I’ve been following Pop Chassid’s blog for a little while now. I enjoy and respect his perspectives on Judaism, and life, and admire his bravery for tackling topics that are, shall we say, on the unpopular side.
I don’t like conflict. I don’t like being yelled at online by people I don’t even know. So, mainly, I stay away from hot-button issues. When I did my post on how we’re all indoctrinating our children, I got some impassioned comments, which is fine, but it does take a certain amount of steely grit not to take things personally, especially when the comments feel so personal and combative.
Yesterday, Pop Chassid did a post where he shared, bravely, I thought, the struggle he faces when in the presence of scantily-clad women. Now, the topic of modesty is an extremely contentious one. What is modesty? Who defines it? Is it covering your elbows and collarbones, as I do? Is it wearing loose-fitting clothing, as other people do? Is it not talking on a cell phone in public, as some would like? And, most importantly, is modesty something that a man can ever talk about, can ever request of women?
Stop Subjugating Us, Right?
Not surprisingly, there was a torrent of strong reactions from all sorts of people. Since I like Pop Chassid, I was saddened by the personal attacks from people who admittedly hadn’t read his blog, or even that post. Based on the title alone, “An Appeal To Women For Modesty,” he is being excoriated. And, listen, I understand that it can be grating to hear something on this topic coming from an man. I get that. But I was not offended by the message of his post, which I took as this:
Yes, men need to control their urges, but it doesn’t hurt for women to at least be sensitive to the fact that men, even good men, don’t always succeed in thinking good thoughts when faced with revealing clothing.
My friend Sheva commented that, “as a woman who dresses modestly everyday, I have never once gotten up in the morning and did it for the men.” And I do agree with her. We shouldn’t only do it because (some? most? all?) men are hard-wired to think a certain way. We should do it because that’s what our tradition asks of us (now, for my readers who are not Orthodox, I’m certainly not judging you if you’re reading this post in a tank top and jeans. This is me talking about my life and my beliefs).
My experience with modesty and men
Before I was frum, my style was very iconoclastic. My wardrobe was my canvas. I spent a whole week in college dressing like Tank Girl. Because it was fun, and because I could. I had plenty of tube tops, tube dresses, and mini things. I had modest clothes, too, sure, but I had plenty of not-so-modest pieces.
When I wore a really fitted and revealing outfit, the type of attention I received was, well, sexual. I was putting myself out there, saying, in essence, “this is what I have to offer.” You will note that what I was “offering” was not my wit or intellect. Not so much. In retrospect, it is not surprising that the relationships and interactions I had with men reflected what I was wearing. I was liberated, so who cared? I was young, it was fun, and everyone else was doing it, dressing this way.
After I started getting into Judaism, and wearing clothes that were more conservative, I noticed something interesting. Men started treating me with a higher level of respect. They would hold doors open for me with a pleasant, non-lascivious smile on their face. Men my father’s age would treat me in a fatherly way. I felt like I was taken more seriously, at work and in general interactions. I felt better about myself, less distracted by my own sexuality, and more able to focus on the task at hand, even if it was something as simple as grocery shopping. People were listening to what I had to say instead of looking me up and down.
What sells? I think you know.
And I realized that prior to dressing more modestly, I was subconsciously aware that by dressing provocatively, I was engaging the attention of the men around me. That it gave me a certain power, and a certain kind of attention.
Now, when I was putting on a halter top in the morning, I certainly wasn’t thinking, “hmmm, how much attention from men will I get with this outfit?” When I was going out at night, it probably did cross my mind. Like most women, I wanted to look attractive. And what is considered attractive? Look at the magazine covers in the checkout line at the store. Based on the messages I received from magazines, movies, television, etc., that was how to dress, how to be attractive. With less fabric.
And being attractive seemed to be closely linked with what men thought of us, as women. How much of us was on display, was there to entice, to say, “hey, look at this, but don’t touch.” You know? Maybe you’re shaking your head in disgust right now, thinking, “How can Rivki think that? What a perspective!” But, really, it’s no secret that sex sells. It’s all over the media. It’s powerful. And pretending that how we dress is unrelated to men’s reactions is naïve.
Not that women are consciously making that connection when they get dressed, but as people who are considerate to the feelings and needs of others, why shouldn’t it cross our mind from time to time? Why shouldn’t we at least consider the feelings, the complicated and conflicted feelings of men, who apparently, really do think about it all the time?
Being considerate can apply to every situation
It’s not considered weak or subjugated to be considerate of the feelings of someone who is, for example, vegan, when we invite them over for a meal. It’s not considered rude of them to ask us to take their needs into account when we feed them. It’s not unreasonable to be considerate of someone who is facing a challenge when we are conversing with them. We wouldn’t say, “oh, how inappropriate of them to feel the way they do! Why can’t they just master their emotions and desires?” That’s ridiculous.
So why is it that when a good man, like Pop Chassid, is honest about his struggle, and simply asks us to consider that, he is lambasted? He didn’t ask to be a man. He is working on himself. He didn’t say, “Oh, you need to wear this, or act that way.” He was just saying, “This is what I struggle with. I want you to be aware.”
