Sunday, December 8, 2013

GoogleFight: Taglìt-Birthright versus Mir Yeshiva...GO!

Using the premise of Birthright bringing non-Orthodox Jews to Israel, and claiming that it is funded by the State of Israel (25% of it is) Chaim Levinson cries crocodile tears over the fact that Birthright participants’ pitiable ultra-Orthodox counterparts, who come to study full time at Mir Yeshiva, get “only” two thirds the stipend that their fellow Israeli-born students get. I assume that this is based on the fact that the Israeli students have no other source of funding, i.e, their parents, whereas the authors’ New Jersey cousins presumably come from a more comfortable background.

But where Levinson is being willfully obtuse is in ignoring the premise of Birthright, which is to connect weakly identified young Diaspora Jews with their Judaism. Therefore comparing it to the Mir Yeshiva is – not to be too obvious about it – apples and oranges. Assuming that both Birthright and Mir Yeshiva are worthy institutions, arguing that they should get equal funding a la Title IX is absurd: Each does widely differing work, aimed at widely differing demographics. Should Mir students receive the equivalent of the yearly upkeep of an IDF soldier? Or should they have to pay the same tuition as Israeli university students? If the latter, should they also have had to serve in the IDF in order to qualify for state funding?

I’m not wild about either Mir or Birthright; nor am I wild about my taxes going to fund either. But I regard Mir as an elite, private institution that should get little or no state funding; while I regard Birthright as a flawed attempt to counter assimmilation, but one whose architects I can’t fault for trying. Yet conflating the two to “prove” that Mir should get equal funding seems strawmanlike, if not downright devious. Would that we didn’t need Birthright: I’d love to see that money going to worthy Israeli causes, but Mir is not one of them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sweden's gender-neutral "curriculum"

I find it interesting that opponents of Sweden’s gender-neutral pedagogy, which I’ve long admired, accuse it of “promoting an extremist feminist” and a “radical feminist” agenda. I’m wondering: What exactly are extreme feminism and radical feminism? If feminism is the elimination of patriarchy, then it seems to me that “extreme, radical feminism” is a good thing. Would anyone oppose “extreme racial equality”? If so, your white supremacy is showing.

What could possibly be bad about children growing up free of gender stereotyping? What is it that we find threatening about that? I was once discussing gender-neutral names with a friend. She explained to me that she named her children traditionally gendered names because she’d noticed that in preschools, kids with gender-neutral names end up being called “Yuval-ben [boy-Yuval]” and “Yuval-bat [girl-Yuval]”. I replied, “And supposing both Yuvals were boys. How would the teacher then differentiate?” She answered, as expected, “By adding their last initial”. Ding-ding! So why wouldn’t that solution be used for boy-girl pairs? Why should gender even enter into the matter of having the same name as someone else? Would we adults use “Yuval-ben / bat” in the workplace? In an adult education setting? Of course not; it would be considered disrespectful and infantilizing. So why are we tagging our kids? The only possible answer, and the one it always comes back to, is that we adults feel the need to relate to boys and girls differently.

A critic of Sweden’s gender-neutral pronoun argued, “ It can be confusing for [children] to receive contradicting [sic] messages about their genders in school, at home, and in society at large.” I see. So it’s not gender neutrality you have a problem with; it’s that society is not uniform; different environments send differing messages. And since those messages differ, the default should obviously be to do things the old way, the way they were done before women began questioning patriarchy. OK, got it. The critic goes on to say, “Children ought to be allowed to mature slowly and naturally. As adults we can choose to expand and change our gender identities."

“Children ought to be allowed to mature slowly and naturally.” Exactly. And as we’re born asexual beings, it is incumbent upon us adults to preserve that asexuality, or presexuality, as long as possible. That means not deluging our children with hypergendered influences like Disney princesses and “action” heroes, and embracing children who dont behave traditionally as per their sex.

As for “As adults we can choose to expand and change our gender identities” this reflects the fallacy that we choose our gender and sexual orientation at some later point, after we have been taught the “proper” gender expectations. Well, we’ve seen where that leads: To lives of frustration, rejection, abuse, even suicide.

If anything, it’s a gendered world that warps children’s development, not a gender-neutral one. Ask any kid who doesn’t conform to the gender stereotypes what that’s like. And even for gender-conforming kids, why set up boundaries and construct pigeonholes that they’ll later just have to struggle against, in some cases at great emotional cost? Why not let gender express itself from within the child, instead of being dictated from outside?

In its purest form, gender-neutral pedagogy requires no special materials or training. What it “requires” is that we adults do precisely nothing vis-à-vis gender. Whereas a gendered environment requires our active input, i.e., teaching our kids what’s “girl-like” and “boy-like”. We’ve got enough on our hands educating our children to be thoughtful, contributing citizens, which is not to be taken for granted. Why throw gender into the mix?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

So, this National Religious guy walks into a bar...

I’m disturbed by a trend, or actually two phenomena that point to the same trend: the use of the terms “national religious” and “Zionist rabbis” when the distinction (presumably between Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox) is irrelevant. Three recent examples (though this has been going on for decades):

2.     The disgraceful annual back-to-school ritual of Ethiopian schoolchildren being barred from schools

3.     A rabbi stating that a woman’s place is in the home

In all three of these accounts, the term “National Religious” (in the first two) and “Zionist rabbi” (in the third) are used, even though none of the subjects discussed in the articles have anything remotely to do with serving in the IDF or hanging onto the settlements. Because what does this newly coined term “National Religious” mean, anyway? What happened to simply distinguishing between secular Jews and Jews who adhere to a Torah-based lifestyle? Well, Israel happened, and along with it our obsession with the military and what it means to serve or not serve. “National Religious” has become code for “We serve in the IDF. Not like those others over there in Bnei Brak who learn full time and live off the state”. (“We” meaning “men”, by the way, as today fewer and fewer Orthodox women serve in the IDF, favoring the year of community service known as sheirút leumì). And commensurately, a “Zionist rabbi” is presumably one who preaches supporting the state, i.e., serving in the IDF and working for a living.

Now it’s not working or IDF service that I’m having a problem with; it’s that the distinction is used even when the topic being discussed is completely unrelated thereto. It’s as if the Orthodox are so anxious about distinguishing themselves from the ultra-Orthodox that they feel the need to use these labels even when it’s not the least bit relevant, and the rest of us follow, without being aware that we’re all perpetuating, through the use of words, the militarization of Israeli society. Because words matter: a society’s values are reflected by its language. Let’s take each of the above three cases one by one.

No. 3 - a rabbi, who by default in the Israeli press is always Orthodox, as evidenced by the fact that only Conservative and Reform rabbis get referred to by those “qualifiers”, states that too much education isn’t good for girls. Having written a treatise thereon, does it really matter that he advocates serving in the IDF? Is it not enough of a disgrace that any cleric, regardless of faith or denomination, preaches such a belief? What difference does it make precisely which shade of backwardness he’s advocating, or where his yeshiva is located? And yet we blindly accept that the fact that he’s a “Zionist rabbi” has significance.

No. 2 - Funding of schools that bar Ethiopian pupils is cut. The reporter of the article cited above, presumably trying to elucidate the situation, even goes so far as to explain to us about the schools in question, explaining that “some [are] religious Zionist, some Orthdox”. Try puzzling that one out. And yet we don’t blink an eye at this semantic pretzeling, even though it shouldn’t make a darned bit of difference if schools engaging in discrimination are Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, or hipsy-dipsy humanist alternative. It’s a news item about minority members not being admitted to a publicly funded institution. Now I allow that it is of interest that the institutions in question are faith-based, but who cares whether their graduates serve in the IDF or not? Again, irrelevant — yet it’s so ingrained, we don’t even notice.

No. 1 - Orthodox parents, believing that their children will not engage in sex unless married, are averse to the idea of vaccinating their children against STDs. Fair enough. So how come the article makes a point of distinguishing that the vaccine opposition includes both Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox parents? Do they not all adhere to a Torah-based lifestyle? Yes. Does that lifestyle forbid sex outside marriage? Yes. So, for the purposes of the topic, then, that’s all that matters. Why, then, is it important that the would-be vaccinees’ brothers will or won’t serve in the IDF?

In addition, this going-to-the-trouble to distinguish Orthodox from ultra-Orthodox reflects what’s going on in Orthodox society, which appears to be an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the ultra-Orthodox. When I arrived in Israel in the early 1980s, we still referred to [chovèsh] kipáh srugá, or what in North America would be called Modern Orthodox. Nowadays, while the term isn’t extinct, it’s an on the endangered species list. The Orthodox are preoccupied with getting ever more extreme in religious practice while being meticuously careful to not cross over the line to ultra-Orthodoxy, while we non-Orthodox unwittingly reinforce their compulsive tightrope walk by adopting their compulsive terminology. Because we non-Orthodox have been just as brainwashed into believing that serving in the IDF is the be-all and end-all of being Israeli: the secular religion if you will.

