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 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.

My Last Name

Before I got married, I really debated about what I’d do with my last name.

On the one hand, I really wanted myself, my husband, and any future children we might have to be a “real, united family”, and share the same name.

On the other hand, I like my maiden name. I also don’t like the symbolism of just taking the name I was given and throwing it away, replacing it with my husbands name. Just because I’m married doesn’t mean I have to leave all my single life behind.

When my mom got married, she changed her last name to my father’s last name, and changed her middle name to her maiden name. But therefore, she no longer had any legal relationship to her given middle name. It just went kaputs out the window. I didn’t like that idea, either. I wanted to keep all the names I was given, but add on this new part of my life.

I decided that I would keep my given middle name, change my maiden last name to an additional middle name, and take on my husband’s last name. I’d go from “First Middle Maiden” to “First Middle Maiden Married”.

Two things complicated this.

First, when I got married, I was in my last year of law school, and about to start applying for jobs. I thought that this would be the perfect time to change my name, since I hadn’t actually started working full time yet. I could just introduce myself to employers with whichever new name I chose, and that would be the end of it.

I forgot that all those new potential employers will want to contact former employers, who know me by my maiden name. This requires explaining that I HAVE a maiden name on my resume, which in turn basically puts my marital status on my resume. So much for privacy.

Additionally, the state where we got married has some pretty funky rules for name changes. Apparently, if you want to do anything other than drop you maiden name and take on your husband’s name, you have to note so on the application for a marriage licence. I knew this going in, but there was no place on the licence that said “New Name”, so I got confused and apparently didn’t indicate the name properly. When I went to the DMV to change my name on my driver’s licence, therefore, I could only change it to “First Middle Married” without getting a court ordered name change. So, the legal system sort of forced me to take on a different name than I wanted.

I’ve been married for almost a year, and I honestly have no idea what my name is. All I know is that my first name is and will always be my first name, and I tend to rely on that. I sign emails and letters as much as possible as “-First”. On my resume, I wrote First (Maiden) Married. On Facebook and G-mail, I’m First Maiden-Married. If I had it to do all over again, I don’t think I’d change my name at all. It’s nice to have the same name as my children, but its really just not worth it in the end.

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.

Covering My Hair and Figuring Out What’s Right For ME

This past weekend, I went to visit some old friends from high school. I met up with these two women, both of whom are married and pregnant, for dinner. The discussion turned to schools. Where, one wondered, was the other planning on sending her as of yet unborn child to school? A new school had recently opened up in their community, and they discussed whether or not that school would be appropriate for their children.

“I don’t know”, one said. “On one hand, the philosophy of the school sounds like our own philosophy. But the group of people that started the school are just, well, different, from us”.

“Different how?” I asked.

“Well, you know, they wear those shaitals [wigs] that show a significant part of their hair!” 

“Yeah”, the other said. “They shouldn’t even be called shaitals, they should be called ‘extensions'”.

Ironically, I was sitting there wearing a hat that left a significant portion of my hair uncovered.

Apparently, it wasn’t the amount of hair showing that was a problem for them, rather, it was how they chose to cover their hair.

They basically explained to me that these shaitals went along with a lifestyle where women made sure to dress up every time they leave their houses, even just to go around the corner to the market. They would never walk outside without makeup, and more often than not sport high heels and fitted clothing. They only wear skirts, but their skirts are rather tight and don’t even attempt to reach their knees. Their husbands wear black hats, but mostly just to blend in. And of course, the women always wear these insane shaitals. For my friends, the problem with the shaitals was that they were representative of a lifestyle which valued beauty over brains.

I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being scorned, right in front of my nose. Perhaps it is due to the feeling that many people have, including by not limited to, Orthodox Jewish Women. This feeling is: “I’ve made a decision that’s right for me, so while I may say that I’m liberal and support anybody doing whatever they want, I inwardly feel a little bit like those people that made a decision different from my decision made the wrong decision. Afterall, since this decision is right for me, it should be right for most people.”

My own practice regarding hair covering came after much thought and deliberation.

I only cover my hair in situations in which it is socially expected. Essentially, this comes down to shul and visits to ultra-orthodox communities. I’ve learned the halachot–I know that hair covering is, essentially, dependent on minhag hamakom [the customs of the place]. The rabbis lament how, over the years, Jewish women have forsaken the mitzvah of covering their hair, but now that uncovered hair is a commonplace occurrence, it is no longer halachikcally required. The discussion is more nuanced than that and there are certainly a plethora of rabbis that would disagree with what I’ve just said, but suffice it to say that not only has my reasoning has been developed by studying the sources, it’s also rabbinically sanctioned.

