Behind The Scene: A Sternzie's Journey from Frumshanista to Uptown Girl
Many of you may not realize that the article you are currently reading was written by a woman. Most of you probably do not care. However, just last year, many Commie readers were not nearly as progressive as you. Many grew startled once they noticed my name on the masthead. These readers may still be wondering, “Is she some sort of feminist or something?” “What the gehennom is the big deal? Why are people even reading this section?” and “I don’t get it. Seriously. Isn’t Talia a girl’s name?” Some even posed me challenging questions to help guide the section: “Don’t you see what an incredibly disempowering message you are sending to the rest of the Stern students? Are you trying to abandon your gender?” and “Why don’t you put your number at the end of those articles?” I now hope to address many of your thoughts and concerns regarding the start of The Scene. In line with the inquisitive nature of my readers, it was, in fact, a question that started it all.
Disclaimer: I regret to inform you that this is not an exposé of the scandalous origins of the section. To answer the feminist question, I must admit that, as much as I love labels, no, was not some radical feminist plot to corrupt YUskies. In fact, it wasn’t my brain baby at all. It was the progressive vision of your former Editor-in-Chief, Simeon Botwinick.
Appropriately, the section in question was conceived in the Mendel Gottesman Library. After I had been declined from writing a piece that did not quite fit the hashkafa of The Observer, Simeon had invited me to be a guest writer for the Commie. As I “Talia Talked” about my ambitions for the article with Mr. Botwinick and then-Managing Editor, Benjamin Abramowitz, Simeon interjected, “Talia, why don’t you just write for us?”
Later, when asked about his true intentions for that question, Simeon answered with the same matter-of-fact confidence, “I didn’t care so much about your gender. I just wanted you on staff. I wanted you since Frumshanista. And I liked that article that you wrote about cupcakes. It had a lot of puns.” He continued, “I think that your being on staff reflects a lot about the paper. People sometimes say that it is a liberal paper or a Gush paper, but there is really no agenda for who gets in. Honestly, if you do a good job, we want you.”
As a Republican, and certainly no Gush alumnus, I knew I didn’t fit that stereotype. “Simeon, I am an editor. I’m not coming just to write a column for y’all. And besides, I hardly think there is a demand for style pieces in the Commie.”
“So we’ll give you your own section.” He stated simply. “The Talia Kaufman Section.”
But I wasn’t about the leave what would be my third year as The Observer’s Style Editor to become the rival paper’s First Lady, unless I knew that I would have a team committed to supporting my section. “Listen,” I sassed up, “I don’t believe in affirmative action. I don’t want you to want me because I’m a woman. I want you to want me because I am a fabulous writer, a great editor and will bring a lot to this paper.”
“Done,” said Simeon. And it was.
Though I had kicked the crutch of affirmative action, I really was the token woman on staff. Every fraternal group needs one. We were introduced to this idea at a young age, beginning with cartoons. The phenomenon was dubbed “The Smurfette Principle” by The New York Times. Katha Pollitt explains, “a group of male buddies will be accented by a lone female, stereotypically defined….The female is usually a little-sister type, a bunny in a pink dress and hair ribbons who tags along with the adventurous bears and badgers.” (For example, Miss Piggy, Tweety Bird and, of course, Smurfette.) If you’re not some form of senior and are perhaps too young to remember the show, before Smurfette was a CGI animation brought to life by Katy Perry, she was the lone female character on The Smurfs, the highly popular 1980s cartoon about a village of tiny blue creature-people. Smurfette was said to have been created to provide the feminine flair that had been lacking from the show, drawing more little girls into Smurfville. She certainly drew me in; I have always found inspiration in Smurfette. She was sassy, sweet, savvy, and truly held her own as the lone woman in Smurfville, a shining blue role model for my four-year-old self. I was certainly not the only one inspired by her ability to pull off an all-white wardrobe year round; she increased female viewership significantly and was the most merchandised of all of the Smurfs. Other Smurf theorists suggest that she was added to the cast to prove that Smurfs were indeed heterosexual. Well, no matter what her or my role is, or whatever Smurfette Principal stands for, it certainly makes a statement.
