Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

When Female Mathematicians Walk Into A Bar

Guilty – I find math jokes hilarious. When they are in fact jokes about math. I belong to a group on Facebook dedicated to the sole purpose of sharing math jokes. They make me groan or roll my eyes and occasionally laugh out loud. Once in a while someone will post a joke like this:

Yo Mamma’s so fat, her favorite day is Pi day.

Which is not only painfully unfunny, it’s also misogynistic, fat-shamey, and not even about math.

So I sigh and keep scrolling, hoping the rest of the jokes for that day will have more content and be less offensive. But then this happens:

Why do we have Pi day and Women’s day but we don’t have Men’s day?
Because men are rational!

By now I’m annoyed, but I tell myself to let it go, he was just trying to make a joke about pi being an irrational number, haha. It’s just a joke

And then someone posted this:

Woman = time * money
Time = money
Money is the root of all problems
Therefore, Woman = problems

So I decided to speak my mind and commented, “Did they run out of jokes at the funny joke store where you shop?” (Night at the Museum II is a family favorite.)

My comment made people angry. ‘Look how many people thought it was funny,’ they said. ‘It’s your choice to be offended,’ they said. ‘It’s just a joke, get a sense of humor.’

Usually when a group starts posting too much offensive content, I just leave the group. But these are math jokes. I love math jokes. I want to stick around for the other 90% which are funny. So I decided to say something. I typed up a serious post for the group, which, to summarize, said:

“As a [female] mathematician, I have some trouble with the amount of jokes posted here that are about women. There is already a huge gap between the number of men and women in math. […] Let’s try to make this group a space where everyone can feel like they belong.”

The original post and comments, in Hebrew, can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1468380300090389/permalink/1664671797127904/

Immediately came a rush of agreement and thanks from many female members of the group. But backlash was incredible. I can’t say I didn’t expect it, given the attitude I had met from the previous comment about the women=problems post. Here are some examples of response comments:

“So you went through 1000(!) posts and found 10 that were offensive to women. Nice. I thought I was obsessive…Grow a couple.”

“Your post creates a bad name for all women in general, and specifically for us women in this group.”

“Your post ruined my Friday morning.”

“Hi girls, I wanted to post a math joke, but I’m afraid I’ll be attacked if I do.”

“This post reinforces the stereotype that women are irrational and overly sensitive.”

“Who are you to decide what kind of jokes I can laugh at? If you’re offended, that’s your problem. You are being a bully and acting in a way worthy of Iran or some place where women are objects. Shame on you.”

“Get a sense of humor.”

“I don’t think [you are] looking for a solution, just attention and pity.”

“I’ve had enough. What a humorless party-pooper.”

“What a shame that you allow your feminist opinions to blind you, and worse, to try to ruin this group.”

“Taking an offensive joke is a price you should be willing to pay.”

Then there was one comment which stood out:

“Your argument is right, but you’re wrong to try to convince men who are defective and egotistical who would never accept criticism even if it is justified, and certainly not from a woman.”

To which I responded,

“Well, then, back me up. Men, speak up!”

And then came the following responses, all from men.

“Liora, you are not alone! 🙂 I also feel that the jokes about women are offensive and not funny.”

“I never thought those jokes offended anyone, but now I see the amount of women who are hurt by them and I really do think we should stop telling them. Even if I personally am not offended, the fact is that some women here are and we need to respect them.”

 “What is with you guys? Someone said it’s offensive, apologize and stop posting them. It’s that simple. When women ask you not to tell offensive jokes, stop telling them they are being whiny or have no sense of humor. Behave like human beings.”

“To all of my penis-owning friends, we are not women. We do not experience the jokes in the same way. So most of us are not offended, and we might not even notice the misogyny in them. But if someone tells me his tooth hurts, I won’t silence him by claiming that my teeth feel fine. If she says the jokes are offensive, I believe her, and if I find a joke that contains gender references, I’ll think twice before posting it. We’re here to have fun, not to hurt anyone.”

