My Problem With “Mommy”

I don’t think it’s anti-feminist of me to sit and think about what life will be like in the eventual future when I have kids, because I have already made a choice–an active choice–that I want to have children someday. I don’t know when that day will be, but I know that it will come eventually.

I think a lot about how I want to raise my children, what I want to teach them, how involved I want to be, etc. I also have decided that I want my children to call me “Mom”. This, like all my thoughts, is subject to change when the time comes, but as of now, I just don’t think “Mommy” is right.

My problem with Mommy is that while it’s cute and endearing for a 5-year-old to call her mother “Mommy”, it’s not quite as endearing for a 15-year-old or a 25-year-old. I should know–I was raised by a Mommy and a Daddy, and to this day, I still feel like those are the natural names to refer to them. When I was in high school, I realized it was kind of weird and tried to make an active effort to switch to “Mom” and “Dad”, but it never felt as right or as natural as “mommy” and “daddy”.  Just yesterday I got a message from my father in which he said, “It’s Daddy, call me back when you get off of work”. It’s just so ironic for a Daddy to be requesting that his adult daughter call him back after she gets off of work.

I know kids that call their parents mom and dad, and it does seem a little off. At first, it almost feels like there is some sort of lack of intimacy between the child and the parent, that the kids can’t fully express their love to their parents, because they don’t have cute pet names. But then I realize that sort of thinking is just incredibly archaic. It’s not about the title, it’s about the relationship–and these kids actually do have wonderful, loving, caring parents that would do just about anything in the world for their children, and the children know it.

Maybe it’s a personal thing I have against pet names. I’ve told my husband that I don’t want him to give me any pet names, either. (Hello, I’m not his pet!). I know a lot of women like this sort of thing, but I just feel that names like Baby, Honey, and Sweetie are incredibly condescending. I’m not his baby, I don’t need him to care for me. It works for us-when he wants to be endearing to me, he just tells me what it is that he loves about me–using my name and everything–and I love him for that. Now, I know that sort of reasoning doesn’t work with the Mommy issue, but maybe it’s deeper than that. Maybe I just say that I don’t want pet names because it’s anti-feminist, when in reality, I’m just too rational to enjoy pet names.

My mother is a preschool teacher with a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She advocates against parents using any sort of baby talk with their kids. She thinks that you’re just teaching children improper language skills, and that by using incorrect words and grammar with your kids, you’re impeding language development. I’ve been taught that philosophy my whole life. So maybe that’s where the mommy thing comes into play: Why reinforce something that you’re just going to want to undo later?

I should note that my issues against “mommy” are my own, and I haven’t yet discussed them with my husband. However, it won’t bother me at all if he chooses to be Daddy, Abba, Tattie, Papa, or anything else–he can be whatever he wants to be, just like I can.

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Simchat Bat Ceremonies: Feminist Ritual or Jewish Ritual?

I recently attended both the shalom zachor and brit mila of the son of good friends of mine. As all shalom zachors do, this made me think about how there’s no real female equivalent of a shalom zachor, and how this practice seems like a throwback to the days when families favored boys over girls.

When I was growing up, in a small, out-of-town community with one orthodox shul, one conservative shul, and one reform shul, the process was pretty standard across the board: No one had a shalom zachor. If you had a baby boy, you had a brit, and if you had a baby girl, you had a baby naming ceremony. The ceremonies were fairly similar, both involved the whole community sharing bagels and lox, both involved the parents (or just the father, if the mother was too weak from just having passed a human being out of her body) talking publicly about their child and his/her name and where it comes from and who the baby is named after and their hopes and dreams for their child. There were only two differences: 1. The brit involved a snip-snip and 2. The brit was held 8 days after the baby was born (unless there were medical concerns) and the baby naming was held whenever was convenient for the parents, usually the first or second sunday after the baby was born.

It was pretty fair, if you asked me. I never thought of judaism favoring baby boys over baby girls because we celebrated both babies publicly, and even I, as a kid, understood that the ceremonies couldn’t be 100% equal because, well, girls and boys are not biologically 100% equal.

It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I heard people talk about simchat bat ceremonies. I assumed that those were just the hebrew version of a baby naming ceremony. Then I started to read about how people have designed special prayers, songs, and passages for simchat bats. What finally made me realize that these ceremonies were viewed a little differently here than where I came from, however, was a comment made by a caterer friend of mine. He does events all over the tri-state area, and was once talking about a simchat bat he was planning. Someone asked him where the event was going to be. He replied, “Riverdale, duh. If it’s a simchat bat, it’s either Riverdale or the Upper West Side.” So, apparently, the only people that celebrate a daughter are feminists. Hm.