Yeah, I saw that coming
I understand that this post is not going to win me any popularity contests. Some of you might even stop reading my blog, or maybe you won’t want to interact with me on facebook anymore. I’m not going to be surprised to see unpleasant comments down there (if you disagree, I do request you do so pleasantly and respectfully. I will moderate out the nasty ones).
But I feel strongly about this. I don’t feel that he was out of line in his post. I feel that the level of vitriol I have witnessed (and during the Three Weeks, for shame!) is unwarranted, and unrelated to him or the post, but more in line with the level of hysteria associated with this topic. I don’t feel that it’s unreasonable for us, as women, to reflect on the way our choices in clothing impact those around us. What message it sends to our children, our daughters. I feel that when we can all learn to be more sensitive to the needs of others, in many different arenas, we will improve as people, and become mentschen.
That’s my piece.
And here’s a response from one of my friends: Post Punk Chronicles – Reply to PopChassid Modesty Article. If you have a post about it, feel free to share the link in the comments section. I enjoy reading other people’s perspectives on it.
65 thoughts on “In Defense of Pop Chassid”
kudos, Rivki! well said :) it is close to never when I dress modestly that I am thinking about the favor I am doing for men by my actions but rather that I am doing to what respectful toward my self and my spouse and it pleases HIM…but if it helps out fellow men then that should be that much more incentive to DO THE RIGHT THING! it is such a shame that when a man comes forward from such a honest place and tries to help foster positive change he becomes a villain, but me thinks it speaks volumes about the value schema in society today :(
Thank you. :) It was hard for me to see him attacked so heartily, especially when I feel there was value in what he was saying. Thanks for chiming in!
I really enjoyed your response. Yes, you are right–how we dress does garner us a certain type of attention. Anyone who tries to say otherwise would be a fool.
And I yours. :) I don’t think the impact of how we dress is something we can afford to ignore.
Disagree. (You saw that coming, right? :) ) I believe modesty should be about obedience to God, self-respect, dignity, etc…. and not at all about how men will feel or react.
PopChassid may be satisfied if everyone dresses in accordance with halachah, or even just a little more covered up, but what about men who would prefer that women not show their necks or faces in public? Do I need to be sensitive to that? No matter how far you go in modesty, there is always going to be someone out that for whom it’s not enough.
I’m not even convinced that everyone complying with his request would make things easier for PopChassid. There is going to be attraction and desire between the sexes whatever people wear. In a world in which women wear long skirts, the point of attraction may not be bare legs. It’ll be hair color, stature, voice, or something else.
I hear you about men treating you respectfully when you wear modest clothes. I think that may be more about culture and habits (e.g. people are respectful to someone in a suit and tie) and not that the desires or temptations PopChassid wants to fight are lessened in that situation.
Haha, yes, I’m not surprised! You are entirely right that there will always be those who feel it is never enough, and there will always be those who feel it is too much.
It’s an interesting point you make about to whose standards we should be sensitive. Thankfully, we have halacha, and we have the guidelines of our communities. Even though there are differences of opinion about what constitute tznius, i.e. knees visible or not, we can always turn to our Rav or Rebbetzin to help us adhere to halacha in this area.
I’m not entirely sure that cultural respect re:attire is mutually exclusive from the lessening of desires/temptations. I don’t know, ’cause I’m not a man, but I would think there is some overlap there.
Hey!!! I’m right there with you!
When I met my husband I was dancing in a belly top, mini skirt and knee-high boots on the stage in a nightclub. How far I have come since those days!!!
As I became a mother, I gravitated to less-revealing styles, but it was only in the last few years that it has really made sense to me. For me the big moment was when I decided to cover my hair in public. Put on a tichel and suddenly nothing less than tzniut makes sense. It took awhile to sort out my wardrobe, but now I feel so free! I can bend down to talk to my children without worrying if someone is getting a view they don’t need. I can move like never before!
I am free at last! Yes, free from my own need to find my self-worth in the value other people place upon me – by looking at the outside. Free to be the person I was created to be, with my neshama shining brighter than my clothes!
…and the most unexpected of all? The ‘style’ of dressing I have finally found is so much more beautiful than I ever had before…and I am happier than I have ever been.
My 7 year old daughter summed it up the other day. She asked me “Mamma, why do ladies dress immodestly and men don’t?”
Now I’m not saying that men don’t, but children have a way of saying just what they see……
How far we’ve come, indeed! I’ve forgotten about the greater range of motion I’m affording with my modest wardrobe – thank you for the reminder! Some time ago, I was wondering what the big deal about covering the collarbone was. It’s not an overly attractive feature or anything. Shortly after that, I was wearing a pajama top with a neckline below the collarbone, and I bent down in front of a mirror. Then I realized why having a high neckline is helpful!