 “Liora, great post. It’s a shame you had to take so much pigheadedness in response.”

“I’ve started a new group. It’s called Misogynistic Math Jokes. Take your misogynistic math humor there.”

“Guys, guys…I don’t get what your problem is. Someone said she was offended, and she is clearly not the only one. What’s so hard about just accepting? Why are you acting like it will somehow destroy the group? It seems to me that not posting these offensive jokes will only improve the quality of our group.”

“How does saying that there were ‘only 10’ misogynistic jokes out of 1000 prove anything but the fact that there were 10 misogynistic jokes?”

 Each response received its own dose of backlash.

I am overwhelmed and grateful for all the support, for every man who stood up to his peers and called them out. Every man who showed that women’s issues are not in fact only women’s issues, they are human rights issues. Men who reminded us that there are not only rude, self centered, egotistical dunderheads out there, but also caring, empathetic, kind men who love women and are not afraid to call injustice by its name. I am proud to be part of a group with you.

In an unexpected turn of events, about 12 hours after my post, a group admin invited me to join the team of group moderators. I now have the ability to remove posts and block users from the group, which means no more misogynistic math jokes over here! What this tells me is that the message was received. My voice was heard. But I think that is greatly due to the amount of men who spoke up in support of me and my fellow women mathematicians.

It’s easy to look back at the comments and think, wow, there is no chance for equality in the future. Why would any woman want to learn mathematics if it means being surrounded by attitudes like those? But from the supportive responses, it is evident that men also care about equality. Misogyny is becoming less socially acceptable. Men have joined the fight for women’s rights and respect. History has shown us that the civil rights movement did not take off until white people marched alongside black people. Likewise, the movement for equality will not win until men fight alongside women. Following my post about math jokes, I saw proof of that happening. So instead of being crushed and disheartened, I am hopeful.

Here’s to a better future, a better world for our boys and girls to grow up in.

Thank you!

*Top image from https://xkcd.com/385/

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

12 Sex Ed Things That Aren’t Even About Sex

Even if you are pro abstinence only education (and you believe that it works) there are crucial things you can tell young people without even talking to them about sex at all. While I am mainly aiming for girls here, most of these topics do apply to young boys as well.

By the way, I am in favor of comprehensive sex ed far beyond what is listed below. These twelve items made it into the post because I think there is no excuse for not giving this information to young people regardless of your religious beliefs.

