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 Invisible Woman

Last shabbat, I was sitting in shul during mincha, already having finished my private shemona esrai prayer, waiting for the chazzan to begin the public repetition. As is oft to happen, I was the only woman in shul. Now, let’s be honest here, I don’t normally go to shul for mincha, but megilla reading was Saturday night, ten minutes after shabbat ended, and I wanted to make sure I got to shul in time. I sort of figured that other women would have had the same thought, but nope.

But anyway. This particular shul has what I term a “women problem”. By that I mean, women just don’t go to shul. They don’t go on Friday night at ALL and on shabbat morning, there are MAYBE a third of the number of women as there are men. I’m not really sure why this is. The shul is located near an apartment complex where many young, newly married couples live. Some of these couples have children and apparently, once you have children, you become unable to ever leave your house at a reasonable time. I get that. But many of these couples don’t have children. The men go to shul, but the women stay home and read or sleep or set the table.

This is particularly troublesome for me, as one of the things I enjoy about shul is seeing my friends and having a chance to catch up with them on a weekly basis. (Obviously not during davening. Don’t you dare try to talk with me while I’m praying. But afterwards, hello.) If my female friends aren’t there, I feel like shul is lacking.

I’ve thought a lot about why women don’t go to shul, and I’ve spoken to a number of women about it. Although each has their own particular reason it basically comes down to “I’d prefer to stay at home and do X than go to shul”.

I mentioned above that I don’t normally go to shabbat mincha. I did, however, do that while I was in college. In fact, in college I prayed with a minyan three times a day, seven days a week. Sometimes I missed a minyan because I had class or homework or was too exhausted to wake up because I had just pulled an all-nighter, but the goal was there. A lot of that had to do with peer pressure, and the fact that going to minyan meant a chance to see my friends. Maariv was great because it was a short prayer in the middle of the night where I could literally take a 15 minute break and see 50 of my friends, and then go back to whatever I was doing before.

So, that brings me back to my current predicament. I go to shul on Friday night and I see maybe three women there, many weeks I’m the only one. Shabbat morning there are maybe twenty. Shabbat mincha, forget about it. Nothing.

There I was, last week, in shul on shabbat afternoon, davening mincha, when the gabbai starts walking around the shul and collecting the unused siddurim and chumashim to re-shelve. Now, this is totally inappropriate during mincha. He should be davening; he can clean up afterwards. But even more inappropriately, he walked over to the women’s section and started to do the same thing there! I was standing alone, and there he comes, just waltzing in to my section as if he owned the place.

I had many mixed feelings about the occurrence. On the one hand, I felt violated, raped. Who is he to decide he can come over to my section?? On the other hand, I felt like I shouldn’t really mind, because anyways I don’t like mechitzas and I would prefer to daven without them, though I recognize their pseudo-halachic  requirement (really, all that’s needed to satisfy the halacha is a separation, these ridiculous fake walls that people put up are basically just chumras adopted by leading rabbis). So if I would prefer to daven without a mechitza, why should I care that this guy violated the mechitza rule and just waltzed in to my section?

I guess what bothered me was the double standard. He, because of his maleness and sense of owning the shul, could go wherever he wanted whenever he wanted, and no one will say anything. Me, because of my femaleness and otherness, can only go where I am told. I couldn’t just decide to walk over to the men’s section, no, that would make the men feel uncomfortable. Plus, they will say, a man can’t pray in front of a woman, but a woman may pray in front of a man, so if the gabbai was really just walking around and collecting books, no halacha was violated.

Well, you know what? Maybe no halacha was violated, but I was violated. My sense of space was violated. My sense of belonging and sense of welcome was violated. I felt like I didn’t matter, like I was invisible.

And you know what? I was invisible. I, as woman, was invisible. Because there was just me there. The rest of the women were at home taking care of their kids or their house or their friends or their novels. But you know what? That’s not okay. Women, if we don’t want to be invisible, we have to be visible. Come to shul. Pray with me. Take the time out of your day to tell the shuls that we are not the invisible half of your membership, we are here and we are present and we are worth something.