I agree about the beauty of this style of dressing. Since I used to associate so much of myself into my appearance, I was worried that I would lose part of my personality if I started conforming to the guidelines of my community, but I found the opposite to be true. I feel I can be more true to myself when I’m not overly concerned with how I look.
Another thing… this line of thinking (preventing men’s struggles) can actually be used to argue against modest clothing. I was reading a book about tzniut and came to a section stating that skirts must be mid-calf length and not any longer. The reasoning given was that covering up too much of the body causes men to fantasize about what’s underneath. Thus, one must keep the ankles revealed so that they don’t become a focal point for the male imagination.
Since you can arrive at polar opposite conclusions (cover! uncover! –depending on the preferences of the man writing) with this idea, I think it’s not a good guideline.
All the conflicting opinions can certainly be confusing, which is one reason it’s so helpful to find a community, adhere to the guidelines (and halacha, of course), and have a Rav or Rebbetzin who you can ask questions. If you have your mentor to guide you, you can follow just one opinion, theirs, and disregard the rest. It applies for more than just tznius, really. There is no shortage of differences in opinion when it comes to halacha!
True, but then it’s about adhering to your mentor’s advice or your community practice and no longer about being sensitive to PopChassid’s (or anyone else’s) struggles. My point is if you aim to be sensitive to all the men out there who have conflicting temptations, you won’t know what to do. You should follow what you believe is right and PopChassid’s request shouldn’t factor into it.
Unless PopChassid is not really requesting that we help him and other men temptations–and is instead requesting that women should all be religious and act in accordance with Orthodoxy–in which case the request is even more out of line, and none of his business.
You know, I really didn’t internalize the “help me with my temptations” part, but rather took from the post the reminder that men do have temptations, and that it’s not something that we can ignore.
Ah, and I feel that you should do what is right AND understand that how we dress has an impact on the men around us. Since it’s impossible to please everyone, you should follow your Rav, but understand that by doing so, you are, in effect, doing a chesed by understanding that part of tznius is being sensitive to men, even if that’s not the reason you’re doing it.
We understood the post differently, then. I formed my impression from the phrases “appeal,” “I have a request,” “I need your help,” “I do need help” and others.
I can definitely see that. It always amazes me how we all take from a post what speaks to us, or what stands out most, and we can end up with completely different messages. Like I said, I already liked his blog, and I’m sure that impacted my reading of the post substantially.
Rivki, I don’t know you, but I do hope we can get to know each other. I am not a blogger and do not have a lot of time to read or write, but thank you fro defending Elad. Where I do agree that a women’s modesty is for G-d, kol yisrael areivim ze l’ze. I am not an immense scholar to know exactly what that means. But every person has an affect on the world. It is a waste for a person to feel that what he does has not impact on anyone else. It is irresponsible and careless (and honestly starts wars) when a person feels like his actions are insignificant to others. Thank you again Rivki.
Wow, thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment! I also hope we get to know each other, as women, and as musicians. :)
You make an excellent point about our responsibility to consider the impact of our actions on the world. I do consider the mitzvah of tznius as connected to v’ahavta l’reycha kamocha – as helping out, in a sense.
I think you said it right here: When I wore a really fitted and revealing outfit, the type of attention I received was, well, sexual.
I don’t necessarily agree with Pop Chassid’s asking women to dress modestly for him, but I don’t disagree with it either.
I think the most important thing he talked about something that is usually dismissed – that the way women dress DOES have an impact on men. I won’t go quite so far as to say “Well what do you expect, dressed the way you are?” because ultimately it is men’s responsibility as to how they actually respond to a women, but why wear immodest, sexy clothes if you don’t want people to notice and respond to your sexuality? Ok, actually I guess I did say “Well, what do you expect, dressed the way you are?”
IN NO WAY DO I CONDONE A MAN WHO SAYS HE HURT/RAPED/ATTACKED/CAT-CALLED A WOMAN WHO IS DRESSED “IMMODESTLY”
That’s something that has baffled me in the aftermath of his post – that somehow we’re not supposed to discuss the reality of the effect of our clothing on men. That it’s not okay to connect that to modesty; that it taints it somehow. On the contrary, I think it’s necessary to acknowledge it.
Thanks for commenting. I always like hearing what you have to say.
PopChassid sent me this way…
I kind of wrote about this issue before, and have thought about this a lot. I grew up with the whole equality thing down to ‘women should be allowed to dress and wear what men wear’ (not sure why women’s lib never pushed for men to look and act like women, but whatever). Wrote about it here: http://patentlyjewish.com/women-in-judaism-part-i-women-and-men-are-the-same-so-i-was-taught/ … even looking at it from a completely derech hateva (‘nature’) way, it is biological … women who show men all their stuff cause sexual reactions in men. You will be looked at as an object, not a person.
Jessica Ray makes this point, while trying to sell slightly less scant bathing suits for women, and cites studies about men’s language referring to women who aren’t dressed (as objects) versus who are (as people): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJVHRJbgLz8 … To quote her, “”modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves because we are bad, it is about revealing our dignity.”