Besides the trend reflected in language, its misuse is just plain bad journalism. Just as reporters are admonished not to refer to someone’s race or gender unless it’s relevant to the story, they shouldn’t bother with whether an individual or institution is Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox (or secular) where irrelevant. That means not printing headlines like “Arab baby girl injured in accident” or “Immigrant stabs wife”. We are supposed to have evolved to the point where headlines should read “School refuses to admit Ethiopians”; “Rabbi decries education for girls”; or “Parents oppose HPV vaccine”. A headline should tell us the facts; any qualifying information – which “National Religious” rarely is – should appear only if relevant. Test it: Next time you read “National Religious” or “Zionist rabbi” (or “ultra-Orthodox”, or “Haredi”), substitute “Orthodox” and see if the information remains correct. Let me know your results!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Please, please, don't be a Philistine...

I have to laugh at the irony of a Negev eco-community being evacuated עברית on the grounds that it was 1) illegal and 2) damages the environment. My favorite quote was that of Judge Yosef Alón remarking, “public lands are not up for grabs for anyone who wants to take possession of them.” Really? It appears that this is true only in Israel proper, or has His Honor not heard about West Bank outposts erected precisely on land “up for grabs for anyone who wants”? Moreover, you want to talk about environmental damage caused by the settlements? A search turned this up in seconds. Hard to see how a bunch of geodesic domes causes as much damage as this or this or this.

Oh, but wait: Why should we believe a bunch of olive farmers and shepherds? Perhaps because our patriarch Abraham had this exact problem in Genesis 21:25 (which I believe we’re coming up on this very week in Parshát Toldót), except the roles are switched: Abraham complains to Abimelech that Abimelech’s servants filled Abraham’s well with earth. And guess what Abimelech replies? The same thing that the IDF Military Liaison rattles off every other day in response to Pali complaints of harassment, vandalism, or other settler recreational pursuits: "I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today." [Gen 21:26]. Fast forward to 2013: I would hope that having once been shepherds ourselves – utterly dependent upon accessible, uncontaminated water – we could do better than the Philistines did to us.

אנא, במטותא מכם, אל תנהגו כפּלישתים...


לא יכולתי שלא לגחך בקוראי על פינוי ישוב אקולוגי בנגב ושהעילה לכך היא כי: 1) הוא אינו חוקי ו-2) הוא גורם נזק סביבתי. יותר מכל חביבה עלי קביעתו של השופט יוסף אלון, לפיה "מקרקעי הציבור והמדינה אינם הפקר", ושלא כל מי שחשקה נפשו בהם רשאי לפלוש לתוכם. באמת? נראה כי זו אולי האמת רק בתחומי הקו הירוק, או שמא לא שמע כבודו על המאחזים בגדה המערבית שהוקמו דווקא על מקרקעים שהיו בבחינת "הפקר" לכל מי שחשקה נפשו בהם? יתרה מזאת, רוצים לדבר על נזק סביבתי שנגרם על ידי התנחלויות? חיפוש מהיר מעלה תוך שניות את זה. קשה להבין כיצד גורמות כמה כיפות גיאודזיות יותר נזק מזה, מזה, או מזה.


אך רק רגע – מדוע שנאמין לחבורה של מגדלי זיתים ורועי צאן? אולי משום שאברהם אבינו נתקל בדיוק באותה בעיה בספר בראשית כ"א כ"ה (שדומני כי נקרא אותו השבת בפרשת השבוע "תולדות"), אולם שם התהפכו היוצרות: אברהם מוכיח את אבימלך על שעבדיו סתמו את הבארות אשר חפר אברהם. ומה משיב לו אלימלך, תנחשו? בדיוק מה שמקשקש קצין הקישור הצה"לי כל שני וחמישי בתגובה לתלונות הפלסטינים על הצקות, השחתת רכוש, ושאר מיני שעשועים החביבים על המתנחלים (בראשית כ"א כ"ו): "לֹא יָדַעְתִּי מִי עָשָׂה אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה; וְגַם-אַתָּה לֹא-הִגַּדְתָּ לִּי, וְגַם אָנֹכִי לֹא שָׁמַעְתִּיבִּלְתִּי הַיּוֹם". הרצה קדימה לשנת 2013: הייתי רוצה לקוות שאנו, אשר היינו פעם רועי צאן בעצמנו, ולפיכך תלויים לחלוטין בנגישות למיים לא מזוהמים, ננהג יותר בהגינות כלפי שכנינו מכפי שנהגו הפּלשתים כלפינו.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Widger, stop your weepin'

OK. I’ve officially had it with the mopey, maudlin reflections on digital technology the likes of Caeli Wolfson Widgers Why I Silence Your Call. Specifically regarding the practice of letting calls go to voice, as Miss Manners has been telling any of us who will listen ever since the answering machine was invented, it’s not impolite to screen your calls; it’s simply the modern-day equivalent of instructing one’s butler to tell callers, “Pansy is unable to take callers right now. You may leave your card.” If you were unfortunate enough not to have a butler, you delegated this duty to another household member, or simply didn’t answer the door. Perhaps you hung a note on your door to that effect, Martin Luther style. See? Nothing new here.

What some fail to grasp is that a phone call is by its very nature intrusive: It’s by definition someone demanding your immediate attention and time. Thus phone calls should be reserved for emergencies. On the rare occasions when I initiate a phone call, I ask the recipient, “Is this a good time for you?” or “Have you got a minute?” Diving right in is now considered presuming on someone’s time. Even then I often preface a call with a text, so the recipient has an idea of what I want and can respond at their convenience.

In a related vein, can we please stop moaning that e-mail “just doesn’t have the nuance / tone / voice cues” of telephoning? And that e-readers “just aren’t the same as a ‘real book that I hold in my hands’”? If e-mail doesn’t allow for voice cues, then it certainly shares an epistolary tradition that goes all the way back to the first chiseled word. I’m sure that when the first printed book rolled off the presses, a chorus of monks could be heard from their collective scriptoria: “But it’s just not the same as ink and parchment!” And the first papyrus users no doubt heard their moms say, “But it just doesn’t have the same feel as that cold, chiseled stone!”

Folks, e-mail is simply a newer way to convey text. That’s all it is. It has no inherent inferiority to what preceded it, nor does an e-reader. The phenomenon of mass-produced paper books only existed for the few generations growing up post World War II. Remember Scholastic Books that we all take for granted? Those didn’t exist pre-WWII; before that, only the wealthy had regular access to paper books. So there is nothing more inherently book-like about a paper book than there is about a book read on an e-reader. The same information is being conveyed (at even less cost), just digitally.

That having been said, I’m expecting not to hear any more weeping and wailing about technology and how it was in the good ol’ days before we had it. Get over it. And feel free to call me if it’s an emergency.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jezebel goes for the name-change jugular

Wanted to share with my readers some comments on Jezebel’s Lindy West’s “Men Who Insist You Change Your Name Make Terrible Husbands”. Readers’ remarks are surrounded by quotes. My remarks are in red. I edited many comments to render them smoother / more readable (what’s new?):

“I took my husband's name. It was a really hard thing to do!”

Well, why’dja do it, then?

[same poster as above]:
“…Then he died, and I have his name. It's been almost 10 years, now. I feel like if I ever remarry, I'll be obligated to take on a new name again. Because I can't be married to one person while keeping my dead husband's name, can I?”

Huh? Sure you can, but I’m surprised you don’t see one other option waving its arms wildly up there: Revert to your birth name. Then you’re not dissing anyone, dead or alive.

“Before we got married, I suggested that we blend our names to represent our new household. His response: ‘I would spend the rest of my life actively taking sh_t from every man I know and meet about this. Yes, the married name is a double standard, and yes, it disadvantages the woman. But patriarchy doesn't just limit women's choices."

Aw, poor patriarchs. Their choices are limited too, boo-hoo. Yes: limited to having power over women. I feel just terrible about it. Bet sh-t-taking husband does too.

“We couldn't hyphenate; both of our names were 10 letters long!”

Imagine! That’s why we have this device called “initials”. For instance, we got used to writing our daughter’s surname as “E-S” / א-ס. Rarely does The Whole Thing need to be spelled out.

“I have an 11-letter first name and I've had issues entering it on forms my entire life. I'd HATE to have to try and squeeze in a long, hyphenated last name.”

