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