In other words, lean in.

On Daughters

One of my strongly held opinions is that everyone has a story. I love following Humans of New York for that reason. It makes me think about who could be sitting right next to me, what they might have gone through, what they might have seen, what they think.

I don’t generally talk to the strangers around me, however. I often prefer to commute in silence, and I know others do, too. There’s nothing worse than waking up too early, planning to sleep during your hour-long bus commute, and finding yourself sitting next to someone who just wants to tell you about themselves.

BUT. Yesterday, the man I sat next to on the bus had so much to say that I couldn’t help but be interested. It started when I asked him about the bus schedule, he answered me, and then proceeded to tell me all about his job, his family, and his religion. It was fascinating.

Early on in the conversation, he told me that he had older daughters, but younger sons. He said he wished it were the other way around, because he would have liked his children to help him shovel the 10 inches of snow that recently fell, but that his sons were too young and “I can’t make my daughters do that”.

I said, half jokingly but actually very seriously, “If your daughters are big enough to hold a shovel, they can help shovel the driveway”. He said, “Nah, I couldn’t make them do that”. I let it go, and he went on to tell me about his life in the military, being shot in Saudi Arabia when he was 18, his view that Jewish women were much more liberated than Muslim women, and many other things.

Then he told me that his oldest daughter is a sophomore in college and she wants to join the Navy when she graduates. He doesn’t think it’s a terrible idea, after all, she’ll go in as an officer and her education will be paid for and she’ll have a great career ahead of her. His wife, on the other hand, is terribly opposed to the idea, fearing for her daughter’s safety.

I just listened as he told me all about his family’s drama, but as I thought about it, I remembered his earlier statement about the snow. This woman is not some feeble lady. She wants to join the Navy. Even if she has a desk job, she’ll have to go through basic training, which is much more physically demanding than shoveling snow. And he doesn’t mind that–he’s even in support of the idea! If his daughter can spend 10 hours a day climbing through ropes courses and learning to shoot, she can pick up a shovel and help her family clear the snow from their driveway. Fathers shouldn’t be afraid to give these chores to their daughters.

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.

On Equality and Maturity

I think that one sign of maturity is the ability to say “You’re right” even when you don’t think the other person really is right. So to the ability to remain silent when you know there is no purpose for your words. I’ve sometimes said things I regret saying, later to reflect and realize that there was really no reason for me to say those things, even if I was absolutely correct in my statements. I’m working on that skill, but it’s hard.

So, I write. And you listen. And you can tell me I’m wrong if you want. But there’s no point in me telling others they’re wrong, because they don’t care.

Today on facebook, a friend posted this article:

“Even though it’s legal, I still can’t marry my girlfriend”

The article is about a lesbian in a long term relationship with another woman. The author lives in California, where the prohibition on same-sex marriages has recently been abolished by the U.S. Supreme Court, and therefore, couples of the same sex are now legally entitled to marry.

She writes that she still can’t marry her girlfriend, because he girlfriend lives in Alaska. Her girlfriend lives in Alaska because she can’t get a job in California. She can’t get a job in California because she is a convicted felon. According to the author, the girlfriend committed the felony a long time ago, served her time, and is now a “changed woman”. Still, employers are unwilling to give her the chance, and therefore, she felt compelled to accept the only job offer that came her way, a position in Alaska.

The article then goes on to talk about the inadequacies and hardships convicted felons face, and also, in the same breath, that White Men arguing for Equality just don’t get it, they don’t face the same hardships that Black Women face, and therefore, the White Men who are celebrating the fail of PROP 8 and DOMA should really not be celebrating, because we still haven’t yet achieved equality.

