Another WWPD pet issue has made it to the wider world. Put another way: I have a new piece at The Atlantic, this time in the Education section. It's about teachers sharing about their students on Facebook, and more specifically, the horrible experience it must be to find your own errors shared and commented on by people you're supposed to trust. Or at least to have suspended disbelief re: the possibility of their finding you ridiculous. Read it! I promise it's better than my pre-coffee explanation.
So people are a lot less riled up about this than I'd thought they might be. One commenter points out FERPA, and claims that there's already a rule in place to prevent teachers from quoting students' work. In a non-blog-post-length version of this, that probably would have come up more explicitly (I allude to it in the last paragraph), but the short answer is, FERPA doesn't appear to cover the kinds of cases I'm talking about. Cases, that is, where student information is being shared, yes, but the only student who'll know which student's information it is is the student in question. I'm not a legal expert (you're shocked, I know), but my sense is, if you couldn't make the case that the student was identifiable, you couldn't claim that said student's academic record had been made public. Legal experts, am I missing something?
This isn't the kind of overshare, in other words, where someone's reputation is at stake. The fear isn't that people will Google the student and find some ridiculous thing they wrote on an exam, or in an email to a prof, and then lo and behold, potential employers and dates will lose interest. It's that something will change in the student-teacher relationship. Both the one between this student and this teacher, and the one between students and teachers generally, once it's public knowledge that many teachers find their students' missteps hilarious. It's a problem because of what it changes about the educational environment, and because of how gratuitously hurt a student's likely to be if they find one of these posts.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Another WWPD pet issue has made it to the wider world. Put another way: I have a new piece at The Atlantic, this time in the Education section. It's about teachers sharing about their students on Facebook, and more specifically, the horrible experience it must be to find your own errors shared and commented on by people you're supposed to trust. Or at least to have suspended disbelief re: the possibility of their finding you ridiculous. Read it! I promise it's better than my pre-coffee explanation.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
A while back, I wrote about the curse of Demure. By this I meant the tendency of some women (me), who've been socialized into a certain kind of passivity (and credit goes to commenter Freddie, who made the connection to the romantic sphere), to extend that same reticence to professional situations. The same waiting-by-the-phone approach.
The Demure isn't exactly about fear of rejection. It's about not knowing the rules of assertiveness. When do you press on, and when do you leave it be? And - drumroll, please, for my theory* - it could be that women's (typically) superior appreciation of social nuance ends up backfiring. In social situations, if you have a good sense someone doesn't really want to meet you for lunch, you're generally well-advised not to keep asking. So it pays to be able to pick up on such things. Not to neurotically overshoot the mark and assume if someone's busy once, they secretly despise you. But to just kind of suss out situations without even thinking about it. Women, I suspect, pick up on such cues better than men do, given our socialization or who knows. (Remember those stories from a while back, about how even girls with Aspergers find their way to having social skills?)
So we - I - may be entirely right that (to give an example from my own world) an editor who says no thanks but pitch again isn't waiting impatiently for our next submission. Perhaps men either don't notice when they're not wanted, or don't care, but let's say probably it's "don't notice" a lot of the time. Either way, the result is irritating in a social context - potentially creepy in a romantic one - but incredibly effective in professional interactions of this sort.
*Is this my theory? It seems of a piece with the overall lean-in meme, but I've never noticed it expressed exactly like this.
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Finished The Magic Mountain. Highly recommended, but yes, a medal would be appreciated - if you get one for 26.2 miles, one would seem appropriate in this context as well.
-If you live in a remote, snowy wilderness resort-that-isn't, set apart from the world geographically and in other respects (but reachable by train, with a village not too far), with gourmet meals and rigidly assigned tables, and an international community with lots of Russians and Germans, you're bound to find certain aspects of the book... relatable. Of course, where I live, rather than this being tuberculosis sufferers and their guests, it's people who are unusually good at math and their families. And the visits are for more predetermined amounts of time. So it's not actually the same thing at all.
-Oh, to have been bourgeois back in the day, when that meant living off investments and swaddling yourself with blankets.
-Who doesn't picture Clavdia Chauchat as Natalia Vodianova? Herr Settembrini: Adrien Brody? That's all I've got for the moment. Despite snippets of physical description, I never did picture Hans Castorp, which is maybe the point.
-From the department of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, yes, hilarious, the pseudoscience behind a rest cure at a sanatorium. But! All this quackery in the name of ridding the not necessarily ill of "toxins" sounds not unlike today's juice cleanses. The invention of antibiotics didn't change as much as one might think.
-From the department of you never really finish your dissertation, Thomas Mann had a Jewish wife, whose own sanatorium stint inspired this novel. And the novel has Jewish angles like whoa, which I had to try not to write term papers about in my mind while reading. Obviously Naphta was Jewish - no big reveal there. And then there's Frau Levi with the "ivory complexion" and I believe further discussion of Jews' pallor. That Hans Castorp is - in his ineffectual way - an anti-anti-Semite is kind of surprising. And then, on a more abstract level, there's the conflation of cosmopolitanism with illness, which is and isn't about Jews. (See also: Paul Bourget's Cosmopolis.)
-My pea-brain couldn't make sense of certain philosophical aspects of the novel, as well as certain references I'd no doubt have nodded along to knowingly if I'd paid more attention in Mr. Gern's English class.
-Yes, yes yes! I could not be more pleased about the phenomenon of high-powered women marrying stay-at-home dudes. The elite-women-and-work conversation has far too often assumed that every woman wants/needs to be with a man at least as ambitious as she is, in a job that's at least as time-consuming. It becomes this discussion of power couples, ignoring the obvious practical benefits of one partner doing more at home, being more geographically flexible, etc. Feminism means either 50-50 marriages or that staying home (or "staying home" loosely defined, to include any couple's lower-paid, lower-power career) doesn't default along gender lines.
-Not all women, however, are cut out for high finance. Some of us have other... capabilities. For example: Last night at the party where I tried (and failed) to wear heels, I discovered a 'skill' I hadn't known I had, but had suspected. I am, I think, a supertaster. In a blind taste test, I could not only tell what color gummy bear I was eating by taste, but also by smell alone: to the amazement of fellow party-goers, I correctly identified that a gummy bear smelled red. This after having had a few gummy bears that evening, but none, prior to that, probably since being a kid.
Why did this happen? The group had been divided over whether the bears were actually different flavors, or whether we just thought they were because of the different colors. To me, it was clear there were subtle but distinct variations. A deep childhood sense-memory (I think it's called) about what artificial orange, cherry, etc. taste like (clearly I grew up before the food movement) came back to me, despite, again, not generally seeking this out as an adult. I was able to set aside the rubbery texture and hone in on which artificial flavor I was dealing with. Effortlessly.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
-Experimenting with heels. (What Would Emily Weiss Do?) Tame ones by regular heel-wearers' standards. Wearing them to a party in someone's home, and half hoping that this is a home where one is expected to take off one's shoes upon entry. More than half. Wearing them while sitting on the couch at the moment, and even that's a challenge.
-Philadelphia has Shake Shack (not "Shake"!). And so the great where-to-eat-lunch-near-Rittenhouse-Square dilemma is solved. That plus Elixr for coffee make mall-Philadelphia quite pleasant. Today we discovered a different side-street area with an independent bookstore (which we went to) and glam-looking shoe store (which will one day be my reward for driving to Philadelphia alone). Depending your goals for the day, sometimes the tolls to NY are worth it, sometimes not so much.
-I'm like 20 pages away from the end of The Magic Mountain. Expect thoughts on that later on, but in the mean time, re:commenter Petey's suggestion of an intertitle-silent adaptation, vs. mine (a Magic Mountain sitcom), these two are not mutually exclusive because... Frasier!
Friday, December 06, 2013
Is it a mistake to teach undergrads literary theory? Yes, says Daniel Mendelsohn - "it’s impossible to theorise about texts before one has deep familiarity with them." Sounds about right!