Even if my new role was the result of the Sternette Effect, I knew that I wasn’t hired to be the Commie Mommy. I was not only the lone female on staff, but a feminine voice for a group of men, some of whom are discouraged from feminine interaction. Being the sole form of kosher female contact is a pretty overwhelming job. So, for the next issue, I was joined by the much-needed analytical attitude of Miss Jina Davidovich, and photography prodigy Joanna Ross Tash. Together, we hope to serve as the nagging Jewish mothers away from home, the bossy older sisters, your full personal cheerleading squad and the girls (who are) friends forbidden in real life.
However, before I would be able to get there, I had to introduce the section to what I knew wasn’t going to be an unbiased readership. Last year, when my Frumshanista article hit the Wilf Campus, it was rumored that I did not fully understand tzniut. This got me thinking: perhaps I did not. If that’s the case, I probably still don’t. But does any of us, really? If I don’t know what I was writing about and my readers did not know what they we reading about, then I might as well write on a topic that would exploit my scandalous reputation. And so I decided to return to the source, the Mendel Gottesman Library. Before I was able make it there, I was heckled by bochrim A and B, respectively, and Library Girl was born.
As the article progressed, my ego quickly began to inflate until it evolved into my snarky alter-ego. Said alter-ego has adapted to many roles since serving her time as Library Girl, Miss Middot, and the girl who eats deli roll from a sandwich maker. Even though I have these prestigious titles on my shidduch resume, I assure you that I am indeed just like you. By presenting you with my story, I do not mean to imply that I have the same sagely status as those 17-year-old teen moms releasing their memoirs this fall. Rather, the only reason I’m even telling you is because I love “Talia Talking” about myself.
Before I transition out of my humble tone, I am going to use it as a segue into my apologies paragraph. I have spent the majority of the section thus far making fun of just about everybody—well, mainly myself—but we all know that I don’t really deserve an apology. Not only would that be borderline-schizophrenic journalism but, if I’m dishing it, I better be able to take it. I would like to extend my deepest sorries to all of the frummies, accounting majors with the social skills of sixth-graders, and the entire student body of Queens College. To the gentlemen of AEPi: I am sorry that I ayin hara-d you. But please, don’t feel bad, Entenmann’s products are super nuclear-proof. And at least you boys are lifetime members of the fraternity of Am Yisrael. (Correction: Apparently, AEPi plans to continue to fight for acceptance in the Fall ‘11 semester. Here at The Scene, we are rooting for you crazy kids right along with the entire administration and all of the mainstream student body.)
I would also like to sincerely apologize to anyone else whose ego, reputation or feelings I may have harmed during the span of The Scene. That certainly was not my intention in the slightest. The fun-making is meant as that. Fun, to show that we do not take ourselves too seriously. We may be facing the stresses of a double curriculum and the race to the chuppah, but are still in college and can still live a little. Additionally, all of the mockery is meant as a great equalizer. Much like the zies, skies and rest of the terminologies, it is a way of forming communities. Because isn’t that what a scene really is? The first step toward a community.
For those of you who may still be holding grudges, I assure you that you need not worry. Although the majority of the feedback has been incredibly positive, I have certainly not gone unpunished for my shameless snarkasm. Since the start of The Scene, I have been accused of being “the devil,” ”the worst person in history,” and one YUskie even informed me that he will laugh as I dig my way to gehennom. A website commenter, under the alias of Richard Joelle (I have no idea of his true identity, but I am on to all drag queens that pose as our University President in pumps), responded to my “Miss Middot: Manner Up” article saying, “Ok, this was terrible. First off, if anyone needs to hit the gym, it’s the stern girls…In conclusion, girls need to work more on this than guys. Also New Yorkers are idiots. That is all.”
Honestly, I’m not really sure what I should be most offended by, the attack on my body image, the accusation that I embody Satan, or maybe it should be the marei mekomot I was emailed attempting to prove my lack of any Torah knowledge. However, I do know that both the positive and negative feedback were necessary in allowing The Scene to have the effect that it has had. Former Senior Editor Jonathan Schwab explains, “As an editor, The Scene has taught me two things 1. That sometimes the adage “all press is good press” is true—for the press. In its one short semester, it has provoked more feedback than any other section. And 2. That Talia Kaufman likes making complicated literary references.” (Apparently, Schwab is still trying to figure our how to light his spinal lamp.) “It’s certainly telling of what our generation perceives about what is newsworthy or worth reading. We want to read about ourselves and The Scene delivers that.” Because The Scene is not about reporting news. It’s about making news.
