The Internet of Women: 1996 But No One Would Listen

Ada cartoon
Ada Lovelace, Computing Pioneer

Women were always going to thrive on the Internet.  Connecting, enabling connections among others, sharing information and more importantly, support and wisdom — these are some of the reasons we belonged online from the beginning.  I knew it as soon as I saw my first browser, Mosaic (later Netscape) in the early 90s.

After early obscurity, women have become more and more visible and successful online, not only creating content but entire media operations. Numbered among them were the pioneering iVillage and BlogHer and agencies like Clever Girls, BlogaliciousWomen and Work,  Sway Group, and The Motherhood.  There are plenty more.

When I saw this story today about the emerging Internet of Women, led by Cisco’s Monique J. Morrow, I’ll admit I got a little sad. I had tried to write a handbook (Internet Bootcamp) for women online in 1996.   A friend hooked me up with a celebrity agent I could have never enlisted on my own, and my proposal went to some serious publishers.  The response – and I wish I still had the precise language, was that the writing was “engaging” but women would never buy such a book.  I just pulled it to take a look and am posting it here.  See what you think.   If nothing else it will evoke memories of modems past.

Here is Morrow’s basic message: (We agree, right?)

From connected homes and cars to monitoring our health through smart devices, a woman’s view point in this new age of digitization has never been more critical.

I invite you to follow our publication, the Internet of Women and be part of this movement.

Come See the Devil Baby

                               Mark Knopfler at the Edison Awards, 2003

The freaks’ll stay together, They’re a tight old crew
You look at them, And they look at you….

Devil Baby, by Mark Knopfler

This is a song about a freak show.  And why not?

Today I turned on the TV and found not one, but two “active shooter” situations going on in California.  UPDATE: One hour after I wrote this, a news conference in San Bernardino, scene of the first of these shooting events, reported 14 people dead and 14 wounded,  by “as many as three gunmen.”  

Before that was Colorado and the viciousness and cruelty of targeting Planned Parenthood — and women.  Before that was Paris.   And the Russian plane.  And always — Isis/Isil/DAESH/BokoHaram.   And of course, Donald Trump.  SO.

This is a song about a freak show. And that’s why.

ALSO we all know I love Mark Knopfler so there’s that.

Sixty Years Ago: The Ballad of Momma Rosa Parks

 Rosa Parks

I’ve tried everywhere to find audio or video of this wonderful song.  I know it exists because I used to play it with my kids*.  Even without the music though, it’s great.  So on this anniversary, with honor, admiration — and awe:

The Ballad of Momma Rosa Parks
(Nick Venet and Buddy Mize, 1963)

In nineteen hundred and fifty-five,
In a southern American town,
A tired colored lady got on a city bus
And immediately sat down,
With a closed mind and an opened mouth
The big bus driver got rough
And told his only passenger
To move to the back of the bus.

cho: When Momma Parks sat down,
     The whole world stood up,
     What's good for one is good for all,
     It's good for all of us.

The lady's name was Momma Rosa Parks,
A hard workin' woman indeed,
She was goin' home, 'twas her goin' time,
She had little hungry mouths to feed,
She wasn't botherin' nobody
And doin' nothin' wrong,
By the Lord's rules of love
When Momma Parks sat down
The whole world stood up.

printed in "Songs of Peace, Freedom and Protest" by Tom Glazer 
(1970, David McKay Company)

*If you know where I can find it please let me know!

Syria, ISIS and Women: Painful Stories

ISIS Women NYTIt’s all horrible, of course; morning news junkies that we are, we dread waking up each day – always sure there will be yet another terrible story to contend with.  Anger, fear and grief are only a few of the emotions riding roughshod through all of us, yet Sunday, one story about three young women once again crystalized the hideousness we face.

Labor unions often call their members “brothers and sisters;” and women do it a lot.  I can’t count the number of times the words “my sister” or “our sisters” appear in women’s rights pieces and posts and books like Robin Morgan’s classic “Sisterhood is Powerful “—  and it is.

Sunday the 22nd of November, a trio of “sisters” appeared on the front page of the New York Times — three friends who fled Raqqa, their home town in Syria and now ISIS Central, and found shelter in Turkey; girls who grew up in houses, not tents, who went out in their summer dresses, and west swimming with the guys — and went to college — girls who are now prisoners of their gender.

Their stories emerge almost bloodlessly: tales of forced marriages, of severed heads, of complete loss of freedom and of the deeply troubling work they did as members of the religious police, taken on to help insulate their families from the terror of ISIS’ fierce punishments, all described in the simplest of terms.

