NYC Taxi Driver Tells It Straight

Why do aidel maidels need to be so tznius? The mashal is often given to a precious diamond, which is kept hidden away in a safe, not exposed where anyone can see or steal it.

In the opening anecdote of Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt’s latest article, a NYC taxi driver explains the problem with this comparison:

 

We usually don’t take a car,” the yeshiva boy says to the driver, an older Irish man with a hearty laugh and a dapper straw hat. “But the lady was inappropriately attired (he winks at his date), in her heels I mean, so we had to — “

The yeshiva boy’s date cuts him off and leans forward to the driver, deciding to turn her frustrations into a joke: “Sir, he doesn’t really care about the heels. It’s my actual choice of attire that he finds inappropriate. My skirts are too short, it makes him nervous, he won’t even call me by my name, you know how religious boys are…”

The driver turns the corner. “That’s the problem with religion, it’s sexist,” he says, looking at her in his mirror. “I know because my parents were religious Catholics. It’s all a bunch of sexist garbage.”

The boy and girl laugh nervously over the profanity, and the girl says slowly, “Well, I don’t think religion itself is sexist, it’s just that chauvinists still exist…” She casts the boy a look.

The boy turns back to the driver: “But don’t you agree, sir, that if you have the most precious diamond in the world, you keep it wrapped up? You don’t take it to the streets to show the entire world?”

The girl gasps silently — she is taken backwards in time, back to the apologetics they taught in 7th grade, again and again, bas melech, kol kvoda pnima, a princess’s honor is all inside, a divine jewel to be kept hidden…

But before she can respond, the driver presses the brakes. He turns around and faces the yeshiva boy, and says slowly, his voice shaking with rage: “Listen to me, boy. This is not an object you’re talking about. This is a living, breathing human being.”

 

What he is saying is: when you lock someone away like a diamond, you are treating them like property, not a person.

This is how objectification works:  By preventing other humans from meeting your “diamond,” you prevent other humans from acknowledging their humanity. The other humans only know about them from descriptions. This, essentially, turns them into objects defined by their description.

Not making sense? I’ll be less abstract:

If men learn about women strictly from a photo proffered by a shadchan, then they will accept and reject women based on the simplest algorithm: appearances. Which objectifies women. So, by keeping women hidden from men, you objectify them. You do not protect them.

I can’t believe I blogged about shidduchim for seven years and never realized this.

But there you go: that is the root problem. The reason why shidduch dating is so offensive.

There’s another, similar, point to be made about sexualization. Arguably, there is nothing overtly (or possibly even covertly) sexual about a woman’s knees. However, if a gentleman glances at your knees, blushes, looks away, and refuses to look at you anymore, then your knees have just been sexualized. And you have just been turned into an object. A sexual object. Something that can’t be looked at without creating sexual thoughts, because everything about you — and especially your knobbly knees — are sexual.

In the opening story, the boy (and yes, he’s a boy not a man or even a guy) decided that Avital’s skirt was too short to be seen in public. He begins making decisions for her about how she ought to appear in public, on the theory that she’s not a person, she’s a diamond. Bam! Objectified! Sexualized!

So you see why Avital was a little upset.

By the way, I’m awed by her presence of mind and her guts in telling that smug bochur how it is. She’s my new rebbe. I’m a total fan. Go read her article.

Also, thank you NYC for having awesome taxicab drivers.

 

 

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It’s Not Just Me

I bought a friend a copy of Lori Gottlieb’s book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. Not because I believe in settling, but because I knew that she wanted to. She kept going out with all these guys who were perfect except… for one fatal flaw. And she’d wonder if she should stop caring about these things because she’s twenty-seven and is three children behind her classmates, and all she wants is to be married.

So yes, she’s definitely the target audience. I bought her the book.

“Guess what,” Gottlieb says. “There is no perfect man. Kind of how you’re not a perfect woman, so ditch that mile-long shopping list of pointless minutiae and find someone good enough. Then deal with it. Because at least you’ll be married.”

Well, Friend loved it. She kept reading passages aloud about how picky women are, their ridiculous demands, and how few things are really important in a marriage.

