Toilet Religion

I’m not sure if I told these stories on the blog, so I’ll share them anyways. They both happened when I was a PhD student at Yale and contributed to the culture shock I experienced because of moving to the US from Canada.

Once, I was studying at the Graduate Student Center. I’d had two cups of coffee which made me need to go to the bathroom. To pee. If you think this is a superfluous bit of information, wait until you hear the entire story.

So I go into the bathroom and I discover a group of women who are standing in a circle, holding hands with their eyes closed, and praying. Aloud. In the toilet.

So I went into a stall but the sounds of  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come. . .” made it impossible for me to proceed with the business I came into the bathroom to do.

In case you are wondering, there were many places of worship on campus provided specifically to accommodate the needs of prayerful folks. There were also several churches surrounding the campus.

There was, however, only one ladies’ toilet at the Graduate Student Center.

The second story unfolded at a local restaurant where I went with my boyfriend. Once again, I entered the toilet and wanted to proceed with the task I came in to perform. Apparently, different people have different ideas of the purpose bathrooms serve. There was a Bible right next to the commode. And a stack of leaflets promoting a neighborhood church.

If you have any feelings at all towards the Bible, you will realize why I didn’t manage to do my business in the toilet yet again.

This is why when I went back home to Montreal, I told everybody I knew that I was living in the Bible Belt. Little did I know that the area where I lived was considered a hippy latte-drinking godless atheist East Coast.

The encounter with the real Bible Belt came later.

I’m So Tired That. . .

. . . I’ve been trying to remember the equivalent of Papa Noel / Father Frost in English for 4,5 hours and I still have no idea. But I won’t Google him on principle.

. . . I remember there is a principle but I’m not sure what it is any more. So I’m upholding it just in case.

. . . I wrote to a student that I don’t mind meeting him tomorrow on campus, on a day when I don’t have to be on campus.

. . . I addressed a man at the convenience store in Russian.

. . . What’s worse, I think he responded.

. . . What’s even worse than that, I might have imagined it.

. . . I engaged in a conversation with a barking dog and told it to go fuck itself. When I was little, my father always taught me to pay no attention to people who said stupid things by asking me, “If you walk down the street and a dog barks at you, would you stop and bark back?” Yes, Dad, apparently I would.

. .  I feel indifferent towards my favorite treats from Edible Arrangements (frozen bananas in two kinds of chocolate.)

. . . Seeing these tributes to Steve Jobs brought me to tears. And I’m a person who struggled with a Mac in class today, using it as an opportunity to teach my students the richness of swearing terminology in the Spanish-speaking world.

. . . I shared stupid Russian jokes with my readers.

. . . And I still can’t remember the name of this guy dressed in green and red who brings Christmas presents. The  one who goes down the chimney and stuff. Seriously, I haven’t a clue.

Russian Jokes + a Joke From a Rabbi

This is the second day in a row I’ve worked for over 12 hours with no breaks, so all I have energy left for is sharing some silly jokes. Anybody who wants to share silly jokes of their own, feel free.

Joke 1.

– Does your husband like it when you talk to him during sex.

– No, not really.

– Why not?

– He isn’t really into talking on the phone that much.

Joke 2.

A zoophile, a pedophile, and an extreme-sex lover are sitting in the same jail cell.

Zoophile: It would be so nice to have a cat here with us.

Pedophile: Better yet, a kitten.

Extreme-sex lover: Meow??

Joke 3. (I’m a Jew, so I can tell Jewish jokes.)

Jews get everything after a lot of hardship and struggle. But they get everything.

Joke 4. (This is still a Jewish joke.)

Jesus is preaching: He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone!

Immediately, a stone is thrown in his direction.

Jesus: Mom, how many times did I ask you not to interrupt me when I’m at work?

Joke 5. (You won’t get it if you are not from an FSU country)

A boy is playing outside.

Mom: Vania, Vania! You need to come home now!

Vania: Is it because I’m hungry, Mommy?

Mom: No, it’s because you are cold.

And this is a joke from a real-life rabbi:

What do you do when you miss your mother-in-law? You aim and you shoot again.

On Fertility Treatments

I’ve been wanting to write something like the following for a long time but never got around to it. Now I don’t have to because blogger Flavia did it perfectly for me:

But although I absolutely do not think that it is selfish or narcissistic to decide in one’s 40s or even 50s that one wants to be a parent (or at any rate, it’s no more likely to be a sign of narcissicism than wanting children in one’s 20s or 30s is), I confess that I don’t get the desire to have one’s own biological children at all costs (I understand it as a strong preference, sure, but not as a need)–and I definitely do not understand the desire to go through pregnancy for its own sake. So I see a real difference between people in their late forties/fifties who either are lucky to get pregnant naturally, or who adopt, and those people who, because it makes them feel young and bogusly fertile and more like “real” mothers, go to great expense and incur quite extreme health risks in order to carry a child–a child not necessarily sharing any of their genetic material–to term.