Thanks for coming over, and for commenting! I look forward to reading your post and watching the video. One of my friends just recommended I watch it! Hashgacha!
You make a good point about the derech hateva outlook. It makes sense, but somehow we have been taught to deny this simple truth.
Great post!! I really like the way you analyze things, from a good place, without any “violent” words, very calmly.
Thanks! Those words of compliment really make me feel great! Yay!
I can’t say I ever had a tube top stage, wore thigh high boots or whatever because I simply wasn’t raised to turn myself into a sex object. I may not follow Orthodox law but I have never had a problem with men treating me one way or another based on how I dress. Some guys will hit on an attractive woman, so what? That is how many mutually attracted people first decide to get to know one another. I thought my husband was hot so he turned my head and I turned his. If that didnt happen we wouldn’t be married for 17 years now.
When we talk “temptation” I am wondering what you mean. Temptation to do what? Think a sexual thought? We are human, it happens. Temptation to attack women? That has nothing to do with how women dress. While I don’t think it is in a woman’s self interest to be dressed in a way that they could be mistaken for a prostitute or porn star, if they are just dressed appropriate for the situation, it is only disturbed men that will be provoked to inappropriate action. We don’t need to be each other’s thought police. Men and women have sexual thoughts. So what? It’s a part of life. If you are past adolescence and still find a woman in shorts and a tee shirt on a 90 degree day a distraction to you to the point thst uou cant go about your daily business, get some professional help. When it’s 90 degrees no one should have to dress like its winter.
Maybe we need to embrace sexuality and accept that people are sexual rather than put it into this category that carries with it shame. So you had a sexual thought. So does everyone. Move on with your day and when the time and person is right, enjoy acting on the sexual urge. It’s human and it’s the Jewish way.
Hi! I’m glad you took the time to comment!
What do I mean by temptation? Excellent question. Certainly I don’t mean temptation to violence. That’s outside the pale. Sexual thought isn’t anything that carries shame with it (though, sadly, some people feel that way). As you said, it’s natural, and we all have them. It’s about maintaining the sanctity of those thoughts. It means that when you are, as you said, enjoying acting on the sexual urge, you’re thinking about your spouse, and not the hottie you saw earlier. I certainly don’t want to be the fantasy for any other man, and while I obviously can’t control someone else’s thoughts, I can control the level of provocation I provide.
It’s not a matter of being thought police. That’s impossible, anyways. Rather, I’d like for us to empathize with the difficulties that men face, to understand that maybe it’s harder for them to move on past the sexual thought, even if they really want to. Yes, it’s not our “problem,” but that doesn’t mean that we can blithely ignore it.
The weather-appropriate shorts and a t-shirt are not so distracting. It’s very possible to wear those items and still be more modestly dressed than someone in a tight skirt and top. However, an outfit which reveals a good portion of skin, say, a mini skirt and low-cut cropped top, is something even I find distracting. And in the summer, there’s plenty of that around.
To close, I wanted to touch on the idea of people getting together based on mutual attraction. It’s always nice to hear about a couple who’s been together for some time. May you and your husband share many, many more happy years together. Of course spouses need to be attracted to each other (pretty sure that’s in Jewish law), but I feel that looking for someone based on mutual values, who you happen to find attractive, is a more effective and pragmatic way of finding a spouse. I know that my husband has become more and more attractive to me as time has progressed, but that wasn’t what initially turned my head. It was the fact that he was such a mentsch.
Anyways, nice to see you again.
My husband and I got to know each other because we were interested in getting to know a person we found attractive . This is a rather common way people first meet outside of the shidduch world. I didn’t marry him for his looks of course! And it wasn’t a race to find the best looking guy in town! I have never met a couple who stayed together for 17 months much less 17 years based on attraction alone.
And I am SURE I didn’t give some guys a chance who were great guys simply because I didn’t feel attracted to them. This is human and no one should feel ashamed of it.
People have thoughts and images of all kinds if stuff when they are having sex. Men are generally quite visual. It is perfectly normal for them to have sexual thoughts that are outside of their wives. Again, I don’t think that it’s in women’s best interests to basically write “look at me for sexual thoughts” across their bodies because they are more than potential sexual partners, but most of that sex advertising is done by the young, insecure and naive. It’s a phase where societal pressure to be seen as sexy is internalized. Most grown women, moms, professionals of all backgrounds, if they want to be taken seriously, are not walking around half naked. They just may not be covering their collar bones, elbows and knees.
I just don’t understand the need to squash normal sexuality and why telling our men that we can’t handle them having sexual thoughts of other women and it is something they shouldn’t have to live with. Hey, most of us may not want to hear about it but people are people and why isn’t that ok? Self acceptance and acceptance of normal thoughts and feeling is a good thing in my book. Laying on all the rules and shame and guilt does no one any good.
By the way, the highly disproportionate number of women with eating disorders in the Orthodox community and the insane focus of the shidduch world on finding size 8 women too heavy says that all of this focus on how to properly dress and how not to be too sexy is actually making the community hyper focused on it. There is something to be said for the rest of the world, where women can come in all shapes and sizes and men are free to be attracted to whatever attracts them.
