Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Men, do the right thing already גברים, עשו את הדבר הצודק כבר

Yesterday while reading this article about gender studies programs in the schools, I was struck once again by the phenomenon of women feeling they have to soft-pedal feminism to men by reassuring them that it will benefit them too. Some quotes from the article: “It [sexism] is no less complicated for men: Men are expected to be strong…it [feminism] is about making a change, not just for ourselves, but for society as a whole.”

There we go again, arguing feminism by asserting that “Sexism hurts men too”, as if women’s rights are only legitimate if there’s something in it for the men too, as if feminism’s not enough on its own merit.

News flash: No group in power cedes its power simply to be nice to those lower in status. Believe me: If sexism truly hurt men, they would’ve eradicated it themselves long ago! Like all liberation movements, feminism is legitimate in its own right; it’s not obligated to offer men the Crackerjack prize of “It will benefit you too.”

While gender stereotypes certainly oppress some men, mankind as a whole benefits from the patriarchal structure. And make no mistake about it: Patriarchy is alive and well. Just yesterday a neighbor told me that one recent night she came across two young women swinging on a park swingset. Three teenage boys stood watching them, arms crossed in an intimidating pose. My neighbor took in the scene immediately, approached the boys, and told them unceremoniously to knock it off. Most likely the young women sensed that the boys were out of line, but also likely couldn’t put their finger on why, not yet having a name for it.

Note that the incident took place at night. That’s because — again, it’s implicit — the boys somehow knew that their behavior would be unacceptable in broad daylight, that intimidating females must be done under cover of darkness. And they knew good and well that’s what they were doing: intimidating. Yet the girls, not having the language for it, couldn’t call them on it. After all, the boys weren’t doing anything: They were neither touching the girls nor disrupting their play. But the boys didn’t have to do anything explicit: Both sides know the “rules”.

So no, these girls weren’t suffering wage discrimination or being deprived of Title IX funding or Goddess forbid, being harrassed (although only a thin line separates intimidation and harassment — kudos to my neighbor for intervening); but they were experiencing patriarchy nonetheless.

Where did these girls and these boys learn the “rules”? Who taught the girls that the boys’ behavior made them uncomfortable, yet there was no outward cause therefor? Who taught the boys that girls are objects to stare at, ogle, intimidate, see how far they could push the boundaries before an adult intervenes, an adult who has the words, the language to name these phenomena? No problem: They’ve been learning it since they emerged into this world, this society — this patriarchy.

I’m not afraid of that word, patriarchy. If you thought it refers only to the Taliban, you’d be wrong. It’s easy to get smug when we read about Taliban-style patriarchy; after all, we’re civilized: We’re not like them. But the Taliban simply lies at the extreme end of the gender non-/parity spectrum. Our goal should be to eradicate all manifestations of patriarchy, including those such as the boys’ behavior in the park that can’t be legislated. And we need men to be our partners therein, but not because they’re going to get something out of it “too”, but rather because gender parity is The Right Thing To Do.

This post powered by the book that now heads my daughters’ Compulsory Reading Booklist: How To Be a Woman by Caitlan Moran

Monday, August 27, 2012

Roommates w/Benefits? שותפים עם "הטבות"

While this editorial by Shahar Ilan isn’t breaking news, what it does do is break the ultra-Orthodox curriculum down for us Dummies. In it, we learn that the phenomenon of the ultra-Orthodox thumbing their noses at the core curriculum largely occurs in the boys’ schools; while the girls learn a certain level of English, math, and geography.

After they are married, the men are sequestered in yeshivas while the women get paying jobs where they use their skills, however paltry. So not only are the wives more educated than their husbands (in the Western sense of the word), but they are necessarily wordlier, being exposed to and in daily contact with the broader society.

What’s interesting to me is the effect this has on the marital relationship. I would guess that this arrangement actually infantilizes the men, relegating them to something akin to Eldest Child instead of Equal Partner. After all, plenty of ultra-Orthodox as young as ages seven or eight (the girls in particular) are already taking responsibility for the running of the household, including of course caring for younger siblings.

So what must it be like to have no substantial role in the family? You come home to a wife who earns the income and pays the bills, and a household run by increasingly competent offspring. Talk about emasculating: The only thing you’ve contributed to this enterprise is your sperm.

And we haven’t even talked about what the husband and wife talk about to each other: They might as well live on separate planets. On the other hand, in a setup like this, who needs to talk? Seems to me the above-described arrangement is pretty much Roommates With Benefits, no?