I take issue with bringing up the two issues in the same article. Same-sex marriage rights really have nothing to do with rights, or lack thereof, of convicted felons. I acknowledge that the author is right about the [unfair] hardships convicted felons face. Still, don’t blame the White Gay Men for that. They lobbied for equality in marriage, but they haven’t lobbied for equality for felons because that’s not their job! I don’t deny that maybe some changes should be made in the way rehabilitated convicted felons are treated in this country, but don’t rain on the parade of the gays. Like one commenter on the article succinctly said, “It’s like saying to someone saving the whales: ‘Well, that’s all well and good, but you’re a bastard for ignoring the seals!’ “.

I could have written this as a response to my friend’s post (or a shorter version of this. Maybe just copied that line above.) But I chose not to, because this friend is not very receptive to ideas that she doesn’t agree with. She doesn’t just debate, she gets personally offended. I didn’t want to start an argument with her, and I didn’t want to offend her. So, I remained silent. But the thoughts were still inside, and I had to get them out, so I spilled them here. Hope you enjoyed!

And, if you disagree, I welcome dialoge.

Mansplaining

This might make me a bad feminist, and probably get me excluded from any gender studies programs that I might theoretically want to enter, but I really hate the word “mansplaining”. Urbandictionary defines the word as “inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation”.

I’ve heard the term used twice, once at a lecture/roundtable discussion on gender issues in domestic violence law, and the other in an online forum discussing tzniut. In both contexts, the conversation went something like this: A topic on gender was being discussed. A man offered a possible explanation for something seemingly “anti-women”. A woman angrily disagreed with the man, and told him he was wrong by saying “Thanks for mansplaining that to me, but you’re wrong”.

To me, the problem with the word is that it makes assumptions about the accuracy of a person’s argument, just based on his gender. It’s the same exact problem that feminists have been fighting for years, only the roles are now reversed. If a woman offers a possible reason as to why male domestic violence victims are offered fewer victim services than women, she’s adding to the discussion, but if a man offers the same explanation, he’s “mansplaining”, and therefore wrong and obnoxious.

Isn’t this the same type of behavior feminists have been trying to fight, when the behavior is at the expense of women? Sheryl Sandberg laments how male CEOs are viewed as keen businessmen, but the same CEO with the same traits but female is viewed as “mean, hostile, and agressive”. If a man plays hardball in a negotiation, or demands perfection from his employees, he’s doing business as usual, but if a woman does the same thing, she’s Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Feminists say this attitude is part of the reason for the glass ceiling, and is holding women back from achieving as much as they can. Still, we downplay men when they try to address the problems that we tell them are problems, simply because they are men. 

Newsflash women, it’s okay for men to be feminists. It’s also okay for men to want to help solve “women’s problems”. Look, the fact of the matter is, if men want to help work towards solutions for gender inequality, we should welcome them with open arms, not shoot down their totally legitimate voices by accusing them of “mansplaining”. What we’re saying when we use that term is, “I don’t really care what you just said, because you’re a man and I don’t trust men’s motives”. That’s not just unfair, it’s the epitome of a double standard.

To me, “mansplaining” is just as offensive a term as “that’s so gay/retarded” or “Don’t Jew with me”. It’s simple, really: If women don’t want to be judged based on their gender, we shouldn’t do the same to men.

Man and Wife on Opposite Sides

During the last 2 months, I went to three weddings. The weddings were quite different.

The first one was a wedding of two chareidi [ultra-orthodox] people, both of whom came from families that were not as observant as the couple. (The bride’s immediate family is modern orthodox while her extended family is mostly unaffiliated;  the groom’s family is mostly conservative). This wedding was held in the bride’s family’s synagoge, and was a small and intimate yet elegant affair. There was a lot of emphasis on modesty. The wedding invitation included the line “modest attire requested”. We, as female friends of the bride, had prepared some cute presentations for the couple, but were asked to present only to the bride for modesty reasons.