I still haven’t arrived at a decision whether I want to have children. If I decide that I do, though, I will let things take their natural course. I’d never go to these great lengths that so many people go to, paying insane amounts of money and torturing their bodies with unhealthy, extremely dangerous treatments. I just can’t convince myself they are driven by love of children. There are so many lonely, miserable, abandoned children who can be fostered that no child lover would ever need to remain childless.

So if it isn’t love of children and a desire to give a good life to a child, what is it that drives people to these ruinous fertility treatments? I can’t find any other explanation than wanting to prove to some imaginary controlling agency that one is traditionally fertile and is, hence, a” real woman / man”. The danger here is that even before his or her birth, a child becomes some sort of an argument in a very weird, non-existent discussion.

Using children to reaffirm one’s masculinity or femininity in any way or manner is decidedly unhealthy. This is something that people do when they have no idea how to feel male or female through the only natural means: by practicing a healthy sexual life.

What Informs a Reading of a Text: A Teaching Story

Since people say they like my teaching story, here is a very disturbing one from today. I asked the students to read and analyze the following short passage from Sarmiento’s Facundo (if you don’t know what the text is about, that doesn’t matter because the passage is very clear and self-explanatory. Or so I thought):

So after we read this passage both at home and in class, I asked the students to tell me what tasks men and women performed in the society described here.

“Women stayed home and men worked!” students happily announced.

“Please, read the passage carefully,” I asked. “According to this text, what did men do?”

“They worked hard to feed their families!” was the unanimous response.

“Which words exactly make you think that?” I asked, growing desperate.

“It says right here that they exercised physical strength.”

“To do what?”

“To take care of their families and provide food for them. ‘All the burden of work’ is what they did. It says so right here. And women had to be thankful because men worked so hard to feed them,” the students insisted.

In case you are wondering, we read the text in English and the students are all English-speakers.

When I Read. . .

. . . something like this:

Nearly every one of these oppressions can be broken down into several different kinds of suboppressions

I don’t want to continue reading the article. Not only does it sound mind-numbingly boring in a really convoluted sort of way but I’m also sure that the word “privilege” is bound to appear right after that in the text. And many times, too.

Keep scratching, my friends, keep scratching really hard. Because not everybody has been convinced just yet that all progressives are interested in is navel-gazing in the form of breaking down oppressions into suboppressions into subsubsuboppressions.

Who wants to make a bet that comments will appear soon in this thread telling me that it’s my privilege that makes me dismiss privilege?

How Do You Deal With Guilt-Tripping?

FeMOMhist writes:

The piece that resonated the most with me was predictably Tom Lutz’s that began,”As an academic, I’m in a profession renowned for its apparently minuscule workweek, so I’ve been the butt of plenty of slacker insults, many that hit my inbox as I worked late at night.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “so you’re getting half salary to do nothing this year?”

I hear a version of this quite often. My strategy of dealing with this kind of comment is to light up in a huge smile and announce brightly, “Yes! I have TONS of free time to do absolutely anything I want. It’s the best job ever!” And then I proceed to describe gleefully how I can sleep and watch reality TV all the time while getting a good salary in the process. Even if it’s not true, it teaches folks who work for “Guilt Trips Unlimited” a lesson.

The same strategy works with people who see you with a plate of food and say, “Are you going to eat all of that? You obviously don’t watch what you eat at all.” My response is the same super happy, “Yes, I love food. I think I’m going to get two desserts after this one. I HUGE piece of cake and some ice-cream. It’s so great to just eat whatever you want, don’t you think?” It’s a good idea to belabor the point until you see some genuine misery on the interlocutor’s face.

This might sound cruel but remember, such guilt-trippers will dump their aggression on somebody who might be less resilient to this kind of comment. I believe I perform an important public service when I teach them than attempts to guilt-trip or shame can backfire.

It’s crucial not to respond to a guilt-tripper by becoming apologetic (“Oh no, I really work a lot, it’s just that today. . .”) or aggressive (“And what business is it of yours what I eat?”). Remember, a guilt-tripper is a vampire who feeds on the negative emotions s/he manages to awaken in you. Don’t give guilt-trippers what they want. Treating their words as a huge compliment, on the other hand, really makes them shut up and simmer in impotent anger.

If there is something people try to shame or guilt-trip you about on a regular basis, compose a response along these lines, practice (it’s very important to be able to deliver it with a huge happy grin and in an assertive unapologetic voice), and try it. I promise, it will be fun.

Just Wondering

Why do we never hear things like

Barack Obama, father of two, was elected President of the US in 2008


Lech Wałęsa, father of seven, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983

but we do hear things like

Tawakul Karman, Yemen mother of 3, among winners of Nobel Peace Prize

Did she receive the Nobel for motherhood, or something? Mind you, the article I linked to is written by a supposedly progressive journalist. I guess even progressives can’t control their machismo enough to stop talking about female politicians in ways they would have never applied to men. All that’s missing is a gushing “And she’s pretty, too!” at the end of the article. Well, I guess we have achieved some progress in the ways we discuss female activists.