Saturday, April 28, 2012

Final Entry?! Summaries of Papers. Future Plans. Reflections on Clark.

Hello! For, I suppose, the last time.

May I express some excitement?



Anyway. I'm all done with classes, I've completed my final exam for Women in Jewish Culture, and I've presented my hypotheses/results for my Lab in Social Psychology. There are three papers remaining to be completed, all due on May 8th.

Brief summaries of papers:
  • Lab in Social Psychology - this includes the standard intro/method/results/discussion of a psych paper. I'll be reflecting on my own individual hypotheses (that women would reflect more empathy than men and that men would reflect more individualism/independence than women). My results did not reflect these gender differences, which is swell, because now I am able to discuss somewhat some problems with gender difference research (reinforcing the dichotomy, people's tendency to report differences rather than similarities). I will also discuss things like using a WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic) sample, and questioning its external validity or applicability in other areas.
  • Women in Society - this paper will be focusing on gender roles, specifically within Jewish tradition. I'm hoping to look at different points in history, including some Jewish traditions and sections from religious texts that suggest the subordination of women, and looking at how these traditions and texts have affected the roles that women and men have adopted within Jewish culture. I will be utilizing some of the books & articles I read for Women in Jewish Culture this semester. I'm likely to focus on Judith Plaskow and Cynthia Ozeck near the end of my paper, in order to suggest ways in which feminists have been working more recently to alter these ingrained gender roles.
  • Jewish Studies capstone/independent study - I'll be examining changes over time regarding causes of and cures for illness within Jewish tradition. I'll look for times when people found it appropriate to look to God for aid, as opposed to seeking help from physicians. I'll examine specifics when visiting the sick; where you sit, what you do, what you say, how you pray, how much you do these things. I'll contrast older traditions with newer ones, trying to determine when chaplaincy arose and in what form.

And then I'll be done! I'll be hanging around Clark with my fellow seniors, engaging in some senior week activities, and then commencement.

Afterwards I'll be returning home for some amount of time to be in Portland/at home, with my mom and cats. I'm quite pumped. Lately I've been considering purchasing a pet guinea pig, as a part of my post-graduation plans.

But in all seriousness (re: post-graduation, though I would quite like a pet guinea pig), I'm hoping to continue with Jewish feminism in some form. After I've turned in my papers, I will ponder this further/talk to folks who are interested in similar things. Chaplaincy/hospice work is still a very real possibility, but I'm not certain how to pursue those things yet.

Anyway, I wanted to spend a bit of this entry writing about Clark, and of how much I've enjoyed it. Recently I was feeling rather bland because, unlike many of my peers, it seems, I did not choose to complete a senior thesis, nor to present anything during academic spree day. I have had no extravagant object to present; I had no display to show what I've learned or how I've changed.

But perhaps it's not necessary. I have learned so much at Clark. Academically, socially, personally. Freshman year I began by taking courses in a variety of topics and through that exploration I ultimately realized that I care very deeply about women, Judaism, and care during illness and death. As I further delved into those topics of interest to me, I found my voice and found the courage that had been lacking previously; while taking courses of less interest, it was endlessly more difficult to express myself. But in taking classes that I cared deeply about, I finally felt that my thoughts and expressions were of value.

I became involved in activities that were interesting and fun. Being a co-president of the film society was difficult and frustrating at times, but I enjoyed something that previously I had shied away from (err, responsibility, and being in a leadership position for others). Having a weekly radio show with friends was quite enjoyable.

The friends that I've made here are very dear to me. Some of them I've known since freshman year, and some of them are newer. Through classes, clubs, work-study, and mutual friends, I've met so many wonderful and interesting people. I will always maintain that Clark is unique because of the lovely people that are drawn to this school.

I am so grateful for my time at Clark. My undergraduate years were so enjoyable and meaningful. Through these past four years, I have become a more confident, intelligent, and comfortable person.

Thank you for four swell years, Clark. I'll miss you, and I'm definitely going to come back to visit.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jewish Women! And a Review of the 2012 CLPP Conference

Hello! I apologize for the delay in updates - things have been busy! And very enjoyable.

Since I last wrote, I completed and turned in my research paper about Judith Plaskow (Clark alumni!) & feminist Midrash for Women in Jewish Culture. Hooray!

