Random Thoughts: New Job Edition

I just started a new job, details of which I really can’t discuss in public. Suffice it to say that I am an attorney at a public interest organization, and I am in family court every day. I love it.

Some random thoughts on the new job that I can share:

*My office is predominantly female. It was the first time in a really long time that I noticed a male co-worker of mine looking uncomfortable because he is working in a female-dominated field. This doesn’t happen too much in law. I also noticed that although we all wear suits, his suit was the only suit with a pocket. When all the attorneys were given USB drives, he was the only one who had a place to put it (our purses and briefcases were at our desks in a different room). Sigh, female suit makers. If we’re going to dress like men, we should at least get the pockets that they get.

*I really, really, really hate the subway.

*It seems like all the women at the office are either going on maternity leave or just coming back from maternity leave. I appreciate that this is a culture where having children and working is encouraged. I wish more men went on paternity leave, though. For a lot of reasons. One, because I want fathers to be just as involved with their children as mothers. Two, because it de-stigmatizes women for going on leave. Three, it encourages a culture where parenthood isn’t automatically assumed to be a female role.

*It’s really hard to avoid sounding like a religious nut when you start right before passover, have to take off four days for your holiday, can’t eat any of the office food, can’t go out to eat with your co-workers, can’t use the microwave, and can easily explain to your co-worker why the Jews won’t push the buttons on the elevators in her building on Saturdays. I WISH I could find a way to avoid talking religion at work, but it’s really impossible.

*What the heck does “business casual” mean?

*I apparently fit into plus size clothing now. I have newfound understanding of the discrimination that plus-size women have. Their departments seem to always be hidden in a back corner of a basement in the department stores, and only feature a fraction of the selection for twice the price. Since I’m just on the border, I can wear both regular sizes and plus sizes, but man, do I feel bad for those women who only wear plus clothing. I sense a new campaign coming on.

 

The Empowering Skirt: What I Learned From My Mikvah Lady’s Outfit

I know a  lot of women who have anxiety about going to the mikvah. Many of them feel that they have to “put on a show” or act frummer than they are, in order to gain acceptance at the mikvah. Some women cover their hair at the mikvah when they don’t in real life. Others walk in wearing a skirt and long sleeves, so as not to arouse more questions. Some make sure to remove all their nail polish, even though they believe it is kosher to tovel.

Luckily, I don’t have to worry about such problems. The mikvah in my town is relatively open, people wear any and all outfits (I’m more surprised with the women in high heels than I am about the ones in sweatpants), and there’s really not much of an “interrogation” feeling.

That in mind, I was more than surprised when I encountered my mikvah lady leaving the mikvah. I had the last appointment of the night. When I went to tovel, she greeted me in a long skirt with pants sticking out at the bottom. I didn’t think anything of it, it was cold that night, perhaps she just wanted an extra layer of warmth under her skirt. We did our thing, and I left. I went back to the preparation room to get dressed and gather my things. As I was walking to my car, I saw her going to her car as well–wearing only the pants!

I was shocked. Not because she wears pants, but because she specifically wore a skirt over her pants in the mikvah. Apparently, she too feels that she has to dress “frummer” at the mikvah. Many, many women wear pants in our modern orthodox community, but I guess that some women might not feel comfortable with a woman in pants as their mikvah lady.

Lest you think that she’s doing this because her boss told her to, she is the boss. She is the woman who runs the mikvah, trains all the new mikvah ladies, and has been around there longer than I’ve been alive. She doesn’t have to answer to anyone, except, I guess, her clients.

It makes me think about the power that clients have in places like mikvaot. We can sit here and complain on the internet all day about the crazy rules or the rude mikvah ladies or the dirty water, but we also have to remember than we are consumers. Just as we have the power to insist that our mikvah ladies wear skirts, we also have the power to insist that they are kind, open, and welcoming. And we should utilize that power. When we are upset with something that happens in the mikvah, call and file a complaint. Write about it. Tell your friends. Soon enough, you will start to hear things like “Oh, yeah, that happened to me, too.” Well, encourage those women to complain as well. We are the consumers in this relationship, and we are the ones with the power to effect change. So let’s do it.

I Went To The Mikvah With Nail Polish And The World Didn’t Explode.

Yep. Last month, I went to the mikvah with a fresh coat of Shelac nail polish on my fingers. The mikvah lady checked my nails and feet (what for, I’m still really not sure) but didn’t say anything about the polish. She didn’t ask me who my rav was or how fresh the polish was or what type of polish it was. All she did was say, “Oh, what a pretty color!”.

Now, I know the halacha. I know that wearing shelac nail polish in the mikvah is acceptable, specifically if the polish is not chipped. The reasoning is as follows: It is impermissible for a woman to immerse if there is a chatzitzah on her body. A chatzitzah is defined as both something that covers a majority of the part of the body, AND  something that a woman is makpid (careful) to remove. The rabbis have expanded the definition of chatzitza to mean EITHER majority OR makpid. The definition of makpid is viewed as both subjective and objective, meaning that it’s not just a matter of the individual, but also a matter of what women generally care about. Furthermore, a minority of rabbis have said that if something is going to have the status of makpid in the future, it will have the status of makpid at the time of immersion as well. Since most women are careful to remove chipped nail polish, it is considered a chatzitzah. Furthermore, following the minority opinion, many modern day rabbis have ruled that all nail polish must be removed prior to immersion, because it can chip at any time and once it chips, most women will be makpid to remove it. Freshly painted regular nail polish is considered okay if one does not follow the minority opinion that future chipping will constitute present chatzitzah. However, gel/shelac manicures are different. Gel and shelac manincures last for several weeks, and even then, it is advised to have a professional remove the polish, as the polish is actually bonded to the nail. This type of manicure specifically does not chip. Therefore, the concern that it will chip shortly and be something that a woman is makpid to remove is not present, and the nail polish does not constitute a chatzitzah even under the minority opinion.