But is the narcissism of myself and our generation the sole reason for the success of The Scene? Botwinick reflects, “The social world of YU is perhaps the least documented but most discussed aspect of our world. The Scene is the unfiltered student voice.”
Abramowitz elaborates, “The section has had an enormous impact on the paper, but a much more significant impact on the larger undergraduate student body. It highlights and enhances a sense of community across both campuses.” Asked for a specific example, Abramowitz pointed to an article of his own. “I personally saw this with my Purim article, ‘Commentator Hires Women in PR Stunt: Plan Backfires as Women Write about Womany Things’. Its success was so telling, partially because very few parts were completely fictitious, simply gross exaggerations of reality, that highlighted the actions and hard work of many students.” It is true: I actually have a lot in common with my alter-ego’s alter-ego Dahlia Coughwoman. Abramowitz truly captured my love of writing, my shiny hair, wordzies, and icing cupcakes. But more than that, “It propounded a feeling of community. I fake-name-dropped and everyone knew whom I was referring to, whether or not they were personally acquainted. This dispels the misconception that the student body does not care about its student leaders. The fact that it was all familiar to everyone proves that most YU students care about our newspaper and its leadership. The article could have only been understood by regular readers, of which, it is nice to know, we have many.”
Much like this article. Because my real-life ego isn’t large enough for me to believe that my writing skills are good enough to keep you reading this article if you haven’t been following The Scene. However, it is large enough to schep a little nachas from both the section and its readership. Because even if The Scene has left you thinking angry thoughts, feeling offended, or mad confused, it has left you thinking. And that’s what The Scene is; it’s not simply a section full of shidduch. It is a place to analyze and shed light on our incredible little community.YU is, in fact, much like Smurfville, so small that it allows every single one of us to play a significant role. That means we all have the power to change it. Although writing, reading and reflecting are all important steps towards that revolution, they mean next to nothing if they do not spur the change itself.
As for the Frumsha-naysayers? I invite you to join The Scene. Because outside may be a safe place to mock and mimic, but you can’t make a difference unless you are on the inside. No matter where you are in life, there will be a scene. And when it comes down to it, it’s where we all want to be. No one should ever feel above congregating with their peers. However, we must ask ourselves, “What are we doing here?” Because that is exactly what we need to be, doing. Simply being isn’t enough. Oh and as for the second question, the one about why people are even reading The Scene, it’s a super-great one. Its answer may be the same as why are you reading it right now.
To answer the rest of your inquiries: Yes. Talia is, in fact, a girl’s name. And no, I am not abandoning my gender. The truth is, in spite of my being a proud women’s studies minor, shattering glass ceilings isn’t really my thing; it sounds kind of painful and super-bad for my nail beds. Although I am perfectly capable of opening the door myself, I’m very appreciative that it has been opened for me. I didn’t come to this paper to pave any path for women or make any sort of statement about the bending of gender roles. I took a chance and joined the Commie staff because I believe in this paper, because this paper took a chance and believed in me. The Commentator’s revamped tagline and co-educated masthead speak to the ever-changing needs of our student body and the further progressive thinking of your current Editor-in-Chief, Benjamin Abramowitz.
It seems that I once again have exceeded my word count, so I guess I won’t answer the ultimate question, “Did I enter The Scene to bridge the gender gap and find a new perspective? Or simply to flirt with YU boys?” Well, if you’d like to find out, you will simply have to keep reading. But I will tell you one thing: I am enjoying every moment in the scene.
And as for your final question: (901) 572 - 6523.
(No, that’s not my number. But keep reading The Scene. There won’t be any numbers in there either but you should definitely keep reading always.)
Welcome back. Hope y’all missed me.
Library Girl/Miss Middot/
Talia Elizabeth Kaufman