Posts in Susan’s Musings

Is the Victim Always Blameless?

October 19th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 40 comments

Just because something has become an oft-repeated slogan doesn’t mean that it is correct. Adolescents (of all ages) in the Sixties shouted, “Better Red than Dead,” in righteous ignorance that for millions of people living under it, Communism was a death sentence. Hillary Clinton chose not to reprise the chant of her generation, “Never trust anyone over thirty,” during her ill-fated presidential campaign. One assumes that even if she once wanted people to believe that motto, she had since changed her mind.

Just because the accusation, “You’re blaming the victim,” is wielded as a truncheon meant to quash discussion doesn’t mean that the concept should not be challenged. Let’s move away from the emotional issue of sexual abuse or harassment and question this idea in a different arena.

There is a reason that the legal system differentiates between manslaughter, 1st degree and 2nd degree murder. There is a reason that hospital personnel differentiate between 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree burns. The punishment or treatment needed for each category is nuanced.

Perhaps it is time for us to establish degrees of victimhood. Imagine a number of victims of theft. One woman was alighting from a bus when a figure on a skateboarder, who was waiting for such an opportunity, whooshed by and snatched the purse suspended from her arm. Another woman was pumping gas when a stealthy figure sidled up to her car and grabbed the camera that was sitting on the car seat. A third woman drives to a crime-ridden neighborhood and goes for a stroll, leaving her car window open with a transparent bag of cash sitting on the seat in full view. When she returns, the bag is missing.

All three women were victims of theft. No one who takes someone else’s property has the right to do so. However, in the real world there are a limited number of police with limited resources. I think most of us would prefer that the police focus on the first two crimes. We might sympathize with the third woman, but acknowledge that her foolish actions contributed to her loss. While no one had the right to take her money, she is not totally innocent. If fact, she violated the Biblical rule in Leviticus 19:14, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind man.”  God isn’t talking there to oafs who find it funny to trip a blind person. From this verse ancient Jewish wisdom derives a prohibition against taking advantage of private information and dangling temptation in front of those who will fall prey to it.

Not all sexism, rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment is equal. I spent a fair bit of time since the Harvey Weinstein scandal came to light, reading comments on blog posts from women talking about sexual harassment they endured. Many, many women said that harassment (and worse) is something that every woman faces. So, I spent a few days polling many women of different ages, professions and economic levels, from different geographic locations, asking them if they agreed with that idea.

The responses I got were enlightening.

Firstly, there was no agreement as to the definition of sexual harassment. The general feeling was that the accusation, like the words anti-Semitism or racism, had become a bludgeon to be used rather than a precise definition of a certain behavior. No one I spoke to thought it reasonable, and certainly not wise, that women who make accusations must be automatically believed. That would imply that women never lie, are never mercenary or spiteful or immature, and never misuse power. That type of belief puts you in company with those who believe that sprinkling fairy dust over the Tooth Fairy will enable you to spin hair into gold. Women in the real world know that is a fantasy. Certainly, it’s problematic when accusations boil down to, “He said; she said,” but granting women absolute power is not the answer.

The intelligent women with whom I spoke had too much respect for women to assume that numerous aspiring actresses would go up to a powerful man’s hotel room without being aware that they were placing themselves in a tricky situation. There was general derision for women who kept quiet even after they were famous (with accompanying public platforms) as well as general disbelief that anyone who wanted to make it in TV or movies was unaware that were choosing to step into a toxic, immoral atmosphere. They felt that many actresses made a calculated decision to advance their careers by compromising their bodies, whether by participating in their own victimization by powerful men or taking roles that promote a decayed morality. Getting publicity by joining in an accusation-fest years later, when there is no risk of adverse reaction, is not seen as courageous. The women Hollywood likes to champion in movies, like Erin Brockovich, speak up when it is dangerous and/or costly to do so, not when doing so wins you applause.

