Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

Let Me Tell You What Ruins The Moment

 

I was on a date with this guy, and we were talking about hobbies. His is martial arts, so I told him about my experience learning and volunteering for IMPACT Israel.

Date: Rape protection for women? Lemme guess: Punch to the face, knee to the groin, run away as fast as you can?
Me: No.
Date: No? What else could they possibly teach?
Me: Well, of course they teach you a good knee to the groin, but it’s not just that. It’s also about setting clear boundaries.
He smirked while I demonstrated creepy and non-creepy ways a guy could ask me what time it is while waiting for the bus.
Date: So run away!
Me: I don’t want to, I’m waiting for the bus. I need to get to work.
He was skeptical about the idea that someone standing too close to you and making you feel uncomfortable was something that happens to women on a regular basis. He was impressed with the style of physical fighting skills I described, but the concept of setting verbal boundaries seemed to register with him like teaching women to be uptight and paranoid.
Date: Only creepy guys do that! I could recognize a creeper from a mile away!
Me: OK, fine.
Me: But not all guys are creepy, right? I believe most men aren’t creepy. Some men are good. Some guys are cute, and kind, and they love us. They’re boyfriends, husbands, dads. What are you supposed to do when it’s your boyfriend, who loves you, who is making you uncomfortable?

I can’t even count on one hand anymore the number of stories I’ve heard from close friends that go like this:

  • Boy meets girl
  • boy and girl engage in consensual romantic activity
  • boy initiates sex
  • girl says “No, I don’t want to.”
  • boy thinks girl doesn’t actually mean what she said
  • without really understanding that that is what he is doing – ends up raping her

WHY does that still happen?

Date: But what are you supposed to do? Am I supposed to ask before I do anything?
Me: Yeah.
Date: Everything?
Me: Yeah.
Date: Ask before every single thing? Pffffft!
Me: Yeah, why not? It doesn’t ruin the moment.
Me: But do you know what totally ruins the moment? Touching someone without her consent. Huge turnoff.

13344542_1157187760994513_3899135592563392909_nLike many other Internet junkies out there, I’ve been reading the story about the Stanford rapist, his father’s nauseating letter defending him, and the victim’s testimony. The conclusion I’ve drawn from it is that young people (probably everyone, but particularly young people) are so terribly misinformed about consent. If you are drunk, you can not give consent. And if you are not sure if the woman you’re with is drunk or not, what are you supposed to do? You’re supposed to not have sex with her. Because if you don’t know if she can give consent, why would you risk violating someone in that way? And if you aren’t sure if she wanted it, even if she said yes, or she said no but you think she meant yes and you aren’t sure if she means what she means – just don’t do it. If you’ve ever had sex with someone who has given their consent and not regretted it in the morning, then you know that consent doesn’t wear a mask. Consent looks like “Yes, I do want to have sex with you!” It’s obvious when someone is saying yes. Which means that if it’s not obvious, they are saying no.

So what do we do? How do we fix this problem? My younger brother initiated a simple campaign to try and make a difference. His campaign is called Free Consent, and its goal is to raise awareness about what exactly consent looks like. Their slogan is, “If it’s not yes, it’s no!” They held a conference just last week with workshops and guest speakers to discuss this topic, and they’ve visited high schools all over the northern part of the country to help spread the word.

13301500_10154178202265365_6235709197252153524_oAnd the best part is, here’s something you can do: join the campaign! Post a selfie of you holding a sign bearing the words,

“If it’s not YES – it’s NO!” #freeconsent

It’s not so hard to understand. And who knows? Maybe we can actually start reducing rape cases around the world. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

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, Living in Israel

An Open Letter To Ramatcal Gadi Eizenkot

To: Gadi Eizenkot

Chief of Staff of Israel Defense Forces

May 1st, 2015

Dear Gadi,

I am an Israeli student of mathematics at Hebrew University, and I am writing to you because there is a cause to which I believe you can make a great difference. As a leader, in a position of power, your word stands to influence many. You have the privilege of being the head of one of the strongest armies in the world.