Here are some tidbits from my paper (mostly regarding Lilith) that were new to me/surprising/interesting:

  • According to Aviva Cantor (1976), it is likely that the Lilith story was first created during times of exile because fears of women doing anything to break apart the traditional patriarchy would be especially prominent during periods when survival was already being threatened.
  • Judith Baskin (2002) suggests that the first female (the “first Eve”) depicted in Genesis 1:27 could have become amalgamated with other ancient stories about a disobedient woman: “The figure of the ‘first Eve’, who refused to be subordinate to her husband, ultimately merged with ancient traditions about the female night demon Lilith and in this guise became a central character in post-rabbinic Jewish folklore”
  • The Lilith story could potentially reveal women's earlier experiences: "the Lilith story may be a clue to our own history, reflecting some assertive, rebellious behavior of women in the past” (Cantor 1976), 
  • or it could reflect past women's secret desires, unable to be actualized in a patriarchal society (Cantor 1976).

Overall, this paper was satisfying to write because I was able to examine the manner in which traditional (male-voiced) Midrash (such as Lilith's depiction in the Alphabet of Ben Sira) worked to justify the subordination of women under men. However, I was also able to focus on the manner in which theological Jewish feminists are working to create new Midrash (such as Judith Plaskow's "The Coming of Lilith") in order to reclaim biblical stories to fit a viewpoint that empowers women.

And speaking of Jewish women (when am I not?)! My research paper topic was approved for Women in Society; I'm planning to focus on gender roles specifically within Judaism. This is something that has interested me since last semester when I first read Tradition in a Rootless World: Women Turn to Orthodox Judaism in American Jewish Life with Prof. Tenenbaum. I haven't planned out much of the Women in Society paper yet, but I am excited to begin researching within the next week.

I was going to write so many things about the 2012 Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference that I attended at Hampshire College (with Clark's Student Global AIDS Campaign group) a couple weekends ago, but it's sort of difficult to describe, at least in how great it was. On Friday (April 13th, oohh Friday the 13th), I attended an Abortion Speak Out, in which women who had experiences with abortion were invited to speak to those attending the conference. It was really powerful to hear these women's voices, but I had a difficult time listening and trying to understand while still maintaining enough distance to not feel affected by some of the difficult experiences these women described.

On Saturday I attended three workshops, each about an hour and a half. The first was called "The Political, Policy, and Public Health Landscape of HIV/AIDS", with a panel of three people who discussed with us the political and public health context of HIV/AIDS. Everyone from SGAC, all of whom I attended the conference with, went to this workshop. I personally went into this workshop not knowing many things, and I left feeling well-informed.

The second workshop I attended was called "Our Bodies are Beautiful, Our Bodies are Political", with a panel of three people who discussed somewhat "fat activism" and media (mostly, things like tumblr). There was a brief discussion of female circumcision, from the viewpoint of one of our panel members, who came from a cultural context in which this practice is accepted. I appreciated hearing her views, because I am wary of the Western context in which I've heard of female circumcision (in the past I have mentioned my own qualms regarding male circumcision, and I certainly appreciate hearing many views regarding the variety of reasons different people choose to circumcise).

And the third workshop I attended was called "Masculinities", with a panel of four people who discussed what it means to identify as male/masculine within a feminist movement. I mainly chose to attend this workshop because it was focused on a topic that I did not know much about. It was somewhat difficult at points to feel comfortable with some of the things expressed, but overall it was interesting and informative.

Those were the highlights of the conference! It overall involved some mingling and talking to different people, and making new friends, and learning new things about topics I was familiar with, and topics that were new to me. I'm so glad that I was able to attend the conference.

That's all for now! I have a meeting in about twenty minutes with the professor of my Lab in Social Psychology to discuss my final paper/presentation. I hope that everyone is doing well! Happy last week of classes!

Friday, April 13, 2012


I am leaving this weekend! Hooray for exciting weekend trips. After my 2:50 - 4:05 Women in Society class finishes, I will packing up some last-minute things and then heading to the 2012 Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference: From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: 26th Annual Activist Conference at Hampshire College! I'll be traveling to the event with friends and students from Clark's Student Global AIDS Campaign. I'm very excited!

I have some homework to finish up and some emails to send before I go, so I will not write much now. However, I am pumped to write so many things about the conference upon my return! I hope that everyone has a lovely weekend.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Gender in Research

I am always very fond of the overlaps that occur between classes. Normally I find them between classes with similar focuses (like Women in Society and Women in Jewish Culture, or Women in Jewish Culture and my capstone for Jewish studies). More recently, however, there was an overlap between Women in Society and my Lab in Social Psych! Which is great, because throughout the semester so far I've generally been viewing the lab as a graduation requirement that is, unfortunately, not all that catered to my interests.

