Posted by Maya Paley
Just two months ago something momentous happened in southern California: a transgender teenager was crowned homecoming queen at her high school in Orange Country. When she won, Cassidy Lynn Campbell told the media she was “so proud to win this not just for me but for everyone out there and for every kid—transgender, gay straight, black, white, Mexican, Asian. It doesn’t matter, you can be yourself.”
Her message is one we can all appreciate. We all want to know that it is okay to just be ourselves. We all want to know that we will not be shamed or disconnected from others if we are our true selves, as explained beautifully by Brené Brown in a TedX Talk.
November is Transgender Awareness Month.
I am going to make the assumption that most people I know did not know this. I might not have known myself if I did not work for a progressive organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights.
I tracked down Drian Juarez, the Transgender Economic Empowerment Project Manager at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, to get some of her thoughts about Transgender Awareness Month. Here’s what she said:
“Transgender people are murdered on every corner on the planet just for being who they are. They are twice as likely to have college degrees or higher and experience unemployment or poverty at twice the national average. Unemployment rates are over 18% for transgender people. Employers do not understand what transgender is. It’s the same for housing, healthcare, and things like going to the DMV and having to choose male or female on your ID card.
Transgender people are often times visibly transgender, which challenges people’s concepts of the socially constructed ideas of what a man and a woman is supposed to be and do in a relationship. We make assumptions and assign identities based on cultural norms. But you can’t make assumptions about people’s identities, pronouns, and names. You should get to know them individually. Transgender people are challenging the core concepts of the gender binary by proving that gender is not fixed. “
There have been some legislative improvements for transgender people in California in the last few years. AB887 made it easier for transgender people to change their identity documents. This year, AB1266 allowed students in middle and high school to participate in sports or gendered events in their preferred gender identity.
So…how do you act as an ally?
Last month, the entire office staff of NCJW/LA went through a mandatory training on diversity. The workshop was called “Being an Ally to the Trans Community” and it was led by Drian.
Here are a few things cisgender (non-transgender people) folks should know about being a true ally to the transgender community, as explained and written by Drian Juarez in her presentation:
You can be an ally this month simply by attending a Transgender Day of Remembrance. Here are few events in LA County:
West Hollywood Library on Wednesday, 11/20/13:
Beth Chayim Chadashim on Friday, 11/22/13:
11.19.13 at 3:47 pm | Just two months ago something momentous happened. . .
9.18.13 at 1:25 pm | “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the. . .
8.21.13 at 5:46 pm | The first time I went to my high school’s. . .
8.5.13 at 1:41 pm | I did not come easily to feminism. I resisted the. . .
7.24.13 at 4:32 pm | Honestly, if I have to hear or see one more. . .
7.10.13 at 5:56 pm | “Mark my words, some future Governor of this. . .
11.19.13 at 3:47 pm | Just two months ago something momentous happened. . . (6)
1.10.13 at 4:52 pm | The Guttmacher Institute’s analysis of state. . . (3)
5.3.13 at 12:56 pm | I have this calendar of Yiddish sayings on my. . . (3)
September 18, 2013 | 1:25 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Hillary Selvin is the Executive Director of the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles and enjoys the spirituality that comes with being in the outdoors surrounded by the beauty of nature.
“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives”.
Remember that opening line from the TV soap opera series? I might be aging myself here but when we reflect about those words what do we really think about? From my own experiences as a three time cancer survivor the reflection that comes during this time of year, especially for me during Kol Nidre, is the power of our bodies to heal and the ability to keep moving forward. Who we become is a reflection of the challenges we have met throughout our lives.
When you look at the hourglass it seems that in the beginning the sand goes slower and the pebbles are easily seen. As the sand continues to fall it bunches up and some pebbles pass through the narrow part of the hourglass more easily than others. By the time you get to the end and all of the sand has reached the bottom of the hourglass, we see the pebbles spread out and flowing through until the last one drops down.
Just as the pebbles begin overlapping, so do our lives. In the beginning things are smoother and as life goes on we see more challenges. In the end our choices in life become clearer. In today’s world we talk about life transitions. When we are young the world is before us and we feel we can conquer anything. We choose our friends and careers based on what we dream we want to be or what falls into our laps because of choices we make. Life is ahead of us and we cannot wait for what is around the corner.
As we continue to grow the years start moving too quickly. Before we know it we have graduated high school and college and are working. The world we live in revolves around making it through life, getting better jobs, family, and other responsibilities. Our dreams become less fulfilled as everyday life gets in the way. Health is still pretty good and we are enjoying our best years. It is a time for us as adults to continue to choose our paths; for many revolving around work and family. It is a time to find balance in our lives. So many things we need to deal with; the choices we have made and the challenges that have confronted us.
Then the years really start getting behind us and the saying that the years go by so much more quickly as you get older really rings true. We begin to reflect on our youth, the choices we have made and we want to figure out where we’ll go next in our lives. Health, which for most of us has never been too much of an issue, all of a sudden becomes part of our everyday reality. We are now aging and our bodies are telling us that all the fun we had in our 20 – 40’s is catching up with us, but that does not mean we are going anywhere.