The writer of the post wants a natural and perfectly normal part of him to go away. He is demonizing himself in his post. I think we are better off telling him that his id is part if what makes him human. He should rest easy that it is not a part of himself that he needs to separate from himself but rather embrace and channel in an acceptable way the way most humans do. Testosterone serves men well. It drives them to work hard, be ambitious, protect their families and yes, have a libido.
Women changing how they dress will not change the nature of human sexuality. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Yeah, I would be surprised to find people who stayed together based on attraction alone! That was kind of my point. :) And those great guys who you didn’t find attractive weren’t great for *you,* and I hope they ended up with someone who found that attractive. Everyone needs that, you know? You’re right that there’s no shame in that.
I don’t know if it’s only the young and naive who dress in a sexual way, though they are certainly the majority. I’ve seen older women do it too, usually at no service to themselves, sadly. Sometimes I think it may be more a cultural or class thing, too.
As for squashing sexuality, I guess I view it as more of a reigning in than a squashing or a shaming. Or, as you say, embracing the reality and channeling it in an acceptable way. I think we will probably disagree on what that way is.
Woman changing how they dress will not change the nature of human sexuality. You’re absolutely right. But the way we are asked to dress, within frum society, is a reflection of human sexuality. I don’t think it’s a negative perspective on it; I think it’s a realistic one. Men are visual, and we take that into account.
But this is my view, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who do take a negative view of sexuality, who see it as something scary. I don’t think that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but you know, sometimes things get distorted. Like with the eating disorders. That situation breaks my heart and makes me furious. Sometimes at the same time.
Thanks again for commenting. I do enjoy hearing what you have to say.
Oh, as an afterthought, I wasn’t really raised to turn myself into a sex object. My parents are pretty wholesome people who dress fairly conservatively themselves. They taught me to work hard and to use my brain. It still didn’t prevent me from wearing what I did, and from, sadly, objectifying myself in the name of “liberation” for many years.
Perhaps I never went through a tube top stage because I was never all that impressed with my own looks and it didn’t seem like something I wanted to show off. My daughter is truly a beauty (she got the beauty genes from her bio parents) and is told so by way too many people where ever she goes. I find myself purposely trying to balance those comments with a focus on her brains, her loving nature, her kindness and her strength. Perhaps that is a way to prevent women from feeling the need to advertise themselves as sex objects and invest all of their self esteem in their physical appearance.
That’s a tricky challenge! IY”H, you should have a lot of hatzlacha in teaching her what really matters. You seem like you’re doing a good job. Do you ever talk about things you see in the media with her? I don’t remember how old she is, if it’s relevant yet.
She is four. Fortunately she had two much older brothers for added warnings about men in addition to her parents of course. Those conversations will come eventually. For now she hardly even watches tv. I like the show Sophia the first. It is a preschool show where being a “real princess” basically turns into being kind, helpful, trying new things, being understanding while, as a side point, Sophia gets to wear a tiara and gown. Perfect show for my daughter about what really matters.
Oh, and like Bridget, I don’t dress my daughter in bikinis. Tankinis for easy bath rooming is the way I go.
Cute, she’s the same age as my oldest. Another parallel is that my daughter (who’s one) has two older brothers, too! When our girls are both teenagers, we should compare notes. I feel like we’ll being trying to teach similar things, albeit from different perspectives. :)
I mostly agree. I don’t think he’s talking about temptation to attack women, though–I think he’s just worried about thoughts. He experiences attraction to women he sees and he thinks these feelings will go away if the women are covered up. I don’t believe he’s correct in that assumption.
Last comment was supposed to be in reply to tikunolam2pto.
Sarah–I completely agree with you:
“He experiences attraction to women he sees and he thinks these feelings will go away if the women are covered up. I don’t believe he’s correct in that assumption.”
But my question is: “does that absolve us from thinking about that part of nature and being considerate of it?” Forget that a man is asking anything of us. I’m asking you now. What responsibility do we have as women to understand that men have a greater inclination to linger on sexual thoughts than we do?
I’m skeptical that wearing modest clothes is really being considerate of male nature. I don’t see crowds of men protesting women’s clothing and saying that they are all tormented by it. Just a few men who due to their religion believe women should dress a certain way. Do they really have a problem that guys in the general population don’t? Or have they just been led to believe they can’t conquer these feelings without women’s help?
I think our responsibility would be more along the lines of don’t purposely flirt with married men, don’t try to seduce your friends’ husbands, that kind of thing.
And by the way, my legs and arms are covered even though it’s 90 degrees here… I just don’t buy this idea that it has a positive effect on men or that I should do this for their benefit.
You have never been in a man’s head. A man is either a) not telling you about his sexual impulses, b) not aware of them, or c) plain old desensitized. If ‘a’ or ‘c’, then he’s also not going to find his wife very exciting, and especially not after her first wrinkle, hence women are further creating a situation where they have to objectify themselves to get attention and compete. Don’t do it for men’s benefit … do it for women’s benefit.
