Well, THIS has been an interesting week…I recently published a snarky retort to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s blathering on about what women really want in the form of a graded essay. Despite the fact that I was inspired to do so by the large number of intellectual (and SEXY) Orthodox Jewish female friends who were posting his Huffington Post piece with a collective “WTF?!?” and “STFU, Shmuley!” I still received a fair amount of criticism. I found the feedback informative, fascinating, accurate in some cases, missing the point in other cases, but all-around illuminating. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions, whether the commenters were lauding me (thanks, guys!), quoting me in other publications, (The Jewish Daily Forward), or calling for my head on a platter in the name of the English Language and ENGLISH TEACHERS EVERYWHERE.
I’m grown-up enough to admit to mistakes, and in love with language enough to appreciate its defenders. I’m also vain enough to enjoy the many commenters who said, “It’s a VEHICLE, people! You’re missing the point if you’re fixating on her grammar mistakes!” or “Aliza is SPOT ON, and Shmuley needs to TAKE A SEAT.” At any rate, even though bloggers are strongly cautioned against wading into the comments section, I took a chance, dove in, learned a thing or two, and was inspired again to grade a paper – this time, my own. If you’re so inclined, I invite you to read the notes that follow my self-graded paper, which offer greater detail and a more serious critique of Boteach’s work and mine.
ON THE MATTER OF STYLE:
1. I was an 8th-grade Social Studies teacher in the mid-1990s. Grammatically, and stylistically, this is how I would have graded it, were it handed to me as I printed it out.
2. Had a student pointed out that I mis-corrected “loath” to “loathe,” I would have congratulated him and given him extra points for catching a mistake of mine. I agree with the ones who criticized me saying if I was going to publicly correct someone’s grammar, I’d better know my stuff. I’ll happily take that one on the chin.
3. Had a student argued that it is actually okay in a formal essay handed to a teacher to begin a sentence with “but” or “and,” or end a sentence with a preposition, I would have brought him to the English teacher on my team and asked him. I would have happily abided by whatever determination the English teacher made. As a Social Studies teacher, I would have made the correction, but not deducted points. SPELLING COUNTED and was another story entirely.
4. I am an admitted dinosaur grammatically – I still even put two spaces after a period. (I’m sorry. I took typing class for years, and it is how Mrs. Seagal pounded it into my junior high school head.) I know it now makes people twitch, and I am trying to adapt to new rules like this, but in a formal paper/essay, I still do my damnedest to NEVER end a sentence with a preposition or begin a sentence with “but” or “and.” I would have held my students to the same standard, though as I noted in #3, I would not have deducted points. My rules may be archaic, but in certain areas of writing, I am extremely resistant to the de-formalization which seems to be the trend.5. I would NEVER have condescended or used sarcasm in grading an actual 8th-grader’s paper. My students were tender, and learning, and in most cases, trying their best. Shmuley, on the other hand…
ON THE MATTER OF SUBSTANCE:
1. Some have argued, genuinely, that Shmuley accurately describes the problem in their marriages, and prescribes, indeed, what they wish were the case. They appreciated hearing a man telling other men to not relegate their wives to being business partners and to make sure wives know husbands still have passion for them. I’m glad some felt validated by what he wrote, and I certainly don’t begrudge Shmuley a connection with people through his writing. HOWEVER…why is this the case only for women? Do men not want to know their spouses still find them sexually attractive, or feel passion for them? Can we please speak as PEOPLE in this regard?
2. If he is to argue that a woman “primarily” and “principally” want to be lusted after above all else in a marriage, he’s better be ready to back it up with something substantive. If he states “It’s an easy point to prove,” he’d better be capable of proving it. Instead, he offers platitudes and generalities which may be true in many cases, but which can also be disproved and disputed with such ease it makes his assertions laughable.
3. If, in reading Shmuley’s writing, I have to constantly tell myself, “Wait, that can’t be what he means,” and/or “Remember – he’s just speaking in broad generalities, even though so many of them are unsupported,” and “You must be kidding me,” then his writing is poor. Easy fixes would have been a few simple phrases, such as “In my experience as a counselor…” or “Please understand I don’t speak for everyone…” or the addition of some humility, like “I recognize I can’t possibly know what’s in the the psyche of all womankind, but here are my thoughts.”
4. If in reading MY original corrections/notes, you have to remind yourself, “She’s just using satire,” and/or “Well, maybe she’s not really a teacher,” then MY execution was poor. Easy fixes would have been briefly specifying my experience as a teacher many moons ago, and double-checking some of my grammar/punctuation corrections.
5. I did, in fact, precede the grading by identifying it as snark, so those who complained “It was too snarky” were adequately warned. However, it was lazy of me to assume everyone would understand my grading his essay was simply a vehicle to address his childish and sophomoric thinking, and my way of putting him in his place – NOT a way to show how well I know the rules of grammar and punctuation.
6. If he is going to hold up the Greys as marital role models, presume to tell men what women want, declare unequivocally that nearly a husband’s uncontrollable lust for his wife is her CORE NEED – even if he is CORRECTLY DESCRIBING the marital situation of some – he can expect to be accused of coming dangerously close to endorsing marital rape and rape culture as a whole. Those who defend his statements with a casual, “Aw, come on. you know that’s not what he meant,” are letting his cultural tone-deafness (on a serious and gut-wrenching topic) slide in a way I find troubling.
I learned after posting my piece last week that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was Michael Jackson’s “spiritual advisor.” While that made me laugh, I also learned that he is the same rabbi who since 2006 has been regularly arguing that too much breastfeeding can hurt a marriage, as it “de-eroticizes” her breasts for the husband. In the same vein, he expounded that a man should not witness the birth of his children, as it de-sexualizes his wife’s vagina for him. (He can be in the room – just don’t peek between her legs!)
Despite his subsequent “clarifications,” his pre-occupation with “saving” marriages by making sure the wife’s sexuality is front, center, and constantly heralded makes me ill. If he is well-meaning, he is inept at showing it. There are ways to convey that sexuality is critically important in marriage without reducing women (and ONLY WOMEN, mind you) to principally sexual creatures. His sexual zealotry is an insult to thinking adults of both genders. I maintain my assertion that he needs to zip it. I’m not sorry I called him out. I AM sorry my way of doing it wasn’t more effective.