Our past and the challenges we have faced do not define us but become part of who we are, reflecting our choices, our loves and our lives. As a matter of fact, these can be our most amazing years as we put our experiences, knowledge and hopefully some of our wisdom to good use. Today it is called third chapter. Our life his full of different chapters, behind us and ahead of us, but the third chapter I believe is the best time for us to truly make an impact and difference for ourselves, those around us, and the world. It is really not that difficult.
So… “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives”. My goal is to make each day count and to remember that as the sand bunches up it also thins out to reach its destiny. I hope for you all that as the road becomes clearer you may find your destiny.
August 21, 2013 | 5:46 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Alexandra Batzdorf just completed a summer internship at the National Council of Jewish Women/LA. Alexandra is a current Bard College sophomore majoring in Sociology with a concentration in Social Policy.
The first time I went to my high school’s “Womyn in Today’s Society” club, or WITS, I was terrified. Although I was intrigued by posters around school advertising WITS, it was not something I ever anticipated exploring. But my boisterous, self-assured friend was going that day and she insisted that I come along. I glanced nervously over my shoulders to make sure no one I knew was around to see me and label me a feminist.
Then I opened the door and walked into what would turn out to be the warmest, most positively influential space of my high school career.
Looking back, I’m not really sure exactly why 14-year-old me was so afraid. I come from a liberal family with a mother who is both a major financial contributor to my family and a feminist. My parents lived through and supported the women’s liberation movement and often had conversations with me about women’s rights. As I quickly learned through WITS, I was already a feminist. But to my peers and me, feminism was a dirty word.
I’m sure there’s a multitude of reasons why being dismissed as a feminist is enough to stop many an arguer dead in her tracks and replace her confident passion with shame, but I think one of the most influential culprits is the Internet. My parents’ generation is the first to have to worry about the information their kids are exposed to on the web. Many people find themselves opposed to censorship, but afraid of what might sculpt the young minds of their children. Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying the Internet has single-handedly caused sexism. Sexism has been alive and well since way before the Internet. But the attitudes on the Internet reflect those in mainstream society, often with fewer filters and through an intensified lens due to the anonymity that the Internet provides.
While an obvious culprit may be access to porn that more often than not dehumanizes women, in my opinion, the more insidious problem is social networking. Today’s youth is absorbed by it. We’ve seen it used time and time again as a tool for cyber bullying. People are expected to present two images to the world: the real live person who physically interacts with people and the more symbolic social network profile that must somehow appeal to peers, future employers, family members, and the approximately 1.15 billion other members of Facebook all at once. This is a daunting task. Gone are the days of trying to keep work life and personal life separate.
With all this pressure to please everyone, people are bound to get picked on by someone. And with the ability to send messages to anywhere in the world, people are not afraid to voice their opinions. It’s easy to forget there’s a real, live person behind the computer screen. The combination of guaranteed anonymity and the higher threshold for shock value resulting from the exposure the Internet provides is a recipe for young people to gain the bravery to be meaner and to lose awareness of consequences on peers. In this way, social networking is an extremely effective method of perpetuating shame.
I’ve read articles about people who have had photographs of themselves breastfeeding removed from Facebook for indecency, while pages devoted to dehumanizing women remain untouched, despite countless reports. On reddit, a collection of interactive communities separated by topic, there is a subreddit (page within reddit discussing a certain topic) called “/r/TheRedPill,” (1) which describes itself as a “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.” Its title alludes to the red pill from The Matrix films that represents the painful and difficult objective truth of the world. It has 13,588 members. The subreddit “r/MensRights” (2) has 77,090 members. That is roughly the size of Camden, New Jersey. And what’s worse, the subreddit “/r/RedPillWomen” (3) has 1,160 members.
Men and women are affected by sexism and it shows. Just last year, I was at a museum with my then 8th grade cousin when he pointed to a painting depicting a naked woman with pubic hair and told me, “she needs to shave.” He is one of the sweetest kids I know. His mother works at a nonprofit devoted to social justice. I’ve had fantastic conversations with her about sexism and she often gives me books about influential women. Yet he already had a definite, restrictive notion of what it means to be valued as a woman in today’s society. He said it with a giggle, not anger or disgust. I can’t blame him any more than I can blame myself for fearing WITS at his age. He honestly didn’t know better.
Deeply engrained sexism can be seen everywhere. An activist from Australia was recently attacked via Twitter for “challeng[ing] [Tyler “The Creator”] Okonma’s lyrics, which encourage rape and violence against women by vocally supporting a petition on change.org that suggested he shouldn’t be playing all-age shows.” (4) The Twitter community responded by flooding her with tweets threatening to rape and murder her. (The tweets got pretty graphic, but if you want to see the whole story and some examples, see the link under “SOURCES” on the bottom of this page.) An attorney in West Virginia is trying to prevent future cases like the Steubenville, Ohio rape case by creating “Project Future,” (5) a program that teaches teenagers not to share evidence of rape via social media so they don’t get in trouble. This is disturbing not only because the response is to teach teens not to get caught, rather than not to rape, but also because the rapists were confident enough that the social media community would be accepting of their actions that they posted blatant proof.