Then again, it might also be a mistake not to do so, at least when it comes to the undergrads who end up in literature grad school. I remember telling a classmate once (and I remember oddly vividly which edge-of-Park Slope bar this was in, and which other classmate's mother was for some reason present) that I hadn't encountered theory until grad school, and he was just horrified. As if I'd been admitted to grad school - this was still early on in the program - under false pretenses. (If you can't enjoy impostor syndrome yourself, you can always, knowingly or inadvertently, inspire it in others.) And then grad school happened, and... it really didn't matter. I took an interesting theory class, got the idea of what's meant, and then proceeded not to use any of it in my dissertation, which I have no reason to think was a problem. (Not that my dissertation committee didn't find any room for improvement. Rest assured.)
Of course, maybe the French PhD gods will revoke my degree once they learn I've never read more than a sentence of Derrida.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
-The latest Slate Culture Gabfest takes on viral social-media shaming of public obnoxiousness. A topic near and dear to my heart. The more people who start questioning viral shaming, the better.
-The latest in parental overshare: a parent (with a distinctive name) provides an annotated version of his seven-year-old daughter's Christmas wish list, complete with photos of the "insane" (his word) list itself, kid-handwriting and everything. Given the number of places I've seen this linked to, and the stats visible on the post itself, I suppose it counts as having gone viral. Is it funny? Sure. Is it an invasion of this kid's privacy? Yes, that too.
Parental overshare comes in two forms: tragic-and-exceptional and humorous-relatable. Both are privacy violations, but it might be more obvious why the former would pose a problem. We're sympathetic to the extent to which a kid's problems can deeply impact a parent, but ultimately the information - the relevant medical records, juvenile-detention stints, abuse-victimhood, etc. - belongs to the child. (OK, we as a society are perfectly fine with infinite parental sharing; I, and like three other people, are not.)
It's less obvious why it's iffy to post about within-normal-limits parenting escapades. Lighten up! seems the obvious counterargument. And does tend to be good advice generally.
But imagine you're the kid. It's kind of terrifying to imagine being known for your brattiest/most ridiculous childhood moments. And children - on account of being children - virtually all act in ways that would seem, in adults, narcissistic, impatient, and lacking all sense of proportion. Thus why, when adults make the sorts of fusses that these days so often go viral, we refer to them as acting like children. But your age at the time whichever item was posted will be less memorable than your display of spoiled entitlement. It will be you who threw a tantrum over not getting the right jeans. You who saw it as the world's greatest tragedy when you weren't invited to that sleepover. Should this be exploited for material on a Gawker affiliate? Is it somehow OK if your decompensations were hilarious, or if your parents were clever writers able to make them sound more entertaining than they were?
-Usual suspects Mark Bittman and Tracy Anderson have come to the rescue this (eternal!) holiday season, with tips for not becoming too glutinous or whatever's the preferred euphemism this holiday season. Both advice columns are also, more subtly, efforts to distance themselves from reputations as (very different kinds of ) ascetic extremists. Bittman doesn't tell you to extensively research each ingredient, but rather to eat real foods. Simple! Anderson, meanwhile, manages to admonish without calling her audience fat. She advises against juice cleanses, and also endorses putting food into one's mouth should one be so inclined. Moderation!
Except not really, if one reads between the lines. Bittman's "real food" suggestion is not as straightforward as all that. We get this as an aside: "(Most real bread, for example, is water, flour, yeast and salt, with the possible addition of olive oil or a seasoning or two, and the possible subtraction of yeast. Yeast conditioners and ingredients with five syllables have no place in real bread.)" Yet in this day and age, bread is sweetened. It just is. Even the most basic-looking ones at Whole Foods. Because that's the issue, right? Bittman's audience isn't confused because it's thinking of food as nutrients - that's so 1990s. It's about what constitutes real food, and a Talmudic debate is needed to dig up the answer.
Anderson, though, starts from a place far less reasonable than Bittman does, and thus would have to do far more to soften her reputation. (Relatedly - why do I know this? - she's on a broader campaign to distance herself from a quasi-pro-ana image. It seems to involve juxtaposing insistence that women not focus on skinny jeans with advice on fitting into the same.) She insists on a minimum of "30 minutes, six days a week" for workouts. She finds it dangerous that parents feed their children excessive amounts of... fruit. And laments her own gluten allergy, which I suppose we're to generously assume isn't a convenient allergy to carbs. (I don't doubt all medical gluten concerns, just of those who've made a career of honing and critiquing Gwyneth Paltrow's "long butt.") How could Tracy Anderson not be allergic to gluten?
And then there's this: "If you’re hosting, make sure everything in your house is organic and nothing else." But of course.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
-Do women dress for men? Hadley Freeman says no. WWPD says, it's complicated. Most women like men, just as most men like women. Women have the option of attracting men with clothes-and-makeup. The reverse isn't nearly as true. How would this not impact how (many) women (sometimes) dress?
It overshoots the feminist mark to say that women never take note of the effect certain clothing can have, and then go and wear it with that effect in mind. Feminism, in this context, means that women who wear said clothing can't be preemptively assumed to have given consent to anything in particular. Also that women uninterested in attracting men don't somehow owe it to men generally to dress in a way men like. Nor, even, is what random internet dude likes necessarily indicative of what men this woman is interacting with offline find appealing. This sort of talk is some mix of presumptuous and unhelpful. Thus why women so often balk at unsolicited advice from internet commenters about what they ought to wear.
-Is eyebrow pencil a good idea? I ordered one and it arrived the same day as Into The Gloss covered eyebrows. (Aha! I'd already decided on the purchase!) As I've mentioned on WWPD before, I have... thoughts about eyebrows. I feel shortchanged in this regard - someone of my ethnicity, and with my coloring and hair-thickness, ought to have really prominent eyebrows. Not faint ones several shades lighter than my hair, that I'm convinced belong to some blond woman who has the eyebrows that were, in turn, rightfully mine. Yet the fear in trying to correct for this is the Uncle Leo effect. And to connect today's Item One with Item Two, there's that other "Seinfeld" episode, where it's determined that men don't care about eyebrows. On at least two occasions in the WWPD comments, a commenter named Matt begged to differ (he prefers them untweezed), but I will only do so much archival research for one post, so you'll just have to take my word for it.
So I've put the stuff on and the result... I kind of like how it looks, and it's definitely what I wish my eyebrows did look like, the right color, etc., but because it isn't how they generally do look, it looks weird, artificial in a way that other kinds of makeup - including ones I rarely wear, like eyeshadow -somehow don't. Maybe it's that this type of makeup is seen as somehow shameful, so there's no general cultural knowledge regarding how to apply it? Putting on mascara or lipstick is kind of sexy or glamorous. Is that the reason? Who knows. In any case, I believe I can now conclude this post confident that I've lost any and all male readers, with the possible exception of the Matt with eyebrow preferences. With that, back to either "Family Ties" or The Magic Mountain, my two preferred bits of cultural consumption at the moment.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Young People Today don't know how to do their own laundry. Apparently. This has been the thing - the meme before memes were a thing - since forever. And I've never understood how this caught on. Is laundry so difficult? If this hadn't yet come up, you get to college, you see the machines, you figure it out. It will be the very least momentous challenge you face as an adult.
Of course, you may make mistakes. When I last did laundry, I noticed tiny bits of carrot greens in the washer where I'd included a tote bag that had, evidently, once held carrots. Then sure enough, after the dryer runs, I open the door and out pops what it took me a moment to realize was a carrot - a full carrot that had been through the wash-and-dry cycles. It looked really odd and I regret not taking a picture.
This was in any case quite, quite far from my first time ever doing laundry. If I were 18, we might blame helicopter parenting; I'm 30, so we're instead going to blame my not having noticed a carrot remained in some tote-bag fold. But with all my laundry-doing experience, I could very well see that the clothes (and, let's not forget, tote bags) were just fine. Once you have the basics (keep red stuff away from the whites, and don't put sweaters or bras you care about in the dryer), laundry is tough to screw up.