The women of Israel want to serve in the army. We are honored to represent our country and give our time and knowledge to it. We are proud to be a part of such an important body in the state of Israel.

I know that the military is a difficult setting for women. At the moment, however, enlisting is mandatory for women in Israel, and if you want women to serve, the army needs to be a safe place for us. Right now, it is not.

May Fatal’s story came to illustrate that. The responses her post received were mind boggling. The idea that pictures of her in a bathing suit could have anything to do with her sexual assault is a fallacy which was debunked decades ago. She is the victim, it was not her fault. She was not asking for it. It was not consensual. Women do not choose to be violated once by a man and then again by the media and the internet world in order to tell a lie. We only would do that to tell the truth.

I implore you, Mr. Eizenkot, to come out with a statement which condemns the assault of May Fatal and take a strong stance against sexual harassment in the army. You can make a difference. You can help make the IDF a safe place for women to be. Simply by telling the world that you do not believe the victim is at fault, by telling the IDF soldiers that there is someone who will support them if they are assaulted, and most importantly, that men care about women, and want them to feel safe, you can change the world.

Please do.

Awaiting your reply,

Liora Sophie

Citizen of Israel since 1999

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

It’s Activism Time!

Can you think of any better reading material than the statistics of sexual harrassment at your university? I can’t. It’s incredible. This photo states that in the past academic year alone, there have been 25 complaints within the university. (And that’s ONLY the cases that were reported! Remember, most cases are not reported!) The article accompanied by this picture talks about the experience of a person who reports sexual assault to the university. They are subjected to riddicule, humiliation, and often discouraged from going to the police and making an official report.

Here’s my question. Why is this happening in the 21st century? Have we not yet learned to believe victims of harassment and not to put them through “a second rape?” And why is this such a big problem in college campuses? We know we are not the only university in the world where this is a huge problem.

As we bask in the triumphs of modern feminism, we can’t forget that we still have a long way to go before full equality between men and women is achieved. In this case, I want to point out the difference in statistics in the sciences. As a female student of mathematics, in most of my classes the ratio of boys to girls is 7 to 1. I’m serious! It’s no wonder mathematicians have so much trouble dating. 🙂 The point being, there is already a gap between men and women in the sciences. I think, if we want to encourage girls and women to go into academics and study sciences, we need to first and foremost make sure that the college campus is a safe place for girls and women. And right now, statistics show that it is not.

So let’s change that. Let’s make the campus a safe place for female students and teachers. Let’s encourage girls to become educated by welcoming them warmly into the arms of academics and giving them the proper respect they deserve when we fail to protect them.

I call upon the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its representatives to say, Guys, you can do better than a letter. I want to see you subsidizing self defense courses for you girls and women. I want to see seminars on the bystander approach, educating men and women how to discourage rape culture. I want to see people who report assault treated with respect and their perpetrators brought to justice. I want to see real strong male leadership. With those things, you can truly live up to your mission statement of being the best.

Liora Sophie

Student of Mathematics at Hebrew University

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

Be A Good Bystander. You’re Not Exempt From Fighting Violence.

Domestic violence affects everyone.

Whether you are the victim, the perpetrator, the victim or perpetrator’s child, relative, friend, coworker, neighbor…you’re affected. This is not somebody else’s problem. It’s not something which isn’t your business. And don’t think that just because it’s a huge probelm that somehow means one person can’t make a difference.

Check out this person. Jackson Katz: Violence against women – it’s  a men’s issue
And this person. Ellen Snortland: We all need to be safe before we can thrive.

I was taking a break from my homework (I already handed in the assignment which is due tomorrow! It’s OK) and came across this article in the daily Israeli Newspaper “Israel Hayom” (=Israel Today):

IMG289Even though I don’t have a lot of respect for this Government-funded newspaper and do not recognize it as a reliable source of information, I feel I have to say something about this atrocious article which was published today. The article is in honor of Novembre 25th being the International Day for Prevention of Violence against Women. It gives a vague number of domestic violence cases reported to the Israeli police per day (72) and an approximate number of women in society who suffer from it (7,000). The article is a series of questions asked by citizens suffering from some type of domestic violence, and answers given by “professionals.” (That’s what they called themselves.)