[BarelyLethal replies]:
“I keep seeing ‘Oh! It's terrible on forms! Woe is me!’ Don't you think that as more of us have multiple or hyphenated names, the forms would change to accommodate us? I haven't seen a credit card application in the last five years that doesn't have at least 25 spaces for Last Name… if more of us adopted hyphenated and / or multiple last names, the forms would have to catch up. So ‘I'm not going to name my kid thusly because forms’ doesn't hold water if it's really something you want to do.”

Elegantly said, BarelyLethal. Just like so many things in life that cause us to extend our comfort zones: There will always be plenty of excuses not to; if you really want to do something, those excuses won’t stop you.

“For the record, I'm taking my husband's last name in the future because my dad is a jackass. Nothing to do with his name whatsoever. Sorry, future husband!

First off, why’re you apologizing to a man you’ve never met? Second, supposing you remain unmarried? Why not unload your dad’s jackassery now? No time like the present…

Have a listen to what Homosaur said about the possibility of taking his wife’s surname:

“The day I take her father's name is the day I cut my d_ck off with a scissors.”

Uh. There is so much macho patriarchy dripping from that remark, not to mention plain old generic anger, I’d be afraid to occupy the same ZIP code as this guy. And to think someone is married to him. Goddess keep her.

Perdue wrote: “If you're so hell-bent on One Family, One Name (which I personally don't care about, having seen approximately eleventy billion kids with different last names than at least one parent in my time on this earth, and exactly zero mishaps as a result)…”

Aspirellls: “I was listening to a fascinating story the other day about engaged couples who both have hyphenated last names and have no clue what to do. I don't know where to even begin navigating that one.”

That story indeed sounds fascinating, Aspirellls. Gee, this is rocket science: How about each retains one name and drops one name, then combine? Or combine all four? Whatever these mysterious engaged couples decide, the earth will keep spinning on its axis, I’m quite certain.

“My best friend growing up was hyphenated and she HATED it.

Oh. Well, then. End Of Discussion. Because we all know that one anecdote equals data. Well, I venture another anecdote: Two of my hypho-kids dropped the post-hyphen name; the third as of this writing is remaining hyphenated. Stay tuned.

“The fact I have a different last name from the other 3/4 of my family has caused a problem exactly .... never. And I certainly don't think it makes me less married or less committed in any possible way.”

Yowza. Amen, Sister. Preach it.

Yoana’s answer to the claim ‘A woman who won’t take her husband’s surname puts herself ahead of her marriage.’
Translation: She's reluctant to be my personal life assistant.

LaurelTreeDaphne: “Is it OK for us to participate in something that contributes to our own disenfranchisement in the interest of holding onto tradition? I wish there was more acknowledgement that taking your husband's last name is inherently problematic, no matter what your reasons for doing so. When you do, you're contributing to that culture that makes 96% of men believe it's emasculating to take a woman's name, a fact that tends to get lost in the ‘choose your choice’ chirp that usually surrounds this topic.

“See, that overwhelming number (96%?!?!?!) is why I am not OK with women taking their husband's last name. Every time this topic comes up, women come out of the woodwork with their personal stories about why it was really important to them to take their husband's last name. OK, ‘your name, your choice and all that’. But on a societal level...oof. That percentage is staggering, and it is not going to change unless we as women start pushing the issue. And it's important to start pushing the issue, because the automatic ‘We want to be one family, one name’ thing is rooted in some really problematic history of women and children being the property of men.

“96% of men believe that taking on a piece of their partner's identity diminishes their manhood in some way. And it's completely reinforced by society: Not only do most people just assume that women will take their husbands’ last names, but the bureaucracy is set up to make it really, really difficult for a man to change his name. You say that it's fine for feminists to want to hold onto traditions, but is it really, when the tradition is so problematic and so reflective of the lesser value men place on us?

Sigh. I think I love you, LaurelTreeDaphne.

“Changed my name when I married the first time. After 10 years when I divorced, it still felt borrowed, so I went back to my maiden. Changing when I married was no sweat; going back to my maiden was a pain in the butt! Everyone wanted double proof that you got divorced and that it was stated in court that you went back to your own name. When I married and wanted to change it, everyone was 'okey-dokey!' Decided I would never change it again, I don't care if I marry a Rockefeller.”

Woo-hoo! And picture me bowing down to these next three:

“I'm glad I did it [reverted to my birth name post-divorce], but it infuriated me how much of a pain they made it, like it was further punishment for me for daring to break away from conformity.”

“Plenty of men have names that are ugly, silly, or difficult to spell or pronounce, but funnily enough, this doesn't usually result in their taking their wives' names. I'm not saying that makes other reasoning invalid, but I am saying you can't divorce it from the larger patriarchal construct. If it was really just about getting rid of a ‘bad’ name, men would change their names as often as women do.

“I have had people tell me they ‘wouldn't feel as connected to their kids’ if they didn't share the same last name. I always thought that was a weird response. It's not like when I pick my kid up from daycare she looks at me quizzically and asks for ID.”

The problem with this "doing what makes the most sense for you" is that often that segues into taking the path of least resistance, which in many cases is simply Taking His Name. This irks me. Keep. Your. Name. If you dislike it, by all means change it, but NOT because there's a man involved.

FeministFury knocks it outta the park:

“The argument, ‘well, you're just going from your father's name to your husband's name’ is stupid (sorry, it is). If more women stopped passing on their husbands' names to their children, the names wouldn't just be fathers' but mothers' as well, which would resolve the problem, so that response is ultimately self-defeating. It also obscures other naming possibilities, thereby closing off creativity. For instance, women could change their names to their mothers' names upon marriage. They could invent new names. They could resurrect a long-forgotten matrilineal name from their ancestry. The options aren't reduced to two, and I bet we kind of don't want to resolve this problem creatively because it's a lot easier to feel defeatist, i.e., ‘well, we're damned if we do, damned if we don't, aren't we? Our hands are tied either way.’ Right. So isn't it easiest just to capitulate (nope, we're not, and nope, that isn't the best response)?”

And the Final Three:

“Pretty much if your life partner who's supposed to be your equal ‘makes’ you do something, or decides to ‘let’ you do something, or issues an ultimatum - you are looking at a giant red flag.”

“What year is this? If there's one tradition that should've died out 50 years ago, it's that one.”

“I'm keeping my name. If you're curious as to why, please go ask my fiancé if he is keeping his name, and why. There you go.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

City buses on Saturdays? Maybe the *mashiach* is on her way!

While I applaud the initiative to have intracity buses run on Saturdays, I’d tweak the plan:

  1. First of all, why specify keeping buses out of Orthodox neighborhoods? No one wants buses roaring down their street in their day off. Why mention the Orthodox at all? Simply operate routes that don’t run through residential areas. Israel’s cities are fortunately walkable enough for it not to be a major hardship to get from one’s home to the nearest thoroughfare by foot. Running two buses per hour on certain thoroughfares should do it.
  2. I’m all for 7/365 public transportation, but what about inter-city travel? Inter-city buses and trains bother no one. Even bi-hourly trains between cities would be a huge improvement. The day I can exit the Saturday ghetto we call Jerusalem will be the triumph of my life.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Pageant followup

First of all, when researching pageant culture, I happened upon this tidbit about a pageant for disabled girls, which takes place in Kewanee, IL, where my college roommate and friend across the hall hail from (shoutout to Karen Peart and Kay Blachinsky wherever you are! Couldn't find you on Facebook).

What led me there was this interesting take on the pageants we so love to hate. I'd also like to offer a theory about the advent of the pageant scene, and the demographic that seems to populate it. I'll start out with a little bio of my own mom, Zelda Luke Reiz. Mom grew up in a low-income family, so she was eligible for free dance lessons at Swope Settlement in Kansas City. She and her sister were nurtured there by the director, a wonderful woman named Esther Lane, who took them under her wing and became their patron, so to speak. The sister act ended up performing in nightclubs across the Midwest, which earned them their college tuition. But the road, which began at age five, was grueling. Daily rehearsals in addition to schoolwork; and their mother, an expert seamstress, sewed all their costumes. Fast forward to 2013, and let's compare to low-income families today who want to give their daughters a push, but lack the resources that wealthier families have:

  1. Nowadays you don't need costly lessons and other extracurriculars that the pageant demographic often can't afford. Anyone can turn on YouTube, copy a bunch of (more-often-than-not sexy) moves and work up a routine, have a friend or relative make a glitzy costume, and as long as you have the wherewithal to get there, your kid can enter...
  2. ...and possibly earn cash, which I theorize is this demographic's way of thumbing its nose at the resource-heavy folks who can ultimately launch their kids (ordinarily meaning send them to college, which is increasingly out of reach, even for the middle class). By entering their daughters in pageants, this demographic might be saying, "We'll just teach our daughters to get by on their smiles" (i.e., looks, ability to exude implied sexual availability), a shortcut, if you will, to launching them for those who don't have the resources to fund an "upper-class" track.
What do others think? I welcome your thoughts.

