four cycles of seven: my “likes” grow up

They say that every seven years all the parts of your physiological make up have completely changed, creating a brand-new you.  While this phenom is physical, they say it effects everything about you.

At twenty-eight, I started thinking about how I’ve changed.  And if not how I’ve changed then how what I like has changed. Didn’t “they” also say that we are what we like?

I’m not sure if the changes fall neatly into seven year periods, but I do know I don’t like Hefeweisen anymore. And I’m not sure if it actually means anything. Of course we all change, but maybe these seemingly trivial opinions add up to some kind of insight. Maybe they’re some evidence of “growing up” (i.e. Paul to George).  There are more and I’ll add them as they come up.

I used to be Now I am
sweet salty
yellow blue
pickles olives
dark chocolate (candy bar) milk chocolate (candy bar)
hefeweisen brown
paul george
manhattan annie hall
chocolate (ice cream) strawberry (ice cream)
east village west village
boat neck v neck
those goofy morning edition intros marketplace
prairie home companion radiolab
bootcut high-waisted
eyeliner lipstick
cinnamon raisin everything
matisse van gogh

I wrote this post after seeing The Social Network and reading Zadie Smith and reading Alexis Madrigal and talking to my dad and thinking a lot about sharing and over-sharing and the luxury of sharing.  Why am I sharing this information about myself?  I hope I’m taking the next step that Madrigal talks about — this isn’t banal sharing just to share. It’s looking at these seemingly trivial opinions and, in doing so, looking back at myself.  It’s not important that I used to like the color yellow, but the memory of painting my college dorm and then spilling yellow paint and then getting into a weird, passive aggressive fight with my roommate is significant.  And each entry in this table brings up a similarly important memory and observation about myself today.

As for sharing all of this with you, my hunch is that a lot of people share these kinds of memories that are triggered by looking back and seeing how your “likes” have changed.  I don’t kid myself — this post will be seen by a handful of people.  But looking back can be scaring and maybe my choosing to share can make it less so.  At least it does for me.

letters to the senators

Dear Senators Gillibrand, Schumer, Boxer, and Feinstein;

Our names are Tom Rabstenek and Sara Bremen and we are writing to share with you our story and our thoughts on marriage.  We met ten years ago at Wesleyan University, introduced by a mutual friend when Sara was a freshman and Tom a sophomore.  Not until three years later, though, did we begin dating.  Seven years have passed and we recently made the decision to get married, to publicly celebrate and acknowledge our partnership and commitment to each other.  We do not take this choice lightly.  We can’t wait.

While our choice to marry provides us and our family a thrilling sense of joy, it also gives us pause.  So many of our friends, family members, and fellow citizens do not have this choice because of their sexual orientation.  These people we have gone to school with, shared Thanksgivings with, and worked side-by-side with are denied the right to have their government recognize their lifelong commitment to each other.  A mutual commitment so powerful and fundamental to what makes us human deserves recognition and honor, not prejudice and discrimination.

Finding ourselves in this undeserved position of privilege, we feel it is our responsibility to seek out support for equal marriage rights.  That we have this right and the LGBTQ community does not is the result of intolerance, heterosexism, and religion’s influence in the affairs of the state.  We plan to be married by New York state.  If the state is to recognize marriages between two people, they must recognize the same union between any two people.  With a governmental body — as opposed to a religious or private organization — there is absolutely no room for ignorance or discrimination.  We believe in our government, but can only show our support when it protects citizens from prejudice rather than participates.

To deny any two people the right to marry is to treat them as second-class citizens.  It is to deny them not only the feeling we have as the journey of our partnership culminates in a time-honored celebration, but also the very real and very simple public acknowledgment of their marriage.  It is a matter of respect for our shared humanity.  It is also a matter of what puts the United States at the forefront of democracy and social justice; we feel ignoring this fight is a step backward for the entire country.

In an effort to have our marital celebration stand for the best reason we can think of–equality for all our friends, family, and fellow citizens–we included an opportunity to sign this letter in our wedding invitation.  We are joined in our sentiments and beliefs by an overwhelming number of our guests; please find their signatures enclosed.

Recently, we moved from Tom’s hometown of New York City to Los Angeles.  While we understand how the politics of the two states differ, we find it an excellent opportunity to speak with lawmakers from both sides of the country.  We see marriage today as a political act and turn to you, our most direct link to the lawmaking bodies of New York and California states and of the United States, to help us extend the right we have to marry to all our friends, family and fellow citizens.

Thank you for your time.  We appreciate the opportunity to speak with you directly about this issue that has found its way so close to us.  We are confident you will join us in our action towards equality for all Americans.