Recently, The Hillary Project, a group devoted to keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House, released “Slap Hillary,” (6) an interactive game that allows users to virtually slap a cartoon rendering of Clinton with a picture of her face. Disagreement with a political leader is remedied by violence against women. The only reason sites like this, as well as Twitter attacks, viral evidence of rape, and anything else on the web promoting sexism exist is that people who post them feel comfortable doing so. They have the expectation that others share these views and the safety of being physically separated from those who don’t.
I’m not saying the Internet has destroyed our youth. Times change. Trends swing back and forth like a pendulum. The Internet has simply exacerbated the seemingly inevitable fate of progress. But I do not want my generation to be known as the content people who went backward in the fight for freedom. Oppression shouldn’t make a comeback like Doc Martens and the high-waisted jeans that I remember being so popular in the ‘90s.
The Internet can be a fantastic tool for educating youth about systems of oppression among an almost infinite number of other things. And there are definitely sites out there that provide people with a lot of empowerment and self-positive education. The web has allowed for connections that simply weren’t possible before. I’ve been part of a Facebook page that allows young women in the U.S. and the Middle East to have open discussions about gender. And I still frequent subreddits with articles and dialogues pertaining to systems of oppression. But not everyone stumbles upon blogs like this one. We cannot expect people growing up with the World Wide Web to emerge unscathed by the hatred that still exists.
Kids have no way of knowing how much fighting has happened throughout history for women, people of color, the LGBT community, or any other group of oppressed people, which is quite an extensive list. It is our responsibility to teach them. Not everyone is lucky enough to go to WITS or experience the 11th grade social justice curriculum that was taught to me in the amazing Humanities Magnet in my high school. For those of you who have/know pre-teens who don’t feel comfortable talking about sexism (or that you want to provide with more information), I HIGHLY recommend Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism (7). It is sassy, fun, informative, and an overall enjoyable read created to empower young women afraid of the feminist label. I wish I had read it sooner. If you don’t think your kid will want to read it, fine, but then have conversations!
Do something! We are facing a time when the government is stomping on our reproductive rights. Planned Parenthoods are closing all over the country. Abortion is becoming more and more difficult to access legally. Female politicians are criticized for their looks, advocates of birth control are shamelessly called sluts (which remains a scathing insult, for reasons beyond me), and our youth are too desensitized by the Internet’s high threshold of acceptable critique to see the problem with this. If we want to maintain the work that has been done so far, let alone further progress, WE NEED TO TALK TO OUR KIDS ABOUT THE INTERNET.
August 5, 2013 | 1:41 pm
Posted By Allison Pearl
Allison Pearl is a summer intern at the National Council of Jewish Women/LA, a native of Los Angeles, a Marlborough high school graduate, and a current student at Vassar College. At Vassar, she is studying psychology and drama, as well as pursuing her interests in gender studies, writing and literature.
I did not come easily to feminism. I resisted the title because I was afraid of making the word a part of myself: that blurry, future person I was simultaneously trying to find and create throughout adolescence. Growing up and becoming myself was, and continues to be, a slow, delicate process, and I used to fear that dropping ‘feminist’ into the image that I was so carefully attempting to craft would be a clumsy mistake. And personally, I didn’t feel differently about the title after reading statistics, or after encountering sexism, or even after reading Simone de Beauvoir. My transition into seeing myself as a feminist grew out of something I have known and owned about myself my whole life: I am a reader. Both in school and on my own, I am perpetually in the middle of a book, with an ever-growing, unread stack waiting on my nightstand. I always begin a book hoping to lose myself in the balm of another world, another life. Yet, more often than not, a book will turn out to be a drifting embarkation which ultimately transports me back to myself: a quiet, familiar shore. I didn’t know while I read some of these books, nor for some time afterward, what my destination was, but when I arrived and then turned to look behind me, they were, of course, all right where I had left them. They had borne me back to myself, and when I turned around, this is what I saw:
“She, for an instant, delayed deadly purpose in tears and reflection,
Fell, ghostlike, on the bed where she uttered a few final phrases:
‘Spoils that were so sweet once, while fate and its god gave permission,
Take to yourselves this soul. Cut me loose from all of this anguish.’ […]
This said, she pressed her face to the covers: […]
‘This is the fire that, far out to sea, the cruel Dardanian’s
Eyes must absorb. He must carry with him these omens of our death.’”
I chose to take Latin in high school because I liked the dreamy, dusty seclusion of a dead language, the riddled grammar and crude pronunciations that create pictures, not sentences: once-sweet spoils, vessels on the shore, the path to the dead world, eyes absorbing. These fragments of Book IV of The Aeneid rise slowly up to meet me as I translate. Doomed, sweet Dido meets her end on a school bus in afternoon traffic on Pico Boulevard. She is beautiful to behold, even out at sea. She flings herself on the smoking pyre, adding herself to the pile of Aeneas’ forgotten possessions, and the smoke billows into the sky. This is Dido’s final message to Aeneas, who watches from his receding ship, and to me, her reader, watching from my own drifting vessel. Anticipating a written assignment, I lift my eyes from the page and begin to formulate Dido’s defense, contemplating her actions, her victimization, and her place in a man’s story. Eventually, I will reread this with an analytic eye that will spread a frost over the page. But in this moment, when the language is not dead but dying, I witness her, I feel the burden of desolation she ignores in her unshared death. Fifteen, on a school bus, in my khaki uniform skirt, a highlighter in my teeth, I underline with pen beneath her message.