This very unexceptional tone insures that their stories will haunt me for a long time – this tale of three of our sisters, suffering like so many of theirs.

The War for the Souls of Orthodox Jewish Women (and Men) and Why It Matters

The young woman who wrote and recorded this song (watch it if you haven’t; it’s wonderful) is a “Singer/songwriter, vlogger, Orthodox Jew, and English major on the verge of ‘real life.'”  Her name is Talia Lakritz.

The young woman who wrote and published this piece, which begins with the word “Hineni” (Here I am – a response to God’s call several times in the Torah) is a Maharat and a pioneer in ritual Orthodox Judaism. Her name is Rachel Kohl Finegold.

The young woman who was my best teacher of all things Jewish (and many other things) is a model for many.  Her name is Aliza Sperling.

The young woman who helped to support traumatized victims of the “mikvah rabbi scandal” is a Maharat at The National Synagogue.  Her name is Ruth Balinsky Friedman.

The young women who ranked highest among my other great teachers offered wise, knowledgeable, exciting education both in theory and practice.  Their names are Laura Shaw Frank (JD and almost PhD), Rachel Weintraub (JD), Brooke Pollack (JD), and Aliza Levine (MD).  There were more, too.

They are all treasures in my life; I wish every Jewish seeker could have so stunning an educational-religious posse.

So what’s going on?  Why has The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) stuck a stick in the eye of every Jewish woman, especially women like these – passionate Jews; learners and teachers – by issuing a kind of fatwa against the rabbinic ordination of Orthodox Jewish women.  This is just the most recent episode in the soap opera that their effort to keep women from formal religious leadership.  Predictably, outrage ensued.

From New York’s towering Modern Orthodox leader Avi Weiss  LA’s Rav Yosef Kanevsky, word emerged that this blow was unacceptable.

Why does it matter?  RCA claims that there are plenty of ways for women to participate and even lead, they just can’t be ordained.  Why the uproar from college women and teachers and rabbis and parents and – generally – people who really like being Jewish?   

Because it’s terrible to continue, with even more emphasis than usual, to shut half your community off — by fiat — from the privilege of spiritual leadership. Remember the slogan “If  you can see it, you can be it.”  Sounds right doesn’t it?  But if you’re set apart, part of your soul is set apart too.

The Jewish people lose way too much, kept from 50% of the talent and strength and smarts and love in our own communities.

Read this story by the renowned feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin, on the death of her mother:*

“One night about twenty people are milling about the house but by Jewish computation there are only nine Jews in our living room.  This is because only nine men have shown up for the memorial service.  A minyan, the quorum required for Jewish communal prayer, calls for ten men.

“I know the Hebrew.” I say.  “You can count me, Daddy.”

I meant I want to count.  I meant, don’t count me out just because I am a girl.

“You know it’s not allowed, he replies, frowning.”

“For my own mother’s Kaddish I can be counted in the minyan.  For God’s sake, it’s your house!  It’s your minyan Daddy.”

“Not allowed!” says my father.

Later she wrote:

“The turning point in my spiritual life….I could point to the shivah experience in my living room, say that my father sent me into the arms of feminism, and leave it at that….No woman who has faced the anguish and insult of exclusion on top of the tragedy of her bereavement forgets that her humiliation was inflicted by Jewish men.”

It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it?  Such a loss for those who wish to serve and all of us who need them.  Besides, as my friend Chana reminded me, in last week’s parsha God told Abraham “Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you.”  If only He’d get in touch with the RCA and remind them, too.

*Deborah, Golda and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America

Barcelona and The Spanish Civil War Revealed

The militias need us!
The militias need us!

This poster recruiting women to join and support the anti-fascist militias was just one of the remarkable graphics and photographs shared during this tour of civil war history in Barcelona.

The tour’s guide, Nick Lloyd offered a passionate, rich, information-crammed account of the war and the complicated situation that preceded and followed it.  The topic is thrilling, but it’s the teacher – the guide – who makes it real – and he does just that.

B Nick 2
Spanish Civil War guru Nick Lloyd delivers his lessons and brings clients to the edge of their “seats” — actually, feet….

The stories are stunning. The first: the International Brigades from all over the world who came to help, including the Abraham Lincoln Battalion – the first integrated US military force,  the second, the alliance among the police, the workers and the community – anarchists, communists, socialists, liberals – all trying to stop the viciousness that was the emerging Fascist machine.  The next, individual courage demonstrated among so many under cruel, sadistic conditions.

The women, of course, did find a place in the movement.  This first poster is the emblem of the Anarchist women in Spain.  The second, was for the “people’s Olympics” conducted in protest of the “real” 1936 games in Nazi Germany.  Young people came from everywhere for the event and many remained to support the struggle to sustain democracy and keep the Fascists at bay.  And the third – a shattering portrait of American “Negro” contributions to Spain’s struggle.