Well! It turns out that 30-year-olds with laundry issues are this great sign of the times. Or something? I feel as though this sort of thing has come up before, but should we really be looking to a therapist to diagnose a generation? Aren't the people who seek therapy inherently unrepresentative - more troubled and likely wealthier than the norm? Brooke Donatone tells us, re: the 30-year-old laundry-phobe, "Her case is becoming the norm for twenty- to thirtysomethings I see in my office as a psychotherapist." Perhaps so. But of twenty- to thirtysomethings more generally?
Here's the bit I found most baffling:
A generation ago, my college peers and I would buy a pint of ice cream and down a shot of peach schnapps (or two) to process a breakup. Now some college students feel suicidal after the breakup of a four-month relationship. Either ice cream no longer has the same magical healing properties, or the ability to address hardships is lacking in many members of this generation.Feeling or becoming suicidal after an objectively minor romantic disappointment seems if anything a kind of ancient approach to love, at any rate not especially millenial. Certainly not in the alleged era of hook-up culture.
But more to the point, the difference here isn't generational but just a more general matter of well-being. If you're typically happy and have friends (as is the implication) to share the ice cream and schnapps with you, a breakup is less devastating than it is if you're already on the edge of some kind of crash. Some young people will always be in one category, others in the other, many somewhere in between. (The gap between suicidal and so blasé as to need only a dessert and a drink to get over someone you were hung up on is, needless to say, tremendous.)
What I'm missing, I suppose, is where the millenial angle fits in. The relevant questions would seem to be a) whether more people today are depressed than used to be, and b) whether today's depression manifests itself differently than earlier variants. Doesn't depression traditionally entail a sense of hopelessness, a feeling of just the kind of incompetence that would make a task like laundry seem impossibly daunting?
Friday, November 29, 2013
David Carr takes on internships. He seems to mean well, and I like his conclusion, but I can't say I follow his argument. How exactly have interns who've sued the places they worked for free "won the battle but [...] lost the war"? Because now these companies don't have internship programs? Many programs as they exist do need to be chucked, certainly now that "internship" is a word that can be tacked onto absolutely any task anyone wants done for free. (As parodied on "Seinfeld," so not all that recently, when Kramer had that NYU intern; it's just gotten worse since then. Although my favorite remains one from a real NYU listing, some vaguely famous person looking to take on the unpaid services of an "aspiring personal assistant.") Certainly when what's meant is full-time post-college employment.
The internship discussion always seems to go off course at the same place: people accuse unpaid interns of thinking they're too good for menial tasks, of being ungrateful. This is the sentiment Carr evokes with "Pity the poor interns, or tell them to get over themselves [...]" But the grievance is with not getting paid for these tasks. "Paying your dues" shouldn't literally mean paying for the opportunity. People seem to miss that non-payment creates a sense of entitlement. The idea with an unpaid internship is that you get something else from the experience - connections, a line on a resume that matters, and/or knowledge of an industry. Someone might expect the same of a paid job, but if it doesn't deliver, at least there was the paycheck. Remove that and you get perfectly reasonable entitlement.
In any case, it seems obvious that organizations getting rid of unpaid internships will still have lowest-rung positions. Does Carr think getting rid of them means companies will hire mid-career and on only? "The people who know someone who know someone will probably still get a low-paying gig," he writes, which is partly true. As long as family connections don't account for all hiring - and as long as those with connections but without the ability to do the job keep getting gently channeled away - this is something it's more or less futile to address. Carr admits that his own 17-year-old daughter had a three-day unpaid internship at a fashion mag. Nepotism along these lines isn't actually the greatest concern. If anything, unpaid internships can exist as favors to important people, without any promise that the kid ever actually gets a job or has any influence in an organization. Once a salary's involved, a company may be more inclined to go by merit. I mean, one would imagine.
"The people working with only their bootstraps will be out of luck," Carr adds, but there I'm not convinced. Low-paid - assuming something above and beyond the proverbial Metrocard - is fundamentally different from unpaid. It's possible to budget once you have a small salary to work with (ahem, grad school); not if you're working full-time for no pay.
Which... Carr then seems to get, when he switches over to praising paid internship programs, which then becomes a discussion about how this will make journalism less lily-white. But isn't this precisely the idea with getting rid of unpaid internships? He encourages "funding fellowships and entry-level positions," which just seems odd. Funding entry-level jobs? Isn't that just... paying employees? Is it something akin to charity, or a scholarship, to pay someone for their work at a for-profit organization? Is there some reason diversity couldn't be taken into account when recruiting for jobs? How would lawsuits against companies that don't pay interns in any way threaten the kind of opportunities Carr rightly encourages?
I suppose what I can't wrap my head around is how what Carr wants to see is any different from what would inevitably result from scrapping unpaid positions. Businesses would still need people to do menial tasks, as well as a first rung on the professional track. There is of course "value" in recruiting new employees. Each business/industry would need to sort out for itself how much to merge the two - whether there's any sort of advantage to forcing the future professional elite to demonstrate willingness to get coffee for higher-ups, or whether symbolic dues-paying is a waste of time and division of labor means hiring someone not on that track to do such jobs. Which is how it already works with internships - some are more 'substantive' than others, but it's not necessarily an inaccurate picture of what really needs to be done at a company if you're running errands. The only difference would be that the first rung would be paid.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Oh dear. This again? According to Stephanie Theobald, "it's increasingly rare that you'll meet a cool straight girl who'll admit to being completely straight." Is that so? (I make no claims on "cool," living, as I do, in a place where Point A to Point B requires a used Honda Civic and both points are strip-malls.) It's certainly a convenient definition of cool, if you're a woman into women.
The idea, though, points back to two WWPD topics. First, the notion that unlike men, women can choose their sexual orientation, the implication generally being that women aren't all that sexual in the first place. The new fluidity seems to be less about allowing women who do desire women to pursue them (which is a good thing!) and more about yet another thing straight women might do to please men. Cheery, agreeable, and now, bi-curious. With potentially disappointing consequences for women who are actually gay or bi, and get drawn into whichever nonsense.
And second: the notion that female heterosexuality is the desire of women to become girlfriends or wives of men, as versus the desire for men. I can see how it might look that way to a woman who doesn't have any/much attraction to men, because for them, yes, getting involved with a man would be about conventionality. Also because straight girls are socialized to express interest in boys as interest in getting a date for prom. But, gah!, for the girls who really do like boys, the women who actually do experience attraction to men, it's quite a bit more complicated.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
-If you have Thanksgiving with friends, it's called "Friendsgiving" (Friendsgivukkah this year, if at least one participant is Jewish?), and requires special outfits.
-The Tuesday before Thanksgiving is not the calm before the storm one might expect at Wegmans. This might have been a day to bring a more thorough list. Looking for 'stuff to serve with drinks' in Upper West Side Fairway-level cart-congestion was not the best idea.
-Often, when there's a hint of precipitation, the Quaker Bridge Road (road to all that is practical) closes. Not often enough for me to have remembered the alternate route off-hand. Drove almost all the way back home (such shame! such wasted gasoline!), checked directions, drove back the in retrospect obvious alternate way.
-Every other speed-limit sign in this area is covered by foliage. Sometimes it'll be 4-tree miles per hour (the leaves generally being to the right of the sign), and you can assume it's 40 or 45. Other times, as today, the sign's completely covered.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
-Saw the Léger exhibit in Philadelphia. OK, not before a great deal of hemming and hawing ($25 a person!), and a fair amount of panicked driving (the whole bit between exiting the highway and parking near the museum), but still. Glad to have seen it! I like how many/most of the works look (as you can see, I was trained as an art historian), but I also enjoyed the whole rah-rah-cities mood, of the exhibit, but also, it seems, of Léger himself. When I think of the interwar years, I usually think of fear of modernity, with all the sinister things that often implied in those days.
As usually happens when I go to this sort of exhibit, I end up far too drawn to the works of some artist other than the one the show is actually about. In this case, El Lissitzky.
(One day, I'll be able to go to Philadelphia without including a trip to Artisan Boulanger Patissier. Or not. Could a branch maybe open in Princeton? I'd settle for New York. Lucky, lucky Philadelphians.)
