This is in response to a recent post put out by blogger, Pop Chassid, entitled: Please Help Me: An Appeal to Women for Modesty.
Please read that first.
Firstly I have to say, I do admire your humility, Elad, because all good things start there. Humility is a powerful thing! I also think it’s a beautiful thing that you shared your heart so openly, despite the fact that I am about to completely disagree with you.
Here is my real problem with public requests for modesty, like yours:
You’re asking womankind to take on dressing tznuis because you struggle not to see them as a sexual object, and as far as I can see there are only two possible options why: a) you’re a selfish ass (I don’t think that to be the case here) or b) you fail to realize how big of an undertaking it is to dress modestly.
Because I think people who make such requests usually fall into the latter category I thought I would take a moment just to shed a little light on what goes into, at least for me personally, my choice to dress modestly:
- I choose to cover my hair with a hat, tichel or scarf. Even when my head hurts. Even when I’m hot. Even when I wish I could just put it up in a pony tail and feel the breeze on my head. Even when I need to walk down to the get the newspaper. Even when my baby pulls it off of my head ten times a day. Even when my head itches like crazy.
- I wear clothing that covers down to my knees and over my elbows– even when I feel out of place at the work place, a public event, or a family get together with my non-Jewish family. Even when I don’t like what I see in the mirror. Even when it hides the parts of my body I feel good about and shows off the parts I don’t feel good about. Even when I know people in the secular world think I’m a religious nut. Even when my extended family thinks I’m either crazy or self-righteous–or worse, both.
- It is difficult to find clothing I actually like that is already modest, which means that I have to figure out how to make it modest by adding a shell, a cardigan, some tights or leggings, or find someone to sew on sleeves or a dickie, or just ditching it all together. This costs time and money.
- When I want to go to the beach or pool I am always uncomfortable. I find the “modest” swimsuits ugly, the over-sized shirt and baggy pants unpractical to swim in, and sitting in the sandy beach in a jean skirt and 3/4 sleeve shirt leaves me both vitamin D deficient and feeling like a baked potato.
- In the summer I have to deal with people daily asking me why I choose to dress in long sleeves when it’s 90 degree weather, all the while trying to assure that I’m not at all hot, even when I am clearly dripping with sweat.
- I find it hard to convince my secular friends that my religion doesn’t look at women as lesser-than or possessions when I’m dressed this way.
- I spent three times as much time, money and effort putting together any outfit that meets both my level of modesty and my desire to retain my own personal style
I would speculate that those women who disapproved of your request felt similar, though I can only truly speak for myself when I say this: despite how much appreciation I have for the sincerity of your feelings–no, I will not dress modestly for you nor any other man. I simply cannot commit to being responsible for anyone’s spiritual journey but my own–because mine is more than enough for one person to manage. Furthermore using guilt by making individual women feel responsible for the feelings, thoughts and perhaps even actions, of 50% of of the human race is just not right. Women have their own burdens to carry and we do not need to add yours to our heap.
However, I will dress modesty out of respect for my body, my culture and my peers. I will dress modestly because I like putting the effort into being set apart. I will dress modestly because it makes me feel good to know that certain parts of my body are only for my husband. I will dress modestly because HaShem–regardless of how it is interpreted–clearly puts value on modesty in women. I will dress modesty because I have committed to doing do, even if my definition of modesty evolves over time.
When men make a public “call to modesty” from women, it is a form of women shaming. By stripping away from them their right to make this decision on their own accord, for the right reasons, it makes us nothing more than a matter of convenience (or inconvenience) to man. This sort of public appeal for women’s modesty isn’t new. And while I admire the fact that you are willing to be honest and raw and put yourself out there–I forces me to question the motives of such a request. Is it to warn women about your unbridled sexual responses to visual stimulation? Is it to bond with other men who wished they had the guts to make such an astoundingly large request of an entire gender? Is it an attempt to allow yourself a little grace for all those slip-ups?
I can’t really say, but I do know this–honesty is a tricky thing. And when it comes to professions like these, the common statement “the truth will set your free” proves to be quite a double-edged sword. The truth is indeed so freeing that it can even free us from personal responsibility. It can stand as lip service to an ideal in the place where true devotion should be. It is a flag often flown at it’s highest when the heart is in it’s lowest. Honesty is good thing, but you gotta know how to use it.
I believe that we do ourselves a huge disfavor by allowing ourselves to believe we are weak. It’s good to know our struggles, there is no doubt. But, the will (or willpower) is a muscle that needs continuous exercise to keep it’s strength. When you use it regularly it becomes strong and solid, and we are even able to keep up our self discipline with almost little effort. But when we give into the idea that we are a victim to our weaknesses, we stand no chance against them.
When all is said and done, you get a lot more flies with honey. Praising women for dressing modesty is likely to get far better results. But even that will come at the cost of still making many women feel like nothing more than a man’s sex object.