Friday, July 5, 2013

From infant hairband to stripper: Pimping our daughters

“…according to [Mary] Douglas, just as misplacement and inappropriateness is the essence of defilement, the sacred would be that which fully complies with the corresponding categories. That is to say, sanctity in itself is the ability to fit into categories. The purity / defilement dichotomy so fundamental to religion and culture is determined by an individual’s / object’s (in)ability to comply with or to fit into precise categories.

Therefore, elements that appear in the wrong category or that don’t fully apply to any existing category disturb the social order, even being viewed as threatening by entire societies or individuals. When encountered with such displacement or ambiguity, society will try to avoid it or eradicate it"

The obvious example that the above brings to mind is of course homosexuality: Gays, and to an even greater extent transgenders, and intersexuals, do not fit into our binary categories, as explained by Kiel [“Binary oppositions such as good / evil, pure / profane, myself / others, raw / cooked and so forth, are fundamental to human thought and to formation processes of societies (Douglas, 1966; Hall, 1997; Lévi-Strauss, 2008; Turner, 1969).”]

Hence the felt need to label our infant children as girls or boys, leading to the associated practice of (girl) infant hairbands (Goddess save us). What makes my stomach reflexively seize up when I see these monstrosities is how uncomfortable it looks. Of course: As early as infancy, we’re already sending our girls the message that they’re expected to undergo discomfort in order to be accepted into society’s ideal of feminine beauty.

Disturbingly, notice that we don’t mark our infant boys correspondingly. This is because male = default, and female = Other, as well as imperfect, flawed. The hairband, therefore, is a signal to the world, telling it, “I’m a girl, so use your ‘girly voice’ when you talk to me and treat me as disabled — an invalid.” So parents who put hairbands on their girls are, from their first moments, grooming them to be weak, fragile, and dependent, the extreme of which is a prostitute or a stripper. The prostitute is subjugated by her pimp; while the stripper is not much better off: Accounts of women earning their way through grad school by stripping or posing for Playboy notwithstanding, what makes the stripper titillating is her very abjection, which endows those who paid to watch her (men and women alike) with instant power over her.

Which brings me to Little Miss Sunshine, which I happened just to have watched yesterday (I know; I’m seven years behind the times…at least). In it, atypical (bespectacled, slightly roundish) seven-year-old child beauty pageant contestant Olive “upsets the order” by performing a spoof striptease to explicitly sexual music for the talent competition, which lands her and her family in the police precinct after a complaint is filed.
Before Olive’s act, each of her fellow prepubescent contestants, slathered disturbingly with makeup and fake tanner, perform “acceptable” routines, i.e., hinting at (or even dripping with) sex, yet not explicitly sexual as Olive’s routine is. This prompts the question in my mind: Would Olive’s routine have been considered acceptable if she had been “pageant-typical” in appearance, like the other contestants? While we’ll never know since the story is fictional, there’s no shortage of real-world examples thereof.

The Little Miss Sunshine pageant opens with the nauseating emcee caressingly crooning “America” “to” the posed, lined-up contestants, a not-in-the-least-subtle message that the pageant contestants are the very embodiment of what America worships and aspires to as the feminine ideal: In addition to having been born whole and perfect (any disabled kids – or adults – entering beauty pageants?), they’ve just emerged from what is basically a Beauty Conveyer Belt that has ejected them straight onto the stage, sequined, made up, waxed, and sculpted within an inch of their little lives and radiating an unattainable female ideal…like strippers.

So followed to its logical conclusion, what begins as a seemingly innocuous and frivolous accessory is actually the first warped expectation she internalizes about being female. Instead of having to unwarp this garbage, wouldn’t it make more sense just not to engage in it in the first place? Parents, I implore: Let’s not pimp our daughters. They’re worth more to us than a tiara and a sash, are they not?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Free the Jewish Sabbath תשוחרר השבת

עברית לאחר האנגלית, למטה:  

I’ve had it up to here with balance. How balanced is it that Christians get public transportation on their day of rest, and Muslims get public transportation on their day of rest, but not me? What’s up with that? Don’t talk to me about balance, and please don’t talk to me about that vague concept that no one seems to be able to define, "character of the Jewish state" (of which there are no fewer than six instances in Procaccia’s piece). If I’m Jewish, and I spend my Saturdays riding the train to go shopping, then ergo, by virtue of my Jewishness, the surrounding state and day, are Jewish. It’s all Jewish, as long as Jews are doing it. We need to unclench our knuckles from the branch known as “preserving our Jewish character”; that branch is bowed so low by now, our feet are already touching the ground.

And if indeed I do ride and shop on Saturday, how, pray tell, does it affect those who choose not to? In case Procaccia hasn’t noticed, this isn’t 1948: We how have this thing called zoning: Retail establishments are for the most part no longer scattered amidst residences. And those located in the hearts of areas populated by Sabbath-observant Jews would not find it worth opening on Saturday in any case. Problem solved.

How is it affecting anyone, Orthodox or otherwise, if I’m at a mall or shopping center, which by definition are located so far from residences that no one in the latter could possibly be aware of it (as long as they turn off those blasted shopper announcement loops, a blessing for us all)?

Similarly, public transportation routes could easily be altered on Saturdays to bypass all residential districts. We’d have to walk further to reach main arteries, but it’s certainly better than being held prisoners to an absurd system that runs according to some so-called “consensus” or “status quo”. Who decided that a bus departing Eilat at 11 a.m. on Saturday is less disruptive to the Sabbath karma than one departing Jerusalem at the same time? I’m certain a route could be found for the latter that would disturb no one.

The present situation also favors car travel, which in turn favors those with money. Gas stations and battery changing stations are automated, so that no staff need be hired; whereas we who depend on public transportation still need train conductors and bus drivers. But if these personnel were offered time and a half, I’m betting there’d be no shortage of applicants, non-Jews and Jews alike, for those positions. And in the future, once these are phased out in favor of automation, then what will the excuse be? That trains, buses, and self-checkout lanes “offend Orthodox sensitivities”? Where do Orthodox sensitivities stop, and mine begin?

This country’s character doesn’t need preserving, it needs just the opposite: It needs opening up to the 21st-century reality. Public transportation on Saturdays would “open up” this country more than any single amenity. It would grease the wheels of both tourism and immigration, not to mention the economy at large. And transactions carried out on Saturdays affect no one except those engaged therein. So don’t give me warmed-over platitudes about balance, compromise, and national character. Give me a way to get from my residence to those of my friends in other communities, seven days a week. I promise to conduct myself as befits a Jew and make no noise while doing so. Can the Orthodox promise the same?

הדיבורים על איזון [לא הצלחתי למצוא את המאמר בעברית] כבר עלו לי על העצבים. איזה מין איזון הוא זה שהנוצרים נהנים מתחבורה ציבורית ביום המנוחה שלהם, והמוסלמים נהנים מתחבורה ציבורית ביום המנוחה שלהם, אבל אני לא? מה הקטע פה? אל תדברו איתי על איזון, ואל תדברו איתי על אותו מונח מעורפל, שלא נראה כי יש בכלל מישהו המסוגל להגדירו, הקרוי "צביון המדינה היהודית" (והמוזכר לא פחות משש פעמים במאמר של פרוקצ'יה).

 אם אני יהודיה ואני מבלה את השבת שלי בנסיעה ברכבת כדי לערוך קניות, אזי מן הסתם מעצם יהדותי, כך גם האווירה והיום הסובבים אותי הם יהודים. כל דבר הוא יהודי כל זמן שיהודים עושים אותו. אנו צריכים לחלץ את פרקי אצבעותינו מהענף הידוע כ"שימור הצביון היהודי"; הענף הזה כבר כל כך כפוף עד שכפות רגלינו כבר נוגעות בקרקע.

ואם אמנם אני נוסעת ועורכת קניות בשבת, כיצד משפיע הדבר, מי זה יאמר לי ומי יספר, על אלו הבוחרים שלא לעשות זאת? לתשומת ליבה של פרוקצ'יה, השנה אינה 1948: יש לנו כיום מה שנקרא איזרור. מוסדות הסחר הקמעונאי ברובם אינם מפוזרים עוד בקרב איזורי המגורים. ואילו לאלו הממוקמים בלב האזורים המאוכלסים ביהודים שומרי שבת ממילא לא כדאי לפתוח בשבת, כך שהבעיה נפתרה.

