Friday, January 20, 2012

What being female meant to me at age 19

A few months ago I wrote this email:

Hi Professor H! You probably don't remember me, but I took a few classes with you back in 2001 or something like that. :) Your classes changed my life- I remember you had us do an assignment reflecting on how gender had affected our lives, which was the first time I had ever reflected on such things. That assignment was a huge turning point for me. Up until your classes I had been planning on being a housewife after graduation (like every other women in my family- they all go to college and then become housewives/stay at home moms). After your classes (and as a result of that assignment) I ultimately ended up minoring in Women's studies in college and then going on to a PhD in Sociology specializing in gender and the family. I finished my PhD last year, and I'm now an assistant professor of sociology at X university.

I thought I should let you know how much influence you've had on my life. Thanks so much for all you have done for me!

Since I wrote that essay 10 years and about 8 computers ago, I thought it was lost forever. But yesterday I was going through my old notes from this class (while working on lesson planning) and I found a rough draft of the essay I had written in my notebook! I had forgotten that back when I was in college and commuting back and forth to my parents for 4 hours a day, I used to write rough drafts of essays in my notebook on the train, and then type it into a computer later.

So this is what 19 year old baby feminist me had to say about being female, transcribed word for word, horrible grammar and potential factual errors included. I'm also going to include some things I crossed out in this draft that I can still read, cause I think they are interesting in terms of my own self-censorship:

What being female means to me

In order to apply to a private jewish high school, one must take a standardized test called the BJE's. Like the SATs, the BJEs included sections on math and english, however the BJEs additionally had several sections testing biblical knowledge. I remember being so relieved in 8th grade that I was female- for boys who take the BJEs, an additional section was present, testing talmud knowledge. I was happy, because I did not have to study this extra subject. I wasn't expected to know it. I was not held to as high a standard as the boys were. I was not tested on the talmud, because unlike the boys in my class, I was not going to be learning the talmud in high school. This was a given. It was a given to the extent that standardized tests for young jewish students standardly left out an entire section for the female test-takers. If I had gone to a co-educational Jewish high school, the girls and boys would be separated every day while the boys learned talmud and the girls learned something easier.

In my all female high school, we were permitted to learn talmud for one year because "when we grow up and become mothers, we need to be able to teach our sons talmud on the elementary level." The easier biblical subjects that replaced talmud in our curriculum were limited to the more "useful" subjects for women - such as the jewish laws pertaining to cooking, and other subjects were applied towards our futures as housewifes - we learned about cooking in physics, and child care in psychology.

Growing up as a jewish female I have constantly been faced with this degradation of women in all aspects of life, not only religious felt my options were limited.

Being female means I am constantly experiencing emotional tension. On one hand I fully expect anyone I choose to live with to do his or her equal share of work, yet on the other hand I resent my mother for not teaching me how to cook, for how can I be a good wife if I can't cook? I want to defy the culturally controlled image of women as thin and yet I can't help choosing the less tasty but lower in fat item in the vending machine. I don't want to promote cultural differences between men and women but I want to wear the tighter shirts, and shave my legs, and carry a pocketbook, and paint my nails, and wear makeup, and tweeze my eyebrows, and have long hair. So every time I shave, or tweeze, or put on make-up, I feel guilt, but I feel like I look too bad to leave my house if I don't keep doing it.

Most of the women in my family have been housewifes- my mother, her mother, her sister, my dad's sister. I have one aunt who is a lawyer (and feminist) and who did not stay home to raise her child. She is looked down upon by my family for having an outsider replace her "role" as mother. When I was in high school I assumed I would be supported by my husband, and did not see the point of getting an education. Yet if I asked my parents if I could skip out on college, they laughed at me like I was joking, and said I would need college to get a good job. Why would I need a good job? So I wouldn't have to be dependent on a husband. When I got to college, and became a feminist, I told my father that if I did get married and have children, I would be returning to work as soon as I was up to it. My father told me that I would have to stay home and watch any child I had until they were old enough to go to school. When I questioned this, he explained to me that as the person who had carried a child to term, it was my responsibility to watch it. He seemed to have forgotten that it takes two people to make a baby.