My decision to not cover my hair in most situations started with my decision not to cover my hair at work. I really don’t think that scarves and hats are suitable for a professional environment. Sure, there is a Muslim woman that works in my office who covers her hair and neck with fancy scarves and nobody bats an eyelash. There are a couple of men who wear kippahs. I’m pretty sure that there is a woman who wears a shaital, but I’m not a hundred percent sure it isn’t natural hair. Still, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me. I not a permanent employee there yet, and I certainly don’t want to be viewed as a religious fanatic when the time comes for them to evaluate my employment applications.

I also really hate wearing wigs. Not only are they heavy and uncomfortable, they make your natural hair look worse. The wig makes your hair flat and messy, plus, years of prolonged hair covering mean that your hair doesn’t get much, if any, exposure to the sun, resulting in thin, dull hair for women still in their mid-twenties. Since it’s not halachikally required, and I had all these reasons why I didn’t want to, I chose not to cover my hair at work.

Once I made that decision, the following decision to only cover my hair at shul and places I’m expected to made a lot of sense for me. Why wear a head covering to the grocery store on Sunday if I didn’t wear one to the grocery store on Wednesday afternoon during my lunch break?

Sometimes I end up wearing head coverings in situations that I didn’t expect to. I often cover my hair on shabbat even I don’t go to shul, because that feels more like a shabbat outfit. I wore one at the funeral I attended a few months ago. I wore one at the sheva brachot meal I attended two weeks ago, but not the one I attended a month ago. I debate constantly with myself whether a particular situation is hair covering appropriate. And that is what’s right for me. 

Still, I hope that when I talk to friends that fully cover their hair, or friends that never ever cover their hair, they don’t get the impression that I think they made the wrong decisions. I don’t. I fully support them. I made the decision that was right for me, but that is all. I know my friends mentioned above don’t really think less of me because of how I cover my hair, but sometimes it feels like they do, even when they’re “just” talking about other people. I dislike it, and I hope that I don’t give off the same impressions.

Dress The Part

The hardest thing about working in a law office is having to get dressed up in a suit, makeup, and jewelry everyday.

I thought I would enjoy wearing suits. They’re so easy, all you have to think about is what shirt to put underneath. Wrong. There’s a whole lot more to the female suit. The clothes-i.e., deciding on pants or skirt, A-line or pencil, dark or light, and which goddamn blouse highlights my silhouette without making me look like the office slut-are just the beginning. Theres the shoes, the makeup, the hair, the jewelry. It never ends.

I put up with all that in the name of professionalism. I tell myself that clients will respect me more if I look put-together. But WHY? Shouldn’t they prefer that I spend that hour in the morning working on their case, rather than trying to remove the clump of mascara in my eye while throwing foundation on my face while deciding on earrings, all while the curlers are warming up my head? Such is our society.

Recently, I read an article in Marie Claire magazine about a female MIT Physics professor. She said that one of the hardest things for her was forcing herself to not wear makeup to work, so that her male colleagues would take her seriously.

Seriously?

She was complaining that she was taken more serious WITHOUT makeup, and that bothered her? What I wouldn’t give to be able to be that Teva and jeans wearing professional, judged for her work performance and not for her appearance.

And yet, she was being judged for her appearance, only in the opposite way I was. She was more professional if she didn’t dress up, and I am considered more professional if I do dress up.

I could easily fall in to the trap of blaming the male-centrist society, the society that reduces women to nothing but pretty faces who might have brains if they look like they have brains, but it goes beyond that. Men are judged on their appearance too. Like it or not, the lawyer who dresses in a sharp, fitted suit with the shined shoes and the silver cuff links is more “professional” than the one who comes in dressed in khakis and a polo. The problem is that we judge people, all people, based on appearances.

Some may say that’s not so bad. They say that there’s a reason we judge books by their covers, the covers convey what the author thinks is a central theme of the book. Our dress is what we present to the world.

The truth is, the covers don’t convey what the author thinks is the central theme of the book. They convey what the publisher, publicist, and managing editor thinks is the central theme of the book. Someone way back when decided that professionals wear suits, so suits indicate a professional employee. The employee that takes more time for his work and less for his appearance, he’s not professional. Neither is the hard worker who saves her paycheck to invest and buys fake jewelry rather than expensive gems. At least not according to the publicist. And frankly, why should they get all the say?

When Humanities Majors Take Science Courses

This, a direct quote from my physics textbook:

“If neon tubes appeal to you for illumination, you probably march to your own drummer. Most people opt for a somewhat better simulation of sunlight in their discharge lamps. As an energy-efficient source of artificial sunlignt, it’s hard to beat fluorescent lamps.”

The previous section talks about how neon tubes work, while the subsequent section talks about how fluorescent lights work. For some reason, the editors of this textbook decided to insert their own opinions into a compilation of facts. Come on, guys. You’re scientists, you know you’re supposed to avoid bias and insulting readers. This is unprofessionalism at it’s best, or worst, as the case may be.