The Danger of “Dress Like You Deserve Respect”

When a Hill staffer told Malia and Sasha Obama to “dress like you deserve respect not a spot at the bar” the reaction was pretty much as I expected: outrage combined with some discussion about their length of their skirts: variations of “their skirts are a little short, but that was out of line,” and “they are teenagers who are years from being able to drink.”

What I didn’t see was anyone saying “actually, they deserve respect no matter what they wear or what faces they make (or don’t make) because they are people.”

And, while we are are at it, a bar vs. respect should not be an either or proposition. Women getting dressed for a night out, regardless of their skirt length deserve respect. As do women dressed for any other occasion.

This “dress like you deserve respect” message seems like the other side of the “she was asking for it” coin. We need to teach both our girls and boys that clothes do not make the person, and all people deserve to be treated as human and with dignity. No one was asking for it. Everyone has humanity.

Stories about college rape, about police brutality*, about black boys in hoodies, and about first daughters in skirts show us how far we are from internalizing that lesson.

* separate post on this to come

Cooking, Newspapers, and Love

IMG_0226My grandmother cooked and baked. Out of duty, out of necessity, out of love.

For most of the 69 years she was married to my grandfather, she was also in charge of feeding the family. Of making sure dinner was on the table every night.

She was a working woman even when she was a girl, getting jobs to help support her family from the time she was 16, when her father died. She went back to school when my mother was in elementary school and then had a proud carreer as a reading teacher in New York City public schools. In a jewlery box on her dresser, sits a tiny lapel pin from the association of New York public employees.

She cooked because that’s what women of her era did, but she also fed the people she loved because she loved them. She made us brownies and brisket and said “eat, eat” and “what can I get you” and “eat, eat” and “what can I make you?” What she meant was “I love you. I made this for you. I worry about you. I love you. I love you.”

My grandfather read the newspaper. When he died, it had  been decades since he had been on the subway–I don’t think he has ever used a metro card. Still, he folded the New York Times the way New Yorkers, subway riders, did.

He  was an artist, a lover of all things beautiful, he painted landscapes, city scenes and  rural scenes, portraits of strangers, and portaits of people he loved. The sound of birds made him smile. As did a grandchild modeling a new dress, a clear blue sky, a painted masterpeiece, a symphony, an opera. He would hum and sing and whistle. He also demanded things to be just so. Coffee made with the milk left over from his cereal, soup at just the right temperature, vanilla ice cream rather than chocolate, the whole newspaper, all of the facts.

My grandfather complained he was getting older, he couldn’t read all of the newspaper anymore. “Now I only read the front section, the opinion section, the sports section, and  arts,” he said. Once, we tried to give him the large-print edition of the New York Times, and he was furious to discover that it wasn’t the whole paper. It was mainly feature articles that the editors seemed to think older people would be interested in. “What is this?” He said. “There’s no news in here; nothing about what’s going on in the world.”

My grandmother claimed she didn’t remember recipes anymore. Every thanksgiving, my mom would call her and ask how to make the turkey and the stuffing. Every year, my grandmother would claim she didn’t remember and then provide detailed lists of ingredients and directions.

* * *

My Papa Marty, Dr.  Marcus Kaplan, died on Saturday, 13 months after my grandmother died.

On Saturday night, I stood at the sink and washed dishes. When I was done with the ones in the sink, I took the dishes out of the dishwasher and washed those. It was too late too cook or bake; I don’t know how to paint or sculpt like my grandfather did.  But I wanted to do something. Even in a tiny way,IMG_0045 I wanted to be helpful. Like my grandmother was for so much of her life and wanted to be all the way until the end, even when she was frail, like my grandfather was in epic ways, especially at the end of my grandmother’s life. I needed to have my hands moving. I wanted actions that said “I love you. I miss you. I worried about you.”


I honestly can’t believe that my grandfather lived that long after my grandmother died.  In the 29 years I knew my grandmother, I remember only a couple of times that they were apart for even more than 10 minutes. It was such a strange, infrequent occurrence that I had convinced myself that I had dreamt a time that my grandmother was in my house without my grandfather.

The feelings of missing and loss for my grandfather is new and raw and completely entwined with my missing my  grandmother. They were a unit, and so I miss them both.

* * *

There is a newspaper fingerprint on my college diploma. It was a fitting end to four years devoted mainly to The Columbia Spectator. But over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about that fingerprint and my grandfather.


My grandfather wore a University of Pittsburgh ring until the day he died. He was  a proud  Pittsburgh Panther, the son of a pickle seller and  a member of the Dental School class that walked across the dais, received their diplomas, and joined the army. He treated both soldiers and prisoners of war. He was proud of his education and of mine; he suggested jokingly that I carry my grad school diploma around and hang it in any room I entered.  What he meant was “I love you. I’m proud of you. I love you.”

But that newsprint fingerprint floats into my mind and I don’t I think about my grandfather’s education and the blessings of being not only third generation college educated but also third-generation graduate school educated. I think about my grandfather folding the newspaper and about my standing behind him as he learned to navigate the New York Times app on the iPhone. Ironically, it wasn’t until he died that I realized that my incessant need for facts and information, my love of the news isn’t only a product of the information age I grew up  in. It’s a gift from my grandfather. I don’t have his talents but I have his thirst for knowledge. And I hope I have his capacity for love and for humor.

Today, I missed my grandparents and so I read the news. I missed my grandparents and so I planned menus. I made lists of ingredients and read directions. I thought about information and creation. I read, and planned, but what I meant was,  “I love you. I miss you. I love you.”


Game Change the Movie: A Review

The best parts of the movie Game Change was the look of panic that Ed Harris gives his staff when his audience turns really nasty against Obama. It gives a moment of humanity to a movie that otherwise is ripped straight from the headlines. And, while that might be enticing for a Law and Order episode, for a political movie, it feels like watching what I lived through by reading the news just last year.

It could be that I am just too much of a news junky to enjoy this movie, because everything felt like old hat. Plus, it seemed particularly mean to Palin–nothing in the movie surprised me, but after the first few scenes, we rarely see the charisma and following that she had. I would have liked to see a lot more about the people who were die hard Palin fans and fewer scenes (there were so many!) that said over and over again that she was unprepared for this.

Julianne Moore got the accent, but she wasn’t given much else to work with. It was basically just straight quotes from Palin. There were glimpses into how the campaign destroyed Palin, but there could have been more about how the campaign changed her personally.

The other parts that really worked in the movie were the interactions between the McCain staffers. Those moments were interesting and those characters showed a wide range of emotions and frustrations. I would have loved to see a movie that focused almost exclusively on them.

I am currently sitting in an event at which John Heilman, Mark Halperin — co-authors of the book– and Len Amato, the president of HBO films are speaking. Halperin just said that the movie was not only about the principals, but also about the staff. I really would have liked to see a whole lot more about the staff. I once heard that the television show The West Wing was originally not going to have anyone be the president; it was just going to be the staff, and sometimes the President’s back would be glimpsed but nothing more. They clearly scrapped that very early on in the West Wing development process, but it might have been something facsinating — a movie about McCain/Palin staff and about the Palin  fans–to do with this particular plot, where everyone already knows the principals.

Heilman, the other author of the book, said that the chapters of the book that dealt with Palin were “a series of big set pieces,” big events that shaped the campaign. Ultimately, the movie hits those set pieces, but rarely goes much deeper.