The other wedding I went to was vastly different. The couple was modern orthodox, and had spent the last few months working on a farm together. The wedding venue was a nature reserve. Instead of the traditional kabbalat panim, where the bride sits in a chair and is greeted by all the female guests one by one, The bride had a kallah’s tish/drum circle, located in the reserve’s historic barn. She didn’t have a hair or makeup stylist, instead electing to do everything herself. The chuppah canopy was held up on poles by four couples that the bride and groom had close relationships with (we were one of the couples). The bride gave the groom his ring publicly at the bedeken (veiling ceremony) instead of privately, after the ceremony.

The third one was held in a large, all-in-one wedding hall in Brooklyn. These wedding halls are known for being all inclusive, all you do is pick the date, and tell them how many people you expect, and then they take care of everything from orchestrating the ceremony to planning the menu. This particular hall had rules that any wedding in that hall must have separate seating for men and women, both at the ceremony and the meal.

Despite their differences, the weddings were, in many ways, very similar. All were orthodox weddings, so all featured no touching between the bride and groom until after the ceremony. All featured separate dancing for men and women. All had kosher food.

Another thing that both weddings featured was separate seating for men and women at the ceremony.

According to halacha, there is absolutely nothing wrong with men and women sitting next to each other while watching the ceremony. Orthodox synagogues feature separate seating for prayers, but that restriction is limited to times of prayer and places that regularly serve as places of prayer. Therefore, an impromptu minyan in an individual’s home does not require a separation. Furthermore, a non-prayer function in a synagoge, such as a lecture or a wedding, does not require separate seating. While there are brachot that are said during a wedding, this does not fall into the same category as prayer and therefore does not require separation.

Before the first two weddings, I chatted about the details with each bride. I asked each of them what amount of separation there would be. The first wedding’s bride told me that the ceremony would be separate, but the meal would be together, although there would still be a partition for the dancing. She said she would probably have preferred to have the the meal separate too, but their families wouldn’t hear of it. The second wedding’s bride told me that everyone would be sitting together at the wedding, because she didn’t feel there was any reason to split the seating. The third wedding was dictated by the wedding hall rules.

A funny thing happened at the second wedding. Although the bride had specifically instructed her friends that seating was mixed, most of the other guests just assumed it was separate, and chose to sit separately. The few friends who were sitting on the “wrong” side were forced to give up their seats to members of the opposite sex, and to find other seating on the “correct” side. All this took place while the bride and groom were in the back, when they entered, they were completely surprised to find all the men on one side of the isle while all the women were on the other.

THIS angered me more than anything else. I respect a couple’s right to choose to conduct their wedding in whichever way they see fit. If they want separate everything, fine, I don’t love it, but I’ll respect it. BUT, the fact that the assumption is now that seating should be separate is problematic.

Since I’ve been married, I’ve had the occasion to go to more than one wedding where the only person I knew there was my husband. It’s quite un-fun to sit amongst a pile of women not knowing anyone, and without having my husband as a buffer to introduce me to the few women that he happens to. “Oh”, you say. “That’s not a big deal. The ceremony is only half a hour, 45 minutes at most. You have the whole rest of the wedding to spend with your husband and your male friends”. Wrong. As evidenced by this third wedding, separate seating at meals is becoming increasingly popular as well. “Oh”, you say. “Thats just a small minority of ultra-orthodox extremists. In your modern orthodox circles, you probably won’t have to deal with it too much”. Wrong again. Separate seating at ceremonies used to be unheard of, something practiced only by the most stringent. Now, apparently, it’s the assumption.Rather than posting signs to inform guests of separate seating, couples who wish to ensure that their friends are able to sit with the people that they choose are forced to put signs up indicating the wedding is mixed seating. My prediction is that if things keep going the way they are, in five years the standard will be that people will be sitting separately at the meals, too. This is something that the Modern Orthodox community shouldn’t take lightly, we should fight it at every opportunity we have. If we don’t, we let the Brooklyn wedding mills win.