“I espied thee, fair indeed and tall,
Under a platan, yet methought less fair,
Less winning soft, less amiably mild,
Than that smooth wat’ry image; back I turned,
Thou following cried’st aloud, “Return fair Eve,
Whom fli’st thou? Whom thou fli’st, of him thou art,
His flesh, his bone; to give thee being I lent
Out of my side to thee, nearest my heart
Substantial life, to have thee by my side
Henceforth an individual solace dear;
Part of my soul I seek thee, and thee claim
My other half’: with that thy gentle hand
Seized mine, I yielded.”
Eve- on trial. I’m sixteen, hurriedly reading Paradise Lost for AP English Literature, and I underline her image with unease. Someone is here; someone is knocking at the door. It occurs to me that there is more here than what is written on the page, and there is more to her. Eve is in the garden, and it doesn’t feel quite right. Apprehension slowly rises in me as I ponder the possibilities of what would happen if I looked below, at my own image, and liked what I saw, unimaginable as that may be. I do not know why or how she wants to return to her own self, the image in the pond, but I begin to think that perhaps I do not empathize not because I don’t understand, but because she is designed to be misunderstood. I am still far at sea, and the gleaming signal of smoke is perfectly mistakable for so many different things. Perhaps it means pain, anger, desolation, danger, submission, or even something more sinister, and I can’t know for sure, but I underline nevertheless. I watch with fear and envy her attempt to follow instincts that I cannot discern. These are just details we will skim over in class, but even though she fails, even though it all goes perfectly wrong, I am a witness. Here is reasonable doubt, disguised by his flesh, his bone, an individual solace dear. I ask if Eve is possibly a victim more of Milton, rather than Satan, and a classmate quickly says no, of course not. I can see why you would think that, but definitely not. I hesitate, then yield.
“She became with all that power sweeping savagely in and inevitably withdrawing, hypnotized, and the two senses of that vastness and this tininess (the pool had diminished again) flowering within it made her feel that she was bound hand and foot and unable to move by the intensity of feelings which reduced her own body, her own life, and the lives of all the people in the world, for ever, to nothingness. So listening to the waves, crouched over the pool, she brooded.”
I am in bed, hypnotized and stricken. I am holding To the Lighthouse on my chest, pressing hard for air. Waves are crashing all around a woman alone on a shore, before an ocean. This feels both overwhelmingly old and new. I feel the words seeping into me as I take in this woman on the page now pressed to my chest. There are some words we read that are forever written on our faces. I am inside and outside, vast and tiny, bound hand and foot. I am all tied up. I cannot really fathom it all at once, but something is ebbing and flowing. I feel myself drifting ever closer to the distant shore, with each book transporting me closer and each tide tempting me back. Relief, sorrow, confusion and envy are all flowering within me, and I guess as to why. These women have a witness to their pain, thoughts, bravery, love, reasoning, sensations, brooding: simply, to their experiences of self. I feel rootless, vast and tiny. I am feeling and listening and underlining them, but I am incidental. I am unseen and I think, quietly and timidly, that there is still more to me, in here.
“What did she so desire to escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?”
‘What else?’ All the answers ebb away as the chapter ends. I am reading The Crying of Lot 49 for a reason I will not have again. All of the answers are unmistakably in the ‘what else’: whatever will be left unsaid, whatever I find alone, whatever I can never have explained. Oedipa Maas is going to open a door I cannot follow her through. I don’t think I know any better. The rest of the book feels nauseating and bitter cold, but this part feels like the tide pool remaining once the ocean harshly pours away. Drifting architecture, no within and no without. The tower is everywhere, albeit magically and dizzyingly incidental- but everywhere. I can press hard in every direction, measure its field strength, even towards myself, into myself, but I am inescapable. All the power sweeping savagely in and inevitably withdrawing. I think I knew the solution, even then. Retrace my steps. This is the fire that eyes, far out to sea, must absorb. Take root. Find a witness.
“But look, I am writing once again.
I write, I wrote, I took root.
I am again one- and I can pull
So much thought, pulled taut
But then I will be furniture again,
My split ends are decoration in one’s home
But look now I am not even one, but everyone’s.
I do not do what I will
I did not come to be a subject
When I was so good at playing the object
And now I am no one’s.
And now I cannot come, I am all tied up.
I am not what anyone wanted. So I won.
Amateur and immature
I take root so I can be my own,
Because when one is one’s own, one is
Never a little too anyone.
I wrote to prove you wrong, and I
Did by becoming some thoughts, pulled taut.