At the same time, none of my respondents belittled the idea that women too frequently do face harassment. About half the women spoke about incidents that everyone would agree met a bottom-line definition. These included being flashed by someone on the street and being groped on public transportation. A shocking number of women spoke about facing workplace sexual harassment from superiors and peers in industries far removed from Hollywood, describing incidents that any reasonable person would label as problematic. If anything, they were bitter that the Weinstein brouhaha minimized their own experiences. They don’t view Hollywood actresses as representing them.

What I heard most was resentment at women who made a great deal of money in an industry that praises itself for tearing down traditional cultural standards and where the idea of the casting couch has been well known for over a century, presenting themselves as innocent victims. They asked whether mothers who presented their under-age daughters to powerful men in Hollywood were as guilty as the men who mistreated those daughters. The women with whom I spoke had little pity for women earning fame and fortune who vocally march around in pussy hats yet elected to shield and cover-up sexual abuse while benefitting from the abuser’s talents and financial and political largesse.They had no patience for those who got rich by acquiescing in Harvey Weinstein’s immorality while participating in movies that coarsened the culture so that men and women increasingly view the world through smut-colored glasses. They bristled at pseudo-feminists whose penchant for law suits made it less likely that any sane man would choose to mentor a young woman. They felt sorry for men on college campuses who are fed lies about male/female relationships, told that they must treat women as equal and then end up on a sex-offender registry when a woman regrets her drunken actions the morning after. They saw that as worlds apart from a man, for example, putting knock-out drugs in a woman’s drink and then raping her.

The women with whom I spoke live in the real world, not in Tinseltown. They suffer when Hollywood elites blast the Mike Pences of the world for behaving like gentlemen and treasuring their marital bonds. Unlike the Hollywood glitterati whose bodyguards escort them to their chauffeured limousines, these women take public transportation and care if the culture encourages women to wrap themselves with vulgarity thereby eroding any hope that females will be treated like ladies. When the accusation of rape, harassment or sexism is deployed for political or financial gain it makes it harder for them to be taken seriously when faced with actual problems.

In the real world, you don’t get to walk around barely dressed while demanding that it is men’s problem if they get aroused. You don’t get to report a colleague to HR for mentioning that he likes your haircut and then call sexism when the men in the office prefer working with other men on projects. You don’t get to treat immature, immoral and boorish behavior as headline news. The actresses grabbing attention now may indeed be victims of something but perhaps many of them are 4th degree victims, complicit in their victimhood. Maybe, they actually do share some of the blame.

I would be remiss not to encourage all readers to get a copy of Hands Off: This May be Love and give it to a young person they know. While it is not about harassment or sexual abuse, it is so important that young woman—and men—hear ideas that are politically incorrect but true about differences in how males and females think and feel when it comes to physical contact. I am putting it on sale for only $10 to make it easier for you to get numerous copies to share with individuals, churches, and schools. Let’s help arm and protect our young people.

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No Tears for Hugh

October 11th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

While it is getting more difficult to find areas that unite people on opposite sides of the political spectrum, I think that neither liberal-leaning feminists nor conservative, traditionally minded women are shedding tears for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.  Before I proceed to destroy that Kumbaya moment, let’s take a minute to enjoy it.

Time’s up!

It is easy to focus scorn on the founder of movements you don’t like. I’m not a fan of Playboy magazine, Playboy Clubs or the Playboy philosophy that encouraged sexual liberation. However, the Hefner empire wasn’t built because the government forced men to purchase its products or forced women to participate in its businesses.  Men chose to buy magazines and become key-holders at the clubs; women chose to pose for the magazine and auditioned to work at the clubs. Many married women chose to either look the other way or chuckle when their husbands subscribed to Playboy and visited the clubs, sometimes even accompanying them. Lack of participation from either men or women could have derailed Hefner’s vision.