It’s not really visible in the photo, but in the bottom left corner is a tiny little article which states that ONLY 15% OF JEWISH CITIZENS interviewed said they would report a case of violence to the authorities.

So assuming 15% of cases are reported, the statistics in our beloved country actually look more like 480 cases per day and 47,000 women who suffer from domestic violence. (For a more accurate calculation please do the math yourself. Seriously, I’m terrible at arithmetic. I’m a mathematician. It’s a known fact.)

Of the many things which bothered me in this article, here are the highlights:

1. All questions involving violence began with a phrase such as “My husband beats me…” which on the surface rules out cases of verbal and emotional violence. The askers all seemed to be fully aware that they were involved in a violent relationship, and they all seemed to be experiencing physical violence. There are other types of violence and they are usually harder to recognize than physical abuse, because they don’t leave visible scars on the victim. We need to talk about these types of violence as well.

2. Black and white answers are not always what people need to hear. It’s easy to tell someone suffering from violence “Just leave him!” but it’s not that simple. For example, one of the questions was from a woman whose son-in-law was abusive to her and her spouse. The answer given was “That counts as domestic violence and you can make a claim with the police and get a restraining order.”
First of all, restraining orders don’t actually work.
Second of all, the “professional” giving the answer completely disregarded the fact that this person is the woman’s daughter’s husband. It’s not as simple as just getting a restraining order against your son-in-law. There are people in your life who may be violent to you but whom you still want to have some kind of relationship with. How does getting a restraining order against her son-in-law affect her relationship with her daughter? There are more things which need to be said, because more often than not “Just leave him” is an answer that will go in a victim’s ear and out the other.

3. What seriuosly? 100% of the people interviewed were Jewish?

4. Who is the perpetrator? Who is an abuser? if 47,000 women suffer from domestic violence that means there are 47,000 men (or women) acting in violent ways towards people they love. How does that happen? How do you stop being violent? How do you solve conflicts in non-violent ways if your entire life that’s what you’ve been taught? Is it possible to change? What other ways are there of solving problems?
What the heck are we spending all our public education budget on if not these things? I know some schools have the decency to bring in a social worker once in a while to give a 45 minute lecture to kids about violence but let’s face it, that doesn’t actually help. Schools have no idea how to prevent bullying. The police have no idea how to prevent domestic violence. Something needs to be done. Something has got to change, and fast.

I’m sorry if I come off as kind of angry and aggressive. I’ve had so many conversations with friends and people I respect who just don’t know what to do, don’t know if they should say something, and don’t have any idea how common this problem is.

All this can be overwhelming because the scope of it is so huge and there are many dangers involved. But we can’t just sit around and hope we won’t encounter it in our lives. We already have. Because, as Dr. Seuss said,

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

So here’s what I urge you to do:

Identify your role. Who are you? Are you a victim, perpetrator?
Chances are you are a bystander. Watch Jackson Katz’s amazing TED talk about the Bystander Approach and learn how average people can make a difference.
Speak out. Challenge your friends on using abusive language and making jokes about rape.
Educate yourself. Learn how to defend yourself against violence and encourage people in your life to do so as well.
Take a stand. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, SAY SOMETHING to them. Yes, it is your business. Stick your nose in (be careful though, violence is violence!) and you could change somebody’s life.

You’re not exempt from fighting violence.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

Dear World, This Is Not What Judaism Really Is

“Give up,” my coworker says to me, as she watches me hack away at the keyboard angrily. “They’ll never listen to you. You can’t change the world.”

My coworker’s words of encouragement were said about my reaction to this article (sorry, can’t find English link just yet) which my friend posted on Facebook this morning. It talks about an Orthodox Rabbi in the community of Elon Moreh in Israel, who declared today that it is forbidden for a three year old girl to appear in a bathing suit during men’s swimming hours at the pool, to keep men from having “Impure thoughts.”