-I know I should read the book reviewed here, and I suspect I'll have a different take than the reviewer.
-Arne Duncan's now-notorious "white suburban moms" observation is the latest entry into what I had called "feminism's 'white lady' problem," although it extends beyond feminism. What happens is, remarks/reactions that would otherwise read as straightforwardly misogynist are somehow cleared of that charge once "white" is brought in as a modifier. Then all of a sudden, bashing women seems progressive. It's not women who are vapid and entitled, just white women. As if society's most privileged aren't white men, but their female counterparts.
Because there's a strong case to be made that anti-white "racism" isn't even a thing, given society's power structures, it's easy enough to see nothing wrong with "white lady"-talk. After all, it's not a marginalized group being demeaned, is it? When in fact the problem with "white lady" comments isn't 'anti-white racism', but rather the way that 'white' functions in this context as a cover for anti-woman bigotry. That whole thing where women aren't assertive enough? This ends up being assertiveness-shaming. Not good for white women, but also not good for women generally.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Longtime readers are familiar with my objections to obligatory shared rooms in college. While I agree that there's much to be gained from putting a bunch of people from different backgrounds in close proximity (although, meningitis...), I've never understood why the sharing of a bedroom is supposed to be necessary. You can - I promise! - make great friends with people who live on the same hall, in the same apartment. But room-sharing causes all kinds of problems, from roommates having to be a couple feet away from an adventure to which they didn't consent to, more menacingly, cases where one roommate is meant to be a "learning experience" for the other, for some cultural reason. Put the gay kid with the homophobe, and... progress! Or... quite the opposite. There's something particularly unnerving about how, if something goes wrong in a roommate (as vs. suite-mate) situation, there's no space to escape. This person who hates your kind is sleeping next to you every night.
So think how much worse this already horrible story would be if all had been sharing one room. I'm at any rate inferring that this was a suite-type situation ("Barricaded the claustrophobic student in his room"; and "he'd been locking his bedroom door at night because he was scared of his roommates").
Commenters, please do point out that dorms have space constraints. And we can then, in the thread, have a whole discussion of how I don't think that's actually what's at stake here. Space constraints aren't limited to college students - the issue is the norm of it being socially acceptable or even considered advisable to have freshman, at least, share rooms with total strangers.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Having subliminally picked up on the idea that the non-platform stiletto is back (Blahniks rather than Louboutins, in haute terms) I ordered some shoes online last week. (I'm delayed-reaction suggestible. The "classic" black pump seems to have returned in 2011. No! 2010.) They arrived yesterday (free shipping winning out over instant gratification, and what's a week if one is three years past so-very-now), and are spectacular, if on impractical side. They scream Kate Moss. Or: random woman in Milan photographed by the Sartorialist.
This was not, however, the impression of Nordstrom shoe-reviewer "coatgirl," aged 40-44 of Los Angeles: "I was looking for a decent black patent pump but this was just meh. The point just wasn't pointy enough so they look frumpy."
But yes, in all shameful honesty, I see what coatgirl means. A really sharply-pointed toe is different from an almond-toe, and these fall somewhere between the two. I can see it, like, aesthetically, even if there's not a chance I'd be able to hobble around in whatever she'd deem sufficiently lacking in frump.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
L.V. Anderson looks at why adjuncts* don't find other, better jobs. The piece pretty much covers it - adjuncts stay because it's really hard to go from perma-adjunct to tenure-track (yet if that's what you aspire to, it looks bad to definitively leave the field), and because, when it comes to jobs outside academia, the market's tough generally, and you can't just leave once you've committed to teaching a course.
What I'd add, though, is that someone with a humanities PhD is in a weird position in the non-academic job market. Not necessarily hopeless, just weird. For one thing, there's the grad-student stereotype - think Buster from "Arrested Development" - of someone too delicate and eccentric for the real world. There's remarkably little truth behind that cliché at this point - the professionalization of everything has included academia - but those three letters on a resume unfortunately don't announce 'smart person ready to meet challenges' as much as one might hope.
But let's say you want to avoid the grad-school stigma. Why not leave your schmancy degree of your resume? Here's why: Because doing so amounts to announcing that you were un- or underemployed for the past seven or so years. If grad school was your job - your source of income and what filled your days (and nights!) - what you have to do is convey to employers that the skills are transferrable. It probably - but what do I know? - helps to convey the extent to which grad school involves interacting with others. In an office, even. Otherwise, the fear will be: garret hermit seeks first-ever office employment.
Also! It might not be assumed that a former grad student would know the basics of using a computer. The tech-ier aspects of, yes, even humanities grad school (heavy use of Google Books and other, more obscure digital archives in multiple languages, combined with intense attention to detail; calculating grades in Excel; formatting the dissertation) aren't obvious to those on the outside, who will understandably assume that the entire endeavor involves using a paper notebook to take notes on crumbling old books. Point being, you have to spell this out.
Then there's the question of which jobs are plausible. Are you entry-level? Your first thought is bound to be that you're not, given your age (late 20s at the youngest) and given all the talk one hears of "alt-ac" - of alternate tracks for PhD-holders. But the reality is, you very well might be. Whether you're entry-level or not depends on the job, and whatever else you were doing during your PhD. (That people with PhDs are urged to consider unpaid internships may also help explain the appeal of adjuncting for a few thousand dollars.)
Oh! And! There's the not-insignificant matter of, you can't pursue a career in not-academia. You need not only to be willing to do something outside academia, but also some positive sense of what it is you'd like to do, even if it helps to be flexible. There needs to be a Plan B (or, ahem, co-Plan A), ideally one in place during grad school as well. Given the % of grad students actually getting tenure-track positions, a little career-counseling in that area, for those who don't arrive with Plans B-Z in store, might be welcome.
*Any discussing of adjuncting requires the two standard disclaimers: 1) Some people at some points in their lives want flexible part-time work, and 2) some non-tenure-track positions in the humanities (VAPs, postdocs) involve non-poverty wages and - while they add on years of uncertainty and geographic challenges for those with families - seem to look good on an academic CV, and can provide much-needed teaching experience. Also: some "adjuncting" is done during grad school, as (paid) training. Point being, there are sometimes very good reasons to be an adjunct.
Friday, November 15, 2013
Thursday, November 14, 2013
This morning I was all, today's the day I'm going to pitch my grand theory of Lululemon! Expanding, of course, on thoughts here. And then I came across Noreen Malone's excellent Lululemon essay, and, I think that work may be done. Malone gets at the essential - that the appeal of the pants is precisely how they speak to women who aren't endlessly wealthy and who don't look flawless in regular yoga pants. Their existence inspires neurosis in women on the cusp of being effortless wearers of these pants. More importantly, though, Malone's grand theory, unlike mine, addresses what it means that the forces behind haute-hippie-dom (Lululemon, Whole Foods) lean libertarian. I'd always been struck by that, but never knew quite what to make of it.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
-Interracial marriage makes reasonable people want to "gag," or so trolled Richard Cohen. As someone in an inter... -faith? -cultural? definitely -national, and by some largely-outdated definitions, -racial marriage, I do so apologize for any nausea I may have inflicted. (Also - shouldn't traditionalist conservatives like that de Blasio's wife is a former lesbian? Isn't that just a non-ideological version of "ex-gay"?)
-"Guy friends"! Not an expression I'd much heard since all-girls middle school, when having them made you the height of cool. It meant you knew so many boys that not all of them had to be crushes. That your real social life was outside of school. My friends were, alas, my classmates, so no guy friends.
Male friends are just a normal part of life, but guy friends... To me, the term always sounds like, this is a guy you want to be dating - or who wants to be dating you, and you kind of enjoy that, but not enough to date him - and precisely because the friendship is somehow charged, you have to go out of your way to insist that it's not. As in, Dude A is your friend, whereas Dude B is your guy friend. As in, it really matters that the friend is a guy. Which, sure, if you're 12, but as an adult?