This conversation led to more discussions about baby girls and baby boys. Apparently, “most people” up here name their baby girls in shul the first time that the husband goes to shul after the baby is born. There’s usually no coffee and bagels, and no guests are invited. The only parties are for boys.

This is wrong. It is weird that my small town is more “progressive” than the big city, but apparently, that’s how it is. But the thing is, we didn’t think of ourselves as progressive at all. Most of the people would shun the title feminist. I once got ridiculed for studying gemara in shul on simchat torah while all the other women were contentedly watching the men dance around the torah. This is NOT a progressive community. We simply like babies, male or female, and we celebrate whenever ANY new member joins our tribe.

This is the final step for feminism. Feminism has taken great strides lately, has implemented wonderful additions and rituals and services that make judaism welcoming for all genders, and thats great. But the final step is to get these things normalized, to not be seen as a “feminist” practice, but instead, to be seen as simply a Jewish practice.

Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, and Jew in the City

I’ve hated Jew in the City ever since I saw her nauseating video about the beauty of Mikvah, and the hate was reignited again after I saw her ruin all that is wonderful about Buzzfeed with an eye-rolling, kiruv style article about Orthodox Jews.

So when I saw that she wrote something about Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s performance at the 2013 Video Music Awards, I have to be honest, I assumed it was going to be just as cliche and holier-than-thou as her other posts.

But, I have to give credit when credit is due, and I actually liked what she had to say about it.

She writes that Miley explained her song, “We Can’t Stop”, as a celebration of adulthood and maturity. The lyrics of the song are an anthem of what grown-ups can do, simply because they’re grown ups: “It’s our party we can do what we want/…Doing whatever we want/This is our house/This is our rules/And we can’t stop/We won’t stop”. But, Ms. Jew in the City explains that that’s not real maturity, in fact, it’s the essence of childishness:

“The irony in defining maturity as being able to do whatever you please is that it’s the immature kids who we find screaming that it’s their toy and they can “do what they want.” Or telling their moms and dads “you’re not the boss of me!” When considered in that light, Miley’s hyper-sexualized, know-no-boundaries song sounds a bit like a spoiled little child having a fit about how she wants what she wants!”

Allison Josephs, Jew in the City, “We Like to Party: Childishness Masquerading as Maturity”

She goes on to explain that real maturity involves boundaries and limits and knowing when to say enough is enough. I’ve written about that before, and I agree.

The article also made me think about how exciting my first year of marriage has been for me. We were no longer simply our parents’ children, we are now our own family, complete with our own family traditions. Some we’ve adopted from our parents, but some of our traditions are completely our own, and I love that. I love being able to say to my husband “I don’t like the way our parents do X, lets do Y instead”. We’re adults, and we now have both the freedom to set our own customs, and the responsibility to make sure these customs fit our needs.

As adults, we sometimes use our freedom to eat junk food for dinner and to go three weeks without cleaning our room. But, our responsible nature also tells us that these things are okay, if done with moderation. We eventually clean our rooms, and a junk food dinner is usually balanced out the next day by a healthy salad and steamed veggies dinner.

This self-responsibility is one of the best things about being a grown-up.

Edited to add:

Please watch this amazing video response to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. Blurred Lines is a song about how the line of consent can be “blurry” for men. This is a feminist response, and it is wonderful.

The Post-Tznius Purge

Some time ago, I was at a wedding in Israel. I ran into a woman I knew from years before, and we started talking about life and religion. She mentioned, “I hope this outfit is modest enough for this wedding. I had such a hard time finding something to wear to this wedding because I threw out all my tznius clothing after I stopped being Orthodox.” She was wearing a stylish black dress with thin straps at the top and that hit a little above her knees. She looked beautiful, but definitely was outside the norm for an Orthodox wedding, where most people wore sleeves that, if they didn’t hit the elbow, they almost did.

She wore a dress not unlike this one.

Orthodox women have a way to “tziusfy” just about every piece of non-tznius clothing. For example, on the dress above, one could easily throw on a cardigan over the sleeves and call it a day. (There are varying levels of tznius. Some women wouldn’t feel comfortable showing as much clavicle as this dress shows, they’d probably put a black or white shirt underneath the dress).

When she made the comment to me, I reassured her “You look great. No one here cares what you wear anyway.” It was true. The wedding was mostly liberal Modern Orthodox Jews who like to pride themselves on how open-minded they are, even if their own practices might be somewhat different. Still, I couldn’t help but think, “You didn’t keep one black cardigan?” That’s not one of those pieces that scream “ORTHODOX”. It’s a piece that most women, tznius or not, keep in their closets because it’s good to wear to work, good for when the weather gets chilly, and can dress up pretty much any outfit. It was a staple among my [mostly non-Jewish] female co-workers.