The Bechdel Test and Optimistic Hopes for TV

About a week ago, my friend introduced me to the Bechdel Test.  This test, originally intended for movies, is passed if the following three requirements are met:

1.  The movie must have at least two female characters.
2.  The female characters must talk to each other.
3.  The female characters must talk to each other about something besides men.

Here’s the original source of the rule from the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For (DTWOF), which I found here:

Awesome, right?  I mean awesome in that, oh shit, the movie industry totally sucks.

I’ve recently acquired cable television–something I haven’t had for a pretty long time.  An ad came on for TNT’s new cop drama, Rizzoli & Isles.  I think because I’m still in the honeymoon phase with my television, I somehow convinced myself that not only was this going to be a great show, but it was going to be a great show for women.

But you can see the source of my dreams.  Here’s a cop show where the two main characters are women and there in different departments but work together to solve hard-hitting crime so there’s got to be a lot to talk about–it’s got to pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors, right?

I know I shouldn’t have such high hopes for television.  But it’s so frustrating to have such a great set-up and ultimately be let down.  Maybe the second episode will be better?

Here’s what I noticed.

Jane Rizzoli’s such a tough guy that she gets teased about her looks often–by her mom (Don’t let your nose swell or you’ll never meet a husband) and by her fellow cops (“Are you wearing lipstick?!”).  Okay, this is somewhat excusable.  She really doesn’t seem to care what they’re saying.

What’s not excusable, as the LA Times has mentioned, is so little of Lorraine Braco, who plays Rizzoli’s mother.  Other reviews talk more about Angie Harmon, who plays Rizzoli, but I’m going to pull my television-ignorance card; I like her.

There’s also a lot of talk about clothes but it’s mostly because Maura Isles dresses well.  This also kinda works–she’s really smart about forensics evidence AND fashion.  Cool.

The things that really bugged me were the conversations between the two women–and here’s where the Bechdel Test is so important.  Rizzoli and Isles’ first big conversation is about a man.  Plain and simple.  And not just any man, but a man who could potentially come between them.  They’re immediately set up as competitors.  When Isles first appeared on-screen, I was praying that she was married or in a stable relationship to avoid this very situation (because if she’s not in a relationship then she must really want to be in one…).

There’s this very revealing line where Rizzoli asks Isles if she’s ever had a best friend.  Her answer?  No.  Of course not!!!  Girls never really have best friends!!  At least not smart girls.  No!  See, girls hate girls.  Too much competition.

Other little flags went up for me about the women being smart.  Is smart seen as annoying?  Are smart female characters annoying?  Or was she actually being annoying?  TBD.  On the other hand, something that Melissa Silverstein says happens again the second episode is Rizzoli playing sports.  As easy a choice–stereotypical even–as it may seem, seeing women play sports is always awesome and necessary to see as much as possible on television.

Now.  Maybe there is room for these two women to become best friends.  Isles fixes Rizzoli’s broken nose–it’s a great little moment.  And when Rizzoli needs a place to stay, she goes to Isles’ house.  It’s nice.  It’s what friends do.

About the guy–the character is an FBI officer who knows more than they do about the case and gets himself involved (because meddling is always what FBI agents do best).  It’s an interesting enough twist that he reveals about the case but I just didn’t need the weird flirtations Isles tries to have with him and he tries to have with Rizzoli.  It wasn’t necessary and almost seemed tacked on.  He isn’t drop dead gorgeous and I just didn’t buy Isles’ or Rizzoli’s smitten-ness.

One more line that stuck out was from the Hannibal Lector-alike bad guy who tells Rizzoli, after he’s captured her by tricking her into thinking her neighbor had been killed, that “her problem is that her heart rules her head.”  It’s a problem because women, who are ruled by emotion, can’t control themselves and always hurt themselves.  Even though it’s said by a bad guy who later loses, I just hate hearing that being emotional is a problem for a woman.

This line is somewhat redeemed, though, because, in the end, Rizzoli totally kicks his ass.  All by herself, she gets the bad guy.  Both of the them.

And I think that was enough for me at least to watch next week’s episode, which I’ve heard is somehow worse.  But I’m going to watch it.  I’m an optimist.  And I haven’t watched TV in years.

A Privileged Dilemma: My Name and Your Name

I’ve never liked my name.  Being the third or fourth Sara in most situations, labeled Sara B for most of my life, and being misspelled as Sarah so often I used to think I was spelling my name incorrectly, turned me away from any real devotion.  My middle name is not cute, like Beth or Heart or Ivy, names I ached for in fourth grade, but straightforward: Graham, my mother’s maiden name.  And my last name, Bremen, is, well, fine.  And, if anything, it provided (finally) an alternate to Sara when I hit college; Brem, Brems, Bremify, and/or Brem somehow took over for a while.  Brief bouts with nicknames (Sally?  Graham?  Mike?) never really stuck.

And so, being Sara Graham Bremen for the past 28 years has not been a big deal one way or another.

