Thursday, January 31, 2008

Revised: "In this patriarchal society..."

Something happened to me today that really ticked me off: I was dealing with a situation and found myself saying, "I could really use a husband right now."

Here's how it happened:

I was on the phone with an Orthodox man who dented my parked car when he backed up into it, trying to settle the accident with him without involving the insurance company. It had already been a few months of haggling where I tried my best to settle without having to ruin his insurance rates but it had come to a point where he was only offering me enough money to fix the paint job.

That's how it happened that today I called him and told him that I couldn't fix my car with the amount that he was offering and I was going to have to go to my insurance company. He tried to offer me more, asking me how much he would have to pay me to cover the expenses and I named a price for him.

Now, if he had said right then, "Okay, I'll send you a check with that amount and I appreciate that you aren't going to the insurance company," then I would have been happy to leave it at that.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened.

Instead, he began to tell me off for haggling with him, telling me that he would show me, midat hadin, which roughly means "G-d's attribute of justice" but in this context meant, "You'll get what's coming to you for making me pay this much."

Now I don't know who he thought he was talking to, but there was no way that I was going to let him talk to me that way. I immediately told him that and said that I was going to go through my insurance company. He tried to wheedle me into changing my mind, saying, "Oh, it's nothing personal against you; I just know how people like you work..." but I was done. I told him that I had done nothing wrong here and did not deserve to be talked to in the way he had just talked to me, that I was calling my insurance company, and I hung up over his protests.

That's when I said, "I could really use a husband right now," because I knew instinctively that this man thought that he could talk to me that way because he knew I was a single, frum woman and assumed that, like the community expects, I'd respect him as an Orthodox man and wouldn't dare defy him. (He'd actually mentioned it to me a few times, telling me that he could have walked away without taking responsibility for backing into my car but that would be gneiva - stealing - and he, as a frum man, couldn't do that and I should darn well appreciate that.) If I had a husband then maybe I could stand up to him, but without one I wouldn't have the guts.

This is a serious problem in the frum community, which is often very patriarchal. Too often men in the community don't respect women as much as they respect men so that their attitude toward women is not as respectful when they don't have a husband around to back them up.

Before revising this post I had written that these frum men's attitudes were detrimental specifically to single women, but the truth is that the same goes for married women as long as their husband is not with them.

For example, one of my former bosses hired women specifically because he felt he could push them around more than he could push around men.

It's got something to do with women not being able to defy a man without another man to back them up. And, unfortunately, all too often women in the frum do not defy the men even when they have reason to. Doing so is considered chutzpa - an act of disrespect.

Ironically, the when the men don't t treat women respectfully, that doesn't seem to count as chutzpa.

The fact that I suddenly felt like I needed a man in order to handle business, - in order to be respected, - that's what ticked me off.

Luckily for me, but unluckily for the "car-smasher," I'm not one of those timid frum women who put up with patriarchal males who think that the fact that they're male means that they can push women around. With my former boss I eventually got the courage to stand up to him (and, ultimately, to leave the job,) because of the way he did not respect me. I wasn't about to let another chauvinistic man push me around.

So on the question of, "Am I a frum feminist"? Well, today I am. Not the type of feminist who argues that women should be able to do everything that men do, (like so many people have assumed, reading this blog, scoffing at me,) but the type of feminist who argues that women should be respected just as much as men are.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Wedding Saga Continues...

In my post entitled, "I (Do or Don't) Wanna Grow Up" I mentioned that I had a wedding to go to this week, didn't want to go, and wasn't quite sure why. I discussed what I didn't think was the reason for not wanting to go tothe wedding (jealousy) but didn't get to what the reason actually was.

The reason why I didn't get to the reason why I didn't want to go to the wedding is because I still didn't know why. It took me until after I got home from the wedding to figure it out.

Yes, I went to the wedding despite the fact that I really, really, didn't want to. And I smiled and danced even though I didn't want to do those things either. That was after a margarita and half an apple martini. I'm not a drinker, but I thought it would help me be a bit more freilich (Yiddish: joyous). I really wanted to be happy at the wedding; it's a big mitzvah (generally translated as, "good deed") to make the bride and groom happy on their wedding day, and there's no way that you're going to do that if you yourself aren't happy.

I did my best, honest. And I think I managed pretty well up until I left. Which was early. I'm blaming it a headache from the music, which was so loud it had babies screaming, and possibly on the alcohol. Subconsciously, however, it was more than that.