According to my coworker, who is more knowledgeable than me in the field of Orthodox Judaism, this Rabbi’s intentions were perfectly legitimate. He is trying to keep little girls safe from harassment. My argument is, whether or not that is true, what he said could only make things worse. Instead of standing up and saying “Rape is wrong!” he acknowledged the sexualization of three year olds as legitimate. Instead of saying “Three year olds are not sexual!” he essentially said, pedophilia is natural.

While this is so infuriating I am actually having trouble typing, the point I want to make here is that this kind of statement does not in any way represent the principles of Judaism. This is a case of extremism gone seriously wrong. It reminds me of when Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke for protesting about the expenses of birth control, and called her all sorts of nasty names on his show. Obviously Limbaugh’s behavior was outrageous, but it was clear that he’s a nutcase and he does not represent the majority of Republicans.

What happened immediately afterwards is what I see as an act of true leadership. President Obama called up Sandra Fluke on the phone and told her she was brave for standing up for her rights. In this small act of kindness, Obama told the world that Rush Limbaugh is not worth listening to, that it is wrong to degrade and humiliate women for standing up for themselves.

This is a perfect example of the bystander approach which Jackson Katz talks about in this mind-blowing video on TED.com. He says that in order to end gender based violence, we need men with power to stand up to other men.

In the case of Rabbi Levanon we need an act of leadership similar to Obama’s. My coworker may be right – they won’t listen to me. But there are people they will listen to – the chief Rabbi of Israel, other orthodox rabbis in the community.  These are the people who need to stand up and say, this is wrong. Instead of standing by silently and not getting involved, people with influence need to get up and make noise and say, this is not Judaism. This is not okay.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

Keep Moving Forward – On Holocaust Education

I have a confession to make.

I don’t like the holocaust.

I don’t like thinking about, reading about, or talking about the holocaust. I don’t like hearing disturbing jokes about the difference between Santa and the Jews. I don’t like confronting the horrors in our past. I admit it. I don’t like learning about the holocaust.

Mostly I find that anyone today who is teaching holocaust studies is aiming to terrify the student and impress upon them the level of horror which occurred in Nazi Germany in World War 2. People don’t like giving out dry facts; they have to be biased, painful and frightening.

But really, I have had my share of horror in holocaust studies. I’ve heard enough to be convinced that I’ll do everything I can to make sure it won’t happen again. I have holocaust related nightmares from time to time. I’m done with being scared. Seriously. I know what happened, OK?

Although I don’t rule out our responsibility as people to educate ourselves and the next generation. I often ask myself, how can I learn about the holocaust in a way that makes sense to me? How can I teach the holocaust without hurting myself too much?

I was recently having a conversation with the a friend of mine whose mother-in-law was rescued during World War 2 by a Non-Jewish man in France. As I understand, this man, at an enormous risk to his life, arranged for many Jewish children to be hidden in the homes of French residents during the Nazi invasion. Many. Not one Jewish child, many. To him, saving the lives of these children was as natural as saving his own. He did not see them as Jews – he saw them as nothing but people. People who deserved to live, simply because they were people.

This, according to Nomi, is the message we should take from the holocaust. We, all around the world, should learn to emulate this man’s behavior, or at the very least his philosophy. PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE no matter what shape, size, or color, and they do not deserve to be starved and slaughtered and godknowswhat else the Nazis did to the Jews back then. We must learn to see humans as humans. We must learn to recognize that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if someone looks, sounds, eats, drinks, talks, walks, drives, shaves, or thinks different from you. People are people.

And this is where I feel I fit into holocaust education. Instead of focusing on the horrors that were done to us and the torture we went through, we can educate ourselves by counteracting what the Nazis thought of us – as sub humans – and treating all people equally. Instead of focusing on the wounds of the past, we can look into the future and change the way we see ourselves and everyone in order to ensure that this will never ever happen again. And I mean this, guys. I really mean it. When I say people, I mean everyone – even if they’re not Jews. Tall, short, male, female, pretty, ugly, thin, fat, black, white, brown, beige, yellow, purple, Jewish, Christian, Muslim(forget it, I’m not naming all the religions here, you get the point), American presidents, celebrities, royal, smart, stupid, rich, poor, believers and non believers alike.

