Last weekend my daughter, Monica, performed in a musical theater benefit concert. The cast was stellar, the singing and dancing well done, and the production wonderfully entertaining. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening all around.
As I become more aware of problematic elements in our culture (and others), however, my perception also changes. Last Saturday, the song “Tradition,” from Fiddler on the Roof disturbed me in a way it never had before.
I performed in this musical as a teen and my oldest daughter also was in the cast in high school. I’ve seen the movie and stage versions many times. It’s not my favorite show, but I always end up being surprised that I like it more than I remember. (Even “Sunrise, Sunset” — easily the most boring song in all of musical theater history — is more meaningful as I hit the target audience.)
It’s also important to acknowledge that this is not only a period piece, but the song itself intentionally presents gender stereotypes and the show addresses both the good and bad of long-standing cultural traditions.
Given my growing discontent with gender disparity over the years, I heard the young male verse of this song differently than I have in the past:
At three, I started Hebrew school. At ten, I learned a trade.
I hear they’ve picked a bride for me. I hope she’s pretty.
I hope she’s pretty.
It’s not that I question the veracity of that lyric. It’s that it did and still does so often conform to fact that bothers me. That when looking for a lifelong partner for raising children, for solving problems, for working through issues, for growing old together the only thing the boys are hoping for (or worried about) is that their bride is a hottie.
The pervasiveness of female objectification makes it difficult to overcome. But with knowledge and persistence, I believe it can be done.