כיצד יושפע מישהו, דתי או לא דתי, אם אני נמצאת בקניון או במרכז קניות, שמעצם הגדרתם מצויים הרחק מאיזורי המגורים, כך שאף אחד באותם איזורים לא יכול להיות אפילו מודע לכך (בתנאי שיכבו את אותן הודעות קוליות ארורות ובלתי-פוסקות לקונים, מה שכולנו נקדם בברכה)?

כמו כן ניתן בקלות לשנות את מסלולי התחבורה הציבורית בשבת כך שיעקפו את כל איזורי המגורים. ניאלץ ללכת יותר רחוק על מנת להגיע לכבישים הראשיים, אך זה בוודאי יותר טוב מלהיות שבויים במערכת אבסורדית המנוהלת על פי מה שקרוי "קונצנזוס" או "סטאטוס קוו". מי החליט שאוטובוס היוצא מאילת בשבת ב-11 לפנה"צ מפריע פחות לקארמה של השבת מעמיתו היוצא מירושליים באותו זמן? אני סמוכה ובטוחה כי ניתן למצוא מסלול לאוטובוס מירושליים שלא יפריע לאף אחד.

המצב הקיים גם מפלה לטובה את הנסיעה במכונית, מה שבעצם מפלה לטובה את אלו שיש להם כסף. תחנות דלק ותחנות להחלפת מצברים הן אוטומאטיות, כך שאין צורך להעסיק עובדים; ואילו אנו, התלויים בתחבורה הציורית, עדיין זקוקים לכרטיסנים ברכבת ולנהגי אוטובוס. אולם אם יציעו לעובדים אלו שכר של 150%בשבת, אני מוכנה להתערב שלא יהיה מחסור במבקשי עבודה למשרות אלו, יהודים ולא-יהודים. ובעתיד, כאשר גם המשרות הללו יעברו שלב לאוטומיזציה, מה יהיה התירוץ אז? הרכבות, האוטובוסים וקופות השירות העצמי בחנויות "פוגעות ברגישויות של הדתיים"? היכן מסתיימות הרגישויות של הדתיים ומתחילות אלו שלי?

צביונה של הארץ אינו זקוק לשימור, אלא להיפך: הוא זקוק להיפתח למציאות של המאה ה-21. תחבורה ציבורית בשבת "תפתח" את הארץ יותר מכל אמצעי-נוחות אחר. היא תשמן את גלגלי התיירות והעלייה, שלא לדבר על הקהילה בכללה. ופעילות המתרחשת בשבת אינה משפיעה על שום אדם למעט אלו העוסקים בה. אז אל תתנו לי אמירות נדושות ושחוקות על איזון, פשרה וצביון לאומי. תנו לי אפשרות להגיע ממקום מגורי למגוריהם של חברים ביישובים אחרים בכל שבעת ימי השבוע. אני מבטיחה להתנהג כראוי וכיאה ליהודיה ולא לעשות רעש תוך כדי כך. האם יכולים גם הדתיים להבטיח אותו דבר?

תורגם בנדיבות עמי ארגמן

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stereotype of the Sassy Sabra הסטראוטיפ של הצבר החצוף

Yesterday while lifeguarding, I went over to the baby pool to clean off the drain covers, and noticed a father whose kids were in the pool chewing what looked like gum. Since he’s not a regular at our pool, and since sooner or later parents of preschoolers ordinarily get into the water, I told him politely that gum-chewing in the water isn’t allowed.

Him: It’s not gum. It’s a cookie.
Me: Same applies. No food or gum in the water.
Him: How come?
Daughter (looked to be five or six) in sing-songy “you’re-not-the-boss-of-me” voice: I chewed gum in the pool!
Me [ignoring her and replying to dad’s “How come?”]: A few reasons: First, you could choke on it. Second, if it comes out of your mouth, it gets stuck in the filtration system.

With over 30 years’ experience at this job, I didn’t wait for their assent, but instead just glided off. But here’s the thing: Everyone knows the “charming” sterotype of the “sassy Sabra” and “Israeli chutzpa”. But really, it’s not cute, nor is it charming. Questioning authority? Sure, if it’s a question of unfairness. Speaking out against discrimination or injustice? Absolutely. But arguing with the traffic cop simply to prove you’re no sucker, or he’s not the boss of you? Not admirable in the least. And the example of that snotty kid in the pool, or rather, her snotty parent, is precisely where this attitude begins.

What (mature) adult, when told by a lifeguard, “X is prohibited here” asks “How come?” Isn’t “No food or gum in the pool” self-explanatory? Or if not completely understandable, isn’t setting an example for one’s children of being a good citizen more valuable than challenging the lifeguard over something that doesn’t prevent you from enjoying your swim? Wasn’t I at least owed the father interjecting, “Susie, listen to the lifeguard. She’s explaining the rules to you.” But instead, the dad was more preoccupied with proving to himself that “I’m not the boss of him”.

PS: Later I saw the son, who looked to be two or three, peeing on the pavement. I said to the dad, “Hey. That’s what the bathroom is for.”
Dad: He just did it.
Me: So say something to him.

            While I certainly wouldn’t berate a child of that age for not having full control over his bladder, would it hurt for the dad to say, “Hey, Buddy. Next time you have to go, tell me and we’ll try to make it to the bathroom”? Jeez. At least give your kid something to shoot for, other than producing the next trashy lowlife, or “Sassy Sabra”.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

If you're slutty and ya know it raise your hands שרמוטולוגיה בגרוש

גרסה עברית למטה

So this term "slut-shaming": Shoot me, but I'm having problems with it. If it's used to refer to how people react to women who have the audacity to use birth control, then shouldn't we call it "slut"-shaming? Why are we letting Conservatives define a woman who uses birth control as a slut? As eye-opening as the SlutWalks are, does anyone really aspire to sluthood? Raise hands. If your hand is up, I'd venture you're a third-wave feminist. Because I'll admit that while I support your right to have sex with as many partners as you wish, I don't believe that dressing revealingly, and organizing mass displays of revealing dress (or as you call them, SlutWalks) does anything to advance feminism, i.e., obliterate patriarchy.

In fact, if you believe that dressing revealingly makes you powerful, it seems to me that you've simply bought into the male co-opting of feminism ("Grrrl Power") that tells you to wear as little as possible and to hell with social constructs. Yes, it's men telling you that, and hoping you'll spend lotsa money for skimpy shreds of fabric and six-inch heels that are supposed to empower you.

Meanwhile, this second-wave feminist chooses to cover up my sexual parts (I'm talking tank top and jeans, not a burqa) and vote with my feet: When I need to use a public (women's) restroom and there's a line, I head straight to the (usually unoccupied) "men's" room. Why should I docilely, compliantly stand in a line to relieve myself when a few feet away is an unoccupied toilet? Because someone arbitrarily labeled the door with a stick figure wearing a dress? No way. Not doing docile. Am I violating a taboo? You bet I am…proudly. Does it advance parity? Not only does it, but it does it far more directly than walking around half naked does. Am I a prude? If you insist. I prefer proud, productive "feminist".

המונח הזה, "ביוש שרמוטות" – תהרגו אותי, אך יש לי בעיה איתו. אם הוא משמש כהתייחסות לתגובתם של אנשים לנשים המעיזות בחוצפתן להשתמש באמצעי מניעת הריון, אז לא מתאים יותר לקרוא לו ביוש "שרמוטות"? מדוע אנו מניחות לשמרנים להגדיר אשה שמשתמשת באמצעי מניעה כשרמוטה? גם אם "מצעדי השרמוטות" מסייעים לפקיחת הרבה עיניים, יש מישהי שבאמת ובתמים שואפת להיות שרמוטה? נא להצביע. אם ידך מורמת, את מן הסתם שייכת לגל השלישי של הפמיניזם. שהרי אני מודה כי למרות שאני תומכת בזכותך לשכב עם כמה שותפים-למיטה שמתחשק לך, אינני מאמינה שחשיפת הגוף ברבים וארגון מופעי ענק של לבוש חושפני (או "מצעדי שרמוטות", כפי שאתן קוראות להם) מועילים כהוא-זה לקידום הפמיניזם, כלומר לחיסול האדנות הגברית.

למעשה, אם את מאמינה שלבוש חושפני מעניק לך כח, נראה לי שאת פשוט קונה את הגרסה ה"פמיניסטית"-גברית המזלזלת שמצווה עלייך לעטות כמה שפחות לבוש על עורך ושיילכו המוסכמות החברתיות לעזאזל. כן, הגברים הם אלו האומרים לך לנהוג כך, בתקווה שתשפכי ימבה כסף על פיסות בד קלושות ועקבים בגובה 15 ס"מ האמורים לכאורה להעצים אותך.

