Friday, February 8, 2008

Concerns I have

When I first learned about tznius, it was said that dressing tznius created an emphasis on who a person is, and not on a person's appearance. Therefore, covering up allows a person to de-emphasize the parts of themselves which do not express the internal. The face, being the medium for expression, could be exposed, but the collarbone, knees, and elbows (and areas in between) should be covered. The cut off points are clearly delineated on everyone's body and I was told that joints have very significant meaning, although I'm not sure what. So, ok. I want to do what's right, and even though it means I needed to adjust my wardrobe, it wasn't a problem for me to at least try. I have never been particularly fashion oriented, and I have no problem doing what seems to be right even if I do not fully understand it. However...

I have read a few incidents lately that have caught my attention. First, the caveat that I have only read about these things and have NO first hand experience with any of them. I have not spoken to any of these people, nor have I seen evidence. I fully believe that all of these may be grossly out of context and/or misrepresented. However, I think I would be foolish to ignore them because even if they are all fiction, such fiction would still create worry. Because my point exists even if the following are not true, I have taken down links I am uneasy about posting, because if they are false, or misunderstood, I would hate to spread such misconceptions.
  • Pictures of tznius women's faces used to advertise sheitles, are tznius, but pritzus, and thus a store owner’s failure to remove themjustifies boycotting his store.
  • Schools need only educate girls in things that will help them be better wives and mothers. Science, Shakespeare and Algebra does not help someone raise a family and crams "poor girls [sic] heads" with too much stuff!
  • A clothing store near Shabbat Square was set on fire, while Geula neighborhood patrols are armed with containers of bleach to damage the clothing of women who break the dress code (including wearing knitted, denim, jersey and spandex).
  • A woman should not swing her arms while walking in the street
  • This article (here, the full article, in Hebrew) interviews some of the followers of the Rabbanit, women who have taken tznius to an extreme. One woman wears 5 skirts, two capes, seven scarves, and a veil angled to cover one eye. Although she feels guilt, she leaves her other eye uncovered because she is disgusted by the idea of using her children as guide dogs.
These things concern me. Not because it causes me to love Judaism any less. I know that extremes exist within all good things, and that everything can be manipulated from being "good" to being "bad". My worry is that the line could be blurred. I think an obsessive focus on tznius could create distorted body images for women, in much the same way that the secular world has done so. Girls become anorexic as a way to control their bodies, to reach "perfection" through self destructive behavior; it seems like wearing tons of layers and covering your face and not speaking to men is similar in an extreme attempt to exert control. If you are hyper-tznius, then you no longer have to worry that you may cause a man to sin, you no longer have to worry that someone may attribute immodesty to you. If any show of femininity is shameful, pritzus, dirty, or forbidden, why not be safe and hide every bit?

People often say that if you are "more religious" then you do X. However, I do not like this term. I find that it doesn't often mean that person A does 260 mitzvahs and is only somewhat kind and loving towards Hashem and his family while person B does 316 mitzvahs and is 100% kind and loving towards Hashem and his family. I find it's more often that person B is much like person A, only person A also does 20 extra stringencies. At some point, I think the extras are not done for honorable purposes anymore, but are done so a person can show how religious they are. For example, in high school, there were girls who would bring things to school in bags from designer stores in New York, although they usually wore clothing from local department stores. I was once told by someone who did this that bringing a bag from a fancy store in New York allowed that purchase to be twice as useful. Not only could you wear that expensive blouse, but you could let everyone else know that you owned such a blouse by bringing the bag! So, the point of the clothing was not that you liked it, but rather that you wanted everyone else to see that you had the (taste, money, fashion advice, etc.) to shop at that store.

So, if one over-emphasizes tznius, I could see that the goal of focusing attention on the person instead of appearance would be lost, and in fact, the focus is again on a person's appearance. Like I said, it's nothing that would make me change my path, and it's not something that concerns me too much, but it is something I would never want to experience myself and something that warrants some thought.

(Addendum: I would like to add that I think communities come together because they relate on a certain level. Through that, certain standards are formed because those are the places of overlap. If I move to a community and I want my children to be around modestly dressed people, I would be quite upset if a family of nudists moved in and insisted on running around. Of course, I wouldn't stone then, but I would try to encourage them to adhere to the community's mores (through frank discussion, example, and trying to be warm and understanding). However, if the family insisted on running around nude, I would probably ignore them and encourage my family to do the same. So, I understand. I think that applies with less extreme grounds. I could understand why a Synagogue would probably have a problem with a house next to the Shul having a volleyball tournament with girls in bikinis and a pig roast on the front lawn on Shabbos. I think that these other communities are similar, but the examples are different. Even if not for religious reasons, I like Judaism because it gives me comfort that the community produces educated, religious, happy, unique, well rounded, friendly, caring and creative children. I like that I wouldn't have to be as concerned about sex in 5th grade, gangs and throw downs at the grocery store. However, at some point, a community needs to guard itself but recognize that there are different communities, beliefs and ideas and that the Torah places great emphasis on loving kindess and the proper way to influence others.)


Gila said...

You don't have to feel bad about your concerns; they are shared by many from all of the various levels of observance and non-observance.

In respect to the show-off aspects of observance, I noted, and detested, that same phenomenon when I lived in J'lem. It is one of the reasons I love Tel Aviv. Here, ain't no one to show off for, because no one really cares what you do. If you do something, it is for you and/or G-d.

In fact, I would say that the major difference between you and the rest of us is that you are actually polite, respectful and reasonable in your arguments. But I suppose the lessons in obnoxious grandstanding and condemnations will come later in the conversion process? :) (joking--sort of)

tznius lady said...

I take pride in operating the website with the utmost of tznius (modesty). When people post a dress for sale or rent, I will remove the hands and face. Call me crazy, but this is a crazy world and you've got to fit in.