-There are, when it comes to women-and-work, two separate discussions. One - the one we know so well - is the struggle of women trying to make it in predominately male professions, who face being steered away from entry, as well as an old boys club once they've arrived. The other, somewhat less straightforward one is, what happens when men are in a traditionally female profession? Or: what changes when the same activity is done by a man as vs. a woman? Example: cooking. As so many have already pointed out, we expect women to cook, so when a man does, it's this big event. Second example: the humanities. If a man devotes his time to studying poetry, that must be because he has very important things to say about Literature; if a woman does, it's because she went with a girl-major and what with math being hard, couldn't have cut it as an engineer.
The clichés we have of The Chef, The Humanities Professor, these are very macho figures. The former, tattooed and drug-addled with a dirty mouth; the latter, tweeded out (no frivolous shopping for the bookish) and endlessly appealing to impressionable young women. What does it all mean? Perhaps after I've chef'd and eaten dinner, I'll have the answer.
Monday, November 11, 2013
-If Lululemon wants to make leggings that are too small for most Americans, should we storm the barricades? What about how they're also too expensive for most Americans? (Depending which is the greater obstacle to you buying them, your outrage shall fall accordingly.) It's as if there's a Lululemon paradox - while they apparently once made good yoga pants, the appeal of the brand no doubt partially does come from the fact that it's so deeply associated with the rich-and-thin on whose backsides you see the logo. The Whole Foods yoga moms, their Lululemon power-leisure suits accessorized with Liz Taylor-esque diamond rings and Chanel quilted handbags, their carts filled not with 365 Brand and bulk legumes but fresh everything, their smattering of produce somehow adding up to $500 but no worries. It's like the "Fight Club" episode of "30 Rock" - we all kind of want to be that woman, even if we fundamentally don't. But then the pants take on such power that it starts to look, to some, like almost a civil right to have access to them. How dare they not exist in a size 18, at an Old Navy price point! Jessica Wakeman's conclusion - one can just buy stretch pants elsewhere - is quite right, but seems as if it might have preempted the entire discussion.
-Can someone of non-German descent, but born in Germany, ever be German?
-Can the same person want shoes like this, but also shoes like this?
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Friday, November 08, 2013
90 minutes from NYC - but thankfully not 90 minutes to the southwest, ahem - it's looking bad for the Jews. So many questions: Is it possible to sue the anti-Semitism out of a community? (Alas, probably not.) Is it clueless to imagine that anyone - or anyone white - can be welcomed as an insider anywhere in America? (Yes.) Is it anti-Semitic for one Jew to refer to a lawsuit regarding acknowledged (!) anti-Semitism as a "money grab"? (Yes.) Should we put a story of widespread communal bigotry( in a traditional Klan stronghold) through the same hoax-o-meter as smaller incidents? (Yes, everything needs to go through the hoax-o-meter, but this unfortunately doesn't sound like a hoax.) Is bringing in Holocaust survivors to speak at a school where the many of the kids are already anti-Semitic like the proverbial bringing in a former bulimic to talk to a bunch of middle-school girls already worried they're fat but not sure what to do about it? (Maybe, but they seem to have already figured out how to be junior Nazi sympathizers just fine.) Are Jews, even secular ones, who move to an area without a synagogue somehow asking to be victims of anti-Semitic attacks? (Huh?)
So, so many questions, but above all, this story riles me up in one particular way, which is that Jews so often stand accused of only wanting to live in cities or Jewish suburbs, of being clannish, etc. Then here are some Jews who want to live in a small town, and a regular small town, not a famous college town anchored by a Lululemon where one's neighbors are European and Israeli academics living in harmony that a couple generations ago might have seemed unthinkable. No, a normal town. ("At the edge of town, a big red barn is painted with a patriotic yellow ribbon. Across the street, a yard decorated with military equipment has a bomb painted with the words, 'God Bless Our Troops.' Billboards advertise 4-H clubs; stores sell tractors, snow blowers and soft-serve ice cream.") And what reward to these Jews get? Bullying at school, because kids, you know? Some "kids" are apparently 42 years old. (Let's just wait until the 'the human brain isn't fully developed until' crowd ups the ante to middle age.)
At that point, a pickup truck pulled up nearby, and a man emerged. The man, John Barker, 42, a mechanic, cautioned that “everybody watches out for everybody.” When asked about the presence of Jewish families, he blurted out, “We don’t want them in our town.”
“They can’t drive, for number one — and they already have Sullivan County. Who really wants them here? They don’t belong here.”We can too drive, idiot. Of course, some of us learn later than others, on account of Jewish families settling in NYC proper, on account of the apparently Jew-friendly Sullivan County not possibly having room for all of us.
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
Did the Guardian just lead you, too, down a rabbit hole of trying to figure out what "thigh gap" consists of (while eating cranberry muffins)? There are two separate articles on the topic, one for each morning muffin. The second, by Hadley Freeman, notes that girls and women from 14 to 29 have this concern, which may well explain why my own thighs had thus far escaped self-examination. But today's young people are, it appears, too transfixed by their charming bowleggedness or lack thereof to learn how to drive.
Actually, after devoting a minute or two to figuring this out, I'm still not entirely sure what thigh gap consists of. An image search reveals photos of thin women standing with their legs apart, or otherwise posed in ways that put space between their legs, which, well, thin women with their legs spread is lo and behold a popular source of online visuals, but that's about all I can say with confidence on this matter.
As with all such Very Concerned journalism (and I might include this post), there's always the question of, is mentioning the topic at all actually causing harm, alerting people to an "obsession" they'd never have come up with on their own, and wouldn't have heard of if it weren't for some well-meaning intervention? You know, like when someone comes to the middle school to warn the kids against bulimia, and in doing so, gives 10% of the class the idea to vomit after meals to lose weight?
Regardless, Freeman is spot-on as always:
[T]o suggest that there is a dichotomy between having body neuroses and being intellectually stimulated isn't fair and misunderstands the problem here. When I was a teenager in the 90s, I happily read Charlotte Brontë and Chaim Potok novels, but simultaneously became so obsessed with having a flat stomach when I was 14 that I pretty much stopped eating for a decade. Turns out that intellectual pursuits are no guarantee of good mental health. To reduce body obsession to empty-headed narcissism feels like yet another way to criticise women and girls.Indeed. It's a bit like the notion that a sign of female seriousness is a lack of interest in guys, except without the male counterpart (i.e., boys and men aren't thought less serious for liking girls/women). The cultural cliché of the bright girl above all that girly nonsense - think Saffy from "Absolutely Fabulous" or Alex from "Modern Family" - doesn't have much basis in reality.
Monday, November 04, 2013
Is my apartment bugged? The most-recommended-for-me NYT Online article this morning was the one about how imported spices are 12% vermin. And sure enough, last night's dinner preparations were cut short when I was adding red pepper flakes to a pan that already contained oil and meticulously chopped (OK, chopped) garlic cloves, for an arrabiata. And out came a bit of, as the more-blasé-than-I-am like to call it, extra protein, in the form of a whole, if desiccated, fly. No arrabiata was had. We'd been using these pepper flakes for how long? Which, yes, suggests there was no great health risk, but still. The interesting thing is, I hadn't Googled this phenomenon or otherwise told the internet about what had happened. It just knew.
Meanwhile it's unclear what one is supposed to do with this information. Buy local red pepper flakes harvested in the red-pepper fields of New Jersey?
In other internet-age news, the insensitivity-and-public-shaming cycle continues, with the clueless fish-in-a-barrel of this news micro-cycle the 22-year-old (former; she was subsequently fired over this, "this" being either the costume or the ensuing scandal) office worker who dressed as a Boston Marathon bombing victim for Halloween. That's such obviously poor taste that you do wonder why she chose it, let alone went to work in it, posed at work in it, and posted it online. And, the response was - predictably enough - wildly out of proportion to the original offense, with random strangers threatening this woman's life, and because, in further wisdom, she'd apparently posted a non-blurred photo of her driver's license online as well, the mob knew where she lived, or at least where her parents did. And as everyone who's already remarked on the story has noted, two wrongs and all that, plus if you're so very sensitive to senseless deaths that this costume gets your blood boiling, is the answer really to threaten another?
