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.