However, I also know that mikvah attendants can be quite finicky, and might insist that no nail polish is allowed in the mikvah, ever. I was all prepared for a fight. I was prepared to tell her that  I had my nails done the day before with my friend who is terminally ill as part of a ladies day to help her get out of the house and have some fun, and that my rabbi (aka myself) had ruled that gel nail polish is not a chatzitza, and I was prepared to storm out in a huff and tell her that any sin I get from not immersing this month was going be on her. (anger problem? nahhhh….)

But I didn’t have to do any of that. She took one look at my nails and told me they were pretty and then proceeded to make idle chit chat as we walked from the preparation room to the mikvah. I dunked, and she said “kosher” and that was that. No fight. No making a statement. Just a regular day at the mikvah.

In my opinion, that’s how going to the mikvah should be: pleasant and non-confrontational.

Last week, I went to a sex shop.

Last week, I went to a sex shop.

This was not my first visit to such a shop, but it was my first truly enjoyable visit.

I’ve bought sex toys before. Usually from the internet. Usually I have a pretty good idea of what I want, and I would much prefer to shop from the privacy of my own home and without creepy sex shop owners knowing what sets me off.

This time, though, I was on the search for…something to wear. I wanted to buy a corset. This would require trying on and measuring and figuring out just which one I wanted. I could’ve done the whole thing online by buying a couple and then returning all but one–but that seemed to difficult. So, the husband and I set out on a sexy adventure.

Something close to the item I ended up buying.

We’d been to this particular shop before, and the last time, I really didn’t like it. The guy who owns the place was way too in your face. Even when we told him that we were “just browsing” and didn’t need any help, he stayed about 5 feet behind us and offered up his opinion on each product that we expressed even the slightest interest in. This time, though, we appreciated his wealth of knowledge about all things sex related.

He gave me something to try on. But then…he walked into the dressing room with my husband and I!! I was shocked by this. He explained this particular item and how to best put it on and what to look for when trying it on, and then he said, “I’m gay. Do you want me to be in here to help you try it on, or would you rather me wait outside?” I knew I wanted him to wait outside–just because I’m buying stuff in a sex shop (with my HUSBAND) doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of modesty–but sometimes I have trouble expressing my opinions if I think the other person will disagree with me. So, I was really proud of myself for saying, “I think I’d prefer you to wait outside”.

Here would be an appropriate place to talk about gay sexuality in relation to straight people. One of my best female friends is a lesbian. I have slept in the same bed with her, even after she came out to me. She thought that maybe I would be uncomfortable. Similarly, this man thought that I wouldn’t be uncomfortable with him in the dressing room with me, because he was gay. I see where they’re coming from, I really do, but, the thing is, I’m straight. I wonder sometimes if I’m too heteronormative, if I don’t want gay men to see me with my shirt off because I think that really this man might find me attractive, even if he says he’s gay. And conversely, there’s no way that my lesbian friend will view me as a potential sexual partner, because, hey, I’m a straight woman. But I digress.

The thing about corsets is that they have a very intricate way of lacing up in the back, so they usually require someone else to do the lacing. (There are videos and websites on the internet about ways to lace up your corset on your own, but I’m definitely not there yet. I can barely zip up the dresses with the zippers in the back on my own.) I assumed that would be my husbands job. But, alas, he had to learn how to do the lacing. Since I couldn’t show him, the shopkeeper came in to help him out. It was a learning experience for both of us.

Even after the corset was on, the shopkeeper stayed in the dressing room to help asses fit and sizing. He was completely, 100% professional. Still, it was weird that I was wearing something intended only for my husband in front of a complete, male, stranger. The shop owner was really, really helpful. He gave sizing and fit tips that I would never have received on the internet. He told us a lot about the background of the product, and storage tips, and even some usage tips. I keep feeling like, it was weird that he was there. I wonder if this comes from my orthodox perspective, that there were so many things “un-tznius” about that experience that it must have been wrong. And then I wonder if that’s a good thing. I’m glad I got this man’s help. I’m glad I bought the product.

I’m really pleased with my purchase. I love the way that I look in a corset. It shapes my body in a way that I’ve never seen my body look before. Suddenly, I have all these wonderful curved. Suddenly, I feel sexy and beautiful. I’m glad that I bought it, and I’m glad that the shop keeper was able to help us. But there’s this thought in the back of my head that it just wasn’t appropriate. I don’t know what to do with the thought. I mean, in the future, if I want to buy another one, I can purchase it online, now that I know what to look for and what size I am. But I wouldn’t have gotten there without the help of the shopkeeper.

I guess a lot of orthodox women have this issue, and I guess that they find ways around it. Even if they’re not buying corsets, they’re buying underwear and bras and have to be sized. And I guess they only use female shopkeepers. But what if the shopkeeper is a lesbian (not an uncommon situation for women who work in lingerie stores)? Is that a violation of tznius? What if it’s a male shopkeeper, but he’s gay? Does that make a difference? And if not, does that mean that in the eyes of tznius, there’s no such thing as homosexuality? Because thats a thought that I’m not comfortable with.

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.