You taught me, and I have slackened
Now into just this one,
So no, my only one-
I will not come.”
Less winning soft, less amiably mild. This is the end of the poem I write as high school comes to a close. Several people who matter in my life ask me if it is about them. I can see the words on their faces. And when each of them asks me, my immediate thought is yes, of course, everything works out beautifully if it’s for someone else. But I always say no, of course not. I can see why you would think that, but definitely not. They are all individuals solaced, but I am hearing a knock at the door. Someone is in here. There is still more here. I want to apologize for it, avoid and deflect what I am reading and what I have now allowed everyone else to read. Maybe my poem is designed to be misunderstood. But somehow, quietly and timidly, I don’t apologize, I don’t let go, and I don’t let it be a misunderstanding. This is my wat’ry image: a picture, not a sentence, less soft, less mild. And no one will try to turn back to it, except me. I will try, and try, and try. I try for a reason that I will never have for anything else. I retrace my steps. This is the fire that, far out to sea, eyes must absorb. Even from a distance- even through the smoke, the sea, the waves, the frost, I have finally glimpsed what I had misunderstood about the word. The message found me. I am now perfectly unmistaken, perfectly unmistakable in myself. This was always the destination. When I reached myself, when I saw myself arrive from a history, from a sea of women, I became a feminist. I read these women, one by one, and I suspect that sooner than I realized, they were all written upon my face.
(Sources: The Aeneid by Virgil, Paradise Lost by John Milton, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon)
July 24, 2013 | 4:32 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Honestly, if I have to hear or see one more radio, T. V., newspaper, or magazine discussing the “Royal Baby”, I might just give up and walk off a cliff.
Seriously? Is this really the most important news of the century? At this point, I’m just going to use the “Royal Baby” attention to try and get you to visit my blog and actually take some important actions that can truly make a difference. Below are some important legislative updates and I’ve even included easy to follow action items so you can turn off that T.V. or put down that magazine and do something today with the time you otherwise would have spent thinking about the “royal welcome” or how Queen Elizabeth feels about the new heir being a boy.
1) Military Sexual Assault: You probably have heard a lot about military sexual assault this year. Did you know that unwanted sexual contact in the U.S. military actually rose by 37 percent in 2012? That’s 26,000 people, both women and men, being sexually assaulted in our military.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has proposed the Military Justice Improvement Act (S 967) to change the archaic system that allowed commanding officers to investigate and prosecute assault cases among their troops. With S 967, professional military prosecutors will now be responsible for handling sexual assault cases. You can take action to help get the MJI Act passed by writing a letter to your Senator. (For those of you in California, Senators Feinstein and Boxer and are both Sponsors of the Bill so you can thank them for their support.)
At this link you can easily contribute to the fight against military sexual assault by writing a letter to your Senator.
Also, the following Senators really need a push so if you have friends in any of these states, please nudge them to call their Senators. This a bi-partisan issue. You’ll find that there are both Democrat and Republican Senators who have held out in supporting this Bill. We need to contact them today to get them to change their minds.
Senators not yet openly in support of the Bill (all of their contact info and this alert can be found at www.4vawa.org):
Arkansas: BOOZMAN, John
Colorado: BENNET, Michael F
Connecticut: MURPHY, Christopher
Georgia: ISAKSON, Johnny
Idaho: CRAPO, Mike
Idaho: RISCH, James
Illinois: KIRK, Mark
Illinois: DURBIN, Richard J
Indiana: COATS, Daniel
Kentucky: McCONNELL, Mitch
Louisiana: LANDRIEU, Mary L. <
Montana: BAUCUS, Max
Montana: TESTER, Jon
Nevada: REID, Harry North Carolina: BURR, Richard
Ohio: BROWN, Sherrod
Oklahoma: COBURN, Tom
Pennsylvania: TOOMEY, Patrick J.
Rhode Island: WHITEHOUSE, Sheldon
Texas: CORNYN, John
Virginia: WARNER, Mark R.
Wyoming: ENZI, Michael B
When you call, be sure to ask to speak to the staff person who handles military/defense legislation and say:
• I am a constituent from [city and state] and my name is _________.
• I urge Senator [insert name] to co-sponsor S. 967, The Military Justice Improvement Act, which will hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable for their actions and provide victims of military sexual assault access to safety and justice.
• Thank the staffer for their time.
2) Another action you can take, if you’re a California resident, is in favor or Assembly Bill 271, which would repeal California law that encourages poor women to be sterilized, and you all know from my last post how I feel about that! I’m not going to write a lot about it because you can read it all on this blog post by Assemblymember Holly Mitchell who authored the Bill and Social Justice Advocate Sandra Fluke at www.momsrising.org.
But to take action, click here to sign onto this MoveOn petition. See how easy I'm making this for you?
Yes, I admit that I’m being pretentious and maybe a tad self-righteous here. And I admit that I’m using the “royal baby” phenomenon to get you to read my post and take actions on important issues that require true civic engagement. But, I have no shame and, at the very least, I own up to it. If you agree, let me know. If you disagree, go back to reading your tabloids. I’m over it.