Since I am female, I am constantly being told what I can't do. In kindergarten, I wanted to race with the boys on the playground, but my teacher forbade me because "it wasn't ladylike." In high school my peers told me that I shouldn't listen to metal, because that was "boy's music." I fooled around with a guy or two and my friend started calling me a skank. This is my friend who got laid by a girl whose name he didn't know until afterwords, when she gave him her number. My teachers told me I couldn't wear pants because that was men's clothing. Is it any surprise that I've wished I was male since I was little?

I recently spoke with a friend who was married last December. When I asked what she was doing with her life, she answered she was waiting for a baby. She is 19. For most of my childhood friends, this is the norm. I am the exception.

I am the exception. Although I am sure my appearance and experiences are not atypical, I can't help but feel that I am somehow different than other women. I am a feminist, yet I find the majority of my close friends are men. I emphasize with men. The stereotypes that are applied to women do not apply to me.

It cuts off there. Reading what I cut out there towards the end makes me realize that much of what I had problems with in the ortho-jewish community is that I wanted to have more of the "male" roles, and this was just not possible in the ortho-jewish community. But out here in the real world, I can have a leadership position that commands respect (kinda like a rabbi!) and my behavior definitely falls within the normal range of behavior for women. I wonder if I would have become non-religious if I was a man and had those roles available to me?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Planting food, 2012

Now that I've been blogging more than 4 years I've decided it's time I have an actual blog with my photo and my husband's photoshopping skills, new banner has now been designed!

It's winter, which means it's time to hibernate inside and plan next year's garden! I'm greatly expanding my veggie garden for this year, moving it to the south (vs. the north) side of my house, where last Fall I built a little stone wall less than a foot high leaving about 3 feet of dirt between the wall and the house that I will soon dig out and amend with new dirt. Also this spring I plan on doing some landscaping stuff that is non-veggie related. Today I ordered a bunch of seeds + a bunch of plants which will be shipped to me later in the spring when it's actually time to plant things.

Already planted:
A ton of garlic. Due to living in the freaking south and what I'm told is fairly normal for winter, the garlic has all sprouted already because it's been in the 50s and 60s (and even 70s some days) all winter long. Hopefully that won't be bad for it.
Oregano and rosemary grows perennially here so is still around from last year. My strawberry plant from last year sent out some runners which I expect will grow more strawberries next year

Seeds ordered:
Mesclun lettuce seed mix
basil seeds
thyme seeds
(still have bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, snap peas, cilantro and dill seeds from last year which will be planting again).

Corn-heirloom golden cross bantam seeds
Green beans- heirloom kentucky wonder bean (pole bean) seeds
Jack o' lantern pumpkin seeds

These last 3 are the "three sisters" which are 3 crops traditionally grown together by Native Americans. The corn supports the climbing beans, the beans add nitrogen to the soil which helps feed the corn, and the squash creeps along the floor and keeps the ground free of weeds. I'm going to plant these in the backyard because we're not going to eat the pumpkins (using them as jack o' lanterns) and the beans and corn grows high enough that the dogs can't pee on them.

I might also grow some pickling cucumbers to make pickles. I hate cucumbers but I love pickles. I haven't decided yet- still plenty of time!

I also got plants that will be delivered later on in the spring:
Jersey Knight asparagus (10 crowns, to be planted in the front yard and not harvested for 2 years- the plan is to remove a dead bush on the side of the house, move the hostas in the front yard to where the dead bush is which is a shady areas, and plant the asparagus where the hostas are in the front yard where they will turn into pretty fern-like bushes every summer after harvest)
Red onion "Sets"
red seed potatoes

A japanese red beauty painted fern (to be planted on the sinkhole)
Honeysuckle major wheeler (a red flower honeysuckle vine to be planted on the trellis on the north side of the house where I grew peas last year)

2 blueberry bushes (highbush- which grow to about 5-6 feet tall- gulf coast and sharblue varieties) to plant along the backyard fence where two of the evergreen bushes died leaving a gap that my dog (Max) likes to sit in and howl at the neighbors from.