In 1963, Gloria Steinem took advantage of her figure and looks to go undercover as a reporter and describe the experience of spending a short time as a Playboy Bunny. Her exposé presents a rather unflattering picture of the men patronizing the club, but the women working at the club didn’t come off well either. About a decade later, Ms. Steinem founded Ms. Magazine and helped popularize the phrase, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” promoting the idea that men were fine for sexual fun, but there was no need for marriage.

In 1992, Hugh Hefner told The New York TImes how proud he was, “That I changed attitudes toward sex. That nice people can live together now. That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction.” Ms. Magazine acolytes may have despised Mr. Hefner, but they similarly elevated those very goals. I think it unarguable that Gloria Steinem is a talented and hard-working woman who has had an outsized effect on popular culture. She chose where to apply her influence.

Daphne Jackson, about two and a half years younger than Ms. Steinem, became the first female physics professor in the United Kingdom. She wanted to encourage other women to advance in science and engineering careers while being married and having a family. Realizing that women often took breaks for family reasons and needed retraining to get back into the field at a high level, in 1985 she began a fellowship supporting those women as they re-entered the workplace.

Today, unfortunately, there are still women who, at the same time as they righteously demand respect, treat their looks and figures as their greatest commodity. Both Hugh Hefner and Gloria Steinem supported the sexual revolution that gave that market an aura of respectability. There are also women devoting themselves to advancing science and engineering. Gloria Steinem’s work enlarged both those groups while Judith Jackson only supported the second.

Two intelligent women, both of whom felt that women should and could contribute their abilities to society to a greater degree than they were. Had Ms. Steinem joined Professor Jackson in enabling women to expand their academic and business opportunities without at the same time popularizing a sexual revolution, Hugh Hefner’s obituaries might be obscure side notes of history.

Once again, our site is closing for the final holiday days of this Jewish month, so there will be a delay in posting comments.

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Vegas Afterthoughts

October 4th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 63 comments

This week’s carnage in Vegas was shocking and horrifying. I put aside my previously written Musing because it seemed wrong to write about anything other than what had happened. But, I didn’t think I had anything unique to say that would be of value to most of the people who read what I write. Then, I was browsing one of the liberal-leaning sites I like to visit and saw that the equally shocked and horrified women there mostly saw what happened in Las Vegas as a reason to double down on calls for gun control. I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and leave a comment on that forum. Here is what I wrote:

It is never comfortable expressing a view in a forum in which yours is a minority opinion. Let me lay it on the table: I am an NRA member and have been for years. I am also a mother of seven and grandmother of many more. I consider myself, and think others would consider me, a loving, kind and giving person.

I did not grow up in a home with guns or where guns were discussed. In the Jewish enclave in which I grew up no one hunted. Guns belonged in cowboy movies and on signs and billboards found around the large city where I lived that said, “Use a gun, go to jail.” Those signs had no relevance to anyone I knew.

After studying both sides of the issue and after some first-hand life experience, I became a Second Amendment supporter. If I may say, very few people who agitate for gun control take the time to meet, talk to and understand those of us who are wary of it. There are corrupt politicians on both sides of the issue who see this topic as an avenue to power; there are opportunities for money on both sides of the issue. There are perverted ideologues on both sides of the issue such as the fired attorney for CBS who said that the she had no sympathy for the people who died in Las Vegas because they were probably “Republican gun-toters.”  I’m sure you can find her mirror image on the other side. But when it comes to real people, everyone shudders and mourns not only when mass shootings take place but when smaller numbers are affected. Everyone decent wants all types of carnage to stop.

The art of conversation and debate is dying in our society. There is a lot of shouting and very little listening. The bias of most media outlets is growing more propagandist and each side on many issues only sees data that has been manipulated and studies that have been picked to support its already established views. Sometimes a token “opposing view” is thrown in which is either so wishy-washy or so ridiculous that it just confirms previous biases. That isn’t healthy.