July 10, 2013 | 5:56 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
“Mark my words, some future Governor of this state will come before the citizens to apologize…Jerry Brown can save that future governor the whole ritual by acting now.”
That is what Chris Hayes had to say on July 8th, when covering the report by Corey G. Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting released on July 7th: “Female Inmates Sterilized in California Prisons Without Approval.”
From 2006-2010, 148 women inmates were sterilized without the doctors obtaining approvals required by the state to do so. It’s likely that another 100 women were sterilized in the late 1990s as well.
The report states: “Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.”
The residents of California and the United States should be outraged; thank goodness for the few news agencies who have picked up this story!
In the report, former women inmates detail being pressured into tubal ligation during pregnancies. Sterilizations during labor or childbirth are not allowed in prisons if federal funds are used to perform them due to the very real and obvious “concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply.” Dr. Dorothy Roberts clearly explains: “soliciting approval for sterilization during labor is coercive because pain and discomfort can impair a woman’s ability to weigh the decision.”
California has a horrifying history with sterilization. From 1909-1964, 20,000 women and men in CA were sterilized. The report also notes that Nazis asked California eugenics leaders for advice on the matter in the 1930s. See the quote by Hitler, which Chris Hayes mentioned on his show, in the photograph.
Hayes connects the issue of sterilizations in prisons with problems in our prisons in general. He notes that prisoners in California are conducting their 3rd hunger strike to protest “subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture, via long term solitary confinement.” In California inmates can be held in solitary confinement indefinitely and 70% of those who committed suicide in California prisons in 2005 were in solitary confinement at the time, according to Hayes’ report.
The CIR report states that:
“Under compulsory sterilization laws here and in 31 other states, minority groups, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill and criminals were singled out as inferior to prevent them from spreading their genes.”
Justice Now, a non-profit organization based in Oakland, has been actively trying to get medical data and records from the prisons for several years. A response they got from the Receiver’s Office acknowledged that tubal ligations were taking place in 2 prisons in California back in 2008. But nothing was done about this until 2010, when Justice Now filed a public records request and complained to Senator Carol Liu, who was then the Chairwoman of the Select Committee of Women and Children in the Criminal Justice System. Dr. Ricki Barnett of the Health Care Review Committee explained in the report that no requests for tubal ligations had come to the Committee for review since she joined the Committee in 2008. Barnett told officials at both prisons and at nearby hospitals to stop the sterilizations, but said in the report that they seemed to not know about the existing restrictions on the procedure, “operating on the fact that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.”
Some of the doctors who performed the surgeries have claimed that they just wanted to provide options to the women inmates just as they would have options outside of prison and to ensure that their health is a priority. But inmates have claimed that they were pressured into getting tubal ligations without being given reasons or explanations as to why they should do so.
The doctors who performed these coercive procedures should be held accountable for their actions. Governor Brown must step up and, yes, apologize for the State’s lack of oversight and enforcement of the law and should ensure that those who work in the prison system are held accountable for wrongdoing. Future medical professionals in our prisons must be thoroughly trained to provide proper medical care to inmates, care that respects their human desires and needs, and does not use intimidation or coercion to perform eugenic procedures on disempowered populations. A process for review on the state level is necessary and the residents of California have a right to be informed and to review policies and procedures in our prisons.
Below is a statement made by Governor Davis back in 2003 to the 20,000 victims of sterilization mentioned earlier in the article. I believe it is time for another apology!
June 28, 2013 | 12:47 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
I’d been wondering for a while about the Shulamit Gallery. What was behind this place that focused on Israeli and Iranian art but had opened up its space to events that allowed for dialogue on political and social topics? Last Monday I attended an event in the beautiful gallery organized by New Israel Fund in which their Law Fellows, a Palestinian Israeli and a Jewish Israeli, both women, spoke about their work in Israeli human rights law.
Art, politics, presentation—all of this on Venice Blvd? What is the gallery’s role in the maze of the LA Jewish community?
On June 2, 2013 I met Shula at NCJW/LA’s Annual Meeting, which she attended as our Keynote Speaker, and I finally got some answers. Shulamit Nazarian, the Founder and Director of the gallery is behind the mystery that makes the Shulamit Gallery so intriguing and unique (not to mention her fabulous Co-Director Anne Hromadka who is a true expert on Jewish art and deserves a shout out). Born and raised in Iran, Shula and her family moved to Israel in 1978 when the revolution started. Because it was difficult for her father’s company to conduct business in Iran from Israel the family decided to leave Israel for the United States after 9 months there.
Arriving to Los Angeles in 1979 was no easy feat for the family as there was a lot of anti-Iranian sentiment among American Jews, who, as Shula explained to me, “misunderstood who we are as Iranian Jews and what was happening in Iranian politics at the time.” Despite the challenges they faced upon their move, Shula’s father always told her that the best thing that ever happened to them was the rise of Khomeini because they were able to come to the United States and have the kind of freedom they were never able to have in Iran.