בינתיים אני, השייכת לגל השני של הפמיניזם, מעדיפה לכסות את חלקי הגוף המיניים שלי (אני מדברת על גופיית-כתפיות ומכנסי ג'ינס, לא על איזו בורקה מוסלמית) ולהצביע ברגליים: כשאני צריכה להשתמש בשירותי ("נשים") ציבוריים ויש תור, אני צועדת ישר לשירותי ה"גברים" (הפנויים בד"כ). מדוע עלי לעמוד בצייתנות ובהשלמה בתור לריקון שלפוחיתי כאשר ממש ממול יש אסלה פנויה? רק בגלל שמישהו הדביק באופן שרירותי דמות לובשת שמלה על הדלת? אין מצב. צייתנות עיוורת ואני לא מסתדרות ביחד. האם אני מחללת איזה איסור חברתי? ועוד איך... ואני גאה בכך. האם זה מקדם שוויון? בוודאי שכן, ובאופן הרבה יותר ישיר מאשר להסתובב מעורטלת-למחצה ברחובות. תקראו לי מתחסדת אם אתן רוצות. אני מעדיפה לראות את עצמי כ"חסידת פמיניזם" גאה ומועילה.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Haredi draft: The truth is out גיוס החרדים: האמת יוצאת

Well, the truth will out, as they say, and yesterday, it did — again. How many times do we need to hear it, how many rabbis need to issue statements before we admit to ourselves that it’s not about the draft? Or as one of the test pilots in the film The Right Stuff said, “Guys, it’s not about pussy; it’s about monkey!” Only here, we, the non-Orthodox, are the monkeys. Just read Aharon-Leib Shteinman’s statement yesterday under the sub-headline: “Lithuanian Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman's stand will make it hard for the ultra-Orthodox parties to support any proposal to integrate Haredi men into the army”. I especially like that “make it hard”, prompting me to say, “Poor things. So hard for them, living off the rest of us.”
However, the fact is that there is truth to the following: “[Shteinman] hinted that the attempts to draft ultra-Orthodox men stem from a desire [on our parts] to change the Haredi lifestyle rather than from national necessity. ‘We ask the government to leave us alone and not try to change us, and allow us to continue living in our own way. There can be no compromise on this matter.’” Aha. Well, I give Shteinman credit for making no bones about it, and we, for our parts, should be listening: There can be no compromise. No ambiguity there: It’s not the actual serving in the IDF that the ultra-Orthodox oppose; it’s any attempt on the part of outsiders to tamper with, alter, or (what they see as) ultimately eradicate their lifestyle. They want their children to have NO contact with our world. Period.
This attitude shuts down any pictures that Yair Lapid painted during his campaign of 18-year-old ultra-Orthodox performing national service in auxiliary units to firefighters, police, ambulance teams, hospital staff, or home visits to Holocaust survivors. Lapid’s words still echo inside my head: [using the example of reading to, shopping for, or otherwise assisting Holocaust survivors] זה אינו ביטול תורה; זה קיום תורה! [“This isn’t denigrating Torah; it’s upholding Torah!”].
Exactly! I thought. I began fantasizing about komúnot, groups of 18-year-olds sharing apartments around the country, volunteering in the community. No reason 18-year-old ultra-Orthodox couldn’t share gender-separate housing and work for two years in the above-mentioned capacities. Thus the rabbis could still supervise and keep an eye on them, making sure they adhere to the rules and even give them Torah classes in their off hours; and they’d 1) get exposed to the world in a “managed way” and 2) learn skills (including Hebrew) that could lead them to paid work.
“Catching” them at age 18 is critical, as once they enter yeshiva, they’re immersed in that world and as far as we’re concerned, “disappear”: Only a fool could think that allowing them to defer ‘til age 23 will result in anything but the status quo. By that time they’ve been married off and have one or more kids, and anything except full-time Torah study would be bucking the entire community.
But alas, Shteinman’s statement should shut down any national service fantasies on our parts: Anything short of total non-regulation of the ultra-Orthodox is acceptable to them. This is the moment for us, then, to shout our truth: “Fine. Stay in your cocoons. We can’t realistically draft you anyway; to do so would be more trouble than it’s worth. But we’re giving you notice: Your free ride is over. The pipeline is closing: No more child stipends. All existing kids will be “grandfathered” in, so we’re not taking food from the mouths of babes; but any children born after [let’s say] two years from said date will not be receiving any support from the state.” Two years: sufficient time to refrain from expanding one’s family. This plan is a humane way of weaning the ultra-Orthodox off the state teat. Remove the draft from the equation, so we can’t be accused of tampering with or eradicating their lifestyle. Strip the argument down to its bare bones, to a finite resource: money. All else is commentary.

Postscript: Can't resist the urge: Can any readers explain why the above was rejected for publication by Haaretz, yet this daddy blog piece was considered op-ed-worthy? I get that someone's becoming a parent is a current event...for him. But more current than a proposal to increase sharing-the-burden parity [walks away shaking blogging head...]?

Giving kids Mom's surname endangers species הענקת שם משפחה של האם מסכנת את המין האנושי

A friend who took his wife’s surname (yay!) sent me this piece of drek parading as science. On the one hand, I hesitate to even dignify it with a response. On the other, just in case anyone out there is looking to validate their giving their kid hizzer father’s surname, I felt that Goddess has called me to disabuse any such individual of that notion.
So this piece comes from a site called BigThink, which seems to be a forum for science-based arguments for…well, lots of stuff. I admit to not being even a little bit tempted to extend my visit beyond printing the piece out and getting the heck out of there.
Its premise is that aside from a few species (the others being avian), humans are the only ones whose males invest in the upkeep of their young, so therefore they’re insecure about their paternity, not wanting to support some other guy’s young by mistake. So in order to convince human dads to invest in their young, we must give our young their dads' surnames, which will assuage their dads' (collective unconscious?) fears that the young they’re upkeeping aren’t actually theirs.
The piece concludes by claiming that 1) A system wherein children take their mothers’ surnames is doomed to extinction evolutionarily speaking, as in such a system, the males will not feel compelled to look after their young; and 2) Therefore, “most known human cultures practice patrilineal inheritance of surnames.”
While that last one may be numerically true (how does one count cultures?), I doubt it’s the case on a per capita basis. The members of the Chinese and Hispanic cultures alone probably exceed half the world’s population, not to mention other cultures with which I’m not familiar. As for the first claim above, here’s the conversation with my husband:

Me: Uh, I don’t even know where to start. How about now we have this thing called DNA testing?
Husband: How about now we have this thing called civilization?!

Hmm. Can’t argue with that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

More fuel for the name retention engine עוד דלק למנוע שמירת שמך

Unbeknowst to her, Carolyn Hax’s January 17th column provided — get ready — 10 pages of name-retention fuel. Not wishing to add to the length, I’m publishing an edited version that I hope is not too disjointed. I tried to group comments under “argument headings”, i.e., “Do what’s right for you”; the “confusion” factor; family “unity”, etc. In many cases I combined comments that expanded upon one another; I change font colors where the “speaker” (could be me; could be another commenter) changes. Let ‘er rip!

Liberation means freedom to decide what to call oneself, vs. having society dictate it — and that includes the society of friends who want you to make their political point."

“I thought the whole point of the Feminist Movement was to *give* women the right to choose what they want to do. Your name is yours, not theirs. Do what is right for you. It's no one's business but yours. If you’re feeling truly bad-tempered, tell them you never signed on to be the flag-bearer of feminism."

“The nerve of some people using the tag of feminism to tell another woman what she should or shouldn't do.”

I don’t tell others what to do. I try to persuade and convince them of what to do. But I have to say, at a certain point in explaining why a person should not give up her name, the very idea of giving up one’s name starts to sound creepy, akin to what Michael Jackson did to his appearance. Does it even need to be spelled out?

"The right to choose includes the right to choose the traditional route, or it's no choice at all."
However, like it or not, we each are making a statement with our choice.

"While for most of my life I believed I'd keep my name, upon meeting my husband I decided that I wanted to take his -- to be a family. The whole point of the women's movement is to give us choices that we previously did not have."

…and use them. Not place them on a shelf to be viewed in some Feminism Museum. I view a woman taking a man’s name as akin to not voting in a democracy: Voting is one’s civic duty. While I don’t hound those who don’t vote, neither am I obligated to respect their not doing so.

"Womens Lib gives ME the right to decide if I want to work, stay home, have kids, not have kids, change my name, not change my name, wear a bra, not wear a bra…you get the idea!”

And here I thought the entire point of feminism was to eliminate patriarchy, including patriarchal practices. Silly me.
"No, no, no, you don't get it. Feminists before you *fought* to get you the right to go out and work, keep your own name, not wear a bra, etc. And now you want to undo all their hard work by *gasp* staying at home, changing your name, and wearing a bra? The idea!"