Sometimes, people who aren’t used to dressing according to tznius rules don’t think about putting pieces together in the way that tznius dressers have to do. They might see the dress above and never even consider wearing a cardigan with it, because cardigans only go with pencil skirts, silly. But this woman, my friend, was different. She grew up lubavitch, went through a litvish-chareidi phase in high school, a modern orthodox phase in college, and then stopped being religious all together sometime after college. She knows the drill. She knows all about shells and cardigans and various ways to turn a scarf into sleeves.

But here’s the thing. Just because she no longer dresses that way doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have the pieces in her closet to do so if she felt the need.

On facebook recently, a girl I know posted that she was getting rid of all her “super-frum clothing from high school”. (She’s about to graduate college now).

I don’t understand this trend. Maybe it’s because I’m a pack rat and have a hard time getting rid of anything, but I find that if it still fits and is in good condition, there’s usually a way to wear it.

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“Sleevies”, cotton sleeves to wear on your elbows under a short sleeve shirt to give the appearance of layering, are one of the few items I was willing to throw out after high school.

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These days, I definitely don’t dress the way I did ten years ago. Ten years ago, I made sure that every time I left my house, my elbows, knees, and collarbone were covered. I only wore skirts. I thought I was “modern” because I didn’t wear tights all the time. Today, I dress modestly, but I’m of the opinion that modesty is in comparison with the society in which one lives. I pretty much cover my knees, but I wear pants. When I exercise, I wear shorts. At the beach, I wear shorts and a tee shirt. In general, I don’t have a cut-off for how short I’ll allow my sleeves to be, but I’ve been known to wear cap-sleeves occasionally. I don’t care if my collarbone shows, but I don’t show any cleavage.

Still, I own my share of cardigans and longer-length skirts, because sometimes I go places where it is appropriate to wear such things. I don’t do the long-sleeve white tee shirt under a short sleeve tee shirt thing anymore, but I sometimes wear those white long sleeve tees with a pair of jeans and a funky necklace. Half of my closet consists of cardigans and other types of layering pieces, because layering is the greatest thing ever. If I had to, I could find a great outfit in my closet to wear to a secular cocktail party or to a chassidic wedding.

The point is, it’s not what you have, it’s how you wear it.

Working Moms and Busy “Others”

I’d like to be frank about something here. I know what I’m about to say is not popular, but I’m going to say it anyway. I really don’t have that much sympathy for working moms.

I really don’t mean to downplay how hard it is to be a mom and also work full time, but in my world, that’s normal. When I was growing up, my mom worked full time. Both of my grandmothers also worked full time while raising children. Almost all of my friends’ moms worked.

I am not a mom, but I still have a busy schedule. I go to law school full time, and work part time, plus I have an hour long commute each day, meaning that I don’t get home before 9pm most nights. And once I get home, I have papers to write and cases to read and client files to go over.  I often do the grocery shopping while falling asleep, and my laundry hasn’t been done in two weeks because I just don’t have time for that. Forget about ever making the bed. And yet, there are not blogs and magazines and books dedicated solely to coping with my schedule. How come having a busy schedule is only sympathy worthy if part of the schedule includes children?

Still, despite my non-sympathy, being a working mom scares me. When my sister-in-law was recently complaining about a hectic day she had at work, it started with her pre-school age daughter being sick and having to arrange last-minute childcare before she left in the morning. Then, in the afternoon, she had an off-site meeting that went longer than it was supposed to. Since my sister-in-law is nursing her baby son, she pumps milk during the day. The late meeting meant that she had to find a place in the unfamiliar office building to pump, keeping her co-worker (and ride) waiting. Another time, she told me that her office building was closed for repairs, but all employees were expected to report in to a temporary site. She went to the temporary site, and found that she, and the rest of the employees, weren’t able to do a lot of work from there, since they didn’t have their files and other necessary things with them. While her co-workers had to stay and find busy work to fill their time, her boss gave her permission to leave early in order to nurse (there was no place to pump in the temporary location).

I know that my sister-in-law is an incredibly hard worker and very dedicated to her job. She’s also quite smart and good at what she does. Still, often when she talks about work, it’s often about how her children interfere with her ability to do her job well. It scares me that my ability to do my job well will be impacted by my children.

Perhaps, just maybe, this is the real reason why it irks me so much when moms complain about how hard it is to balance their work and home life. Perhaps, every time I hear that discussion, it reminds me that soon enough, that will be my fate as well.

