Friday, May 25, 2007

More Show

I was 5 when I got my own TV set. Maybe I was 4. I could watch
whatever I wanted. There weren't that many stations back then, so there
was little worry that I would be corrupted by Fox News or some other
smarmy filth.

I loved my TV set. For nearly 10
years, I was an only child; but what I lacked in siblings I made up for
in fictional friends: Kermit, Danger Mouse, Jack Tripper, and my first
crush, Fonzie. All of these friends lived in the warm, glowing innards
of my constant, reliable roommate. It was a happy childhood.

So why, my mother wants to know, am I denying my own child the same joy?

my son was born, I horrified Mom by declaring two things: That I would
nurse, and that Zev could not watch TV until he was 2. I was giving him
the boob, but not the boob tube. Mom was outraged.

Kids need TV, she told me. How was he going to learn anything?

found the argument curious, since my mom had been a teacher for more
than 30 years, but I decided not to debate her. Kids under 2 learn by
doing, hearing, touching – and, of course, by sticking things in their
mouths. Grandparents learn by seeing.

I figured she'd
see what an engaged and intellectually curious baby he'd turn out to
be, and she'd drop her TV demands before the first year was through.

I smiled patiently during the early arguments: Zev
would be the only kid in preschool who didn't know Elmo. How will he
learn to talk? "Baby Einstein" teaches the kids classical music.

showed off Zev's first Elmo doll, pointed out his remarkable mastery of
language and bragged about the always-running iPod in the baby's room
programmed with everything from classical to rap (He has shown a
preference for Tchaikovsky over Mozart and Busdriver over the Beastie
Boys – beat that, Einstein.).

This failed to move Mom,
who believed I was somehow doing injury to my son by denying him the
joys of "The Wiggles." She'd call to tell me about all the fabulous
children's programming her friends' grandkids were consuming. Why, oh
why, couldn't Zev join in the fun? 

She went so far as to suggest – based on something she'd seen on "The Tonight Show"– that if I exposed Zev to the "Baby Einstein" video series, he'd become an instant music prodigy.

even said I was likely damaging Zev's attention span. When he finally
does get to watch TV, she said, he won't have the discipline to sit
still for 20 to 30 minutes at a time and reap the full benefits of
those cathode rays.

I'm sure at first Mom thought I'd
break. That I'd see how difficult it is to raise a child without
television, and I'd cave to the reassuring baby-sitting abilities of
Barney. When I didn't, she called me "too strict," and warned me that
my son was going to rebel one day. I tried to picture what this would
look like. He'd spend his 20s binging on "Max Headroom" reruns? Marry a
Philo Farnsworth descendant? Run a network?

never know. Last week we introduced Zev to television – one month to
the day before his second birthday (See, Mom? I'm not strict.). Hubby
and I TiVo'd a few episodes of "Sesame Street" and sat down to watch
one with him. Perhaps you've seen it? It was brought to you by the
letter "V" and by the number 16.

Zev took to TV with
aplomb. He confused Grover with Cookie Monster – a common rookie
mistake – but other than that, my mom's worries have proven unfounded.
Even with a two-year delay, Zev managed to laugh at everything Elmo
did. He looked deeply concerned for Telly Monster when Telly expressed
trepidation about trying a square-shaped sandwich. He even counted
along with The Count.

His gaze didn't wander, and his comprehension of the various story lines didn't falter. Zev didn't just watch TV, damn it, he understood it.
And when the final credits were running, Zev said something that I'm
sure I'll hear time and again. Something that will make my mom proud.
After we turned the TV off, Zev pointed to the screen, and like every
normal television-watching toddler everywhere, he demanded: More show.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gender Politics 101: Or Why Hillary Won't Win

My husband thinks I hate women.

Not only do I hate women,
according to Hubby, but all women hate women. In his view, we double-X
chromosomed creatures arise every morning in our feminine loveliness,
look at ourselves in the mirror and say, "What a beautiful, smart,
wonderful woman I am. I hope my husband's pretty co-worker gets a skin

This, apparently, is the only way Hubby sees fit to
explain my belief that a woman will never be elected president. When I
– and all my girlfriends (I have girlfriends, despite Hubby's
assertion) – say that Hillary won't win, Hubby gets apoplectic and
claims, "You're the one keeping her down.

"If she doesn't win, it's because women hate her," he says. 

is true that women have the capacity to despise other women. We are
also pretty good at excoriating men, not to mention vermin and certain
species of mold. But to say that the only thing keeping a woman from
being elected president is other women completely baffled me.

Brill heard Hubby's theory, she said, "But I'm going to vote for her. I
still don't think she'll win, but I'm going to vote for her anyway."

eyes practically popped out of his skull: "By saying that you don't
think she could win, you're spreading the kind of negativity about her
that will make her not win."

Brill and I blinked at him a few
times, both wondering whether he'd secretly been watching Oprah and was
quoting to us from "The Secret."

My friends tried to explain
it to Hubby, get him to understand that our calling other people sexist
doesn't make us sexist. We just believe that, unconsciously, most male
voters want their presidents to possess certain pendulous organs along
with strong resumes.

Hubby wouldn't hear any of it. The only
thing keeping Hillary – or any woman – from the presidency is the
cattiness of other women.