As online shame-fests go, this is a less straightforward example of the problem than the other variant, which involves someone acting in a mildly unpleasant way and being surreptitiously recorded, that recording then posted online. And I'd include, in this category, parents posting hilarious photos of their own kids to fully public sites with the intention of encouraging strangers to laugh at your child. There's something uniquely unsettling about the capacity of the internet to make private or just small-scale and offline bad-day moments part of someone's permanent record, or really the defining thing they're known for forever. Everyday questionable behavior, even things that fall well short of dressing like a terrorism victim or wearing blackface, are potential fodder for an online mob. The proverbial fuss-made-at-a-coffee-shop-over-skim-vs.-low-fat-milk sort of not-one's-best-moment. I suspect that everyone from time to time behaves in ways that, out of context, would make them seem like terrible people. Shouldn't we, I don't know, be aware of that before joining in those sort of righteousness pile-ons?
Friday, November 01, 2013
As is so often the case, another newspaper comment has managed to outdo the article it's appended to. Not in, like, research, nuance, etc., but in discussion-fodder. Susan Katz Miller's essay on raising children as Christians and Jews is plenty thoughtful, if unlikely to convince anyone whose concern is Jewish demography. Meanwhile, commenter "anonymous12," Jewish on her father's side, has this to say:
As the daughter of a Jewish father who was anti-religon and a mother who was from Christian stock but had no practice, I grew up figuring it out on my own. I have always been drawn to Judaism and in my thirties, I reached for it. I have never figured out if the rejection I experienced was because I was a pretty blonde single women who looked like a Swede ("Are you here for a new husband, dear?"). After making attempts to achieve an Orthodox conversion (and being accused of being a "xtian infiltrator"), I tried a Conservative conversion and wasn't welcome, and then Reform (two different Rabbis wanted sex), I gave up and stayed away. I once went into a shul to ask a question and the two women behind the counter actually nearly broke their necks trying to answer my question to my friend who had given me a ride, because she happened to have dark features--so perhaps Jewish people could drop their own stereotypes. Over and over I experienced a complete disregard for my interest, beliefs, heritage and sincerity.
Recently I moved to a new city and made a casual connection with a very mixed congregation that is very open and liberal. The Orthodox may howl, but I promise you that unless you "look Jewish", show up to convert in order to marry a Jew you already know (no shopping), and/or look like a troll, you're not actually very welcome at all.
Every person deserves a faith community and after years of loneliness I have a place to go for the holidays where I am welcome.For those who don't read the block-quotes, the commenter's claim is that her prettiness and blondness prevented her from being welcome in Jewish communities. Well, except that some rabbis wanted to sleep with her. (Wasn't there a "Seinfeld" about this?) She was simply too sexily non-Jewish for all but the most progressive of congregations.
Having never experienced life as a non-Jew, or as a stunning blonde, who am I to say if that's how it might have gone? Conversion to traditionalist forms of Judaism is a notoriously difficult process. And Jews aren't somehow magically immune to broader societal racism, so if someone non-white had a tough time, unfortunately I wouldn't be surprised.
But in this case, allow me some skepticism. The sticklers for Jewish law aren't concerned with your hair color (note the number of blond Hasids! and I don't mean married women with blond wigs), just with your mother's Judaism or lack thereof. Nor do you receive automatic Jewish status if you "look like a troll." (Sheesh!) I don't believe Bar Refaeli, Natalie Portman, etc. have been excommunicated.
There's a lot of particularity out there, and some of it's easy to take personally if you don't see that it applies across the board. A bit like when people will fly to Israel and think that the airport security were sizing up them for insufficient Jewishness, when it's like, no, they do this to everyone. That, and it's so ingrained in the culture that Jewish men would be weird around Swedish-looking women that a woman who fits that description may well attribute any weirdness she does experience to her physical features. Meanwhile, says Science, men are only looking at us from the neck down anyway.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Halloween! Has it already happened, or is it about to? I'm not celebrating it until the weekend, which means there's time yet for a costume epiphany. The plan had been to go as Einstein, in the spirit of hyper-localism, but then the question was, how? It's not that there aren't Einstein costumes - there are - but they're this mix of not quite right and hideous. Cheaper at the local costume store than online, but I have trouble spending any money on something I find, well, ugly. (Not actual Einstein's hair-and-mustache, which worked for him. Just the acrylic approximations.)
But also, an Einstein costume is a big ol' statement against Sexy Halloween.* But maybe too much so. Maybe the better approach is to go with sexy, but take it to an extreme, ala Sexy Pizza, as recently parodied on the Daily Show. I have some farmers' market kale I need to get through in one way or another. Perhaps I'll go as Sexy Kale, or better yet, Sexy Cliché.
I understand that there's already a vibrant feminist debate about whether women should wear sexy costumes, and that weighing in on Halloween itself makes me late. The verdict is evidently no, given the lists of generally somewhat grim feminist-approved dress-up options. There are also dissenters, protesting the slut-shaming of those whose idea of a costume is themed lingerie. There's also Dan Savage, who makes the important point that dressing skimpy attracts men, whether the skimpy dresser is male or female, which is why men looking to attract women tend to avoid it. I'm sure there are also, somewhere on the internet, feminist defenses of sexy costumes, along the lines of 'I bought the Slutty Nurse costume and am going to wear it for me,' but there only so many blog-hours in the day.
My own thoughts on the matter are basically summed up here, in a post not about Halloween. As I see it, rather than women straightforwardly being pressured into dressing as sexy vegetables or whatever, there's on the one hand, well, that, and on the other, that any overt attempt to look sexy, on Halloween or otherwise, comes across as desperate or possibly - horrors - unattractive. After all, we have this popular belief that every woman is fending off constant attention, even when she goes to the proverbial supermarket in her proverbial sweats-and-no-makeup. What does it say about a woman if she has to try?
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Lisa Kudrow* just gave an interview that's received a lot of press, essentially because in it, she admits to being glad that, at 16, she got a nose job. The Daily Mail helpfully intervened to provide the requisite before and after photos. Because let's get real - a nose job story needs pictures. In the same interview, by coincidence, Kudrow also discusses her Jewish background, including the Holocaust and her personal experiences with anti-Semitism.
Neither Kudrow nor her interviewer draws any connection between these two items. It's as if, by total coincidence, she had a deschnozzification, and is Jewish. Is this like interviewing a black woman about skin-bleaching, or an East Asian woman about eyelid surgery, and doing so in a way that suggests ethnicity didn't have anything to do with this? And I say "women" because, as they say, intersectionality. Sure, men do such things too, but there's the extra pressure on women to be beautiful, on top of whichever pressure's on everyone to look less ethnic.
I suppose we might look at it as progress. Look, an article going out of its way not to imply that Jews have big noses! Any actress might have had a nose job! How about Rachel from "Friends" - despite what the name might have had you believe, the actress who played her, at least, isn't Jewish.
Still, to admit that there's a tremendous Jewish angle here isn't to agree to the 'fact' that Jews have big noses, which, I wouldn't bet on it, nor am I offering my own as an example for Exhibit A for 'see, Jews can have button noses.' It's not so much that Jews have prominent noses (and it sure isn't that non-Jews don't!) as that when a Jew has a big nose, this is a feature associated with Jewishness, and thus more likely to be agonized over and, if funds are sufficient, trimmed. No, Jews aren't alone in that regard, and may no longer be the group most self-conscious about that trait. But certainly back in the day, when Kudrow underwent schnozz-reduction surgery, those were still the days of this procedure having a specific association with Jews.
*I have a complicated relationship with this actress, or more accurately, with the character she played on TV. Early in the days of self-Googling, I found a white-supremacist website where I was under attack for being Jewish. Or my name was, but they were, it was clear, discussing Phoebe from "Friends," and had somehow gotten the last names mixed up, and were under the impression that my name was that of the actress who plays Phoebe on that show. Cue requisite 'racists are idiots' remark.