Here is a link to my friend Rivki’s response to PopChassid’s article: In Defense of PopChassid. It’s a good read.
I went on a rare date with my husband a few weeks ago. I do mean rare, as the last time I recall going out with him alone was when I was pregnant with my nine month old little one.
He said “what do you wanna do?” I said, “anything we can’t do with kids around…. hey! You know what I meant!” He said, “how about an art museum?” I said “hells yeah! And then afterwards if we have time, maybe that other thing too.”
I’m paraphrasing of course. It was probably far more boring a conversation than I prefer to recall, but some how or another the plan was to go to a modern art museum followed by a quick jog (long walk) to the Portrait Gallery. I was game. Actually I was excited because a lot has changed since I was last in an art museum–mainly my appreciation for art. I’m prone to being cynical about everything, including myself, so modern art is something I truly struggle with appreciating. But, since I’m a big girl now, I was looking forward to really feeling the art.
The entrance seemed a little boring, but I know how obsessed with white space you modern artists are, so that didn’t throw me off. We were informed that Jenny Jones had a new display and it was all the rage. “Jenny Jones!” the receptionist beamed. “Oh great!” I feigned like I had any clue who she was.
My husband read my thoughts when he exclaimed, “Awesome! A freak make-over!”. (Relax, if you don’t get the joke it simply means you didn’t watch enough TV in the 90′s. Worry not, that can be remedied with Youtube.) We rode the alarmingly inartistic escalators upstairs–some things are purely function you know–and started a way throw a series of rooms.
I noted a bed which was cut in half and assembled to a dresser. He noted parts of a railroad from China hung from the ceiling. We both noted a piece entitled “Wall with Ten Holes”, in which true to it’s name, was a wall with indeed ten holes punch in it. I noted chairs to sit in. He noted a second floor. I noted a bed with disembodied wooden arms laying beside it that made me feel kinda like throwing up. He noted a beautiful balcony. We both noted the door was locked. I noted it was probably to keep people from jumping off. I also noted it was the best display in the whole building. Lady next to me noted that she agreed. I noted that the only people that seemed to enjoy this were white and rich. We noted that it was time to leave.
I have a sinking feeling I will never grow up enough to appreciate modern art.
When I left I was a little disappointed in myself. I had high hopes of really feeling the art. All I felt was cold and harsh and a little bit sick from the disembodied arms. I also felt sad that I didn’t think to nail perfectly good antique furniture together and call it art, but that’s neither here nor there.
Then I thought that perhaps–maybe?–it’s what the artists were going for? To make me feel sick and question my perception of art?
Then we walked over to the Portrait Gallery and I breathed a sigh of relief.
When I need to write, and I can’t, I become very irritable. Moody. My feelings all pent up, banging around inside. My words a convict clanking his metal cup on the jail bars of my mind. I can focus on little else but the words swimming around in my mind. But what can I do about it? Life doesn’t stop simply because I’m feeling creative (or cynical, sarcastic, snarky or angry for that matter.) So I bury it down inside myself, hoping that the creativity will not escape, but instead it rots. A lost opportunity. A dying phrase. A once breathtaking, turned putrid, thought.
Like manna, it is only for the here and for the now.
I know why writers tend towards being a tad affected. I know why they hermit for days at a time. How naively readers envision them sitting at a desk, under an open window typing happily along as the birds sing above. How so easily the scene could be replaced by a man, dark circles under his eyes, huddling before a type writer, dragging on cigarette after cigarette as smoke curls upwards, slowly beginning to believe his truths; the truths that apply to no one but him.
They are afraid that the moment they step away, that it will all vanish.
I am afraid that the moment I step away, it will all vanish.
Maybe it’s not true for those not tested and tried by the vexation of writer’s block. (I know that there is no such thing. It’s all in my head. It’s just a myth. And I faithfully tell that to my starkly white sheet of paper.) But a writer stands a very big chance of going mad for fear that if he lets go, even once, spontaneous word or phrase or idea will leave him and never visit again. It might have been the last good thing he ever had to write. And he will be finished forever, powerless to the whim and fancy of the written word.
But I have to take that chance, because I cannot allow myself to think only of my own needs. Indeed, I believe doing so would make me a fantastic writer, but only for a short time. Soon I would have nothing left to write, as what can a person who leads no life really have worth saying?
I’m struggling with my connection to this blog.
I enjoy reading other people’s highly polished sites chock full of essays and exciting pieces that make you go “hmm”. But, the only real desire I have for this blog is to, well, be a blog. A window into my honest and raw feelings about being a writer. I like coming here to work through my mental bugs. I figure why not make some of it public to share with others who may feel a connection to my feelings and experiences?
This blog pretty much is what it is. I’ll try to make bank on my other work. This blog is pretty self-centered. Honestly, it’s a dime a dozen. It is simply about my love, and my vexation, of having to constantly write everything out.