The crape myrtle I planted last year did very well over the summer- the flowers were pink, not purple, but the instructions said they are lighter colored when the plant is younger, and it's now only about a year or two old. I'm going to prune it around February, since the flowers grow in clusters on the end of each branch, and every branch you cut in February grows 2 new branches over the year- if you prune it back every year, you get a lot more blooms.

My meyer lemon tree (which I'm growing in a container which lives indoors in the winter and outdoors in the summer) has grown about 4 branches, but so far no flowers or lemons.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Five years

Five years ago today I met my awesome husband B. Happy anniversary to us! :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Parents visited!

So much cleaning for just a few hours of arms still ache from all the cleaning (mostly from using the leaf blower).

Parents arrived at around 5pm and stayed until around 9pm. We gave them a tour of our house and my mom complimented the bathroom tiles + the moldings and baseboards + the wood floors + some of our flowers outside (which my mom informed me are narcissus and not mutant daffodils like I thought. Except wait- the internet informs me that daffodils are another name for narcissus so I guess we were both right). And she didn't criticize anything! It was nice. :)

After we showed them around the house we sat in the living room and chatted for a few hours. My mom bought a kosher chocolate cake for us which we all ate some of (using paper plates and plastic utensils left over from our wedding, weirdly). My mom wanted to see our wedding painting which my brother had told her about, and looked at it for a long time. We talked about lots of various things like my job, my brother, my dad's surgery, etc. My mom was scared by our dogs and they didn't help by trying to jump all over my parents all the time.

Around 8pm I offered to take them on a small tour of our city, but they only had one open seat in their car (the rest was filled with luggage because they were just on vacation) so we left B behind at home and I sat in their car and directed them around town and showed them our two blocks of downtown + the university I work at. Then they drove me home and we stood outside talked for like another half hour. My parents ended by telling me I should call them more and I said they should call me more too and my dad suggested we make some kind of appointment for talking on the phone the way my grandparents always called my dad every Sunday at 10am (when they were still alive). So I said I'll think about it, mostly because I don't wan to commit to some kind of weekly phone call.

But all in all it went very well. My dad said as we were standing outside that I seem like I'm very happy living here. Unlike at my PhD graduation, my mom addressed B directly and they actually talked to each other. B was pretty quiet most of the night, but I think that's cause me and my parents talk on top of each other and interrupt each other all the time (which I think might be a jewish cultural thing), and he later was like "the only time I could get any word in edgewise was when I was interrupting you." ha.

Happy new year everyone! Now it's time to get back to the grind...classes start a week from today and I'm teaching a new one this semester, and since my class prep schedule is to prep each class the week before I teach it, and since I also have to do a whole lot of other things this week for class like scan readings into blackboard, set up blackboard for 3 classes, reserve movies and workshop speakers and print up my syllabi, that means my semester basically starts today. Wonderfully, I also didn't finish everything I needed to finish over winter break, so this week I'll also be trying to finish 2 papers that need to be submitted to a publisher and a conference (they are both mostly done but both need 1/2-1 day of work to be really done), and working on an encyclopedia entry I agreed to write that's due in less than 3 weeks and that I haven't started yet...oh plus there's the grant proposal due at the end of the month that I haven't started yet either. And then after that I have two conference presentations in March and one in June to prepare for, a thesis proposal defense + later this semester a thesis defense that I'm the chair of, a research assistant to supervise on another research project, and of course that new class to prep which will be around all semester.

It's going to be a crazy semester, so I probably won't be posting much new content over here.