Culture 06 May 2018
I am a lesbian and the daughter of a Rabbi. I feel compelled to write the sentence, “I am lucky because my parents are loving and supportive of who I am." But writing that sentence, thinking about writing that sentence, makes me angry. It makes me incredibly angry actually. Being loved and supported by your parents regardless of who you are and how you love shouldn't be a matter of luck. It should just be.
I saw the new film “Disobedience." Having seen the trailer and thus knowing the plot, even the title made me cringe. Disobedience. A word that should be used to refer to children or pets. Not grown women. And not behind the guise of religious zealotry. Disobedience is defined as a refusal to comply or as a transgression. Its connotation is negative. To obey is to be “good." To not obey is to be “bad." But what about what about the rules? We judge those who do not follow them as bad. But it is high time that we instead began to judge the rules, as some of them are simply unacceptable.
The film is about the daughter of an Orthodox Rabbi, Ronit (played by a Rachel Weisz), who is disowned by her father and shunned by her community for being a lesbian. She returns home for her father's funeral, which she only finds out about because - spoiler alert - the woman who she was with when she was young, calls to tell her. This woman, Esti (who is played by Rachel McAdams), is now married to the man with whom both women were once friends. Ronit stays with the couple and, as you might imagine, great difficulties ensue.
"This is a film about when fundamentalism in religion outweighs common sense and what should be the unbreakable bonds of parental love." Photo Courtesy of thegeekiary.com
I spent the film both desperately sad and incredibly angry. This is a story that is all too familiar and absolutely unforgivable.
This is a film about when fundamentalism in religion outweighs common sense and what should be the unbreakable bonds of parental love. The film itself is beautifully written, shot and acted. There is a dread that hangs over the film from start to finish, a weight that the characters bear and therefore so too must the audience.
My father is a reform Rabbi. We don't keep Kosher. The women don't wear wigs and long skirts and they are not treated as second-class citizens. We don't hate or look down on people who are not Jewish. We don't think there is one way to live. We interpret the Torah as was intended. We don't fear God. We live in the real world. We change with the times. We honor one another's differences. We don't shun people for who they are or for the choices they make.
In the film, Ronit's father felt it better to have no daughter than to have a daughter who is a lesbian. In the film, Esti felt it better – at first – to live in misery and denial rather than to honor her truth. In the film, blind obedience reigns over intelligent thinking and common sense. I find this unforgivable in the film. I find this unacceptable in real life. At the end of the film, Ronit frees herself and is able to because her husband “allows" her a divorce, another despicable “rule."
"In the film, Esti felt it better – at first – to live in misery and denial rather than to honor her truth." Photo Courtesy of Variety
Ronit's father died and he missed out on being her father. He missed out on her being his daughter. He missed out on life. There is no greater sorrow than to lose a child. And yet, this foolish man purposely threw her away. No God wants that. You'll just have to trust me when I say that. No God of any religion or denomination wants that. God is good and he is love and he is forgiveness and he demands that we are kind to one another and to ourselves, that we live gently and treat others as we wish to be treated. The rest is window dressing. Hate is nowhere in the Torah. And, if you don't believe in God, then this is what the universe wants from us, graciousness and gentility, not violence and hate. Never violence and hate.
So many people live in such great fear that they all but forget to live. God did not command people to disown their children. God did not command that people are heterosexual. God did not command that men rule over women. These are scriptural interpretations by man, by men, and they have no place in the world. None.
"So many people live in such great fear that they all but forget to live."
This film is painful. Ronit's father and the members of the congregation who shunned Ronit are pitiful. A bit of me feels sorry for them. I feel sorry that they do not have the strength of character to stand up for what they must know is wrong. Or I feel sorry for them that they do not have the ability to even know that it is wrong. Denial and brainwashing are powerful tools.
We only get one life. We get one chance to live and love and be who we were designed to be. “Disobedience" shines a light on just one of many religious groups who allow ancient manmade rules to dictate people's lives in a way that runs counter to any sense of true humanity. If you belong to a group that demands hate, there is something inherently wrong with the group.
When I came out to my parents, the only thing my dad asked was whether they needed to set another place at the Thanksgiving table for my girlfriend. My father teaches love and acceptance. My father teaches that in the end, it won't matter who was right or wrong. It won't matter who blindly followed the rules. The only thing that will matter is that we lived and loved with kindness and joy.
Some say art imitates life. In the case of “Disobedience," I know this to be true. I see the hate disguised as religion all around me, especially these days. Others say life imitates art. When it comes to this film, I challenge you to avoid the latter. There is no prize at the end for “being good." There is only the prize that is itself a reward, doing good.
I challenge you to be disobedient when the result is love over hate, good over evil, acceptance over rejection, peace over violence. I challenge you to be disobedient when there is no logical explanation, only an ancient rule. I challenge you to be disobedient. I challenge you to love. For today, love is an act of defiance.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.