Women at Work

In the July 11th &18th edition of The New Yorker, Ken Auletta wrote a profile of Facebook’s female C.O.O., Sheryl Sandberg. The piece was a rather typical woman-in-the-headlines profile, highlighting her career path and using some strongly worded quotations to exemplify her view on women in the workplace (she describes her ideal world as one in which “a world where half of homes are run by men, especially raising children, and half our institutions are run by women, especially armies.”)

She exemplifies mainstream feminism. She was educated at top schools, worked her way up on the corporate ladder, got to the top of one company (Google) and then moved to the top of another (Facebook). The article also is an excellent feminist piece. The article spans 9 pages online, only 2 of which talk about balancing work/home life, challenges of being a female executive, and sexist encounters she’s had to deal with. The rest of the 7 pages talk about her business strategy, her career and company goals, and her work ethic. It’s a truly inspiring piece, and I encourage you all to read it.

Unfortunately, some people didn’t like the article. This person wrote in complaining that while Sheryl is blessed to be able to afford full time child care (which, by the way, she tries not to rely on too much. She and her husband have a deal that at least one, if not both, parent will be home every night to have dinner with the kids) not every family is able to do so, and that results in women being forced to stay home with the children. The author of the letter to the editor blamed California for it’s lack of providing state-funded child care facilities.

Apparently, she was referring to the proposal by Arnold Schwarzenegger to cut $1.2 billion of state funding for childcare facilities. The proposal caused so much uproar that the actual cuts ended up being only $256 million.

Certainly, the state cutting $256 million in any sort of funding is going to cause hardship to the citizens. But this is not a feminist argument. The author of the letter claims that there are “systematic probems that inhibit women’s ability to achieve leadership positions equal to those of men”, and cites the California budget cuts as one such problem.

The budget cuts are not systematic, anti-feminist problems. The budget cuts do not automatically mean that women can not achieve positions equal to those of men. They may mean, however, that families will have to reevaluate the cost of child care, and if it financially responsible for both parents to work. Many families will come to a decision that the cost of childcare is more than what a second income would provide, and therefore only one parent should work.

This DOES NOT mean that women will or should be the ones leaving their jobs. It does not mean that men will or should do that either. It means that families will have to evaluate who is going to stay home, and who is going to work. This should be a conversation that does not start with the assumtion that the women will stay home.

This is exactly what Sandberg was saying in her quote above. Half the men will be taking care of children, and have the women will be working and running armies. Feminism does not mean all women and all men work at all jobs. It simply, in it’s most basic sense, means that women and men are equal and should be treated as such. And that’s achievable by every person in every socioeconomic class in every state.

Young Sexuality

When and how do young girls start getting messages about sexuality?

Today, I bought a lacy, low-cut, satin nightgown. As I tried it on, I had flashbacks to a moment when I was about nine or ten years old. I, like many young girls, enjoyed playing dress-up in my mother’s closet. I would try on her high heels, wear her shirts as dresses, and sling a pocketbook over my shoulder as though it had always belonged there. On this particular occasion, I found a low-cut crushed velvet nightgown crunched in a corner of the closet. I tried it on, and it looked fabulous ! It hit me right at my knees, showed off the breasts I was just beginning to devlop, and, because I am practically a carbon copy of my mother, was the perfect color to bring out my skin tone. I stood in the mirror, stunned. I didn’t know my body could look this beautiful. Suddenly, I heard footsteps coming down the hall, and I scrambled to put my clothes back on. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my mom finding me playing dress-up in her closet, it was that I didn’t want her to know I had found that.

At that age (and frankly, even to this day), I was a jeans and t-shirt type of person. I didn’t wear low-cut things. Mini-skirts were too confusing to sit in. Anything with lace or frills was just too uncomfortable. And yet, when I tried on this nightgown, I was aware, for the first time, that my body was beautiful. It hugged me in the right places, hid that baby fat that I was self-conscious of, and put my chest in a place of honor.

I took a polaroid of myself in the nightgown, placed it back in the closet, and hid that polaroid in a box in a bag under my bed. No one could ever find out, I told myself. I had been so naughty for thinking of myself as sexy. It was just wrong to try to look like that.

Where did I get that idea from? What part of pop-culture was it that told me that looking sexy was a bad thing? What was it that told me to be ashamed of how good my body could look? Why did I feel like I had to hide that side of me?

Whatever it was, it stayed with me to this day. That nightgown I just bought? The first real piece of lingerie I’ve worn since that time when I was nine. And when will I wear it? At moments like this, when I am home alone, and want to feel pretty. As soon as I hear my roommates get home, off it will go, to the bottom of the closet, until I pull it out again, maybe years down the line.