During her keynote talk, Shula mentioned her indebtedness to her parents for raising her with the concept of Tikkun Olam and for teaching her of her responsibility to give back and help others. In every way they felt they could make a difference, Shula’s parents and family have supported art, music, educational, and other nonprofits in both the U.S. and in Israel through their family foundation. Shula’s pride in her family’s philanthropy is almost tangible when she speaks about her parents and about it, but her passion for her heritage stands out most when she speaks.
“Our history goes back to Queen Esther in Iran and Iranian Jews are the keepers of Iranian culture because even Islam and other religions came to the Persian Empire after we were already there,” Shula explained to me. This deep connection to the history of her community in Iran and their role as keepers of the culture played a role in leading Shula to be “a keeper of culture” herself.
Much of the art shown at the Shulamit Gallery makes a subtle political statement. “Artists have no boundaries so they can use the language of art in ways that are more ambiguous and open to interpretation,” says Shula. “I know for a fact that Iranian artists can get away with expressing themselves in ways that are important to them. It transcends beyond the boundaries of their country. So their art becomes their language for advocacy and expression and it becomes a lot less in your face. It allows the viewer to interpret it or understand it on their own. I think it’s important that they express those challenges that they experience as a community, as women, as people with political limitations.”
For Shula, showing coexistence and collaborations through art that already takes place in Israeli society is important: “people outside Israel don’t hear about it and are not aware of it and it’s so important that American Jews who have a huge fallacy about what’s going on in Israel see it because these are the strengths of Israel. “ Through exposing the art of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Israelis, Shula hopes to show the diversity within Israel and to help American Jews more deeply understand the Middle East.
Beyond art, politics, and the Middle East, starting the gallery was a significant milestone in Shula’s personal life as well. Around 7 years ago, Shula purchased a home designed by renowned mid-century architect A. Quincy Jones. Shula herself is an architect and, at the time, had recently divorced and found herself searching for meaning in her personal life. In expressing how she felt at the times, Shula said: “I felt that one of the ways was to support women and people in my community through something, but I wasn’t sure what that was.” As things happen when you least expect them, Shula fell into showing art in her new home. A few of her Vietnamese friends asked if they could show their art in her home and she agreed to do it, discovering a new passion for showing art. Shula was already involved with the USC Hillel Art Committee and soon ended up showing an exhibit of Iranian Jewish art at USC Hillel. She then transported the exhibit to her home to exhibit there. With her newfound passion for showing art, Shula felt that her home was not the ideal space for public art viewings. Thus, eight months ago, Shulamit Gallery was born.
For Shula, starting the gallery was part of her personal transition after her divorce. When I asked Shula what her advice would be to other women going through similar transitions in their lives, here’s what she said: “I think that transitional times are difficult and you feel like you’re in the air, you don’t feel the ground under your feet. But at the same time it’s the ambiguous times in your life that are a huge opportunity to start really going back inside and going back into your own essence. It’s actually a beautiful moment in your life. As difficult as it is, you have to trust yourself to know that we all have a role. Within time you will see the changes and you will see people coming into your life that allow you to push towards achieving your goals.”
Visit the Shulamit Gallery to see their current exhibit, Cessation, by artist Orit Hofshi until July 27, 2013. Information can be found on their website: www. shulamitgallery.com.
May 22, 2013 | 12:38 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
As a child, my sister and I had somewhat of a different educational experience than most kids. We attended what is now called UCLA Lab School, which is UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies' laboratory for research and innovation in education. One of the school's distinguishing factors is its unwavering commitment to diversity, which we experienced by going to school with a wide range of kids from different ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic classes. Our schoolmates included the children of people like Sally Field, Steven Spielberg, and our housekeeper. When my parents took me to a friend's house on a play date, I never knew whether we would be going to a huge mansion in Beverly Hills or a small apartment in south Culver City. And it didn't matter. We were all kids playing the same games at recess. Diversity enriched our learning environment, and strengthened our community.
My mom taught us to give the clothes we outgrew to our housekeeper, Dora, so her kids could wear them. They were a bit younger than we were, but we would see them wear our clothes to school for years. Seeing them in my clothes around the age of six solidified what I had started to pick up--they were less fortunate than we were. I asked my mom why they didn't have their own clothes, and my mom explained that it was because they didn't have as much money as we did. There are lots of things that we got that they didn't get. Why? Because they came here from Guatemala with nothing. My heart sank for them. I realized how unfair that was. As far as my childhood self was concerned, Dora and her daughters were real people who had real lives and shared parts of them with my family.
Just last year I was going through a tough time. One day I was at my mom's house and broke down crying in front of my computer. Dora happened to be there and she rushed in. "What's wrong?" she asked in her thick accent. "Oh nothing, I'm fine," I said. I wasn't fine though and Dora knew this. She grabbed me and held me while I sobbed and told me everything was going to be okay, and she didn't let go. Dora is a part of our family. She cooks us tamales at Christmas and brings us small presents every year. We give her and her children Christmas gifts too and dozens of pieces of clothing throughout the year. But Dora is also our employee. We give her an end-of-year bonus, we pay her salary, and we make sure she has time for lunch and breaks while she’s out our home.
