Lara Schwartz

Stuff I think

Lara Schwartz

Lara Schwartz
Washington, District of Columbia, USA
December 24
Personal Capacity
Lara Schwartz lives in Washington, DC. She has been a civil rights advocate and political writer for long enough to have two ulcers.

JANUARY 6, 2011 1:26PM

Aharon Friedman's woman in chains, pay to pump, and a lemur

Rate: 1 Flag

For your consideration, I offer the following items from the news. 

Item 1:  If you like civil divorce (has anyone ever witnessed one of those?), you’ll loooove religious divorce. 

See, in civil divorce, you have to tell the court who you are, that you can’t stand each other anymore (but not why, which is a shame for those of us who are gifted at turning a phrase, as my readers have astutely pointed out), where you think your child should be, and where your money and stuff is going.  The court is not interested in the Subaru or the life-sized portrait of Vince Lombardi.  It does not require you to scream “I love crepes” in peril of a broken arm (See Will Ferrell, Talladega Nights 2006).  Civil divorce is singularly uninterested in which one of you is the bigger rectum.  Often in civil divorce, kids can become a fulcrum for all sorts of naughtiness, but our society is getting better at being worse at marriage.  Progress.  Once the court says you’re done, you’ve got nothing but your nasty personalities, lingering anger, and unavoidable knowledge of your sexual shortcomings to hurl around at your ex.  And usually, they miss.  The courts grant you a permanent bye-bye.

Sound great?  You’re a freaking idiot.

But on to religious divorce, which is chicken poo to civil divorce’s chicken salad.  At least in Orthodox Jewish marital law, the future-ex husband has a trump card to play.  If he doesn’t grant the future-ex wife a “get,” she becomes an agunah—a woman in chains.  She cannot remarry within the religious community.  A subsequent marriage will be legal to the IRS, but not kosher to her neighbors and rabbi.  No one who respects the religious law will marry her anyway.

Recently the case of Aharon Friedman and Tamar Epstein’s divorce made the papers. Their civil divorce went off without a hitch, but Friedman refused Epstein a get, rendering her an agunah.  It appears that an inadequate custody settlement was his motive.  The judge granted him weekend visits in Philadelphia, where the child lives.  Because of the Sabbath, Friedman “could not” see his daughter before Sunday.  As an aside, I challenge the accuracy of “could not.”  In fact he made a choice not to visit his daughter, favoring a proscription on Sabbath driving over the time with her.  Standing on principle is good—if it’s the right principle.

Meanwhile the agunah “cannot” remarry and get on with her life.  Again, the quotations—she “cannot” without losing membership in the group that created agunah status and refuses to lift it.  She can, only at the risk of losing her place in a community that insists Friedman has her in chains. 

Now, in this community, not granting a get is a bad, bad thing.  So much so that protesters went to Friedman’s home and shouted for him to free Tamar from her chains.   So much so that a rabbi said that the messiah will not come as long as there is one agunah in the world (but he ain’t handing out get out of jail free cards for a detail so minor as that).

My question is who is The Man here? The family courts, Sabbath laws, religious marital law, Aharon Friedman, or (gasp) the community?  They accuse Friedman of chaining Epstein, but are equally culpable in her imprisonment, and equally capable of granting her freedom.  Who is The Man?

Item  2: John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management (that’s the HR office for your guv’mint), recently unveiled the feds’ new policy on breastfeeding mothers in the federal workforce. 

If Berry were not the highest ranking gay person in the administration, I would make a joke about his looking forward to seeing more nipples.  As it is, I’ll just thank him for his efforts on fair workplace policies.

So here is the policy in a nutshell: women are entitled to a private place to pump breast milk.  They are entitled to use two 15-minute breaks for same, and to be excused from meetings during these times when possible.  Whether these breastfeeding breaks should be paid work hours is left to the supervisors’ discretion.   This policy tracks those found in many large workplaces employing white-collar workers with more bargaining power than, say, women shucking oysters on their feet all day and at the mercy of their foremen for bathroom breaks.  These policies are becoming the norm in jobs where women are not at the mercy of elders’ bowels and call buttons or per-piece sewing pay.  