B Women Anarchists poster

B peoples olympics

B NEGRO donors to civil war

Very few stories combine romance, politics, evil, idealism, danger and courage as well as those surrounding the Spanish Civil War. Some of the stories were so moving they were hard to bear. To the people of Barcelona, they are still real, and tangible and tough to hear and recall. For the rest of us, they bring pain and inspiration and sadness at how often similar tragedies have entered our history.  And never seem to have taught anything to those who came after.

So Much Pain

grief croppedAll women are sisters.  If you don’t believe me, write about a miscarriage and see what happens.  A week ago I described my own experience, now more than 30 years old — memories made fresh by a private newsletter conversation.

Two amazing (but not surprising) realities emerged:  1) This is one pain that stays right there – buried under daily events and worries and happy times — but not gone.  Never gone.  2) It is a gift to have a place to discuss or describe the things that wound us, change us, leave silent but permanent marks.   Offering that space is one particular gift women give to one another.  Here are three who shared my “place:”

Nobody ever talks about it but the reality is that many people have been through it (multiple times even) and I think there is comfort in shared grief.

I like to be tidy with emotions (I never am – HA!), but the grief I feel about these losses have a layer of guilt around them – as if I shouldn’t be so upset. But I am.

I am in tears! I was on Facebook, saw your post on miscarriage and just oh my goodness. I have had 2 miscarriages in the past year. It been hard, but it’s made so much harder that the whole subject has a weird taboo around it. It’s not like people won’t ask me when I’m planning to have kids. I’ve heard a thousand times “when are you going to have children?” and had to make light of a situation that I was still really sad about.

That’s all.

Did We Thank Title IX on Thanksgiving?

imageThere’s a beautiful breakfast buffet at the hotel we stayed at for Thanksgiving weekend; Wednesday morning was a pretty thin crowd so there was a lot of easy chat from table to table and in the buffet line. Just in front of me at the omelet station was a very tall young woman — around 30 or 35.

“My husband and I together aren’t as tall as you are!” I teased. “Did you hate that in high school?”

“Oh, no” she replied, “I played basketball so I was fine about being tall.”

“WOW – Thank you Title IX” I laughed.

You can guess what came next: she’d never heard of 42-year-old Title IX and had no idea what it was or why it had been so necessary or what would have become of her basketball opportunities without it. Like my most-admired friend Veronica Arreola,  we all need to help the girls coming up behind us understand how far we’ve come and how very far we still need to go.


Mo(u)rning in America: 2014

sad capitol   I  spent W’s eight years in political despair. It was hard to watch the news or read the paper, harder still to think of all our fellow Americans without resources who would, and did, suffer on  a very concrete level.  Our kids were educated, our mortgage getting paid; we had work and health insurance and political and religious freedom but for many the pain of those years was personal.

Barack Obama’s election felt like the turning of a corner. This morning, as we face the unremitting and successful (and un-American and cruel and racist) assault on voting rights, the prospect of Joe McCarthy-like hearings in both bodies about almost everything that this president has been able to accomplish despite unprecedented, treasonous opposition, certain continued and brutal safety net cuts, violation of workers rights, a terrifying, determined erosion of the rights of women, a near-caliphate level of fundamentalism among even some of our newly elected members of Congress, the now-certain, veto-proof approval of the Keystone Pipeline, obscene power grabs by wealthy oligarchs and their ALEC, Americans for Prosperity operations not only nationally but state-by-state and unimaginable foreign policy attitudes, it’s a grim day.

Friends of mine have posted look-ahead messages and I admire them for it.  For me, it’s going to take a little longer.


Damn! Scary Days Ahead!

imageMy son called tonight to ask me if I was finished packing and ready to leave the country.  He was kidding… Sort of. And I joked back at him… Sort of.

This is a tough night.  So much was at stake and so much has been lost.  I’m not certain how grotesque the new government of our country will be, but it will be hard to watch. Right now Joni Ernst is making her victory  speech and it’s all I can do not to throw something at the TV.  She, Cory Gardner in Colorado and several others hold views so extreme and benighted that it is painful to imagine what our lives will be like for the next two years

Of course they didn’t win in a vacuum. Democrats made mistakes, ISIS and Ebola didn’t help and the deep damage done to President Obama by the Republicans from the day he took office didn’t help either, nor did the long years of gridlock or the disproportionate number of Democratic seats up this year.  But they won, and excuses won’t change that.  I think I’m giving up MSNBC for Netflix for a while.