That, and for as long as that show's been in syndication, I've had to field questions about whether I was named after Phoebe from "Friends." Which makes no sense - I was not plausibly born in or after 1994 - but once a sitcom reaches a certain age, it's just old, and short of being in black and white, when exactly it comes from is a blur. It might have been from the 1980s, but even if it had been, a part of me is like, you think my parents named me after something to do with "Friends"? Yes, there's a television connection to how I came to have this name, but not friggin' "Friends." It's just such a terrible show, and I say this as someone who really likes some sitcoms and readily tolerates even the mediocre ones. I can't put my finger on what about the show was so off-putting - I think it was mostly just the aesthetic, something between the set design and the hairstyles. Or that people were always conflating that with "Seinfeld."
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
-Parental overshare at its most face-value creepy: Your child's having an age-appropriate tantrum? Publish a photo of your kid in tears, with a caption that implies your own kid is a brat. (And if so, whose fault would that be?)
-Tim Kreider on writing and illustrating for "exposure." It's not that I don't share the complaint - as a naive recent college grad, I wrote this Gothamist post, irony of ironies, for $0 - but it isn't really all that mysterious why someone would think to ask for free writing, but not free dental services. As comes up in the NYT comments, the fault may lie not with trust funds, but day jobs. As in, freelance writing, at least, is something you can do in your spare time, without special training or equipment, and that, unlike, say, accounting, you might enjoy doing regardless of what it pays. It's no coincidence that not one but two (if not more!) freelance writers without another source of income matter-of-factly describe themselves as unemployed. It's work, and it can pay something, but that something may be best thought of as supplemental. But it's not like an unpaid internship, where you're presumably going into some office during hours you might otherwise be at a job that pays, and doing tasks you yourself wouldn't have chosen. The more pressing issue might be that many of the positions that used to be day jobs for writers are now unpaid internships.
-According to Jezebel, Lena Dunham has written something "tinged with privilege." I can't possibly be the only one who's come to the conclusion that coming-across-as-privilege is Dunham's... not gimmick, exactly, but what? Niche? Career-defining motif? Whatever we're calling it, if I were Dunham, I'd keep it up.
The Atlantic posted a personal essay by a Nazi sympathizer - an American of German "Aryan" origin, as she puts it - married to a Jew. She doesn't understand why Jews make such a fuss about that nice Mr. Hitler, who's only just trying to solve Germany's Jewish problem. Those around her are fascinated by her "interracial" (as she puts it) marriage to a Jew, so she's decided to head to her typewriter and tell the world about her very exotic experience.
-But, but, the author and her husband did argue about Nazi anti-Jewish policy! Evidently someone saw the Nazis for what they were! But here's the thing: Political anti-Semitism wasn't yet associated with death camps, what with that having not happened yet. By 1938, even, it was plenty clear Nazis weren't fond of Jews, but not remotely clear what they were going to do about it. When you read today about a regime with a repressive policy towards gays or Roma, you may disapprove or protest, but you're probably not in all-out panic that gas chambers are being set up. While it would have been a nice gesture for the author to condemn a regime abroad that had it in for her husband, her level of callousness isn't as extreme as it seems, reading the essay today.
-If the essay is about Jewish assimilation in America, it's also, in a more subtle way, about German-American particularity. The author describes a very specific kind of family culture, something about vacationing in the mountains and not having a warm relationship with relatives, as if that's just American, which, no. I can think of plenty of groups, apart from Jews, who'd be more "Jewish" than "German" in this regard. (See: many groups of non-German Catholics.) I venture to say there'd have been culture clash had this woman married into an Italian or a Belgian family.
-While reading the essay is a lesson in avoiding anachronism, it's also a reminder that, well, that there's a reason 'some of my best friends are X' has taken on the meaning it has. It's entirely possible for your best friend or spouse to be X, and for you to be intensely bigoted against that group. While we have no reason to think the author would have supported the Final Solution, there's not much of a sense, either, that being married to a Jew in some way stopped her from holding anti-Semitic views typical of her era. Or even above and beyond. She has quite the deeply-theorized anti-Semitism going, and has clearly given The Jew a lot of thought:
'But look at the matter from the political side,' I advise Ben. 'When a Swede or a Chinese settles down in a foreign land, such as the United States, the Swede makes haste to become a thorough American—at any rate he lets his children become thorough Americans; the Chinese, realizing that this is impossible, lives aloofly in Chinatown, minds his own business, and keeps out of American political affairs. The Jew, however, wants to have his cake and eat it, too. Like the Chinese, he clings to his own race, culture, and tradition; he trains his children to cling to these just as tenaciously. Then, like the Swede, he sets out to annex all the privileges of Americanism. He wants to rise to the top of the Gentile social structure, to wield power in Gentile politics of the community, state and nation. He wants to be left alone, but he also wants the country in which he lives to take good care of him. He wants to have full citizenship in that country, yet retain his citizenship in the Jewish nation.I think the proper response here, the only one that can properly, and in a nuanced way, comment on this is: oy.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
If you learn to drive as an adult, a lot of things go differently. For instance, you don't need to be so worried about what to do in a car full of other teenagers. Nor are you exploring your alcohol limits and learning right on red at the same time. (I was at a cocktail party at six this evening, not to drive until eleven, and went with only seltzer, because I'm that well-acquainted with my tolerance, from those years before so much as being a passenger in a car was much of an issue.) But the main difference is, you have to contend with having the identity of a non-driver.
Think of it like this: If you graduate from college somewhere in the 21-23 range, it's likely not going to be a big deal for you to think of yourself as a college graduate. Similarly, if you learn to drive at the traditional age (which is what in this country, 12?), there was certainly a time when you couldn't drive, and you may well remember your lessons, your mother or father screaming at you from the passenger seat, but you won't identify as someone who doesn't drive. The entire thing won't seem like something other people do, but not you.
This evening, I got back to town, following an interesting experiment in Penn Station-avoidance, involving the PATH train from Newark to the World Trade Center. I was, in other words, tired. But then there I was, and I saw this impeccably parked vehicle, and there, in my hand, was a key that opened it. How about that! So I got in and drove home, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Unfazed by a traffic diversion I'd never approached from quite that angle, nor by the cone that had tipped over slightly into the road.
While that level of comfort driving in town isn't new for me, what was different was, I'd been at an event with friends I made shortly before learning to drive, held in the neighborhood where I went to high school, at an organization I worked at one summer during college. I was in Non-Driver Phoebe mode, and then lo and behold, this car. While driving just now, I was having these odd moments of, is this really me, doing this? But fear not, fellow New Jersey drivers. It's reached the point where not knowing how to drive would be impossible. I'm going along and knowing intellectually that this process would have not long ago struck me as magic, akin to being an Olympic gymnast as far as I was concerned. I know I could go back to WWPD posts and try to return to that mindset. But it's become impossible to really remember what that felt like.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
By now, everyone's seen the story of the blonde girl found in a Roma home. Commenter Quasimodo asked for my thoughts, which I started getting into in the comments, but this may merit a whole entire post of its own:
-Let's please not start assuming blond children of not-blond families are somehow suspect. This, for so many reasons. Such as: Adoption happens across ethnic lines. Lots of light-haired children grow up to be dark-haired adults. Police of the world, don't start swooping in and removing blond children from families to which they belong.
UPDATE: Too late, via.
-There isn't some great, global 'blondness belt' where everyone's rich, extending from comfortably socialized Scandinavia to New England WASPs, Southern belles, and California surfers. There's also this little thing called Russia. (Closer to home: Appalachia. Also: the "Gypsies" of Ireland.) Other Eastern European countries as well. This matters in terms of how we try to make sense of this incident. It's being discussed as if there's obviously some Western middle-class or wealthy family whose missing child this is. When the full story may - in any number of ways, some more upsetting than others - relate to the family of origin being poor and desperate. Of course, there could well be an impoverished Russian family whose child was abducted, or a rich British one, say, who for some reason dropped their baby by the doorstep. But point is, 'blond' doesn't say as much about socioeconomic or global origins as we might think.