Then I decided to get married.

I’m marrying my partner of the past seven years, Tom.  A completely wonderful man, a kind and patient man with a great sense of humor and really nice eyes.  A total catch.  A catch with a very different last name.

My decision to change or not to change my name has suddenly become a huge dilemma.  Sara Graham Bremen is now more than a reference or label, it’s become a symbol.  While most people I’ve spoken with assure me I can’t go wrong with whatever I choose to do, I find this decision a fascinating issue that’s taken me through considerations of family, history, and feminism.  In no way do I mean to speak for an entire generation or gender, but simply to offer my points of view as I start down this path.

I start with my own parents.  Although they got divorced when I was ten, my mother never took my father’s last name.  She was Ms. Graham and he was Mr./Prof/Dr. Bremen.  Now, there are two issues at hand here: there’s the divorce and there’s the (lack of) name change.  I think I can safely say that any anger I have at my parents not having the same last name is due to their divorce, not my mother’s choice about her name.  In fact, I really admire my mom’s commitment to her own name.  I appreciated the tradition that both my brother and I have her maiden name as our middle name.  That being said, it was tough growing up and not being The Bremens.  Or The Graham-Bremens.

So, what if I didn’t change my name until Tom and I had kids?  I’ll establish myself professionally with my own name, but put the kids first when they show up and give them that sense of family unity I missed.

What message, though, does this choice send the neighbors, let alone my yet unborn daughter and/or son?  While on one hand it says, We’re a happy family yea Mom and Daddy.  On the other, I think it still says, Mom can be as feisty as she wants until Tom the IV and Tom the V come along.  Then, you know, make some lasagna.
Here’s where my friends say, Who the fuck cares what other people think?  Your kids will want a mom, not a symbol.  You’re making the decision not because you’re being tamed but because you want to have a symbolic reference for your family.  You’re obviously not going to stop being feisty once Junior is born.  You’re making this decision for whatever reason you want and that’s all that matters.

Okay.  I get that.  But it’s tough.  Regardless of whatever judgements those other people make, they will see no outward sign of Graham or Bremen.  As it is, I’m wearing this (beautiful, shiny, omg I totally love it, honey) ring and Tom has no outer sign that he’s engaged.

Here’s where some other options emerge.  We could hyphenate.  We could make up our own last name: Bremstenek.  That’s kinda cool.  If the family we’re creating is a combination of my family and his family, then our family name can reflect that.

There’s an argument here that I’m making a big deal over potentially very little.  My immediate family will have a great sense of unity and tradition regardless of what our last name(s) are.  Maybe a name is not a symbol, maybe it’s just a word.  After all, Sara Graham Bremen seemed to matter very little for the past quarter of a century.

But it’s not just a word.  At least not anymore.  There’s so much weight attached to last names.  Now, Tom’s family is closer and more concerned with tradition than mine and I doubt he would go for Bremstenek.  Their tradition is not anti-woman, it is pro-family, pro-history.  It just sucks that I, as a woman, fall on the losing end of the tradition–it’s not my name being passed on because of my gender.  At least that’s the tradition.  I do know of a few couples who have taken the woman’s last name–he’s changed his name to hers.

And here maybe I should turn to my gay friends.  What do/would they do without a gendered tradition to follow?  One friend said there he didn’t see a definite path to follow and so he and his partner would do what they wanted.  His partner really wanted their kids to have his last name and he did have strong feelings one way or the other.  Any other thoughts out there?

I see two traditions to follow: one is to take Tom’s name and one is to follow my mom’s example and keep mine.  As a feminist, I feel obligation towards the latter.  Herein, though, lies what I think is an often misconstrued notion of feminism.  What I see feminism stand for is just the opposite; it stands for not being bound to any tradition but having the option, the agency, and the responsibility of making your own decision.  Because of what my feminist mothers and grandmothers (and fathers and grandfathers) fought for, I have the privilege of facing this dilemma.  Whatever choice I make, having made it is a feminist act.

Can I trust other people to read my name, note that it’s the same as my husband’s, and still say, she consciously made that choice?  No.  Well, probably not.  And again, why should I care what other people think?

I think it’s because I feel some need to prove that I did make a choice and the only way to prove that is not to change my name.  That is, changing my name does not somehow feel a real choice because it’s the paternally traditional thing to do.  Even in the 21st century.  Do I still feel a need to fight against paternalistic traditions?  I think the answer is always.  Though in the end, what I really want is to have my cake and eat it too.  I want to have a symbolically cohesive family while still standing up for women’s rights.

disclaimer: This is my first attempt at “personal blogging.”  Please excuse any self-indulgence.

**Follow up: This great Wikipedia article about Married and Maiden Names describes, like, the rest of the world outside my western-centric point of view.