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Posts from March 2012

We All Wear Underwear

On Sunday Pastor Dennis Terry said that anyone who lives in the US who doesn’t believe that this is a Christian nation whose supreme leader is Jesus should “Get out!”

I’m Jewish—I don’t worship Jesus, but thanks for making me feel so at home.

On Monday three Jewish children and a rabbi were killed in Toulouse by a terrorist linked to Al-Qaeda.

I’m a Jewish mother—I take the targeting of Jewish children particularly hard. (I can’t type the word “innocent” before child since it goes without saying that a child is innocent and has done no one any harm.)

I know that there is a difference between these acts, but at the core—at the thoughts behind the vile words and the violent act—not so much.

As a Jewish woman, I’m not feeling that the world is my kosher oyster.

Add to the anti-Semitism the War on Women going on full-steam ahead, and I’m feeling even more encircled by people who have no desire to let me be who I am if it’s not the same as who they are.

Then add to all that the fact that I’m a teacher and I can tell you, it’s a shock that my hurt hasn’t transformed to anger. But that is not what I do—unlike these men.

What unifies these men? Is it arrogance? Or hatred? Or envy? Emptiness perhaps? Whatever it is, I’m glad I don’t have it. I’d rather have to wonder about what evil will emerge next—and how to try to prevent it—than worry that people will see into the evil within me.

It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if those who claim to speak for God would heed his words. But those people are usually doing the talking, not the listening. It would have been nice, wouldn’t it, if they had heeded at least one little commandment, the one that seems to encapsulate the rest: You shall not steal. As in don’t take from someone what doesn’t belong to you. Don’t steal a life. Don’t steal a thought. Don’t steal a hope. Don’t steal. Keep your hands to yourself. Keep your words to yourself.

And the next time they feel that they're better than everyone else, they should remember that we all wear underwear and we all poop.


Rape: The Scourge of Our Time (II)

The following piece is cross-posted at Daily Kos

This post was originally published in December. Unfortunately, I felt the need to revise it to reflect news that the War on Women around the world is unrelenting. 

This week I was devastated by the way women are treated in Morocco. How could a law, as in something legal and condoned by society, allow a rapist, as in someone who forced himself on a woman, would be able to twist his crime into something innocent, noble even, if he married his victim? (Sanctity of marriage?) So Amina Filali, an innocent teenage girl except for the fact that she was female and that she was raped, which is her fault because she’s a girl and, well, you know that is inherently evil (a cultural original sin that seems to transcend all cultures), was placed in the care of a man who obviously has violence issues rather than his being carted off for some anger-management training in the Western Sahara.

A few weeks ago I was all fired up about the heinous way women are treated in Afghanistan; the brutal absurdity of imprisoning women for being raped and of forcing them to marry the men who raped them; and how unhealthy it is for a society to give men absolute power over women.

Then my boyfriend said that I should think about how many women in the military are raped; “Google ‘rape military,’” he said. Then he mentioned a female soldier who accused a man (working for a contractor) of raping her, and how he got off with barely a slap on the wrist. And her, he said, she was jailed.

He’s right: All the wrongs committed against women cannot be dropped on the laps of Moroccan and Afghani men. We can’t just pooh-pooh the men of Afghanistan who conceal women behind burkas and walls, and who torch their schools, and rape them with bestial impunity, because the rest of the world doesn’t exactly present a shining example of gentlemanly behavior.

And then I thought of forced ultrasounds, both the transvaginal kind and the cool-jelly belly sort. And this War on Women (or are they calling it the Defense of the Purity of Women Campaign?) that these pale American men, upstanding citizens all, are waging on women because we’re, you know, not as smart and important as they are. Just because someone has a boy part, what makes him the arbiter of what is or is not right for those of us without the big dingle dangle?

Women in the Congo, Bosnia, Kuwait, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Rwanda have been raped as a course of war, as they have been during other conflicts, and throughout history. Reports of Libyan soldiers raping citizens surfaced a few months back, as have sexual assaults by Egyptian police against demonstrators.

I googled “us military rape statistics,” and 2,230,000 results came up. That’s a lot of stories about men in the military who rape, and women (in the military and civilians) who have been raped by our representatives.