If we can learn to see people as people, we will never be in danger of treating them as less.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

Pro Choice – One Particular Choice

  A year ago I received a flier in the mail attached to a dvd with a picture of four smiling teenage girls on the cover. I flipped through the flier and found a series of ultrasound photographs of a fetus at different stages of pregnancy. The captions were in first person, and said things like: “Here I am five weeks old, my **insertbodypart* is developing and I can already *insertcutebabyaction*.” taking the fetus and giving it a voice to make it seem like a living thing. I realized this was an anti-abortion campaign and decided to save the flier so I could blog about how horrendous it was.

* My non-Israeli readers may be interested to know that abortion in Israeli s legal, safe, and covered by health insurance.

The organization which handed out these fliers has been nominated for a city prize by several local newspapers. Their reasoning: for saving hundreds of Jewish babies from the threat of abortion. This is infuriating, outrageous, and just so completely wrong that I’m running out of adjectives. Let me explain the injustice I see in the granting this prize to the Efrat Organization.

Efrat discourages abortion for any reason in any situation. That includes underage girls, cases of rape and incest, and financial background. They provide money for girls who do not abort pregnancy even if they initially wanted to – not enough to ensure financial security, but enough to bribe the mother. They view *any* type of abortion as an act of murder, and when involved in a case they take extreme measures to ensure the baby is carried to term. They consider themselves ‘pro-choice’ while ruling out the possibility that any girl would ever choose to abort. My view on this ideology is that it is vioent. What’s the difference between what this organization does and the legal definition of rape? Some subtleties which should be updated in the law anyway. This is clear violation of a woman’s body, stripping her of her power to choose and control her own life.

To award violence against women is to encourage it, to assure it stays alive in our society. This is a step backward for all individuals and organizations fighting violence against women in Israel and Jerusalem.
The only way to fight violence is to disempower it. and that is why it is crucial not to let this organization gain more influence. We must stand up to this kind of injustice.

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

Who Needs Racism? An Unforgettable Adventure

Have you ever heard of Muslims and Jews in the Middle East joining hands to battle violence against women? Stay tuned. You’re about to get an earful.

I volunteer as an assistant in a self-defense program for women called IMPACT. The course we finished yesterday was for a group of Muslim women in East Jerusalem. Since none of the team spoke fluent Arabic, we used a translator most of the time, but we communicated pretty well even without a common language.

After the third session, one of the women shared this story.

I never used to take my children out by myself. When I wanted to take them out, I’d call my sisters, and if no one could come with me I just wouldn’t go. But last week I took them out alone. I wasn’t afraid at all.

This is a perfect example of the kind of changes IMPACT makes on the lives of the women who take it. There is a certain misconception that learning self-defense techniques will make a woman violent, but that’s not what happens in reality. Beyond sexual assault, these little everyday inconveniences are what imprison us as women. IMPACT does not make us belligerent; it sets us free.

I’ll be perfectly honest. Before the course, I was prepared to be accepting and friendly towards the women, since that was my job, and also because I believe in approaching everyone with love, no matter what their background is. However, I was not prepared for the amount of acceptance they showed toward us. There was not a peep about the racial and cultural differences between us for the entire course. Until the last day, when one woman told us:

In the past, when I saw a Jew, I used to be scared of them. Now when I see a Jew, I think of you, and I remember that some are good.

O_O I swear I didn’t pay her to say that.

I realized the only real difference between us is that they wear pretty scarves over their hair. We’re not different; we’re estranged from each other. The moment we are given an opportunity to interact all racism is thrown to the wind. Seriously, who needs it anyway?

Huge thanks to the people who stood by me and helped me through this process. I couldn’t have done it without you. Staff of IMPACT Israel: you are the change you want to see in the world. Keep shining.

*Check out El HaLev, the amazing Non Profit in charge of this project.