Thursday, September 3, 2015

Gender and the physical plant מגדר והחצר

My backyard, wedding day – my neighbor’s daughter’s getting married. A corner of the chuppah is anchored to another neighbor’s roof. Bamboo rods conceal my back porch, as if it’s an eyesore, even though I covered up my “unsightly”water bottles, as I agreed to do. A crew constructs the chuppah…headed – as always – by a woman. The landscaping team sweeps the area surrounding the dining room, and we’ve been asked not to park our bikes there.

What does it all mean? On the surface, the aforementioned activities are always described with pride: “Our community knows how to put on a wedding.” “The entire community comes together”. “The community invests all its resources”. “Members toil day and night”. But what are we saying when we allow entire teams (landscaping, maintenance, dates) to be commandeered toward this objective? What’s the message conveyed when we’re admonished not to park our bikes – in the bike racks provided for that very purpose – or when neighbors start to dictate what’s visually acceptable for a particular event?

I theorize that the frenzied preparations and their pleasing result fulfill some peoples’ – overwhelmingly women’s – fantasy-for-a-day that we actually live in suburbia – clipped, manicured, homogenous, sterile of any human activity – and not in an alternative community in the desert.

And, notice that it’s always the women’s responsibility to produce the appearance thereof, to remove any evidence of actual human activity, from menstrual blood, to brooms concealed in a broom closet or outdoors, to bicycles banished from the landscape. Sure, the men are working. They’re out there leveling uneven terrain, setting up traffic barricades, removing anything deemed unsightly…but they’re doing it at women’s behest, and as per women’s instructions. The women are carrying out their gender’s implicitly assigned job of eliminating all evidence of human activity; the men are delegated to do the (literal) heavy lifting toward that end.

The above was borne of a conversation I was having with a friend. He asked me what it is that bothers me about Ketura wedding frenzy. I had to dig deep to discover what it is that bothers me and why. After all, what could be bad about sprucing up the community in honor of a community-raised child’s wedding? “After all,” I’ve been reminded, “When it’s your turn, won’t you want the place to look nice? When it’s your child getting married, you’ll feel differently.”

It’s called a tradeoff

Look, I can’t predict how I’ll feel at a hypothetical event; no one can. But what I do know is that I didn’t sign up to live in suburbia, and that decision, like all our decisions, comes with a price: It means living in close quarters with other human beings who actually ride bikes and produce waste. It means trees that provide shade but that also shed their leaves and needles. It means that back porches contain furniture, and yes, toys, drying laundry, and other evidence that – as the sign said on the safe house in the film In the Name of the Father – People Live Here.

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