda – Israel’s main LGBT advocacy group, is strongly supporting this initiative, to the extent of overshadowing just about any other issue. So once again, the interests of a minority of men, who are primarily white, homonormative, and from a socioeconomically advantaged background are taking precedence over, say – teen prostitution in the LGBT community (which is on the rise), teen suicide, transgender rights, AIDS awareness, or a myriad of other LGBT issues. I’m pretty sick of this lack of wider representation. If it’s the white gay men’s association, they should just say so.

And once again, women are being submitted – physically, mentally, financially, and legally – to the needs of men (or at least to the patriarchal priorities of this society).

I want to support parenthood rights for gays. I *do* support all brands of equality. I cannot, by any stretch, get behind yet another initiative that subordinates women to anyone else’s agenda.

~*~

Here are some resources on the topic for anyone who wants to read more:

From Isha L’Isha Feminist Center:


Old Patterns, New Ideas 
By Hedva Eyal
Council for Responsible Genetics

“There is plenty of scientific knowledge and understanding of health risks as a result of hormone treatments associated with in vitro fertilization (IVF). This raises questions about the widespread use of this procedure, especially when women are exposed to these health risks not for themselves but to conform to other people’s desires. Establishing surrogacy as a prevalent, accepted way of bringing children into the world entails significant risks to the surrogate mother herself, to the child, and to society”

Google Baby – a documentary on surrogate mothers in India:
Focused on a clinic in rural Anand where peasant women give birth to babies ordered over the Internet through an Israeli “pregnancy producer.” Western hetero and gay prospective parents click on the sperm and eggs of their choice, enter credit card details, and later travel to Anand to receive the newborn they couldn’t or wouldn’t conceive themselves.

Fertility policy in Israel: the politics of religion, gender, and nation, by Jacqueline Portugese

Surrogate Motherhood and the Politics of Reproduction, by Susan Markens

Explores how discourses about gender, family, race, genetics, rights, and choice have shaped US policies aimed at this issue.

Article: Homosexual Couples Fight for Right to Surrogate Pregnancy
(Note the complete lack of any reference to the legitimacy or risks of the practice)

Will Israeli Court Decision on Surrogacy Bring Changes for Gay Couples? Blog post, The Sisterhood
“In principle, I agree completely with the Court’s decision in favor of the petitioner who wants a fourth child. But there is also the reality of scarce resources to consider. I would have no issue with the Court’s decision if surrogacy were not a highly limited and regulated commodity in Israel.”
A commodity, indeed.

Israeli Feminists Slate Surrogacy, BioEdge, bioethics news

University of Technology, Sydney Law Review: Surrogacy in Israel: A Model of Comprehensive Regulation of New Technologies – [2005]

Anti-Woman Israel

I haven’t written as much as I planned in the past two weeks. I had a (too-long) list of topics to cover: Princess Culture, Why/how women are not taught to say NO, “Sitting at the table”, teaching girls to be smart rather than pretty, and more.

But while my sort of intro-level feminist posts were boiling in my head, things were happening around me that I just couldn’t deal with, and which affected my ability to focus on my planned posts. I live in Tel Aviv, Israel. I’m not sure how much coverage there is internationally about what’s been going on here… The international press is famously inaccurate and biased (in all sorts of directions) in covering this region. So I’ll give a snapshot.

The (very) short version is that there are two related and very frightening trends happening here:

The first is a growing wave of nationalism, which includes increasing violence towards minorities, a surge of anti-democratic legislation designed to silence protest and opposition, curtail the activities of human rights groups, promote settlement in West Bank territories, giving enhanced rights to orthodox Jewish minorities at the expense of, well, everyone else…

The second is an increasing exclusionary and discriminatory attitude towards women. This has manifested in several ways, including government support for segregated buses and public transportation in Jerusalem, the removal of women from public images (such as billboards and posters) in response to orthodox pressure, separate sidewalks for men and women (as a matter of fact – even when the supreme court ordered this to be stopped, the municipality refused, and when the one woman on the city council protested this, she was fired)… Male soldiers walked out of a military ceremony because women were singing, behavior they were not punished for, and as a matter of fact they seem to be getting the support of the powers-that-be, meaning that women will be further silenced and segregated in the army. (One leading rabbi says soldiers should “choose death” rather than listen to women sing). Women are being excluded from judiciary committees, and several leading female news professionals are being fired from their jobs – based on age and appearance (keep in mind the female presence in Israeli news is minimal to begin with). Teachers’ faces are blotted out of educational campaigns. And more.

An ad in its original form (right), and cropped for publication in Jerusalem

(Well, there are also economic trends, with the government passing laws that put more money into the pockets of cartels/tycoons, and take more away from the rest of us. And more stuff. But how much can I possibly focus on? Or deal with, without just keeling over??)

I haven’t been covering any of this in my blog, keeping my activism to my local community and Facebook. Because I didn’t feel I could do the topic(s) justice in the amount of time I have to write. But the fact that I got as overwhelmed as I did made me realize that if I didn’t write something about it, I would never get back to my personal blog agenda – which also includes queer/LGBT topics, which are falling ever-further behind.

So for now, I’d like to share some of the actions that have come (primarily from women) in response to some of these anti-woman trends. (read more here)

1. Poster campaign:

Following the literal erasure of women from public advertising (including, by the way, from the entire campaign for organ donation), several women conceived a campaign consisting of a photo shoot of women, and printing posters that people could hang from their windows or balconies, creating a female presence in Jerusalem in spite of the religious pressure for erasure.

The campaign’s taglines were: Not Censored and Bringing Women Back to the Public Spaces

2. Photo Shoot

50 young women pose for nude photo in identification with, and support of, Egyptian blogger Aliaa El Mahdy

"Love Without Boundaries"

3. Women Sing!

A public singing event was coordinated in four different cities (including Jerusalem) where women declared in the most direct manner possible: We will not be silenced!

The Jewish proscription against women singing is based on the idea of “Kol B’Isha Erva” or, “the voice of a woman is nakedness”, where the word for nakedness actually means literally  “the pubic region”, and is used for “lewdness”. Therefore, immodest/impure/prohibited. The protest event was promoted as “This is not what “pubic” looks like”, and subtitled “Don’t Stop Singing!”.

(I looked but couldn’t find myself in any of the photos…)

4. Women journalist campaigns

(mostly In protest of the firing of Keren Neubach):

  • “Mute Protest” today, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (FB event is in Hebrew. Here is the Occupy Israel protest post. ) (The idea being, of course, that women’s voices are being silenced. Neubach is one of a very few women in journalism who actually has a POV)
  • Petitions: There are several. Here’s one (in Hebrew).
  • Return Women to the Screen campaign (on the Paucity of Women in Israeli News): http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/146101/

5. March and Rally for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

See photos here