Sarah – I can tell you’re skeptical about it :) (sorry, I couldn’t respond directly to your last comment). Like Moshe said, neither of us have been in a man’s head, so neither of us will really know, I guess. I suspect it varies from man to man, but based on my experience (which is hardly vast, really), I would say that it does make a difference.
Why would guys in the general population have a problem with women’s clothing? That’s the way society is. I can’t imagine a crowd of men protesting their ability to see scantily clad women!
Anyways, I’m curious about the reasoning behind the halachos for modesty, anyways. I imagine they have something to do with men’s desires. I imagine they also have something to do with the value of a person’s intrinsic dignity, that we’re more than our physical bodies, etc. Do you have insight into this?
The reasoning behind the halachos of modesty matches EXACTLY with what my college professor said in behavioral biology. She told us how a girl walked into her office hours with a bright orange sweatshirt and her male parrot went nuts. She had her take off the sweatshirt and the bird calmed down.
She then went on to explain that men have exactly the same reaction to the inside of a woman’s legs, lots of flesh, long flowing her, and women’s secondary sexual characteristics. As I was becoming frum at the time this had a huge impact on me and my decision to move forward with it.
Right, so then she looked around the room and commended the girls for dressing fairly modestly. Problem was it was the middle of winter. By spring, they were all scantily clad and her words had no effect on them. :) No way I’d bring a daughter into this world as a secular man… I know how men think.
Fascinating! Where did you go to school?
Rutgers. Turns out the professor is still there – http://lifesci.rutgers.edu/~burger/
Also, I wrote about it on the article I linked earlier…. http://patentlyjewish.com/women-in-judaism-part-i-women-and-men-are-the-same-so-i-was-taught/
Nice. Thanks for the link!
Amen to Sarah from me too.
Rivki, I think the issue was put best by another commenter (of course I can’t recall which one) of whom I am paraphrasing here: writing a post discussing how you are struggling with the immodesty issue is going to be viewed far differently than an appeal asking women to dress differently because you’re struggling.
Does that make sense? One is an invitation to an open discussion, the other one feels to many of us like blame being unfairly placed.
These sensitive topics can’t be expected to not be met without some amount of backlash from those who don’t agree. That fact that it’s one man asking all women to adhere to something puts salt on a wound that the females are still healing from. We have struggled for a long time to move out from under the thumb of a male-centric society, into one where we are equals. (Yes different, but still equals.) While I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist per say, it would be stupid of me to ignore that the feminist movement has allowed the rest of us to be where we are today as women.
Women are now allowed to vote, own land, and the best of all–speak our minds. And there is A LOT (and I do mean a lot, if you can’t tell by the amount of responses this article received), of pent up pain and frustration from being made to “keep quiet” for so long. We’ve got a lot to say by now!
I don’t think that most people who disagreed with this post were not being hateful to Elad. Okay perhaps a few–but there are ALWAYS haters. I think that, despite his sincerity, he unintentionally stepped on a land mine with this issue. It happens sometimes. The wind eventually changes direction and all is restored to how it once was.
Women’s rights (and responsibilities) are still a very, very sensitive subject to many of us because of our past as a society, but also because many women–due to the nature of, well, nature–have been in controlling situations were men kept them down emotionally, physically, sexually and they have learned to put up their fists and fight-hard!- if they suspect any male of even coming close to trying to control them again.
I think if he had directed the post to males, all the women would have gotten behind him. In fact, they would have probably sat him down in a lounge chair, lifted it over their shoulders, and marched him into the middle of town! :)
In summation: great sentiment; wrong crowd.
Wow, I love this comment. The impetus for me to write this post was a thread on Facebook started by another blogger, and the level of vitriol in the comments there was horrific. There was a lot of nasty stuff being said. That’s what spurred me on here.
“I think if he had directed the post to males, all the women would have gotten behind him. In fact, they would have probably sat him down in a lounge chair, lifted it over their shoulders, and marched him into the middle of town! :)”
I think you’re right on this count. Thank you for this very thoughtful and insightful comment.
Your response is spot on, Rivki. I, too, follow Elad’s blog. I’m not offended by what he wrote. I find it refreshingly honest. Being the mother of 2 grown men, I can tell you that they don’t think of a girls personality or intellect when they’re dressed like street walkers. I believe women have a responsibility to dress appropriately 1st for HaShem/halacha, 2nd for our own dignity, and 3rd for family then for the world around us. I admit that as a middle aged woman, it is hard to be invisible, and at times I wish I was viewed as attractive to people around me, but I am married, and as long as my husband finds me fetching, it is enough. I certainly don’t want to have to worry when I’m bending down if anyone can see things. Tznius doesn’t change with the weather, and boy is it hard in the oppressive heat, but the rewards are definitely worth it.
Thanks, Chava. I appreciate your perspective as someone older and with more experience. May it be an easy summer for you, tznius-wise!