The NRA is not a “thing.” It is made up of many Americans, and increasingly women, who see gun ownership as the only way they can protect themselves and those they love from attack rape, and/or murder. They include women who have been told by police that the police cannot come in time to help them so that they need to be ready to defend themselves. One NRA magazine has a column called The Armed Citizen that gathers reports from newspapers around the country about people, male and female, old and young, handicapped and able-bodied defending themselves. These reports don’t make national news outlets.

Others who support the Second Amendment do so because of a study of history and what happened to societies that imposed gun control. Other supporters have different reasons. America is a huge country and what is true and necessary for one area is often the opposite of what is true and necessary for another region.

As I see it, based on many examples, the political debate is not about “common sense gun laws.” The political debate is about more extremist positions where any concessions of second amendment rights will become a step in the road to a very bad final stage. There is an agenda and it is different from the agenda of most Americans who want to do something that will actually be effective rather than to “just do something” or to take advantage of a crisis situation.

Real people, however, can meet in the middle. We share the bottom line, “What can we do to make things better.” The first step is acknowledging that those on the other side of the issue are good, sincere and intelligent people who might have something to teach you. This website skews towards one group of women. Other websites skew differently. Imagine how much more good we could actually achieve if we respected each other, shared our views and stopped seeing those who disagree with us as evil, warped or stupid.

I very much want to hear your comments and hope you will write. Please note, however, that our offices (and store) will be closed from sunset Wednesday night PT (Oct. 4) through Saturday evening, so many comments will not be approved or answered until later. 

If our Library Pack or Library Pack PLUS has been on your most-wanted list, now is a great time to get them. With the purchase of either one, we will add the new book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi, for free at checkout. (The rabbi is my favorite one and I believe many of yours as well.) Here is what one reviewer had to say, “Although Gruen’s struggle seems specific to our time, our religion, and our country, under her scrutiny, it becomes universal. Her spiritual journey speaks to Jews of any affiliation, and to non-Jews, because the profound questions she raises about G-d, family, religious practice, feminism, and secular culture are relevant to any thoughtful reader.”

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You Should See the Other Guy

September 28th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 38 comments

We are now in the midst of the Ten Days of Repentance, that started with Rosh HaShanah (Head of the Year) and ends with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It’s a time for introspection, for evaluating one’s actions over the past year and committing to improvement should God bless us with more time.

I always find it disconcerting to discover that the character flaws that I examined last year—and the year before that and the year before that—are often the same ones I revisit this year.  Occasionally one gets to pat oneself  on the back for having made some change but, being human, there is always more to do.

I don’t know if this is my own personal failing or if other people grapple with this as well, but I sometimes find myself aiming for humble soul-searching at the same time as a script plays in my mind along the lines of, “Well, o.k., so I showed a lack of (fill in the blank) when I did (fill in the blank), but compared to (fill in the blank) I don’t think I’m doing that badly.” After all, in a world filled with some really bad people, I consider myself one of the good guys. In a world filled with lots of complacent people, at least I can say that I try.

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An Honest Man

September 13th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

Sometimes, what I start out thinking I am going to write about and what I end up saying are entirely different. Last week was a case in point. I intended to write about the book I had just read, Will and Ariel Durant: A Dual Autobiography, but from an entirely different perspective than I ended up doing.

As I read, I was captivated by the honesty of Will Durant. Over the course of a long life, he often found his ideas tested by reality and he showed immense strength of character and depths of wisdom in a willingness to question some of his strongest convictions.

Relatively early in his career, his socialist leanings absorbed a harsh blow when he and his wife, Ariel, travelled to Russia during its Stalinist era. What they saw was far from the worker’s paradise in which they believed. Over the years, Mr. Durant developed an understanding of human nature that sought to merge his affection for the ideals of socialism with the reality of what actually motivates people to work hard.

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The Men Behind Great Women

September 7th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 25 comments

Back in March, I read a fascinating book about Clementine Churchill that led me to write a Musing about the aphorism, “Behind every great man stands a great woman.”  I have just finished another completely absorbing book that leads me to ask a different question. How many women achieved public greatness because of their husbands?