  1. Self Image. No matter what you look like, you are beautiful. This is so important, especially for young girls, at any age. Fat is not a synonym for ugly. Girls should be taught to love their body because this is an enormous measure of self worth for women in a society that places so much importance on how we look.
  2. Options for your period. It’s 2016, and disposable pads and tampons are not the only options anymore! Not only are there other options, but disposable pads and tampons are just about the worst choice for any woman these days. Girls should be provided with information about cloth pads and the menstrual cup, both of which are significantly less expensive, more environment friendly, and healthier by far than the disposable options.
  3. Gender identity. Most people are lucky enough to be born with the sex organs that match the gender they were assigned at birth. But not everyone’s gender is the same as their sex. That is an important distinction that seems irrelevant to those of us who are cisgender. But for transgender kids and teenagers, this conversation could save lives.
  4. Sexual orientation. Surprise! Not everyone is straight. Not all preteen girls start to like boys. And that’s okay, and it’s normal.
  5. How your body works. Even programs that sell themselves as comprehensive sex ed mostly only cover basic anatomy of the internal reproductive organs, and if you’re lucky it’ll be scientifically accurate. The vagina is not the only significant part of a woman’s body just because it’s the one the penis goes in. We need to know what are all the different parts we have and what they do, at least in the same way we understand that we have lungs and arteries and kidneys. What is the clitoris? Is it the same as the urethra? Also, why don’t my lady parts look like that porn star’s? Am I weird?
  6. What is virginity? Is it important? Can I lose it to a tampon? No, you can not lose it to a tampon. Your virginity is not defined by your hymen. If you have one. Also, what is the hymen? Where is it and what is its purpose? (Hint: it is not a layer of saran wrap buried deep inside your vaginal canal that is punctured the first time you have sex. If that were true, where would our period come out of?) Laci Green explains this expertly in her video, “You Can’t POP Your Cherry!” 
  7. Relationships. Even if you believe young people are not having sex, there’s no denying they are having relationships. They need to know about heartbreak, how to deal with it, how to move on. And please do not underestimate the amount of pain an eleven year old can experience from being dumped. Just because their bodies are small doesn’t mean their emotions are not strong.
  8. Abuse. Early warning signs of abuse. What are the red flags they should look out for when dating someone? What if you are being abused right now? How do you get help? How do you know if you are being emotionally or verbally abused, if it’s not physical? For more info, see Common-Warning-Signs-of-Domestic-Violence  and teen-dating-violence-factsheet-a
  9. Safety. It’s not just about condoms. It’s also about wearing a seat belt, and not getting into a car with someone you don’t know, or someone you do know who is drunk. For girls, often it’s about how to set clear boundaries, how to say NO, how to throw a good punch without hurting yourself.
  10. Consent. This should have been higher up on the list, really. What does consent look like? (Hint: it only sounds like an explicit and enthusiastic “Yes!”) When do you need to get consent from your partner? (Hint: always) Does it ruin the moment to stop and talk about things?
  11. Respect. Girls deserve to be respected by their partners. If someone does not respect you, get rid of them. You deserve respect.
  12. Sexual Desire. Whether or not you give kids information about sex, they need to know that it is normal and okay to have those weird and new feelings that they are experiencing. Especially girls. Even if you emphatically encourage young teens not to have sex, they still need to know that it is okay to want it.

If you are in favor of kids and teens knowing about sex – great! If you are not – at least give them the knowledge they need to be healthy, self confident, and not have to spend 200$ a year every year from age 10 to 60 on something they didn’t choose to have.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

It’s Our Fight Too

It is with great pride that I announce to you that today, my step-dad was detained by the police for “disturbing the peace” at the Western Wall, when he participated in smuggling a Torah scroll to the Women of the Wall. This is a source of pride because it was for a noble purpose that he was standing in the way of a violent man who charged forward and knocked him to the ground, giving him a minor concussion.

Clearly the people who charged him with such a crime have a different idea of peace than I do. Their idea seems to include a status quo in which a minority group is prevented from practicing their religion in a democratic country. Somehow my idea of peace failed to recognize that kind of situation. As a consequence, my interpretation of “disturbing the peace” includes fighting for your religious freedom.

You might be wondering, what was my step-dad doing getting in a fight that was related to the Women of the Wall? Why should an affair relating to the Women of the Wall concern him in the first place?

Here is what the group that call themselves “The Men of the Women of the Wall” have to say on this topic:

It’s our fight too.

To an outsider it is easy to conclude that the Women of the Wall are all about feminism, rebellion, or even provocation, attention-seeking, and publicity. After all, the whole thing seems to be about what women are allowed to do at the Western Wall. That’s not how the men see it. Rightfully so, they view this battle as a battle for religious freedom. The protest of the Women of the Wall is an attempt to make the holy site a place where all types of religious practices are accepted. This is one of our most basic rights as citizens of a democratic state – and yet here is a striking example of its violation, and in Israel, of all places.

The point here being, a fight for religious freedom, even if it is initiated by women, affects men as well. The outcome of this fight affects them. It’s very nice that men have full religious freedom at the Wall, but just because they do now, doesn’t mean they will forever, certainly if there is another group that is openly denied their rights.

Thankfully, there are so many strong female leaders fighting for women’s rights all over the world. But what would the fight for women’s rights be if only women cared about their rights?