And here in the US, where we attempt to look down on their mistreatment of their women, well, we actually have a term for when a man doesn’t get that “no means no.” Date rape is not quite akin to opening a door for a woman. And the acceptance of the twisted logic of “she asked for it” by wearing a dress that was too tight or too revealing, or by being out too late, or by drinking too much is a psychic rape of all women. Women do not ask to be violated. No, we Americans are not beacons in any one’s night.

People say that in Afghanistan it is an expression of their culture. Yeah, sure. Men take every right from a woman except the right to inhale and exhale and we let “culture” cover for that constant humiliation and exercise of power. Then what is it here? Can someone state as truth that rape is a reflection of our culture because we so degrade women by objectifying and sexualizing them? Have we let the deviants define us?

Is the genesis of these rapes by Moroccan men, African rebels, European fighters, and American soldiers the same? Is the problem a universal acceptance of “boys will be boys”? Have we conceded the stage to the bullies?

Googling “rape” brings up 206,000,000 results. No, we cannot breathe a sigh of relief that at least we don’t live there—because we do! Women can be strong, but not as strong as a 200 lb. man with societal support (for what else is indifference?) on his side.

Is rape the scourge of our time? We have defeated illnesses, now we must defeat a sickness. Or is it the arrogance of men? Or are they the same thing?

A person who rapes is sick in the crudest sense of the word. And it is unhealthy to ignore a sickness in our midst. Why are we always protecting men? Why are we protecting those who need no protection? Maybe we women are being forced back to being the weaker sex because society is unable or unwilling to protect us. What does that say about American culture?

Legislatures across the country are now our aggressors, taking it upon themselves to violate women. What’s the difference between Article 475 of Morocco's penal code that lets a rapist become a husband and the laws going through various state legislatures that violate a woman’s sovereignty over her own body?

When Silence Is Not Golden

This piece is cross-posted at Daily Kos.

My mother has, or should I say, had a new best friend. That was until she told me that she didn’t ask a question during a class until the break because she didn’t want her new friend to tell her that it was a stupid question. Now I understand that my mother could use some new friends since she was widowed a couple of years ago and far too many of the 70- and 80-year women she knows are fearful that my mother is a white-haired, tennis-playing husband-thief, but this acceptance of hers that she needs to alter her behavior to suit her friend was just too much. I mean, was she not listening to me complain about my controlling husband and how I held my mouth so as not to aggravate him as much as I don’t listen to her talk about what she had for dinner last night?

Allowing someone to have a sort of remote control over your mouth for fear of annoying them, surely is a twisting of the golden rule that “silence is golden.” It's also called being bullied.

It’s not just my mother and me who don’t realize that watching your words around a friend or partner is wrong until it’s too late, until you’ve lost your independent-thinker status. What we were dealing with wouldn’t have a name if it was just the two of us ostensibly “walking on eggshells.” While I am in no way insinuating that said friend or anyone else has borderline personality disorder (BPD) (apparently being fearful around someone so as not to upset him or her is one of the things to look for when thinking that someone might have BPD), I am saying that once you adjust your behavior to suit someone else, you need to watch yourself—or, rather, watch that you don’t let your friend’s demands become your very own auto-pilot. Sure, you have a friend who’s a vegetarian so you don’t go to a steak house, but consideration is not the same as accommodation.

Beverly Engel notes that emotional abuse is “when someone is unrelentingly critical of you, always finds fault, and can never be pleased.” What I say is watch out because you may be on your way to being worn down until your estimation of your own worth is no longer near what it was when you so joyfully entered your new friendship.

Perhaps the line is crossed when, instead of having a friendly discussion, you make a mental calculation where the phrase “not upset her” is forefront and then you act accordingly. And that, as I instructed my mother, must not be done. In what universe is having someone to sit uncomfortably next to better than sitting alone, at peace with all of the absurd, irrelevant, inconsequential questions you may ask?

It’s upsetting, isn’t it, that it’s the concerned, caring people who forfeit too much of themselves to not make waves, and think they are, indeed, being considerate. But it’s not—not considerate of yourself. A person should not think that it’s alright to cede the self for or to anyone. And giving a pass just this once is doing no one any good—it will just make it harder next time (and there will be a next time) to stand up for yourself.