"Thank you, Carolyn. Those who would subvert this basic tenet in the name of feminism make steam come out my ears. We haven't been working for almost five decades to have idgits like this make a mockery of the whole movement!"

And supposing I opine that it’s the women who take men’s names who are making a mockery of the entire movement?

"Liberation means freedom to decide what to call yourself."

And I counter with Erica Jong: 'Naming oneself is an act of the poet and the revolutionary. To take away one’s name is to remove one’s identity. Immigration officials do this to refugees. Husbands routinely do this to wives.' Yes, I know, I know: Today it's wives doing it to themselves, but it's still a throwback to a time when we didn't have the choice, so why perpetuate it?

 “Women who argue that you're setting back feminism [by taking your husband's name] don't understand what feminism is.”

And I could argue exactly the opposite: That feminism is about parity and about eliminating patriarchy. If taking a man’s name isn’t submission, but rather declaring partnership, then how come men don’t take our names? While I don’t bully women who take men’s names, I still believe it to be a wrong-headed choice. Feminism does not mean agreeing with all decisions women make just because they’re “my sisters”.

"Fiance's name is Miller, and our family name is one letter off a short word that's slang for a female mammary gland."

And supposing the opposite was true?

"It's kind of disingenuous to say 'It's based on something evil, but I'm OK if you want to do it'." Yay! Not only do I agree, but I do believe that women choosing to change / retain their names does affect the rest of us, especially women younger than we. It's a critical mass thing: Every woman who retains her birth name makes it that much easier for our daughters to do so. So you ARE making a statement either way, and yes, I believe that taking a man's name does set women back -- all women -- and since I'm a woman, I get to oppose it.

"Marriage is compromise."

But in the case of surnames, it's usually the woman who does the compromising.

The name change debate does fall almost entirely upon the shoulders of women (as name-changers). The small part of the debate that falls on men is whether or not they'll "put up" with her choice. Hopefully one day we can look back and wonder WTH it was ever such a big deal. The sign that we're not truly there yet in terms of should women change their names when they marry, is not the fact that many women still change their names, it's the fact that very few men do. 'Cause if there weren't still some societal expectation embedded there, I'd expect it to be closer to 50/50.

Our kids are hyphenated, and it's worked out fine. None of the scare stories of the TSA or airline personnel not letting us on flights, or the school not "realizing" who the mom is. The cute thing that we never planned on is that my spouse and I each kept our respective surname, and without our prompting, people began referring to us as "the Walker-Tates". We rather like it, and no one had to change anything to become a Walker-Tate.

"Shared nomenclature works to establish shared identity and reinforces a child's sense of belonging"

So all the societies where women cannot legally change their last names, and it is therefore in every case different from their children's, have children with no sense of belonging? The fact that my name differed from that of my spouse and my child has mattered not one whit in the cohesiveness of my family.

The nameplate at my sibling’s home reads '3 Jones and 1 Smith'. None of the children have any problem identifying Ms. Smith as their mother. They are still one family, thank you very much.

Expressing (couple / family) unity: At the risk of sounding insensitive to hopeful bridal couples, I say: Tell it to all the divorced couples who had the same surname. And all the women who took their exes' names are now torn between wanting to liberate themselves from his name and wanting to have the same surname as their children. Not to mention spouses who are widowed and then remarry.

"She wants them all to share the same last name.” Fine. But why is the DEFAULT for 'same last name' having the woman change her name and not the man? Some related people have different last names. Get over it, and stop being lazy.

Being and acting like a family promotes unity. A name doesn't have that much power. I kept my own last name when I married because I thought it was ridiculous that otherwise, I would have to adapt to being called something completely different than I had been for the previous 20-something years. And, I was establishing myself professionally under my own name; why should I have had to re-establish under another person's name? I'm offended that some people believe we won't be united as a family because we don't have the same last name. Families in which the members spend time together, support each other, and love each other, yet have different last names, are much more unified than families with a common name who barely interact.

This subject comes up at our house repeatedly, and every once in a while, I read a comment like this one to my 13-year-old, who has a different last name from mine, and ask what he thinks. And he scoffs. Seems to me that relying on formalities is a pretty weak way to create a family bond. Day-to-day living, having fun adventures together, etc., are what create a family bond.

We as a society need to decouple (!) ourselves from this imagined (or false) supreme ideal of all members of a family / household sharing the same surname. Once we let go of it, women will have a much easier time retaining their surnames.

"My sister kept our maiden name since there are no boys in our family to keep my dad's name alive."

As if it's assumed that boys' surnames will go unchanged. And supposing your sister should die and leave no offspring?

"I kept my professional name and changed my legal name when I got married. While it felt comfortable at the time, it has become something of a hassle since. The kids' schools are confused when they call me at work and the medical insurance is a nightmare. Then, too, my agency eventually got serious about legal names and now I have two names at work too. I probably would’ve been better off biting the bullet and changing my name to one consistent name."

Interesting how you conclude after all that that changing is the solution. I've worked in the schools, too. Any confusion there is entirely the fault of the system, not the name(s) of the family members.

I have never not once ever had a problem with a school because I have a different name than my son. If I call, I'll say, "Hi, I'm Jane Doe, Bobby Smith's mom." So I wonder whether someone who's not bright enough to understand that simple concept should be involved in education. There is such a thing as being willfully obtuse to things against which one already is prejudiced.

"Detractors claim that booking airline tickets with hyphenated names is a pain. So I shouldn't hyphenate because I might irritate the airlines? I am the customer. Why do I as a female, need to accommodate the business? Would we tell people with those long names like Kannupatinimi that sorry, you have to change it because it causes the school and airlines problems? This is one of the great critiques of Ellis Island!

"I chose to use my birth name in my 
professional capacity. Twenty years later people still were asking me [what] the relationship [is] between these 'two' scholars."

I would ask those who retaining their birth names "professionally" if they're aware that 1) It's meaningless and 2) It will only cause confusion. She'll be constantly explaining her two surnames (until the professional one disappears into the ether). "If you have significant publications or other professional capital under one particular name, you should not lightly abandon these."

"Wait till she has work friends around her private life and vice versa and no one knows what to call her, and neither does she know herself. It's likely that adults she knows pretty well'll be using her first name, but there will be crossover that is confusing. When she introduces a friend at work who's looking for a job, and he says 'Nancy Smith sent me,' they'll only know of Nancy Jones. Or vice versa (she's looking for a job and she's introduced by a friend with a name that's not on her resume). When co-workers have kids at the same school, they'll have to figure it out then, too. Eventually, she'll probably have to settle on one name."

I'm also wondering about "It's right for us". Whether she sees it or not, her decision is a political statement. And I just cannot support that patriarchy is "right for us", for any of us.

"Neither choice is more or less feminist. Whatever someone chooses is the whole point."

Weeeeell, not exactly. How is it more feminist to take a man’s name? While it's your choice, it's not one made in a vacuum; it's made under societal pressure. You think that if two people were raised in isolation, then married, it would seem "natural" for the woman to take the man's name? Because it's a biological imperative or something? So yeah, it's your life and your choice and you get to make it - but you should also realize that yes, you are cooperating with a sexist tradition, and you are helping make it the default and norm, and you are helping make it more difficult for women who want to keep their own names. That doesn't make it the "wrong" choice - it makes it what it is, and you should own it for what it is.

Do what works for you two”

I have a problem with this, because unlike how you manage your money -- joint or separate accounts -- or who empties the garbage, this decision does affect the wider society. Every woman who takes a man’s name makes it harder for those coming after to retain, and every woman who retains makes it easier.

"Following your preference without the societal chorus telling you what you can and can't do because of your gender is an achievement that the original feminists fought hard for."

"The pseudo-feminists believe that just because they would/would not do something, the whole world (or the female half) should *all* do it their way - or else they are letting down all womenhood."

"Wait. It's okay for Namechanger's friends to make life difficult for Namechanger because her choice *might* make life difficult for them?"

Well, yes. That is, not difficult, but uncomfortable. Because we have to be made uncomfortable enough by something — be it patriarchy or injustice of any kind — to be motivated to change, and / or to go against the tide, or societal norms.

“I have not noticed one bit of difference in independent thinking or financial independence between women who have taken their husbands' names vs women who have not.”

Perhaps not, but words and language do have the power to influence us and how we think. I draw huge empowerment from having retained my name, and can’t imagine having felt that same empowerment after having taken someone else’s name.

"If the name you're born with is your father's surname (and his father's father's name, etc. etc.), then your name is still coming to you from the male side of the family. By keeping it, you’re neither striking a blow for women's equality or rejecting the patrilineal. All you’re really doing is saying that you prefer your father's surname over that of their husband. It's a little silly (and presumptuous) to accuse someone of propagating male dominance by taking her husband's name, when 'keeping' her father's surname would be exactly the same thing."

