Friday, November 29, 2013

"[F]unding [...] entry-level positions"

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

"[T]he very square fact of being straight"

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 promBut, 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

Things learned:

-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.

Things relearned:

-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

Urban artists, suburban moms

-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

In praise of walls

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

Frump is relative

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."

I mean, maybe? (Is this look frumpy?) We learn from this, if nothing else, that coatgirl's other shoes aren't sneakers, ballet flats, and motorcycle boots. I hadn't thought of my usuals as all that frumpy until I put these on the shoe rack next to the rest. And, it's jarring. Of course, whether I actually wear the new pair remains to be seen.

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

PhDs and garret hermits

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

Social networks

On Facebook:

So yes, these two ads appeared, and I surprised myself with the ability to capture this via screenshot. And I wanted to be like, how sexist! I wanted Lily Allen to make a (not-as-racist-this-time) music video in protest! 

But ultimately, my only grievance here is with cyber privacy or lack thereof. I do indeed want a new non-stick pan and pair of black pumps. I suspect that I'd looked at exactly that pan and exactly those shoes. (Went instead with these - sorry Aldo.) And I have my reasons. I'm not ashamed. But when those ads appear, it's like Mark Zuckerberg has looked into your soul


On LinkedIn:

 I've been on it for a bit, but only just now started using it. So if I know you in a professional capacity, or if you're a friend with whom I have some kind of professional overlap, I may have added you. If this is you, but I haven't, by all means add me.

I know it's very much the thing to scoff or cringe at "networking," but if you live in the woods and are trying to make it in various arenas very much not based in the woods, that charming air of offline mystery isn't an option. Given the extent to which I'm already using Facebook and Twitter to keep track of contacts-loosely-defined, a site that's just dedicated to that purpose - without distractions like a (truly amazing) video where cats steal dogs' beds - seems useful. 

What had put me off LinkedIn wasn't "networking," but the fact that, like everyone else, I'd been getting invitations to be random people's contacts on the site for quite a few years, long before joining the site. I now see exactly how that happens, although it wasn't such a mystery: To find people you already know, you can do this thing where the site looks through all your email contacts. And what you're then supposed to do is only add people who in some way or another make sense. Which is to say, not to hundreds of former students. Not to people you may have either been shown an East Village hovel by (so many realtors!) or gone on a date with 100 years ago, so long ago that you don't remember which it was. But it seems a lot of people miss this (I for a moment feared I had - that I'd accidentally added everyone I meant specifically not to - but, no), or just, I don't know, cast a really wide net? 

I'd started to associate the site with spam, basically, is what had happened. But according to NYU's career-advice experts, it's not spam, but standard. So, we'll see!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Those pants

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

Gagging, guy friends, and girl chefs

-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

Very important questions, not all of which are shoe-related

-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

Holding forth

Conor Friedersdorf kindly invited me to go on Bloggingheads. And looky here!

Friday, November 08, 2013

42-year-olds will be 42-year-olds

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.


Thigh gap, heirloom Judaica edition.

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

"[T]wo different Rabbis wanted sex"

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.