Deepak Chopra has noted that “Controlling types can be handled by acting unintimidated. At heart, controlling types fear that they are inadequate, and they defend against their own insecurity by making other people feel insecure and not good enough. Show that you are good enough.” And that, really, is the key: Silence is not golden if you’re holding a hand over your mouth.  

Respect: To Be Given and To Be Expected

The other day I got an email from a counselor at school saying that a student of mine thinks that I am not nice to him. She suggested that I rectify this situation by having a one-on-one conversation with him asap. My response was one of those quickly written emails that we often come to regret, but in this case I have no regret for the quick-write and quick-send. I told her that I did have a tough talk with him that morning because he was supposed to have stayed after school with me a few days earlier to make up some work he missed while on vacation. I had told him that I would stay and wait for him. Not only did he not come, but two days later he still didn’t find it in himself to explain or apologize—and I demanded that he apologize to me, in a rather strong tone and with a mini-lecture thrown in.

There is just no way that I will be reprimanded for not over-coddling a teen’s ego. Seriously, at what point does a child need to stop listening only to his inner whiner and start learning that there are rules of decency that he needs to adhere to?

Another student told his mother that I yell at him. Besides the obvious fact that these kids have no conception of what a real yell is, they seem to equate a tough and forceful tone that is ever so slightly above the normal teacher tone as a yell. But I was having none of it. I told the mother that, yes, I have directed tough words at her son because he seems to think that making accents of different ethnic groups (his own included) is funny and is entertainment for the other immature boys in the class, and because I have forced him to throw out his green gum with which he likes to make bubbles during class.

Maybe I shouldn’t be teaching this age group. A number of teachers and people in the general public have told me that they could never teach freshman, but I enjoy them—up to a point. (Let me state unequivocally that the girls are not only mature, but they are well aware of the immaturity of the boys in their midst, and they are delightful.) At that point (I mean the point at which they are disrespectful and oblivious to some basic societal norms), I become a teacher whose lesson cannot possibly be evaluated by a bubble chart—it’s when I demand that they learn how to act and behave properly. It’s when I forget to modulate my tone and say what I think as if this child were my own child.

At what point do children lose the license to excuse their own bad behavior? And why, honestly, did they ever get that license in the first place?

It could be that I’m tough, as people have said, but I don’t see how expecting children to behave with respect to their elders and each other is tough or beyond a basic norm? Honestly, I’m tired of feeling that I’m doing something wrong when all that I am doing is trying to educate the whole child. Do parents really want their children to keep getting passes for work they don’t do and behavior that is reproachable? Sure, I admit that you can live a successful life even if you don’t understand Shakespeare, but what can you do if you don’t know what the word “courtesy” means?

I fear that the focus on teaching to the test and evaluating teachers based to a great degree on their student’s work will give too much power to children and lessen an understanding that they are to respect their elders and those who are trying to help them. It might come as a surprise to some, but not every child wants or knows how to do well, and kids know how to get back at someone they think has slighted them. A friend of mine teaches at the graduate school level and she has to deal with student evaluations which often read like mini-vendettas because they don’t like the amount of reading she has assigned and because there might not have been a syncing of personalities, not to mention disgruntled students who didn’t get an A.

Backing down and letting their behavior slide is not an option. I’d rather move right along to my Plan B career choice of working with the geriatric crowd than bend the understanding of respect that I was taught by example as a child.

We seem to be looking to other cultures for guidance on how to raise our children. We’re looking to China with Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, and France with Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman, and a mélange with How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (From Argentina to Tanzania and Everywhere in Between) by Mei-Ling Hopgood, but how about we stick to what we were taught as children—or at least unearth some of the key lessons from our overworked minds. It might have been a different time, and yes, it might not have been the best of times, but weren’t there some basic guidelines that were imparted on us and which we have, perhaps, slacked off on imparting to the next generation? Why do we excuse our children from the things that were absolute bottom lines for us? I didn’t even know that you could turn in homework late until I was in graduate school.  

Fellow teachers talk about students who send, via email, requests for them to write letters of recommendation for colleges that are due in a day, and then not even receiving thank you letters from those students when they delayed their weekend grading to write the letters. Expectations, surely, are warped.

An I-whatever has become de rigueur for this generation. How about requiring behavior that reflects an understanding that the world is not all about “I” before the next purchase?


Words from some very wise men: "Teach Your Children," by Crosby Stills Nash and Young.