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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

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Hanukkah, Menstruation, Facebook, and Commoditization

Symbols and motivations.

 

December 9, 2015
 

It’s not often that Hanukah and menstruation are able to share the title of a blog post, so I’m glad to add to the possible answers for those playing Google Feud.

I bought each of my daughters a Hanukkah shirt this week, but I was torn over the purchase. On the one hand, I thought they would be thrilled. They’ve been asking for Christmas items for the last month. Though they identify as Jewish, they have been seeing Christmas sales advertised for the past month and want to participate in the hubbub. Recently, they asked me for a Santa outfit for their dolls. When I reminded them that they are Jewish, they replied that they are, but their dolls are not. Touché.

They also have been bugging me for cute shirts with reindeer or Santa on them, chocolate-covered Santa candy, and all the other exciting holiday products that they see now on display. So, when I saw the Hanukkah shirt that was a little over-the-top but in the same style as the many Santa shirts, I thought: why not.

However, once again my scholarly voice competed with my mom voice about the purchase. This shirt is more than just a “shirt,” I thought. It’s a symbol. It’s a chance for them to fit in. They can wear it and proudly “own” their holiday. And, they get to do it as Jews, as opposed to them taking a picture on Santa’s lap at the school holiday fair (which they insisted on doing last year).

On the other hand, I recognized that their “fitting in” was now possible only because the store has now commercialized yet another holiday. Why do my children need to have a consumer experience to feel a part of their culture?

I observe similar dilemmas in other places. Just last week, commenters debated whether Mark Zuckerberg was really giving away his wealth because of the way he structured an LLC. Then, I argued that the end justified the means. Who cares how he does it, as long as needy causes end up being helped?

Is the same true here? Who cares how I share Hanukkah with my children, as long as the end result is my children experiencing their holiday in a happy, healthy way? 

Another example popped up in an unexpected place: an online ad for a menstrual gift box. Designed for girls who get their first periods, the box celebrates their experience with an assortment of products. While I like the idea of this stage in a girl’s life being moved from a private, secret, and sometimes almost shameful and embarrassing time to a celebratory experience, should this moment be commoditized and converted into a consumer experience?

These examples raise a chicken-and-egg question for me: how often do people motivate on their own true changes in their attitudes and behaviors, as opposed to companies leading that change for them? And, if it is the latter, is that problematic, or does it matter?

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