The book I just finished, Will and Ariel Durant: A Dual Autobiography, was written in 1977, a few years before the famous historians, philosophers and authors died within weeks of each other. Brought to the United States from Russia as a toddler, Ethel (later renamed Ariel by her husband) grew up in a Jewish immigrant family that struggled economically, socially and religiously. Left much to her own devices, as a young teen she removed herself from public school joining a radical school named for an anarchist. Meanwhile, Will Durant, born to a fervently Catholic, stable family, made his own way to the school as a teacher after abandoning religious training in seminary and embracing atheism.

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Harvey: Mirror into Humanity

August 30th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 19 comments

I don’t know if the Law of Thirds is true or even if it really exists, but Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years in a Soviet prison camp in Siberia, wrote that a third of U.S.S.R. citizens were staunch supportive of the Communist regime, a third were staunch opponents of the regime and the final third kept their opinions to themselves and just tried to survive. I have also read that at the time of the American Revolution a third of the colonists supported the King, a third rebelled against him and a third kept their opinions to themselves.

It would be easy to divide America into thirds as well.  One-third leaning left, one-third right and another third less ideologically driven, keeping an eye on what is best for them at any time. However the devastation in Texas suggests a more interesting way to apply my Law of Thirds.

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Alive Wrong

August 24th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 20 comments

Back in high school when I took Driver’s Education, we sat through many boring hours of classroom instruction before being allowed to do what we really wanted to do, which was get behind the wheel. One snippet of advice stuck. Our instructor told us that you can be ‘dead right’ but it is better to be ‘alive wrong.’ His point was that we needed to be alert and defensive drivers. Yes, a green light meant that we could legally go, but if someone at the intersection looked like they might run the red light, we would be wise to waive our rights.

Well, you can be ‘politically correct dead right’ and automatic lock-step with the latest trend or you can be ‘alive wrong.’ Quite frankly, trends are evolving so quickly that it is a full-time job to differentiate between satire and reality.

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Sloppy Shoes and Donald Trump

August 15th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 60 comments

What is wrong with the following scenario? Mr. and Mrs. Jones have three children. Over the course of a week, each of the children leaves his or her shoes lying in the middle of the living room floor. Mr.and Mrs. Jones ignore the first child’s messiness rationalizing that she is in the middle of finals. Mr. and Mrs. Jones excuse the second child’s carelessness because his girlfriend just broke up with him and he’s feeling down. Mr. and Mrs. Jones confiscate the third child’s shoes, berating her for being so sloppy.

You don’t have to be a parenting expert or in favor of shoes being left lying around to recognize that something is off-kilter in the above family. That is why I was not upset by President Trump’s tweet following the criminal car-ramming in Virginia on Saturday, August 13. While the President was lambasted for initially condemning hatred and violence “on many sides”  rather than singling out white supremacists, I didn’t take it that way.

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Years of Our Discontent

August 3rd, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

It is funny what sticks in your mind, isn’t it? Over 25 years ago, I heard my father-in-law ask in a tone that managed to be both amused and acerbic, why people couldn’t simply serve roast chicken every Friday night. At the time, my sympathies went to the woman who had innocently asked him whether a certain item only available in a specialty Japanese store was kosher. While not a gourmet cook like she was, I do vary the dishes served at my Shabbat table; my family and I would be bored with the same exact meal week after week.

My mother-in-law, like my mother and grandmothers offered no such variety. For them, being able to afford and have access to kosher chicken was in itself the special Friday night treat. How could anyone want more than chicken soup, roast chicken, and a simple side dish? They lived in different times.

I enjoy experimenting with new Shabbat recipes and while certain holidays cry out for specific traditional dishes, it is unusual for us to have exactly the same meal two weeks in a row. Yet, something I recently read made me recall my father-in-law’s lament and relate to it with greater understanding.

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