“You should read this when I’m done!” she enthused.

“Not a chance,” I replied. “You know I don’t want to settle.” You see, the premise of Lori’s book is that most of all, every woman wants to get married. It’s only a false sense of entitlement that prevents us from picking out the first non-psychotic y-x chromosome pair that strolls past.

And there are certainly many women, like Friend, who feel this way. Their goal is to Get Married. They just need to find someone suitable to do it with. Then they can relax into marital bliss and babies with an easy sigh, knowing they have secured the most important accessory of the rest of the their life.

There are even married people who agree with this. “I’m so glad I married young,” they smile blissfully. “I could not have handled being single this long.”

I usually gape at them in astonishment. Is this the well-adjusted, multi-interested, adventurous person I knew in high school who never had a bored moment in her life? Saying she couldn’t have handled being single? Then I decide that it must be like me saying I couldn’t have handled being married that young. We’re all happy with what life has handed us because we have no idea what the alternative is really like. That’s not a bad thing.

Still, it bugs me.

Because I’ve never felt that way.

I can see the appeal of a committed relationship and the joys of offspring (at least between years 1 and 12), but the tug of the institution of marriage itself has never been a desperate need that overrides my desire for independence or self-sufficiency. I’ve always felt rather alone in this way.

But the nice thing about Gottlieb’s book is the overwhelming negative reaction it’s gotten from lots of women. Some just don’t like being told that they’re picky. But some don’t like the idea of settling. Like me, they do not fear a future in which kindly relatives give them cats for their birthdays. At least, they don’t fear it more than they fear being institutionalize with someone they discover they have trouble respecting.

Now, I happen to agree with Gottlieb that disrespecting someone because they haven’t read Kafka or “aren’t romantic enough” is kind of dumb. But I would also like to point out that there are many happy marriages based on equally dumb points of attraction. A teacher in seminary bragged to us about a match she made between a rich, trophy-wife hunting man and a beautiful, gold-digging woman. “Maybe it seems shallow,” she laughed at her horrified, idealistic, not-yet-dating class. “But it works for them. So what does it matter?”

To which I say, exactly. And if you’d rather stay single than spend the rest of your life with someone who is ugly, or poor, unromantic, or disinterested in existential literature, well, that’s a deeply personal thing, and certainly your priority to make.

Just make sure that you are okay with that. Because otherwise you should probably settle.

Not me, though. I don’t believe in settling.

What’s Your No-Beer Answer?

I have a career problem. Not with the career. It’s great so far. But it wreaks havoc on my dating. Heck, its even bad for not dating. I was at circus school the other night and a happily married classmate asked me what I do.

“Scientist,” I said vaguely.

“Oh wow,” he looked stunned.

“You?” I asked, keeping it friendly.

“Well, now I don’t want to say,” he hesitates. “I’m just an intake nurse at the hospital.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Well, it’s not a smart.”

“So what? It’s a good job and you’re still way better at lion-taming than I am. That’s not going to change how I see you.”

The thing that bugged me about this exchange was that I’d given him my “beer” answer. I was trying to be non-intimidating. What’s a girl to do when her “beer” answer is also a “no-beer” answer?

Here’s how it goes. If a girl is in a bar and a guy comes over and asks what she does, she can give one of two answers: the “beer” answer, which will hopefully lead to further conversation and him offering to buy her a beer; or the “no beer” answer, which will make him suddenly recall urgent business elsewhere. This is purely theoretical for me, as I never get approached in bars, since I’m not generally in them. But the idea still holds: the turn-off answer, and the not-so-turnoff answer.

When I came across this idea, I asked my companions, a preschool teacher and a librarian, what their “no beer” answers would be. After some deep mulling, the preschool teacher answered “Early childhood development specialist.” The librarian didn’t miss a beat. “Librarian,” she said promptly.

Like the librarian, my beer and no-beer answers are essentially the same. Which I find troubling.  What on earth is a girl to answer if people back away slowly from the lite version? A lie?

…then again, it sure is fun to whip out the no-beer answer. “I’m a microneurobiologist specializing in intracellular organelle funambulism. But that’s boring. What do you do? Hey, is something wrong?”