The Framing Problem

It’s a quiet, tranquil Wednesday morning in Greenville, and I can hardly believe my eyes and brain as I go on reading an article about “misery in America” — “an America riddled with anxieties,” is the exact quote.

“Alan, why the heck is America so miserable right now? I don’t get it.”

He delays his response while writing a soothing email to another promising builder, with whom we had been working almost full-time for over a month. We talked, we exchanged exciting ideas on our house project — which after almost two years, for some mysterious reason, is still “in progress.” In the beginning, I was so carried away I almost considered one builder as a friend when he took us on a short road trip to show us houses he had built in the past — beautiful, nicely designed to the last detail, almost the “Architectural Digest type” we longed for. That is, if we could “afford” it.

Alan has been telling me all this time the accurate price for the kind of house we want to build — good design, clean, no rococo frills as I must have already mentioned, big glass panels and simple, but quality finishes. We’re “Bauhaus people,” after all. According to him, people are deluded, stuck on a price that has actually gone down since the house bubble back in 2008, something like that. (Pardon my vagueness; I wasn’t in this country back then and therefore cannot fully comprehend what happened.)

And lo and behold, after so much “courting” the handsome builder — I’ve concealed so far the fact that he was handsome — there came the feared estimate, around… twice as much the expected amount per square foot.

As a skilled framer — meaning, a person who “fits wooden pieces together to support a structure,” also the building process of our choice — this one has tried to “frame” us alright, like others before him. But having advanced quite a bit in this construction business, we’re not gullible victims anymore, so it took us only a few minutes to discover he had nearly doubled the quotes he had received for subcontracted services. Et voilà, we extended his “exaggeration” to the rest of the items in order to promptly reject the whole thing, to my utmost disappointment. I was depressed for a week.

I’ve long known as a fact, from our previous experience in Brazil — where, by the way, we had built a wonderful home, all glass and concrete on top of a mountain in the midst of the Atlantic Forest — that “all contractors are crooks,” sorry for the generalization, folks. Another guy we consulted went as far as to generously offer that we “give him the lot and the house” so he could “get a loan in our place.” He would then transfer the property back to us in a couple of years, as soon as we had enough credit, which I had never said we didn’t. Bold. He reminded me of the desperate people I once saw in a movie who paid a hitman to kill them in order to free themselves and their families from unpayable debt. That was not our case, fortunately.

As I’ve written a lot about politics lately — mostly American politics, a subject that doesn’t quite interest most of my readership, which is still in Brazil — a few friends have asked me to describe my daily experience as an immigrant in the U.S. Something, I should add, they would not really enjoy, since I’ve changed my views so radically since I moved here, to the point of supporting you-know-who for President of the United States.

“Thirty-two percent of Millennials are still living with their parents,” Alan says, as he watches TV in the other side of the room.

He goes on to explain that the real unemployment rate is around 10 percent, maybe 15, that the statistics only count people who are still actively looking for work, leaving out those who have already given up or found another temporary solution. He argues that this administration has invested heavily in public institutions and social spending, instead of encouraging entrepreneurship to make the economy grow — kind of a “socialist” agenda. “And that’s why so many people are supporting Trump.”

It’s quite difficult for the average Brazilian to grasp the real United States. What they know does not come from first-hand experience, but through the biased interpretation of a few journalists, who, perhaps, have themselves interpreted somebody else’s belief, often times through “failed translations.”

And so the word goes. It makes a world of difference. We’re being “framed,” my friends, on a daily basis.

In Psychology, what they call “framing” is “the process of defining the context or issues that surround a problem or event in a way that serves to influence how the context or issues are seen and evaluated.” Therefore, as I was dealing with the (difficult) house-framing problem, I came across — in the book I’m currently editing — a clear description of how the gender issue has actually been engendered in our contemporary psyches for much longer than you could ever imagine.

I was deeply discouraged. A highly biased belief concerning the “unfairness” of an “oversimplified” bilateral division of the human race into man and woman has been taught in universities as an established truth, already written in stone for a generation or so and published as valued textbooks. It’s not something that has just come up through some slightly absurd “bathroom issue” in North Carolina, as it might have seemed at some point, at least for the most ignorant among us, in which I include myself.

Based on the obvious injustice in which a paternalist society has framed women for most of human history, and also on the undoubted success of the feminist movement in the 1960s, scholars are trying (successfully) to impose upon us a highly problematic frame of mind which highlights the idea that the traditional family is prejudiced, harmful to society. A lexicon which, through the smart crafting of new words and the careful exclusion of others, is producing pearls like “motherhood is not innate, but socially constructed,” based upon the fact that “not all women want to be mothers.” Diabolical logic. In Brazil, for example, there’s a new “civil rights movement” engaged in legalizing “polyamory” — another word for “polygamy,” with “extended benefits.” And if this does not prove my point, I don’t know what will.

As a typical product of my proudly revolutionary generation, in which women fought hard for the right to be equal to men, I’ll tell you this: Having opted for not mothering children and focusing on other stuff instead, I see motherhood as being “socially destroyed” instead, and I’m sure we will end up regretting it. Too late for me.

In the name of all this diversity craze trying to engulf us today, it is almost unavoidable to conclude that women and men are not equal at all. And no, this does not include “all the possible variations in the middle,” if you know what I mean.

Therefore, it appears we’ve been founding our ideals on a frail, misleading trend, which goes on, and on, and on. Yes. You are being framed. Get out of the picture while you can.

About the Author
Noga Sklar was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1952. She grew up in Belo Horizonte and lived for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, a city she left behind to take refuge in a paradise among the mountains of Petropolis. Noga met her American husband Alan Sklar in 2004, through the American Jewish dating site JDate. This meeting gave new impetus to her life and literary career, inspiring her first novel, “No degrees of separation” (to be published in English in 2016. She now lives in Greenville, SC, US, where she moved with her husband in October 2014.
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