Her surname prior to marriage is hers. It may or may not be shared with her father's family. It may be hyphenated, a creation of her parents' wish, or her mother's, or whatever. In any event, at the point she marries, the issue is: Does she leave behind this part of her identity or take a name belonging to her husband? This choice IS a choice about which feminists care, for good reason. That doesn't mean any individual shouldn't choose for herself or deserves pressure to make any particular choice, but to ask, "Why do feminists care?" is a bit disingenuous and ignores the import of surname changes.

I am deeply committed to the idea that women don't need to shuffle their identities when they marry. This isn't work men have ever had to do after marriage, so why should I have to do it? Screw that.

"The best thing about a truly equal world is that everyone is free to make their own choices." 

Except that we don't have a truly equal world. If we did, women changing their names would not be the default, and we wouldn't have this sub-argument about it being a man's name anyway because it came from the father (never mind that one has spent 30 or so years occupying and owning that name).

People who insist on dragging in past generations never seem to apply their thinking to both sides, as in "Gee, so Groom's surname is actually Groom's father's surname." See how lackwitted that sounds? This is such a bad argument. Groom likely has his father's last name too, and no one will ask if Bride is going to take her FIL's name.

"So, it's better to keep my father's name? I didn't choose my father; I did choose my husband."

While it's true I didn't choose my father, it's unlikely that any man I marry will have chosen his either. A birth name shouldn't only belong to a man.

There's a huge difference between keeping the name you've gone by your whole life (no matter the logic with which it was bestowed) and changing it to something else mid-stride. While I would never question someone's decision to change her name, the equivalence being drawn is patently false.

To those talking about changing your name equating to erasing your identity: It *is* a change of *how you are identified* to adapt your name (again, wherever it came from) to match someone else's, or to a completely different one for that matter. My birth name is no less mine than it is / was my father's; you might as well make the argument that my daughter isn't her own person because she's named after her great aunt, her middle name is my birth surname, and her last name is my husband's.
It always amuses me that people seem to believe that women taking their husbands’ names is what is done the world over. It isn't. It hasn't been in the past. Who know what will be done in the future? Other cultures, including those we deem far less advanced than our own on issues of gender equality, have far better solutions for identifying family units than we do. There are better ways. Even in some Asian countries, which can be quite patriarchal, women keep their names upon marriage. Taking the man's surname really isn't as common as people in this country believe it to be.

The 'tradition' comes from the legal exchange of property. That we still follow it — in most cases, automatically, because it’s expected — belies any "truly equal" claim.

I have to admit, I get a little silent "Drat, another one?" twinge when one of my professional women friends changes her name. I think it's because, on the aggregate, this is an area where there clearly isn't equality. There are so few men who change their names, so few who would even consider it, and none who could do it without a ton of grief rained down upon them.

I also think it’s because they have less reason to change (more annoyances tied to it) and if they're all changing, the numbers are never going to tip to the point where it's no big deal. For example, the whole arm-flailing "OMG, how will people know your kids are yours?!" response goes away if tons and tons of people (men and women) have different last names than their kids’.

"Keeping one’s name is outdated as any kind of political statement. Like, if I wear pants to work, that used to mean something. Now it doesn't."

Exactly. It’s called “critical mass”.

Every woman I graduated law school with who got married (last 5-10 years) changed her name. Every single one. I knew one couple who discussed changing their names to a different last name, but in the end wife changed her name as well. Demographically, name retention rates hit their peak at about 10% of married women in the 1990s, and have declined since. Those who do retain their names tend to be concentrated in professions where others do too, so it seems normal and pervasive. Quiet, insidious backlash to Rodham? "OK, now that you silly little women have proved your point, can you go back to being sensible again?" 

“What happens when hyphen girl marries hyphen boy? Do the children have four last

Please. Why is the question asked as if there’s some Cosmic Rule that can be followed? Bridal couples, hyphenated or not, do whatever the heck they want. I’d advise double hyphenates to each drop one name and go on their merry ways and hyphenate the kids; but I reject the insinuation in the question that hyphenates are causing some disruption or imbalance in the universe. Chill.

I kept my name, and our boys have hyphenated names. I have to laugh when people say: "But what about when THEY get married? What about when THEY have kids? Are they going to have FOUR last names??" My reply: They can do what they want. They can change their last names to "X" if they want. They can take their partner's name. They can combine the names to make one name. Whatever. Just as it was my choice what to do with my own name, and as my husband and I decided together about our sons' names, so it will be their choice when the time comes.

"Keep politics out of something as personal as a name."

Yeah. And out of something as personal as reproductive choices. Yet both are political, even when we don't mean them to be.

"Personal decisions aren't (and usually shouldn't) be made with statistics and aggregates and social change in mind. Just as I can't look at a particular woman who makes less than a particular same-titled male colleague and judge their workplace as discriminatory, I can't look at an individual decision to change one’s name as one that must be due to a power imbalance or social pressure or what have you."

Well, then to what shall we attribute such a decision?

If I ever get married, I'm not going to change my name. I can barely remember to start writing 2013; there's no way I'm adjusting after having had my last name for 36 years.

"Other, more important issues that affect society and women directly still deserve our attention and struggle.”

Yes, and so what? It is a zero-sum game? Are the disparities mutually exclusive regarding which to oppose?

"Taking your husband's name isn't submission. It's declaring a partnership."

Really? So how come he doesn't take your name? Same partnership, no? If it were a sign of a partnership, men would change their names 50% of the time. Or everyone would choose some neutral, joint name. I'm not saying it's OK for Namechanger's friends to hound her about it; it is her choice to make, not theirs. But to pretend there are no gender dynamics at play in that decision is downright silly. When the responsibility for something is automatically assumed to sit 100% with one gender, there's a gender dynamic at work.

"I don't believe 'I choose my choice' feminism is necessarily straight-up feminism (but it can be, depending on the case). It's feminist to agree that women have choices. But the choices made are not necessarily feminist ones. For example, if you choose to submit to your husband because you think that's what women should do, the fact that you could choose that is feminist, but the choice you made is not. Before anyone jumps down my throat about this, I don't think it's wrong to make that choice. Fine by me - you do you, I do me. I just would not label it 'feminist'."

"A woman who doesn't have an important career trail/history has very few of the change inconveniences, and the not-matching inconveniences (kids' names, having to insist or prove that you're married more often) dominate.

Says who? Who gets to decide what makes a career trail or history important? If you've got a business card, you've got an identity and a career, whether it’s cleaning other peoples’ homes or splitting atoms.

This is a sticky issue, which is why "the personal is political" is an issue that, while it might seem oh-so-outdated-and-'70s-era feminism, it's still on the table for discussion.

It's not "just a meaningless preference if it's you; it's a very big deal to me." And it hasn't been many years since women in the West pretty much HAD to change their names when they married. When I married, my relatives started to call me by my husband's name. And I got flak for wanting to be called by the name I had always had! Why I would have wanted to change my name after 30 years is a mystery to me.

"After children arrived I starting using husband's name as keeping mine was just too confusing."

Assuming the goal of avoiding confusion is to be achieved, how come your husband didn't take your name?

"Don't let anyone turn your name into a political rant. It is so much not anyone else's business, and so very last century."

We're 13 years into the 21st century, and we’re still discussing it, are we not?

"The keeping your name or hyphenating thing is controlling and narcissistic. Nobody gives a sh*t, get over yourself; it just adds confusion and extra work, to no benefit.

Excuse me? No benefit? Here are two: 1) I feel empowered. 2) My daughters see my choice.

"Be aware that if you have kids, the school, the doctor, the kids’ friends and their parents, legal documents, church, will all be confused often."

Or they will learn…often. Why should I subsume my independence to others' assumptions?

"You stand on your deeds and actions, not a name."

Retaining my birth name has for me constituted an important deed and action. And lastly:

"I love my original name, and I don't need to "get over myself" when it comes to changing my primary, personal identifier. I hyphenated and gee whiz, EVERYONE FIGURED IT OUT, even with legal documents and credit cards and everything! Wow! How narcissistic and controlling of me! It strikes me as more narcissistic to make your spouse take your name. If you never change , no one thinks much about it ... they've always known you by that name."

"I've been married for 21 years. Having different last names hasn't been a significant issue at school, work, or anywhere else."

"It really does suck to see people 'choose' to participate in an outdated exercise in misogyny. I'm glad to live where name change for marriage isn't legal. Your name is your name, period. I'll believe it's 'choice' when I see men making the 'choice' in similar numbers."