If I may add my $.02 … I can’t speak to Judaism, Orthodox or otherwise, but I did grow up as a Catholic, who recently converted to Christianity. (Yes, there is a difference.) I’m going to address a couple of things I haven’t seen here that I think are worth mentioning.
First, I would ask you to look at the average place of business where employees are required to wear a uniform. Many places come to mind, and I would say at a good 95% of them, employees are dressed professionally, or at least “business casual.” That may only require knee-length shorts and polo shirts, (Chick-fil-A, UPS,) but even that type of clothing wouldn’t, generally speaking, cause someone to ogle them. Now, think of Hooters. Think of the female bartenders who were tending bar at the nightclubs where we were dancing on the bars scantily clad. (Yes, I did that, too.) How are those ladies dressed? They’re dressed in a manner that conveys sexiness. Why? Because they want money! They’re fine with being ogled because it means bigger tips. But make no mistake, they ARE being ogled.
Then, I think of the church my husband and I started attending after we bought our house. It was VERY different than the churches that my husband and I attended growing up. I would get so distracted by the way people were dressed, I was very agitated by the time I left. They looked like they were dressed for the club. Tank tops, bras showing, those spandex dresses, and what I used to call “hooker heels.” Seriously! I was thinking to myself, “that is so disrespectful! Have some pride, some self-respect! We’re in church, for crying out loud!!” After a while, we just stopped going there and found another place to go. But, on a broader note, after that, I started thinking about how dressing modestly (and for me, that is at least knee-length shorts/skirts, sleeves that at least cover my shoulders, and blouses/shirts that are not low-cut in any way,) shouldn’t just be for church. Maybe it was because I was an old married lady now, maybe it’s because I had a little girl at that time, maybe it’s just because I was more mature. Whatever the reason, and this may be unpopular, but, I think the way a woman dresses speaks a lot to the amount of self-respect she has, and the amount of respect she has for her spouse, if married. For me, it goes without saying that men think sexual thoughts. Period. It’s how they’re wired, and I don’t care who they are or what religion they practice. Clearly, with Orthodox Judaism, this is a given. Thus, they encourage men to have more chaste thoughts, and encourage women to dress modestly to practice dignity and modesty, and oh-by-the-way-it-doesn’t-hurt-in-helping-Orthodox-men-keep-chaste-thoughts. Without having a rule, I feel the same way. I’m married, and I don’t want to dress in a manner that’s disrespectful of my husband, and, personally, I don’t want to be seen wearing Daisy Dukes and a tank top with my bra showing (or a low-cut blouse and too-short/too tight skirt) when I walk around with my children. It’s about self-respect, dignity, and not encouraging any eyes straying in my direction.
The biggest factor for me is, what kind of example am I setting for my daughter? And would I wear something that I wouldn’t want her wearing? I recently bought her a bathing suit for her birthday. I’m a mom, so I automatically think of a 2-piece being easier to go to the bathroom. But they didn’t have a “tankini” that covered her stomach completely, so I got her a one-piece. Bathing suits aside, she doesn’t wear anything that reveals too much. Why? To start building her self-respect for her body, and because I don’t want anyone ogling my baby. That says it all. If someone is having those kind of thoughts about my daughter if she’s dressed a certain way, they’d probably have similar thoughts about me.
Sorry … That was more like $2 than $.02!!
More like $5, and worth every penny! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and opinions, Bridget! “It’s about self-respect, dignity, and not encouraging any eyes straying in my direction.” Nicely put.
As your Shiksa cousin I have to say that this was a very though provoking blog. As a woman of “A Certain Age” I like to think I dress well but modestly. I mostly wear sleeves that are 3/4 or at least elbow length. If a top or dress has a V-neck that makes me uncomfortable, I wear a cami underneath for more coverage. My skirts come to the top of or middle of my knee. I must admit that when I see other women in my age group wearing clothing that is too tight, too revealing, too young for them I feel for them. I wonder what insecurities make them try to sell who they are by dressing that way and I also wonder why when they look in the mirror they don’t see what others see. Clothing not need be provocative to be attractive and think frankly, most men with a brain in their big head are intrigued by a little mystery. I have too much self-respect to dress immodestly although I admit that in the non-Frum world we have a lot more latitude. Perhaps living by the law, as you do, is, in itself a very freeing thing. XOXO
So nice to see you here, cousin! Sometimes there is a disconnect between what we think is attractive, and what is attractive on us. I’ve had to slowly learn which styles and cuts flatter me, you know? The law, with all it’s details, is indeed a freeing thing. Very insightful of you. :)
Rivki, I think a lot of the reaction to Pop Chassid really isn’t a reaction to Pop Chassid’s essay, but a reaction to the larger ongoing discussion in society about modesty and slut-shaming and other issues that tie into that. His post acted as a lightning rod for people’s already formed ideas and views.