I recently learned during my social justice fellowship at Bend the Arc that due to a loophole in labor laws, Dora and other domestic workers aren't entitled to the same basic labor protections such as meal and rest breaks, overtime pay, and paid days of rest that every other worker is entitled to. When I learned that there were live-in housekeepers, nannies and caregivers who were working 24 hours straight without breaks, sleeping in dismal conditions and for just a few hours at a time, and were unable to even take breaks, and that this was all legal, I was dumbfounded and deeply saddened.
Live-in housekeepers and nannies are mostly immigrant women, and they do not have the bargaining power to arrange their living conditions with their employers before starting work. Even if a housekeeper, caregiver or nanny is promised decent working and living conditions, the current labor laws do not apply to them. Therefore, the employer does not legally have to come through on those promises.
What saddened me most was that this loophole that keeps Dora and other domestic workers from having basic labor protections was not accidental. It is steeped in racism and gluttony. Under the 1935 National Labor Relations act, private sector workers gained the ability to create unions and the right to collectively bargain. Household workers and agricultural laborers, who were largely African-American since the end of the Civil War, were intentionally left out to satisfy Southern lawmakers who relied on their economic servitude. Sadly but unsurprisingly, the demographics have not changed in the last 78 years. Women, immigrants, and African-Americans still make up approximately 95% of the domestic work force.
What will the Bill do?
The California Domestic Workers Coalition is working to close that loophole by trying to pass the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (AB241). This is the second measure of its kind in the country. The bill was passed already in New York . The Bill of Rights would provide housekeepers, childcare providers, and caregivers with:
• Overtime Pay
• Meal & Rest Breaks (Simply the right to sit down and eat.)
• Uninterrupted Sleep (Live-in workers working 24-hour shifts would be entitled to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep in adequate sleeping conditions.)
• Use of Kitchen (Workers working more than five hours would be able to use kitchen facilities at no extra charge to cook their own food.)
• Paid Days of Rest (Up to three paid days of rest per year based on the number of hours worked weekly after one year of employment)
• Workers Compensation
The fact that they do not have these rights already is disturbing on many levels. First, immigrant women are an extremely vulnerable population. Many come to this country to work so that they can send money back to support their families in other countries, and/or are they are the sole income provider for their families here. So they cannot just say "no" to their employer or demand decent living conditions, overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and adequate sleep conditions.
Secondly, how can the people who have such a huge impact on us and our children they not protected by basic labor laws? Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of Uri l’Tzedek, an orthodox social justice organization puts it this way:
"How can we give the keys to our homes - and entrust the welfare of our aging parents and young children! - to our domestic workers, and yet not respect them enough to secure their basic rights and dignity?"
In some families, they basically raise the children while the parents work. At the very least, they enable women who want to have both children and a career to fulfill the modern woman's dream of "having it all." They are in many cases the backbone of a family that isn't even theirs. Yet they are denied basic rights granted to high schoolers who scoop ice cream at Haagan Daaz.
When I learned that the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights had been passed by both the California Assembly and Senate last year only to be vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, I was again dumbfounded. Why would the governor actively deny people who are so important in the functioning of our households the rights afforded to every of other worker in the state of California? In his veto message, Brown wrote that the bill "raises a number of unanswered questions," such as the economic effect it could have on disabled and elderly people who rely on their cheap and constant in-home services, or those domestic workers who would lose their jobs because their employers could no longer afford to pay them. How would the State even enforce labor laws in private homes? Additionally, a drafting error would have cost the state more than $200 million per year because the bill included In Home Supportive Services workers. Brown wrote, "in the face of consequences both unknown and unintended, I find it more prudent to do the studies before considering an untested legal regime for those that work in our homes."
His comments seem reasonable to me, although many argue that he was being his unpredictable self, or just stalling the issue. Since then, the California Domestic Workers Coalition has worked to address Governor Brown's concerns by conducting a national survey of domestic workers which was published in 2012, and a California-specific report which was published on May 9, 2013 called “Home Truths--Domestic Workers in California.” The Coalition is also working closely with Governor Brown's office to make sure his concerns continue to be addressed.
Where does it stand now?
The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is currently back in the Appropriations Committee in the Assembly, and it must be out by May 31, 2013 to move to the Senate. The California Domestic Workers Coalition hopes that Governor Brown will be able to sign the Bill by the October 13, 2013 legislative deadline. But they need your help!
As Jews and as employers of domestic workers, we need to speak up for those whose voices can't be heard. Here are some simple things you can do right away:
Everyone (including employers):
Jillian Ezra is a Bend the Arc Jeremiah Fellow with the 2012-2013 class. She is also actively involved with the National Council of Jewish Women/LA and has lobbied with NCJW in both Washington, DC and Sacramento on various issues including gun violence prevention, immigration reform, access to abortion, and human trafficking. Jillian owns her own production company, Ezra Productions, specializing in capturing memories and family stories, corporate and non-profit promotions, and more. Jillian is also a Co-Founder and Videographer for Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel. Jillian received her B.A. in Economics from New York University.