 In other words, this policy is about what you can expect if you’ve got enough power to make demands or at least forceful requests, and are visible enough that your mistreatment would be newsworthy.

The policy is progress nonetheless.

Read the comments on and Google the internets for professional mommy opinions, and you’ll find that many people are unsatisfied.  The usual crankypants don’t-work-and-you-wouldn’t-need-this posters said “don’t work and you wouldn’t need this.”  Semi-literate Angry People were appalled that Obama is permitting women to bring screaming babies into the work place.  

Just wow.

Professional Mommies Who Know that Breast is Best are outraged that the time is not necessarily compensated or applied toward standard work hours.  “Anti-woman! Anti-breastfeeding! Not enough! Valerie Jarrett used to be a lobbyist for Nestle, maker of evil formula and chocolate Quik.” Let’s all go flip a nip at John Berry!!  And on.

Child-free and already-done-that posters respond that pumping is not working, and that while the employers should make breastfeeding possible, they shouldn’t have to pay for it.  Nor should other employees have to work to earn money while their breastfeeding colleagues read magazines and listen to the suction pump purr.

So who’s The Man?  Does the policy rob taxpayers of up to ½ hour per day of efforts from 0.5% of federal employees? Must the federal government pay for breastfeeding to be deemed supportive of it? Are we, gasp, Not as Good as France?

Here are the questions that bunch the collective panties of millions of women who are neither pumping nor serving their employers nor watching their children while reading this:

What role do the breastfeeding mothers play in this power dynamic?  Many have to work—at least to own a single-family home and take a modest vacation every year.  Some choose to work as a fed—for money or fulfillment or both.  Formula is available.  It is not “best” but it is available, including for supplementing.  Everyone knows that being a working mother is about as “best” as cleaning peanut butter off of cat fur.  The kids do fine, but we trade our youth and vitality for front butts and middle schoolers who will find us embarrassing.

Does the choice to provide breast milk exclusively have anything in common with the choice to hold out for a get?  The approval of your community is better than being an agunah, but refusing to be relegated to agunah status is a choice.  If we roll our eyes at Epstein’s choice, how should we judge the choice to pump at work? At what point is choosing not-so-best the tough thing to do? 

On a personal note, I chose to breast feed and pump at work, with my pumping time unpaid. This forced me to extend my work hours, including working after bedtime.  I wouldn’t have asked to be paid for my time pumping.  It was time that my clients did without me, for one.  More importantly, my entire organization was funded by donors who entrusted us with their money in order to fight for their rights.  Any time I spent or highlighter I used could have come out of the pocket of some 20-year-old in Oklahoma who wants to come out but can’t. That knowledge colored my opinion.  

Would it be different if Halliburton were footing the bill?  Taxpayers mostly fund Halliburton. 

I will pause to note that Microsoft Word’s dictionary recognizes “Halliburton” but not “Leche.”  Breast Warriors, attack!!!!

Feminism, in my opinion, involves not only rights but responsibilities.  We not only have the right to an equal workplace, but the responsibility to be tough and driven.  In my highly flammable opinion, we have to earn that flexibility by being good colleagues and performing every aspect of the job as well as anyone else.  Then we earn the right to reach that result a slightly different way. 

In my super-combustible opinion, Motherhood is a natural right, but a job isn’t.   Freedom to make choices without the consent of any man is a natural right.  Freedom to receive benefits from certain private actors is not.

If we were starting from scratch and writing the best workplace policies, what would we choose?  If we were starting from scratch and abandoning the conceit that every religious practice must be respected, what would be say?

Who is really making the choices? The Man here?  If we were tough on ourselves, could we be The Man?


Lemur du jour 1 6 2011 

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I don't know about the feds, but many years ago I worked for . We were given a half-hour, unpaid, for lunch. We were "entitled" to two fifteen-minute breaks, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, paid. My impression is that this was "the law". Is that any different than this? Are these "extra" breaks beyond the "entitled" ones?

If those are not "extra" breaks, then do they really provide anything? Can breast milk even BE pumped in 15 minutes, given that you have to set everything up and put everything away? I don't know, I've never done it.

(BTW, at of course everyone just took one hour for lunch.)