I apologize for being cliché, but I can not resist pasting my favorite TED talk here. Jackson Katz on the importance of male leadership and its role in combating gender violence:

To be even more cliché, I’m now going to bring quotes said by…my family members.

My stepdad said about this,

As in the case of any minority group, if the only one concerned with their rights is them, it will never affect change.

And my mom,

The blacks did not get civil rights in the United States until white people marched.

And how proud I am to be their daughter today.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

Bridges, Walls, and Leadership

“There was a large crowd of people…They were throwing things and shouting…”

This is not a quote from the Women of the Wall, but it might as well be. I was killing time on Facebook yesterday when I read this status update:

wow_status

and it reminded me of something from a children’s book I used to love when I was a little girl, “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles . In the book, he describes how Ruby Bridges,  six year old African American girl was volunteered to be one of the first children to attend a white school. In the quote she describes walking to school, escorted by police men, through the crowds of protesters shouting and throwing things. One morning, her teacher watches through the window while Ruby stops in the middle of the crowd and refuses to move for several minutes. “I saw you talking,” Mrs. Henry told her later when Ruby finally agreed to enter the school building. “I wasn’t talking,” said Ruby, “I was praying.”

IMG088

Ruby was six years old at the time. She was the only black girl in a school full of white children with angry parents, and somehow she found it inside her to pray for the people who crowded around and shouted and threw things at her. And thank goodness that she did that. Thank goodness that she kept going with the police men every day even though so many people tried to silence her. In the end, she paved the road for integration in schools. Eventually she was able to go to school without being accompanied by police.

I loved The Story of Ruby Bridges. She was like a hero to me. I even used her character once in a project in ceramics, because to me she was proof that great leadership can come in any size or color. And that is what the Women of the Wall show young girls all over the world.

Thank goodness that the Women of the Wall refuse to be silenced. Thank goodness that despite all the people who try to discourage them, they keep fighting. I hope that soon we can see them going to pray at the Wall without being escorted by the police. The Story of Ruby Bridges teaches us that equality and tolerance will triumph in the end. And boy will that be awkward for the people on the other side.

IMG087

Posted in Mirror, Mirror

With Every Lesson Learned a Line Upon Your Beautiful Face

Once upon a time, Bella loved Edward because he was handsome. Then Edward left and Bella was worth nothing without him. Then Edward refused to have sex with her until they were married. Then he abused her and she was convinced it was all out of love. Then she got pregnant on their wedding night. Then he turned her into a vampire.

Among the many appalling messages the Twilight series has to give to young girls (Yay! A chance to take a stab at Twilight) is that the ideal woman is frozen in time at the age of nineteen so that she can remain attractive in the eyes of her partner. (For the record, the only reason I read the books is so I could complain about them on my blog.)

I have seen so many shockingly beautiful women walk into a clinic and get toxic chemicals injected into their faces, and then pay nauseating amounts of money for it. I never ask but I always wonder, are these women happier when they walk out of the clinic? Are they loved more? Are their lives better as a result of looking younger than they actually are?

Why these women do this is no secret. The media world has pretty much told us that women are not supposed to age (that link is from Beauty Redefined, another worthwhile blog to check out.) As it turns out, the beauty image affects women at every stage of life – from tiny girls who prefer thin dolls over curvy ones to middle aged women who run from their wrinkles at a heavy cost. Not only are we supposed to be thin, tall, hairless, fat-free, and white (but not too white!), we are also supposed to be 17. Doesn’t it sound a little far-fetched to expect women to live up to these standards? Isn’t it a little bit absurd to expect women to be “Forever 21?”