However! We more recently were assigned an article for class called "New Feminist Approaches to Social Science Methodologies" by Sandra Harding and Kathryn Norberg. Although this article addressed possible solutions within research methodology suggested by feminists - to eliminate power differences between the researcher and the researched in field work, for example - it did not address the idea that research methods are structured around the dominant groups. It seems that research was likely initiated by men, who began by researching other men. So by the nature of researching men, does it then exclude an entire half of the population? Are the research methods that are catered towards men the same that should be catered towards women?

But then the question of gender differences comes into play. Basically, do they even exist in any sort of tangible way? In Women in Society, we spent our most recent class period focusing on gender difference research. It was determined that this dichotomy is somewhat troublesome, in particular the manner in which gender difference research is used to reinforce better-than-the-other dichotomies (as some examples of this: males as better than females, straight as better than gay/lesbian/queer, white as better than black). Even today, while sitting in a doctor's office in Worcester, I heard a radio ad that suggested that women need more sleep than men because they are better at multitasking, and this apparently warrants a greater need for sleep. What?!

People are much more likely to report difference research. Few people would be interested to hear the manners in which men and women are not so different, because then they would be unable to feed into the one-party-as-better-than-the-other dichotomy.

Additionally, gender difference research does not tend to take into account the manner in which gender is socially constructed, and that tremendous variability does exist.

Prof. Falmagne suggested that we restructure the manner in which research questions are constructed, that we denaturalize this tendency to structure our research questions as difference questions; difference research is only one way of examining a research question, based on categorical thinking, which is based on categories that are assumed to be uniform.

And so, instead, she suggests, we focus on the understanding of two separate parties, not on their differences. Contrasts between the groups may arise, and these are helpful in highlighting variations between the two, but without feeding into that dualism so common in Western thought (specifically, the manner in which gender is constructed in dichotomous terms). To further stress the importance of why we should attempt to limit our difference research: there are social consequences to this research, mainly concerning the manner in which the outcomes are interpreted. Going back to that radio ad I heard in the doctor's office: that specific sleep research was interpreted in a manner which enforces certain general traits attributed to gender, and then those interpretations were announced to the public as being backed by science. Though generally a harmless interpretation, this displays the manner in which gender research can be consumed, interpreted, and used by society in order to normalize and naturalize the dichotomy of gender.

How does all of this play into the Lab in Social Psych, you ask? Well, I shall tell you.

For my main project/paper, I needed to create a hypothesis based on the "Views of Life" survey that we were distributing to our participants. I ended up choosing a hypothesis based on gender difference, without quite realizing that I was feeding into a somewhat frustrating practice within research. I hypothesized that, based on the manner in which women are suggested to be more empathetic than men within society, that women would report more feelings of "focusing on others" (a sub-category within the emerging adulthood questionnaire) whereas men would report more feelings of "focusing on self". Results? Women were overall more focused on themselves and on others than men were, but there were not enough differences to report anything significant.

So what have I determined from all of this? Basically, that it's easy to buy into things that continue these dichotomies so ingrained in society. It seems much more common (and possibly more interesting) for someone to approach another person and say "hey, did you know that women are better at multitasking than men?" than for someone to approach another and say "hey, did you know that men and women are both empathetic?"

But gender is socially constructed, and socially constraining, and it doesn't necessarily mean anything. At all. People are complex and complicated, and to say that a person is a certain way simply because they identify as a certain gender, or look like a certain gender, is a completely unfair thing to do. Our society continues to organize through these dichotomies because it is comfortable. But that doesn't mean that it's accurate, honorable, or the best way to continue organizing society.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Types of Jewish Feminism: Theological & Sociological

In Women in Jewish Culture, we've been discussing lately some different feminist viewpoints. In particular, I've found the contrast between two types of feminism to be especially interesting. In focusing on two women's writings, Judith Plaskow (a Clark alumni!) and Cynthia Ozick, I've found myself struggling to decide where I fit on the spectrum of Jewish feminism.

Judith Plaskow suggests that the core of Judaism is sexist. Basically, that the problem is theological, and that we need to formulate new traditions that include women, and new prayers that recognize feminine aspects (or gender-neutral aspects) of God.