-We don't want to overshoot the mark and start talking about the privilege of abductees who happen to be pretty blonde girls. Abducted is still abducted, and is still unthinkably worse than being dark-haired and/or plain in the comfort of your own home. Same deal if the abductee comes from a well-off family. This came up (where else?) in a Jezebel thread about Elizabeth Smart, with commenters debating whether maybe the real message of the story was that access to services for the abducted isn't as equal as we'd like. When something truly horrific happens to someone rich, it's still horrific. It's not as if being abducted from your childhood bedroom at knifepoint by a deranged would-be cult leader and getting raped by him and abused by his wife is an ordinary poor or working-class experience, either.
-Every time a minority is accused of refusing to integrate, I get suspicious. Are we sure it isn't that the majority won't have them? This, in response to anti-Roma bigots who - like everyone who's been to a European tourist destination - has a story, but feel compelled to extrapolate from that story that they were mugged or near-mugged not because Roma have no other options in some areas, but because they're just like that. When looking at issues of integration, what matters isn't just whether the government has some plan in place involving schooling or who knows. It's also how a minority's received socially.
-Can we please not make this a discussion about how those terrible, selfish Jews insist on claiming that they were WWII's only victims? Who exactly are the Jews not aware that Roma, gays, and the disabled also had the Nazis to contend with? Or aware but denying this? I'll grant that what we learned in Hebrew school or whatever might have been about roundups of "Gypsies," so there may be some misuse of terminology, if no more among Jews than the general population. But really. It would be nice if, every time the Roma came up, anti-Semites didn't come out of the woodwork to hold forth on how Jews think they're so special, with their fancy Holocaust. On behalf of The Jews, I'll say that what we don't appreciate is when other aspects of that period of history are brought up in such a way as to deny the Jewish experience. As in, without an 'actually Jews didn't have it so bad' angle tagged onto the discussion of the suffering of other groups.
-While this really doesn't have anything to do with Jews directly, it does bring to mind the blood libel. Not that this couple was falsely accused of having a kid they hadn't officially adopted (that may be right), nor that they were at all accused of planning to serve the kid for dinner. (They do stand accused, by Internet commenters, of prostituting her out, based on no particular evidence as far as I can tell.) But just this idea that there's something particularly squicky about a blond child being lost to the blond community, and something particularly nefarious going on in the non-blond population.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Neat, isn't it, that Einstein used to live in that house? I know I thought so when I first moved here. I get it. But please, visitors and the otherwise curious: Don't walk backwards into the busy road the house is on, without looking, to get a better photo. Yes, I know to look out for this, because it's down the street and happens all the time. (I only screamed, 'Oh no, why is someone suddenly walking backwards into the road there???' the first few dozen times driving to town.) But what if someone's driving down the road - and it's just at the point where it's gone from 45mph to 25mph, so if they're not from the area, they may not have noticed and slowed down - and they don't know the significance of that nearly unmarked and otherwise ordinary-looking house? Hmm?
Monday, October 21, 2013
Man, I wish I were still guest-blogging over at Autumn's, because I think this may be more for her audience than mine, but here goes:
There's this thing in beauty writing where the woman recommending whichever product or approach must not have the 'problem' being 'corrected.' See: Gwyneth Paltrow's diet advice. See also: a woman without under-eye circles learns how to conceal under-eye circles. And also: a wrinkle-cream recommendation from a young woman who "[hasn't] started to think about that yet."
Somehow I relate this to "Japanese" hair-straightening. There's this sense in which the women in the market for advice on how to fix whichever perceived flaw will be drawn to images of women who don't have it, or who barely do, or who wouldn't be thought to. I suppose that's just how advertising works, period. But if there was ever a moment to get all Naomi Wolf about the beauty industry, it would be when advice on whichever miracle product, presented as ostensibly editorial, can only be given via the images of a woman on whom nothing changes. Like, if the thing worked, it would be demonstrated on a woman who didn't so visibly not need it.
(Oh, and Fourtinefork, thanks to a big-enough drugstore.com coupon, I got the Nars concealer. It's OK, not miraculous.)
This Upworthy video has been making the viral rounds. It's a young woman's slam poem (just ignore the background snapping and groaning) about men, women, and body image. And I'm having trouble deciding what to make of it. On the one hand, if I were the sort who snapped and groaned to express agreement with the sentiment, I'd be snapping and groaning with the best of 'em to what Lily Myers has to say. (Instead, I've long since misplaced the black turtleneck I think I once owned.)
On the other, if the poem is indeed strictly autobiographical - which, maybe it's not, but every reference seems to be about it being "about her family" - it's some fine reverse-parental-overshare. While the ethics of spilling about one's parents and grandparents are different from those of spilling about one's kids, it seemed a very personal glimpse of mom at home, one she might not want shared with the positive-thinking masses. And, she called her male relatives fat. While Myers makes a good point about the difference between male and female body-image concerns (while at the same time making a much bigger point about gender and assertiveness - thus the strength of the poem), it's not as if men don't have any. I can't imagine any man I know being pleased to hear himself called rotund in a viral video.
But is this her family? Or is it a poem, and therefore fiction? College-student slam poetry, where my literary-analysis tools fail me.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Here's some highly relevant French-Jewish news, in a tangential way: Sephora wants to keep its French stores open on Sundays, which according to Jezebel, a leading resource on the French legal system, violates French labor laws. And the face-value interpretation is of course, does anyone really need Dior tinted moisturizer on a Sunday, like need it? Shouldn't we care more about labor than some white lady's sense of entitlement to 24-7 access to the lip stain of her choice? Can't we all just lead slower, simpler lives? Why not just shop on Saturday and take a walk on Sunday, like Sartre describes in La nausée?
While it's not false that consumers want to buy silly things, and are sometimes petulant when the shop's closed, there's a whole lot more going on here.
Which brings up something I... not necessarily should know but will now have to look into: Why does the Marais, one of Paris's traditionally Jewish neighborhoods, stay open on Sundays? And no, not Judaica shops - all the same boutique-chain retailers as have closed branches everywhere else in the city/country. And I don't believe they're closed on Saturdays (or any other day) to compensate. Evidently because it's a tourist area, but the Jewish angle seems not irrelevant.
More broadly, France has a whole lot of non-Christians, about 600,000 Jews last I heard (or 599,999 since I moved far away from Le Boulanger des Invalides, sniff sniff) and far more Muslims. While secular sorts of Christian origin may maintain the cultural practice of a Sunday sabbath without even thinking about it, and may not see it as religious, keeping one going is a form of discrimination against non-Christians, who may well have their own secular or religious sabbaths, and who may well just generally not enjoy the weekly reminder of the Christian-ness of their allegedly oh-so-secular country. (I'm not speaking for this population, imagining what might offend - Albert Memmi had a whole riff on this topic.) If you're an observant Jew and you work an office job, when can you buy anything? Shops aren't open late, and Saturday's not an option.
Maybe the more fair - but tougher to enforce - thing would be to have a law insisting that workers get at least one day per week off, and if a Muslim or Jewish Sephora salesperson wants to be the, err, Shabbos Goy of high-end cosmetics, so be it. Or maybe it's really so terrible to have a day off that doesn't match up with that of the rest of society that if France's religious and cultural minorities are kind of screwed over, those are the breaks. But the whole 'how charming, a day of rest' approach always strikes me as, yes, missing something.
"The bride, 27, will take her husband’s name. She flies the RC-135, a reconnaissance aircraft. She graduated from the Air Force Academy."
This, from today's NYT Weddings pages, jumped out at me because I'd had open, in another window, the latest Facebook thread about women, marriage, and name-change. This is a subject of endless fascination to many women (and some men) my age. We have on the one hand the contingent convinced that marital name-change is a self-evident evil, and on the other, a whole bunch of seemingly reasonable - even, at times (see above example) quite impressive women taking their husband's names. There are also women who are not living their lives at all along feminist lines, of course, doing so.