Friday, November 06, 2009

Women's Work

So I've been working on a book chapter about Fordism/Taylorism (as in, the assimilation of immigrants through assembly line labor in America) and labor poets. So I've been thinking a lot about 1. what is "American" about certain systems of production and 2. why gender roles in America create so much grief for working women (that is, women who receive compensation for their labor by working outside of the home, as opposed to women who do not receive compensation because they work in the home).

The two concerns dovetail for me this week with the Publisher Weekly list of top ten books of 2009. Forget that we've still got 1/6 of the year to go before 2009 ends. What caught my eye is that there were no books by women listed among the top ten, and only 29 were listed in the top 100. This is the year when our poet laureate is a woman, the winner of the Man/Booker prize is a woman, the Nobel Prize in literature is a woman, and I could go on, but shabbat comes in early today, so I won't right now.

The reviews editors say they were "disturbed" by the lack of women, but they wanted the "best" books, without regard to gender. Susan Steinberg has an interesting and funny meditation on disturbance here.

But what I've noticed is that in recessions years, The New York Times Best-of list seems to exclude women, too. This was the case in 2001 and 1991. (In 1988 women were also excluded. This was the year of Stephen Hawkings and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, so okay, maybe).

I know there was a backlash after WWII, when women had to return home from factories when the men came home from war. And I know that men are disproportionally losing jobs in this year's economy. Especially since health care and education are relatively stable (despite the recent firing of 200 teachers in the DC district. Boo).

But I was surprised at the venom that has been poured on women who are protesting the PW picks. Maybe it has to do with the value we place on women in general. This is a country that has been listed as the second worst placeto raise children in the developed world, better only than Great Britain, according to UNICEF in 2006. It has the shortest maternity leave for women, and men don't have paternity leave unless their companies give it to them. Pregnancy is considered an illness, actually, in terms of maternity leave and health insurance. Ovaries are, in some states, considered "pre-existing conditions" in terms of insurance policies. Which is why women are more expensive to insure in some states.

I'm not sure why all this is true. But it seems to have something to do with our work ethic. This week's post is really just inquiry. I'm still thinking about it all.

I should also note that I do not dislike my America. I am only thinking about how it can be made better for women and children.

Monday, November 02, 2009

This probably isn't legal in America

I love, love this wildly verbal stage my nearly-three-year-old daughter is in.
But it’s sometimes pretty weird. Like the time she asked me, “do you know how much I love you, Ima?” No, how much? “Twenty dollars!”
Uh… okay, then. But let’s not mention it out and about. It sounds like I’m employed in the oldest profession.
[note to the reader: she did not get that from me. Except the “do you know how much I love you part.”]

She did ask me once why I had to go to work and (sob) leave her alone. And I explained we needed money so that we could buy food and clothes.
The next day she asked me if I was going to work to get some money, and when I said yes, she explained, “Ima, we have enough money today. Please don’t go to work.”

So what I’m getting in the verbal torrent is that my daughter is negotiating work and home life. Which isn’t really weird, since that’s what I’m doing now that we have childcare 5 days a week instead of 4.

My daughter’s favorite game is currently “I’m going to the office, I’ll pick you up when you wake up from your nap.” Which is sweet, because I'm an academic, and having "the office" to go to makes me sound like I have a job with lots of power and prestige. She’ll shut the door of whichever room I’m in, take my purse, and disappear. Then she’ll reenter the room and announce, “I’m back!” at which point I’m expected to run into her arms and give her a big hug.
Why is it that a child with such a short attention span can play the same game for, I don’t know, an hour straight?

Sometimes I act like she does when I drop her off from work, and I’ll beg, “don’t leeeeeave me!” and she gets a really concerned look on her face, and, with a tone of voice that mimics mine to a T, she will say, “I don’t want to, baby, but I have to go teach students.”

Of course, this is also the stage at which my daughter considers “why why why why why why why why why, why why why why why why whywhywhywhy” a legitimate conversation. Indeed, I asked her, “Darling, are you trying to drive me crazy?” and she answered “no, Ima, I’m trying to talk to you.”

Thank goodness for the Nobel Book of Answers. If 22 Nobel Prize winners can’t answer the questions my daughter is asking, then I can’t be expected to answer them either. She can answer them herself and get her own Nobel Prize.

Of course, sometimes she is trying to drive me crazy: Ima? Mami? Mima? Ima? Ima!!!!
And I’m like, “what? What? What? What? What? What?”
And she’s “Ima! Mima! Mami!”
So then I go, “light of my eyes, love of my life, my pride and joy, mi vida, mi cielo, mi amor,”
And she laughs and says, I’m not your cielo!”

But if you plan to use humor to derail the mind-boggling repetition, it’s important to get in there before your brain goes numb. Which is always a danger in my house.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

No Halloween Conundrum Here

Last night I took my son trick or treating. I imagine that many of you will rightfully censure me because of my reluctance to take a hard-line against such an open embrace of goyishe culture, and it's not that I don't agree with you. I say no to treif food, to TV on Shabbat, to all kinds of things. For my family, I draw all kinds of lines. But this happens to be one line I am not willing to draw.

I grew up being sent trick or treating with friends while my house remained dark. For some reason, I see this as a compromise that is more stigmatizing than a real choice. To me, it said, "We will let you celebrate this ridiculous holiday, but don't want to be seen as endorsing it ourselves."

But today, I choose to let my son celebrate Halloween because I don't want to live in that divide, and I don't want to raise a child to be doubtful about where he stands. In this world of being able to be both and both, of whatever category that is, a little bit this and a little bit that, I want to make a clear statement that it is excellent to be a model of integrity regardless of what kind of Jew you are, what kind of community you belong to, and what kind of person you are.

So we gave out candy that was all hechshered, we went only after Shabbat was over, and we did not dress up in any way that would glorify death or violence. If I'd have been gutsy, I would have handed out little UNICEF boxes or something to help kids collect for UNICEF (but I'm not sure if that's done anymore?). We also ended the evening at a special Halloween havdallah complete with spooky incantations (brachot) and a flaming kos yayin (wine cup).

I see it as my job as a parent to help my son live a life of integrity. Sure, he's only a few months shy of 5, but if he smells any whiff of hypocrisy, he'll make sure to say it aloud. We make our compromises where we must, and others we embrace. It's this one that makes me feel good that I made it possible for him to be a part of something bigger, something fun, and kept it consistent with my values.