I had no idea that Hubby had this
view of gender relations. He must think girls' night out is like one
long scene from "Heathers." That the Red Tent got its name from all the
back-stabbing he imagines goes on inside. Women hate women, and our
disbelief in the possibility of a woman getting men to vote for her was
all the proof Hubby needed.

Ha, ha, ha. Isn't Hubby silly? Oh,
wait, what's this? Shortly after Hubby began calling me a sexist,
stories emerged from France's election – the one in which Ségolène
Royal lost.

At the time, I had figured gender had nothing to do
with Royal's defeat. She's a socialist. She was up against a
right-winger. I had figured Nicolas Sarkozy's win was all about
ideology. But in the days following the election, stories were written
with headlines like "Women shun Royal," and "Sarkozy gets the women's

None of the stories suggested that women voted for
Sarkozy because they preferred his policies. Instead, the pieces
focused on how much women really didn't like Royal.

One paper
quoted a female Sarkozy operative saying, "Her 'I'm beautiful, look at
me, I've got four children' might impress a supermarket checkout girl,
but we don't use that card."


The stories left me
wondering: Is Hubby right? Are women the only thing standing in the way
of a female president? Do women hate women?

No. Of course not, Leslie assured me.

Saying that the country is too sexist to vote for a woman doesn't make me a woman-hater.

is basically arguing that we're making things worse via the so-called
soft bigotry of low expectations. Incorrect. We're just commenting on
the current state of the playing field," Leslie reassured me.

Thank you, sister, for helping me through a critical moment of doubt. I
will no longer question whether my fatalistic view of gender politics
is a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy. I will not wonder whether women
inevitably turn on each other. Whether we're our own worst enemies. I
will rest assured in the knowledge that women evaluate each other based
on our qualifications and experience – not on petty jealousies or weird
Darwinian dictates.

But I still kinda hope Hubby's pretty co-worker develops a skin disease.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

You Can Just Call Me "Mayrav"

I'm in a bar with three men. Three very masculine men who refer to
each other by vaguely vulgar nicknames, drink copiously and talk about
their fondness for "fun-loving women."

I haven't come to San
Francisco to be drunk under the table by a guy named "Golden Flow." I
have come to San Francisco to attend a lesbian couple's baby shower.
But I'm staying with Lisa, and she's clearly in love with one of these
fellas, so, I'm happy, at least, to toast to that.   

The guys
we're drinking with go way back: They served in the military together
in Okinawa. Lisa and I go way back, too. So much so, we know intimate
details about each other's lives. Like our names. The same cannot be
said for the drinking buddies.

The men are all "hashers,"
members of a mostly military social club that – as they explain it – is
known for hosting biweekly races that end in excessive drinking and the
occasional life-threatening vehicular stunt. The only other detail I
learn about hashing is that every participant is benighted with a

No one questions his nickname. No one uses any name
other than his nickname (Lisa's man honestly couldn't tell us the real
names of the men we were meeting that night). And no one really answers
questions about his nickname.

In fact, each time I inquire about a name – I take it you weren't named "Golden Flow" because you rock the mic– I'm shrugged off.   

something sacrosanct about the nicknames, and it becomes clear that I'm
annoying everyone when I keep asking the guys to explain each one.

don't normally hang out with men like this. I should say Men like this.
My guys are more likely to launch into a debate about "Lost" than pick
a fight at an Irish bar in Japan. They throw punch lines, not punches.
And none of them have nicknames.

With few notable exceptions, I
have never hung out with men who ascribe nicknames to their friends,
and now I know why: It's an impenetrably elite, masculine thing to do.
"Hulk Hogan," was likely not his given name. And he'd probably ignore
me, too, if I prodded him about it. A nickname is not just about the
moniker; it's about branding someone as a member of your group – and
keeping your Average Joes out.

The monikers I have had as a
kid have all been derivatives of my actual name. I've never been a
"Pinky" or a "Flashdance" or anything cool like that. One of my former
Register colleagues occasionally calls me "Pinhead," but – I think for
HR reasons – it never caught on 

Listening to stories about
"Slap" and "Care Bear," and other racier nicknames, I suddenly feel as
if I've missed out on a significant social bonding experience. Women
don't give each other nicknames. We pour our hearts out to each other,
offer advice when it's needed and support even when it's not. But I
can't imagine Lisa ever turning to me and saying, "Hey, Curly-Que,
how's it hanging?"

When I find myself nodding off in my brew, I
signal to Lisa that it may be time to leave the cast of "Top Gun" at
the bar and head home. The whole way back, I think about how ridiculous
the monikers are – and how badly I want one.

Best way to get
a nickname, I figure, is to give one, so I work on creating a handle
for Lisa. She's a horseback-riding, museum-curating, animal-loving
artist. It should be easy to come up with a name, but all I can think
of are funny, fond memories.

Like the time we showed up to
breakfast wearing the identical outfit and having ordered the exact
same meal. The all-nighters we pulled. The way we can never remember
each other's birthdays – even though they're only a few weeks apart.

go to bed, calling out, "Good night …" searching for something to say,
and coming up with nothing funny or clever or goofy. Lisa isn't a
"Slap" or a "Toad" or a "Golden Flow." She's a real and legitimate
friend. So I settle for what she's always been to me … "Good night,
Lisa," I say.

"Good night, Mayrav."

No, I didn't get a nickname. But I guess I don't need one.