Reply to PopChassid Modesty Article

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.

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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.

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Here is a link to my friend Rivki’s response to PopChassid’s article: In Defense of PopChassid. It’s a good read.

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18 thoughts on “Reply to PopChassid Modesty Article

  1. I never once said you are responsible for my spiritual journey. I’m not freeing myself of any responsibility, and your implication that I was saying I was unable to control my natural human emotions is not only not true, it is something I specifically said is not the case.

    The problem with this debate, as I see it, is that people are trying to look at it through a feminist lens. Feminism is great to an extent, but to try and put something like that into your paradigm is to degrade it. The reason I wrote “honestly” was not to free myself of responsibility, not to say I can’t control myself, not to shame women. You say these things because you are used to seeing other men saying them in such a context, but I did not.

    In fact, my whole goal with the post was to take this discussion beyond politics. It bothers me to no end that people continually say the same tired factoids, the same tropes, the same endless repeatable, political, regurgitated, facts that they have memorized because they haven’t taken the time to think for themselves. Being human and honest is not about removing responsibility, it is about saying that I refuse to fall into the same old paradigms and would rather work this out in a deep way, even if it is flawed, because I refuse to be a cog in the wheel of causes for which people do not think for themselves.

    The responses to my blog are fair when they address what I actually wrote, and there are definitely things I probably could have improved on. But this particular post is simply another fabrication and misinterpretation of my writing.

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    • As I said to you personally, I’m going to say here for other people’s benefit too: I tried to make my response as general as possible, and I went out of my way not to directly quote you so that it would be clear that my response is directed towards appeals of this sort, and not at *you* specifically.

      It may be that your request, in your own mind and interpretation, differs from the “typical” modesty appeal from men to women. I’m sure it comes from a good place. But on this side of the fence? It feels exactly the same. That’s what I’m trying to express.

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      • “But on this side of the fence? It feels exactly the same. That’s what I’m trying to express.”

        Exactly my point. If you don’t want to take responsibility for my spirituality, then don’t ask me to take responsibility for your misreading of my post.

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    • What exactly is “a feminist lens?” To advocate that a man understand something from a woman’s perspective? To understand that forcing behavior based on a man’s needs subverts her own? To realize that patterning behavior based on other people’s perceptions is futile as there is always someone with a different perception?
      I don’t see how you “moved beyond politics” when you actually are forcing women to NOT think for themselves when they dress because of YOUR inner demons.

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      • I, of course, have no problem with any of the things you mention, and I find it a bit funny that you are so forceful about men “seeing things from a woman’s perspective”, and yet bash a blog post that is simply requesting that women see things from a man’s perspective.

        As I said multiple times in the comments and in my follow-up post, I am not trying to force anyone to do anything. If a woman chooses to dress how she wants, all power to her. Not once in my blog post was I attempting to force anyone to do anything, but to simply see things from my angle. The request was just that: a request.

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    • Do you not consider yourself a feminist? Feminism is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” If you do, as you seem to, believe in gender equality, then why this attempt to dictate to all women something as personal as clothing choices?
      Personally, I find polo shirts on men revolting. Should I request that all men abandon them to help me deal with my undesired nausea?

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      • I don’t consider myself an anything. I think that feminism has many beautiful ideas and truths to it. When I said that she was applying a “feminist lens”, I meant that she was incorrectly applying something that is true in certain situations to mine. For example, her post assumes that I want her to “take responsibility” for my spirituality. This is, of course, not true. To assume that I am “forcing” anyone by writing a blog post, especially a blog post that does anything but demand, and, in fact, puts the onus of responsibility on myself and all men, is a misreading of my post. That is why I consider it politicized. If people are misreading my blog post so much, it is clear that there is something going on.

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  2. Pingback: In Defense of Pop Chassid | Life in the Married Lane

  3. An appeal to men……..
    I have something evil brewing in me some call it a feminist, others call it strong willed, I call it the bitch slapper. It comes out of me when I least suspect it. Usually in the grocery store line or when the costumer service agent it talking to me like I’m less of a being, but the bitch slapper comes out the strongest when men try to tell me who and what I need to fo for them. We all have this evil in us, this Id, this desire to slap someone to knock some sense into them. So let me say this as I am doing my best to hold my hand back….. Do not ever tell me who & what to wear not now not ever, and while we r at it don’t tell me how to act and behave, because as a women being “told ” gets pretty old. No man will ever know what it is like to walk in a woman’s shoes, no man will ever understand what makes a woman want to take on modesty or throw it in the trash. It is beyond the male comprehension. No offense but you have to understand that this is so personally female that you making this request from us is like us asking you to do something so foreign and unnatural. I know you won’t get this and that is ok we don’t need you to. Just like we will never understand the evil within you that you talking about, so lets make a deal. We will stop asking u to get over your male desires and you can stop asking us to make accommodations for them. Deal ?

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