Friday, February 23, 2007

On Unfairness

I just found this video (courtesy of Matthue of Jewschool):

And it is super-cutie. I love videos like this, David Lavon's, and anything by The Chevra, but here's the problem: I can't look at them without thinking about the fact that a similar group of girls can't do the same thing. Religious women can't make a silly video and put it online for tznius* reasons, and they certainly can't sing (kol eisha* being a problem). That is really my issue with the restrictions leveled on women. I don't have an issue wearing only skirts, except that it means that I can't ride a bike, and guys can. Or a horse, or go swimming. It just seems needlessly unfair.

For example, lets take swimming. I recently read an article about a modest swimsuit designed specifically with Muslim women in mind. It covers the woman entirely (including a little hood to cover hair, neck, etc), and is in no way alluring, but according to Jewish law, as the suit is a pantsuit, it would be unacceptable. There is an option for a little skirt, but the skirt is above the knee (probably for safety reasons), and so still can't be worn. The article talks about a woman who had some medical issue, somewhat alleviated by swimming/being in a hot tub, and it seemed so cute, her husband is teaching her (at age 65!) how to swim. Oh so sweet. But wait a minute, doesn't that mean that for 60-odd years he has been swimming, and never before thought that maybe she'd want to do it too? It just drives home the Queen of Words' point that it is hard to separate ourselves from our privileged status.

Hope that you can enjoy the video anyway.

*Tznius is the Ashkenazic pronounciation for the word tzniut, or modesty. It often refers to the set of laws which regulate women's clothing, appearance, and behavior. Examples of these are the stipulation that women wear skirts past the knee, cover their elbows, and their collarbones. Some traditions are more, or less strict, depending on the part of the world, and the denomination.

* Kol Eisha is literally "a woman's voice," and refers to the probition against women singing (alone, or in a group, depending on the reading) in front of men, or against men listening to the voices of women singing.


Jack's Shack said...

FWIW, I don't believe in a lot of these restrictions. Call me a kofer, but they drive me nuts.

Some are nothing more than minhag. But more than that much of it is based upon some silly idea that men cannot control their urges and that irks me.

Annie said...

You and me both. I find it ridiculous that women are (in large part) responsible for preventing men from sinning.

It brings me to another issue, which is that religious women are taught that men can't control their urges, that they must be protected against, etc, etc, and then expected to build a marriage (hopefully one of mutual respect) with one. Absurd.

babytyrone said...

By my admittedly limited understanding, there is actually no definitive answer on whether the letter of the law of tzniut requires women to wear skirts rather than pants. While it has certainly become accepted practice in yeshivish communities to wear skirts, to the exclusion of pants, the source for this seems to be some obscure mixture of an antiquated idea that pants are men's clothing (which is clearly a definition that changes with time, even in the most frum communities, otherwise we'd all be wearing robes) and an idea with little to no early rabbinic source that somehow a separation between the legs is itself inherently immodest (presumably because it could make a man imagine that women have two legs, instead of just one?). In any case, it is pretty clear that women have a great deal of halachic authority to stand on if they want to wear loose-fitting pants -- certainly according to every authority they are preferable to tight or short skirts. It is a great (and to me noxious) irony that while tight clothing is by no means consdiered acceptable in yeshivish communities, it is still significantly less stigmatized than the wearing of pants, which seems to place one firmly outside the community. So, correct me if I'm off-base here, but as long as one's reasons for following the rules of tzniut are primarily halachic, wouldn't a swimsuit that is "in no way alluring" be the perfect solution to this problem?

As a side note: I grew up very religious, and I have an immense amount of respect for those -- especially women -- who have chosen to uphold (or adopt) the level of observance and restriction held to in the right-wing orthodox community. But the case of pants is a really good example of something I have noticed repeatedly. The power of rabbinic adjudication, accepted minhag and community reinforcement that so effectively draws normative behavior out of the seeming chaos of halachic literature stretching back into antiquity so often seems almost to bend over backward to make the lives of women more difficult. Can you imagine yeshivish communities being so thoroughly judgemental on the basis of such an ambiguously derived law, if it was the lives and activities specifically of men that it placed its constraints upon?

Annie said...

Babytyrone- you are correct, halachically loose pants are acceptable, but I was talking mostly about how it is unacceptable to the community, rather than by law. I did, however, elaborate in my definition of tzniut.

It is one of my great frustrations that many people agree, but won't stand up and say that pants are acceptible. In the forum 'frum teens' it goes so far as to suggest that girls should not run in front of men, even while modestly attired.

I've decided that I'm all about modesty for the situation.

sarah said...

Another piece of ridiculousness--on another frum teen site (I'm forgetting which one now, but I'll find it), a teen girl was told that she should not make a skirt out of men's jeans because the skirt would (because of its origins) be beged ish. Whoa nelly.

I suppose that one could then extrapolate (although the site in question did not) that a woman should not make a skirt out of jeans originally meant for women, either, because it could be mistaken for a skirt made out of menswear. Therefore, no jean skirts at all.

JT said...

Annie, Religious women do it anyway. Good for them. Shabbat Shalom!:

DK said...


It is regrettable that you feel pressured to conform to demands of maximum halachic compliance, at least publicly. A LW Modern Orthodoxy is increasingly harder to find in any significant density, I guess.

Anniegetyour said...

DK- felt, not feel.

Shira Salamone said...

Sigh. Just click on the label Kol Isha in this post and work your way back. (While you're at it, read Mark's remarks, to which I linked in my most recent post on the subject. Not every guy is particularly comfortable with the Kol Isha prohibition, either.)