Last week I posted a public reply to an article from Pop Chassid. If you have not yet read it, feel free to do so here: Reply to PopChassid’s Appeal to Modesty.
When I wrote it, I hadn’t yet taken much time to read any other comments on the subject before I began scribbling my thoughts down. Sometimes a post just hits you and before you know it, your pen (keyboard?) is doing the talking for you.
The point of view which my response took was very strongly influenced by my personal experiences with moving towards dressing modestly, and for all intents and purposes–my journey to becoming observant. Perhaps, at some point, I will post more in depth about that journey. But for now, let’s suffice it to say that it was a confusing experience as I felt I was hearing conflicting advice over what was considered modest. At one point, I resorted to only wearing ankle-length skirts. Of course then someone pointed out that some men like long skirts.
Dress modestly, but not *too* modestly. Be attractive, but not attracting. Never leave the house without make-up, but make it look like you’re not wearing make-up. So on and so forth.
It didn’t take long to start feeling like my whole identity as a woman became solely based on how I appeared to the men around me. I had never felt so much pressure put upon my looks in all my previous years. I stressed a lot over whose version of modest I should follow.
I admit, a lot of this worrying was a product of my own tendency to over-think everything mixed in equal parts with the typical eager zealousness of the newly religious. It’s not as if men were coming up to me and pointing out my immodesty, or God-forbid, spitting on me. I just have a habit, as many woman do, of trying to be an upstanding woman.
But knowing that I was being sized up in a whole new way really got to me. The pressure became too much. Trying to dress myself each day became a chore and it brought me a lot of stress and worry. I looked in the mirror I didn’t recognize myself anymore. And worse, I didn’t even like what I saw.
That’s when I knew I needed to back up and start over.
It took a while to find that happy medium were I could dress modestly and still retain a style which feels like the me I’ve always been. Now I have a modest which I feel appropriate for my lifestyle, my convictions, my community, and which, I am nearly certain, won’t get me blamed for delaying Moshiach.
But what is really on my heart right now is that I am not the only one to have reacted strongly to PopChassid’s appeal. In fact, according to my sloppy estimations, more women than not had strong reactions. The reasons behind this are probably varied, but I think by and large boil down to the fact that women have a need to be valued as something more than her appearance; to be viewed as an individual and not a sum of her parts.
Covering ones self up is an effort but one many of us find worthwhile when we’re encouraged to believe modesty is not only a mitzvah, but will also aid in equalizing the playing field that both sexes share. So, when a member of the opposite sex puts a dramatic spot-light on our how our appearance effects them, many of us recoil–angrily!–at that notion. Right or wrong, we feel angry that after all our work to be taken seriously, we’re still being seen as a sum total of our clothing.
Of course there are likely to be many women who feel differently and perhaps never bought into the modern idea that women are equals–an admittedly idealistic notion that comes with its share of inherent contradictions. Or, maybe to them these appeals just don’t come as a shock because they have been doing this whole religious Jewish thing longer than I have. But what can I say? I’m a modern kinda gal like that. I grew up in a world where, without much effort, people treated me as both female and equal, and I didn’t need to dress any differently to receive that respect.
But here is the thing that bothers me even more than all of that–I have reread many of the comments on PopChassid’s post, as well as various comments on various forums online regarding the post, and I am horrified. Horrified. There are some seriously nasty comments floating around out there and it pains me to read them.
I am not just an angry feminist with a bone to pick. I don’t like the idea of shaming another writer for speaking his truth. And I don’t have to agree with someone to be 100% supportive of them speaking their mind. Really, I admire him because he really laid it out on the line. It’s so much easier for me to stand on this side and critique than it is to be open and honest from your heart in the first place.
I hate public calls to modesty directed at women. That isn’t going to change. I stand fully behind my initial response to his post, but I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to say that I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guts it took to write his feelings out to begin with.