That being said, I will admit that I found some of his language skeevy and off-putting. For example, when he wrote, “That inside of me is something dark. Something disturbing. It’s the evil, conniving side of me.” That being said, I think he was spot on in demanding that we not see this as a “it’s the woman’s issue” issue or “it’s the man’s issue” issue. This is about relationships and interactions between people, and the onus to make those move forward in a healthy way falls on both parties to the interaction. You can scream that it isn’t true until your are blue in the face, but why should this issue be any different than any other area of social interaction.
Like you, I grew up secular. I wore my share of miniskirts and tank tops. Despite that, or maybe because of that, I, as a woman, look at how some women and girls choose to dress and think, “Honey, where are the rest of your clothes?” I’m not talking about holding to Orthodox standards of modesty, but rather larger societal standards. I’m trying to think of a way to say this that doesn’t sound condescending. Of course, every woman has a right to dress in a way that shows she has a smokin’ hot body and to have that be noticed by other people. I guess when I see these women, and even more so the teen girls, they would realize that the world is so much bigger than that.
–Amy Newman Smith
I think you’re correct in your assessment of the reaction to the essay. I know that I have a knee-jerk reaction many times when it comes to this topic, which is one reason I haven’t really written about it. I also have a knee-jerk reaction to personal attacks, hence, this post.
For a teenager, it must be a challenge to see that the world does extend beyond their smokin’ hot body (love that). I get chizzuk from reading about how you are raising your girls. You should have a lot of hatzlacha.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really think very highly of you and your opinions.
Okay, so I got to read the piece over at Pop Chasid. (1) I love your response and I think that it acknowledges the truth in what he said. (2) I can’t decide what I think of his take.
On the one hand, I agree 100% with his analysis of his own weakness (and at the end of the day, I think that was the whole point of the piece, no?). On the other hand, tznius is such a multifaceted thing. Yes… it is about personal dignity and presenting oneself as a daughter of the King. It is also about keeping that which is private reserved (and we can talk about being tznua of speech here). But to what extent is dressing tznius a chesed for men who find it difficult to avert their eyes? I don’t know. Maybe that aspect just doesn’t resonate with me. I find it difficult to live in a city with virtually no kosher eateries, but I can’t ask every Chipotle to close because I find it excruciating to be out and hungry and have to drive right on by that yummy yummy burrito. That is my own challenge and I have to deal with it. So too, men have their challenges that they deal with.
I can’t justify vitriol (and frankly, I think nasty comments miss the point that he was looking at his own personal weaknesses). That said, the “old me”… the one that wore a tube top and mini skirt… and crazy platform sandals… would have likely reacted the same way. Why? He hit a nerve. We know (knew) we would be viewed as objects deep down, but do we want to hear it? Not a chance. Prince charming was waiting in the wings– the one that would see us for who we were, not what we were (not) wearing. But we had to catch his eye! G-d forbid someone remind us that Prince Charming will not take us seriously wearing THAT…
I think that’s the question many other commenters (here and there) are grappling with: to what extent is our tznius connected to men’s desires and struggles? It’s much nicer to think of tznius as a way of recognizing our dignity, and if that helps you when it’s 90 degrees out, great! But maybe the other aspect is just an unpleasant truth that we would rather pretend didn’t exist, and it’s been a little dredged up.
Thanks for commenting! So nice to see you here!
Once I attended a training session for a company I was interested in working with. The person who was in charge explained what professional dress is, and told the participants (mostly non-Jews, college aged men and women) that if they didn’t have anything that fit, well, they would have to go out and buy. Because you can’t expect people to take you seriously and professionally if you don’t dress the part.
Needless to say, I didn’t have to buy anything . . . nor was I surprised by what I heard. But a lot of others were . . .
Interesting anecdote – thank you for sharing! It’s been too long since I read your blog. Soon soon!
Yeah. Where I live in Memphis I don’t wear socks, but when I went to Geula this past week, I tried to wear a longer skirt to accommodate the people there. I agree that it’s respectful to accomodate the people around you. And I’ma big fan of dressing conservatively. In college, I dress more conservatively, and I think it earns me respect from my peers and professors and makes me appear more mature and responsible. The only time less clothes seems attractive is summertime!!
That’s very thoughtful of you. :) I hear what you’re saying about summertime and less clothes! I like to remind myself that I’m minimizing the potential for harmful effects of sun on my skin (of course, I do need to supplement vitamin D, but hey, it’s something).
Thank you for posting this. I’m really glad I came across your blog.
In response to modesty, I have recently been dressing more modestly and keeping to tznius rules….most of the time. At home and at the gym I don’t – but I am working on purchasing a work out skirt. I feel that you took the words right out of my mouth and put them down so eloquently in this blog. I love that political cartoon of the woman dressed in a burka and the woman in a bikini and sunglasses, both looking at each other with the same end result in the thought bubble, “What a cruel male dominated culture.”
I dress this way because the Torah tells me I should, and also because it makes me feel good about myself.
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for such a sweet comment. I love that comic, too!
Hatzlacha with dressing modestly. I’d love to hear more about your experiences (and I’m totally going to check out your blog when I have a longer minute)