Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yikes! I had sex with an Arab! אוי לי! שכבתי עם ערבי

It isn’t often that I blog first thing in the morning, but this news item has me so riled I won’t get any paid work done ‘til I’m finished sounding off. Imagine:

An Arab posed as a Jew so he could get a woman in bed. Oops! Honey, be more careful who you have sex with within minutes of knowing him. Well, apparently she hasn’t moved on: She pressed charges of rape and indecent assault (whatever that is; I suspect it’s a fancy term for miscegenation). But wait, it gets better: A judge actually agreed to hear the case. The verdict: The man was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

I call “racism”, and I don’t use that term lightly (I prefer “bigotry”, as “racism” is a victim of word inflation). But beyond the racism, thinly veiled as “protecting the public interest” (according to Jerusalem District Court Judge Tzvi Segal), why is there not a hue and cry from the legal community? This case should be published in the law school textbooks as the example of abuse of the justice system. The defendant has been under house arrest, wearing an electronic cuff, for two years. Show me a Jew in the same situation who would be thus detained. Not to mention the fact that the courts are overloaded and don’t have the resources to hear actual cases of injustice, for instance, those of women who suffer violence at the hands of their mates, or minors at the hands of their parents.

Thank goodness for the sane voices of Dr. Elkana Leist of the Public Defender and Judge Emeritus of Tel Aviv District Court Shelly Teiman. To paraphrase the former, while the defendant was perhaps a sleazeball, the courts don’t exist to protect us from sleaziness. Now is every woman whose sexual partner told her he’s rich when he’s not, going to file a rape-by-deception complaint? Aladdin and Jasmine, anyone?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beyond Dolls vs. Trucks מעבר לבובות כנגד משאיות

Say the phrase “gender stereotyping” in a roomful of parents, and inevitably someone(s) will “prove” that gender is wired in “because when Mary was a year old, we put a doll and a truck equidistant from her, and she went for the doll!” or “Do you know what Johnny did with his sister’s Barbie? Scooped her up with his bulldozer and buried her in the sandbox — after studiously dismembering her!”

Ah, I think. So we’re off the hook, are we? Mary chose the doll, so that means we can just relax, kick back, and keep right on reinforcing gender stereotypes, guilt-free. Well, no. Sorry to have to break it to all you parents, but the old doll / truck anecdote hardly locks up the nature-nurture debate. In short: לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין ליבטל ממנה. Or for the matter under discussion: While the task of eliminating gender stereotyping is too large for an individual, we as parents can't merely offer our kids both dolls and trucks and claim we've done out part.

I myself grew up stereotypically female, right down to the ruffled underwear that I insisted on wearing ruffles-in-front so’s I could see ‘em, for gosh sake! I was offered neither trucks nor weapons, and was happy being a girl. The one non-conventional thing about my family was that my mother worked full time, and when I was six (1966) she began working toward a Master’s degree. It was a difference I caught onto early, and it must have had some impact on me.

But it’s no longer unusual for moms to work, you say. Correct. So now we have to be even more conscientious about not falling into the gender stereotype trap. I’d like to share some strategies I used to raise my daughters’ consciousnesses regarding gender:

· Feel free to “edit” stories read aloud. Many children’s book characters are animals, and their default gender is male. Question it: There’s not a shred of a reason why all of the characters in The Three Little Pigs cannot be female, nothing to stop us from reading “she” in place of “he”: There’s no Read-aloud Gestapo monitoring us. And no, my daughters didn’t accept my editing unquestioningly: Indeed, they protested, which gave me the perfect opportunity to ask them: Why can’t the pigs be female? Why can’t the wolf be female*? Ditto for Eric Carle’s spider (hurray for Charlotte and her Web!). I actually saw an illustration of a kangaroo, complete with pouch containing a joey, referred to as “he”!

· Continue to question. While substituting at a preschool, I told the teacher of my discomfort with a Chanuka song that has “Mother cooking the latkes and Father blessing the candles”. Why not change it up? I asked her. She replied that children “don’t accept things outside the norm”. Oh, I said. You mean they can accept that a human being can fly or become invisible (e.g., all the stuff they see on TV), but they can’t accept a dad who cooks? Not buying that one. And you know what? Suppose the teacher had switched them, and the kids protested. A perfect springboard for a discussion of gender roles. No, the four-year-olds will not leave school that day spouting de Beauvoir and McKinnon, but so what? Just as important is their having been exposed to the concept of it being OK to question assumptions, instead of blindly accepting what is. Isn’t that the aim of education?

· My two older daughters insisted on subscriptions to a rather low-quality teen magazine called Rosh Echad. While each issue did contain “policitally correct” articles on eating disorders and alcohol abuse, these were spaced among ads featuring emaciated models and teens drinking out of Heineken mugs. I made sure to point out these inconsistencies to them, and eventually, they were pointing them out to me. Now they point them out to me in Haaretz and other publications that we all read.

The point is that while modeling desired behavior is certainly important, it’s not enough if we want kids to absorb our values. We’ve got to talk to our kids: This doesn’t mean lecturing or sermonizing; it means questioning assumptions and encouraging them to do so (“Do you know any women who look like that? Do you suppose that’s her actual shape, or is she photoshopped?). It doesn’t mean being rigid (“No, you may not give out lip gloss as party favors”); it means offering alternatives (“Not all your friends might appreciate lip gloss. Might these cute erasers please everyone?”). After a while, it becomes a reflex; you begin to see opportunities to raise your kids’ consciousnesses all over the place, and at a certain point the kids themselves proudly take over; make sure to praise them when they notice gender stereotypes on their own.

So yes, most girls like Barbies, want to pierce their ears, go through a dresses-only stage, and get excited about wearing makeup. I did, and I watched my daughters move through those stages; but instead of passively pointing to them as “proof” that gender is wired in, I didn’t make a big deal over it, and just continued “playing the gender-neutral tape”. The key is not to give up: Nail polish and consciousness-raising can — and should — coexist. The issue doesn’t begin and end with dolls and trucks.

* I taught my kids the words “female” and “male” early on. For some reason, it bugs me to hear “girl dog” and “boy cat”. Same way it bugs me when I hear parents describe unfamiliar foods to their kids as “like spaghetti” or “like pizza”. Riiiiight. That’ll expand their vocabularies and broaden their minds…