Yoel Kahn, in writing of the liturgy of gay and lesbian Jews, suggested that a ritual for coming out may be a positive addition to Jewish traditions; that we need extra prayers and traditions for a broader range of constituents.

But overall, how much change can be tolerated? Should we replace these traditional texts? Do we read them side-by-side with newer, more inclusive texts?

The writings of Cynthia Ozick were interesting to me because they presented a feminist viewpoint with which I was not familiar. In contrast to Plaskow's concept of sexism as theological, Ozick suggested that the problem of sexism is a sociological problem; women are exempted because of cultural/sociological interpretation.

Where Plaskow suggests things like women's minyans (a meeting of ten Jews required for public prayer), Ozick is critical. Traditionally, a minyan is made up of males over the age of thirteen. Women are excluded. And yet, an all women's minyan, while presenting a tradition for women that is identical to that of men, is still endorsing the idea of gender separation.

In class, my professor quoted the Talmud, which reads something along the lines of: rabbis taught that all are qualified to be among the seven who read a Torah, even a minor or a woman. But the sages say that a woman should not because of the congregation's esteem.

Basically, then, that women can read from the Torah, but that they shouldn't to protect the honor of the congregation; a woman reading would suggest that there aren't enough learned men to do so.

Because where men are the standard, women are the exception. And, as Ozick would say, sexism is sociological.

Anyway! Having only been exposed to the theological lenses of Jewish feminism, I had for years considered the "adding women and stir" method of creating alternate traditions/prayers to be an apt way to deal with the inherent sexism ingrained in the texts and traditions. However, having experienced some of the sociological views of sexism, I am now starting to reconsider past views.

I'm not suggesting that any specific type of feminism, nor any certain way of viewing such topics, is the right one! Only that there are so many new viewpoints that I have yet to be exposed. 

Monday, April 2, 2012


Lately I have been spending a fair amount of time considering various dichotomies. In discussing the across-culture devaluation of women, Michelle Rosaldo suggested the dichotomy of the public and private spheres: with women existing mainly in the private sphere, men in the public sphere. She suggested society's interpretation of biology as a foundation for its division.

Sherry Ortner suggested a similar sort of dichotomy, one which is based on the cultural notions of women, which are based on their biological functions. A division where men are represented as "culture", and women as "nature", with women constantly struggling between the "natural" notions of pollution and purity.

These are things that I am presenting in Women in Society tomorrow! Additionally, I will be saying some things regarding cognitive developmental theory and social learning theory, as well as mentioning some other ladies' views (Chodorow and her thoughts on the organization of family as reflecting the ideology of a society, and Baker-Miller and the attributes often ascribed to one sex or the other).

Dichotomies are everywhere, though. I completed an exam for Women in Jewish Culture recently, with a prompt that asked us to distinguish between gendered experiences with immigration in Western Europe and Eastern Europe. One answer suggested a dichotomy similar to Rosaldo's: women were mainly in the private sphere in Western Europe, whereas in Eastern Europe they were present mainly in the public sphere. In Eastern Europe men were being rather traditional and studying Torah, while women maintained their domestic roles and additionally took on the role of breadwinner. Therefore, while men were attending all-Jewish schools, women were more likely to receive secular educations in order to aid in their bread-winning (still, it should be noted, men's studying was still more valuable than women's work).

A dichotomy! But, somewhat flipped. Which is super interesting.

In reading about illness and health in the Jewish tradition (for my Jewish Studies capstone), I have found a more broad dichotomy which seems to extend from biblical times to more modern teachings: praying to be healed versus seeking the care of a physician.

There are teachings which suggest the importance of prayer, and hope, and relying upon God to heal ailments. Some suggest that those who are stricken with illness are sick for a reason; God has given them such ailment so as to provide a period of reflection for the individual. And there are various teachings which point to the power of God in order to aid in healing. Turning to God for health, with prayer, is a common theme among the Psalms, Midrash, and teachings.

However, there is a teaching, common within Jewish tradition, that one is able to disregard any tradition if it interferes with one's health. For example, if someone is sick during Yom Kippur, he or she would not be required to fast during the holiday. If one has other dietary restrictions already in place, it is okay to not maintain a kosher diet during Passover. And there are teachings which stress the importance of a physician! Things which suggest that physicians are as valuable as prayer and faith during times of illness.

I am excited to spend more time with readings for my Jewish studies capstone within the next couple of days - data entry is finally done with (for my Lab in Social Psych), so for the time-being, and find myself with more free time.

I hope that everyone is doing well! Happy April!