I’m perfectly aware that I’m only 22 years old and unqualified to judge women older than me for decisions they make about their appearance. However, I can say from the perspective of early-twenty-somethings that we are basically useless. We contribute virtually nothing to the world (with the possible exception of running the IDF.) We may look good but we did nothing to earn it, and in any case the beauty image is so powerful that we spend most of the time thinking we’re ugly. And yet, instead of carrying their years with pride, older women try to look like us. Instead of boasting their wisdom, they hide it. As if experience is something to be ashamed of – as if knowledge is an undesirable thing. These are the messages we young people receive about growing up.

I was walking to work the other day when I heard the song “Get Out the Map” by the Indigo Girls. This one line struck me:

“With every lesson learned a line upon your beautiful face.”

It says that lines on a person’s face are a result of being truly alive. They are an echo of experiences and lessons they’ve learned. Wrinkles are a physical expression of wisdom. The Indigo Girls go one step further and insist that the face these lines are etched upon remains beautiful.

When Gloria Steinem turned 50, a reporter commented that she looked much younger than her age, and she replied, “No, this is what fifty looks like.” Women are so used to lying about their age that we’ve forgotten that not only young people are beautiful. Let’s try not to forget that.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

Women Talk to a Wall – and Get Arrested

On the first day of every Jewish month, women all over the world hold their breath. Some of us cross our fingers; some of us pray or meditate. Some of us can’t be there to support them, so wherever we are we hold still and hope really hard that the Women of the Wall don’t go to jail this month. We know what they are doing is illegal. We know it upsets people. We know it’s looked down upon by authorities. But for some reason we get it into our head that maybe this time it won’t bother anyone.

The Women of the Wall struggle with a limitation of religious freedom in the state of Israel. Personally, it baffles me that this is a problem in a state which is one of the most socially progressive in the whole world in equality for women, where we have free health care, free day care, and such fierce laws protecting women’s rights. Moreover, it seems ironic that it would be a problem to practice a Jewish custom in what is supposed to be the Jewish state. (I’ll elaborate in the next few paragraphs.)

Women of the Wall

As it turned out this month not many people were bothered, and still ten women got arrested. The Women of the Wall gathered as usual and held an inspiring, exciting prayer on the women’s side of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. They danced and sang and wore prayer shawls. These actions are what have been deemed illegal by the Supreme Court of Israel.

1. Wearing a prayer shawl. For those unfamiliar with the different religious practices: in Orthodox Judaism it is traditional only for men to wear a shawl during prayer, and if a woman wants to wear one it is looked down upon, but it is one hundred percent allowed and backed up by some of the greatest Rabbis in our history.

2. Conducting a religious service. It seems odd to me that this sort of thing would be prohibited at a holy site. But the law is the law.

3. Singing and dancing. These actions are prohibited because in Orthodox Judaism it is considered immodest for a woman to sing or dance in the presence of a man (who is not her husband). As far as I understand, the idea behind this tradition is that a woman’s singing voice (or dancing) can cause a man to become sexually aroused. So to avoid adultery, we (women) avoid public singing and mixed dancing.

At this point, I would like to recommend this post I read on one of my favorite blogs, the Good Men Project. It talks about why saying ‘men are slaves to their sex drive’ is offensive to men. Please take a minute to look over it, it’s awesome.

With all this in mind, I would like to express my confusion about why the Women of the Wall get arrested. It seems to me that the ruling of the Supreme Court which prohibits these women’s prayer was made out of fear. If religious extremists complain that a group of women are ‘being provocative’ and ‘disrespecting the holy site’, and threaten to start a riot, obviously we should take action to make sure no one gets hurt. But last time I checked, threatening, black mail, and violence were illegal. So the Supreme Court appears to be telling us that we, the Jewish people living in the state of Israel, give in to fear instead of standing up for religious freedom. It seems like the Women of the Wall get arrested because someone out there might get angry and start acting violent. It sounds like we’re blaming the victim. It seems like we are holding women responsible for the actions of men. Here’s where the Good Men Project would say we’re wrong. Men are responsible for their own actions. They can control themselves and make their own decisions, and saying otherwise sets us back centuries. We should hold these extremists responsible for their own actions. People who use violence should be arrested, not people who just want to worship God in their own way.