It took me a little while to figure out why I was so uncomfortable about going to and being at the wedding. It wasn't the fact that I was among the top five oldest single girls there. (At 23!) It wasn't that I was jealous of the bride, because I most definitely (as I mentioned in my earlier post) was not.

It was the older women staring at me that clued me to what all my negative feelings about this event were really about:

It wasn't about me being unhappy with myself; with me being single or "old". It was the community's attitude about me being single that was bothering me. At an event celebrating a wonderful simcha (joyous occasion) where everyone was thrilled for the 19 year old bride (including me), there I was, being pitied for not being married yet.

The looks I got as women said to me, "G-d willing you should get married very soon too," irked me terribly because they spoke volumes about the attitude of the community that being single at 23 is a tragedy.

I've written about this before so it shouldn't have taken me so long to figure out what it was about this wedding that upset me; it was being in a place where I am looked at as a tragic case because I'm not married, which is, after all, the only thing I'm good for, right?

Wrong! The attitude of these women that I must be so unhappy because I'm not married points to a general community attitude of marriage being the only way a woman can go for happiness. A dangerous attitude, in my perspective, because as I've said before, it's better to be single than sorry.

Being at a wedding celebrating a 19 year old girl getting married, where everyone is thrilled for her while I'm considered a tragedy is what I was subconsciously dreading. I, thank G-d, am happy with where I am in life. I'm not jealous of the bride, in fact I'm very happy for her. But in a community where getting married at 19 is considered the best thing that could happen to a girl, being at an event celebrating that "best thing" wasn't easy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Quote Time

I love quotes. As a student of writing I have learned that you can learn a lot from reading the words of other people. So I've decided to start posting quotes periodically. Here's my first one, from Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, who was President of the United States, a brilliant man, and a great writer. (Ain't it typical that I'm quoting a woman but know more about her husband than her?) Please note that Abigail Adams lived long before the women's liberation movement was officially started...

"If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."

It's pretty amazing to note that Abigail Adams must have said this sometimes around when her husband was writing his famous documents about the rebellion he was involved in: The American Revolution. Two of a kind, eh?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I - Do or Don't? - Wanna Grow Up

I have a wedding to go to this week. I say "have" because I don't really want to go. The bride is 19 and somehow that bothers me, though I can't decide why.

It's either because I'm slightly afraid for her that she's too young and has no idea what she's getting herself into or because I'm subconsciously jealous that she met her soul mate so young. I'm admitting to the latter because I'm trying to be honest here, but I don't really think it's true because...

I'm so happy that I didn't get married at 19. While there are pressures in the Orthodox Jewish community to get married young and most of my high school classmates are married, many with children, by now, I can't help but feel a sense of relief that I'm not one of them. Call me selfish and self-centered, but I'm glad for the time that I've had to myself without the responsibilities of a husband, children and home.

Maybe some people don't need that time to grow up and mature as much as I have. Maybe some people don't feel the need to perfect themselves before they start perfecting a family. Personally, I'd prefer to grow up before I start having kids; to learn how to take care of myself before I have to take care of others.

There are those in the frum community who argue that you should marry young and grow together with your spouse; well, that sounds all sweet and romantic but I think that there's something to be said for personal growth. How about growing into your own skin, finding out what makes you who you are - and what makes you happy - before going out and looking for a guy who'll make you happy?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Barnes & Noble Wisdom: Better Single Than Sorry

I'm a Barnes & Noble junkie: I hang out in their stores, am a member, and buy from them online. I was at one of their stores tonight and came upon a book with a title that caught my eye: "Better Single than Sorry."

I didn't read the book but from what I could see from the back cover, the basic idea that the author discusses in the book is that it's better to be single than to be stuck in a relationship with the wrong person.

It seems like a pretty reasonable idea, and it's one I've had independently long before I read the book title, yet it's not a concept often discussed in the frum community. As I've mentioned before, marriage is a top priority in the Orthodox world, and the younger the better. The state of being single is not encouraged, so "Better Single than Sorry" isn't a piece of advice you'll find common in the Orthodox community.

But it should be. Not because some woman wrote a book about it, but because while marriage is put up on a pedestal in the frum world, it doesn't always turn out so great. Too often young people get married because it's what they've always been taught is the right thing to do and because it's so exciting to be in the center of attention and they don't realize what, exactly, they're getting themselves into.

There needs to be an equal emphasis in the frum world on how being single is better than being in a bad marriage. The state of being single is so deplored that people will marry just to get away from being single, and that's a bad reason to get married.

Better single than sorry -- I have to agree with that one.