In the Israeli national anthem, called ‘Hatikva’ which means ‘Our Hope’, we sing about our hope to one day be a truly free nation in our country. We hope to have full religious freedom. We hope to have liberty to make decisions based on our principles, not our fear. The Women of the Wall are the manifestation of this hope, just like the paratroopers who liberated the Wailing Wall in 1967.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

The Jewish Woman’s Cloak of Invisibility

Do you ever find yourself walking down the street on an ordinary day, and experience a stranger purposely avert their eyes from you as you walk by them?

* A little background for those unfamiliar with the phenomenon: In ultra-religious Judaism there are strict rules about separation of men and women. There are many reasons behind these rules, some of which are perfectly sensible, and some which are not as clear. One of the implications of these rules is that often, an ultra-religious man will avert his eyes when a woman is in sight, whether or not he knows her, regardless of other people present. My understanding of this action is to avoid sexual temptation.

I don’t dress provocatively. I usually wear loosely fitted jeans, a baggy sweatshirt and clashing colors. And yet when I experience a person purposely averting their gaze from me in a situation such as crossing the street, I feel dehumanized. I am made into a sex object. Because what they say with their eyes, at least what I receive is, it doesn’t matter if you dress modestly, or act modestly, the fact that you are a woman means you are automatically a sexual tempation.

Well, most of the time that is not how I view myself. I try to keep a positive self image. I’m a musician, a writer, an artist. I’m a mathematics student. I’m not such a bad cook. I’m a sister and daughter and friend. Of course, I’m not one to give power to a stranger by letting them reduce me to a sex object. I’m just saying, they’re obviously wrong if they think that’s all there is to me. And I think I can say in the name of most women that that is true for them as well.

Objectification of women goes beyond strangers on the street. In some extreme cases – and do note these are extreme cases – children and babies are sexualized in a similar way. Young girls above the age of three are criticized for dressing immodestly if their skirts do not fall below the knee and their sleeves are not elbow length. Male siblings avoid changing baby girls’ diapers. In my opinion there is a message in these actions which is wrong, and that is the message that all things female are sexual temptations. Babies are not sexual. Girls are not sexual. People who sexualize girls and babies are called pedophiles.

Once, while I was working at the hospital for National Service, a man came up to me and, staring at the floor, asked if he could get by. I was standing next to the food cart preparing meals for a patient. There were a clear two meters behind me, and yet this man wanted me to put down the food I was balancing and step back so he could pass in front of me. I did not understand why that was necessary since I was not blocking the hallway. Luckily the head nurse saved the day by explaining to me that this man held by a tradition which prohibited walking between two women. I glanced across the hall and noticed a woman standing there, talking to someone else. The hall was wide enough so he wouldn’t have any contact with either of us as he walked by, and yet I had to put down the tray I was organizing and step back from the food cart to let him pass.  The whole time the man refused to look up at me and stared at the floor. I was wearing a standard hospital scrub three sizes too big for me (provocative?). It made no sense to me. I felt humiliated and belittled.Why did he feel he couldn’t walk between me and the other woman, seven feet away? And regardless, why did he feel he couldn’t look me in the eye when asking me a favor? Where was his respect for an eighteen year old serving her country? I’ll never know. All he saw in me that day was a sex object. And I was probably feeding his father.

In conclusion, let me just say what I think is the core of the Jewish religion. Love and respect for the other overrides the little everyday rules we’re supposed to follow. When someone offers you their hand to shake, a person should use their judgement and decide whether it’s more important not to touch a woman or not to cause her shame, a much worse offense people tend to forget about sometimes. It seems that some streams in Judaism have forgotten that loving our neighbors like ourselves is our highest law. Unsure about that? I learned a song in kindergarten about how Rabbi Akiva says, “Love your neighbor like youself, that is the entire Torah.”