Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Your Guf, My Neshama

I find the whole "tznius" conversation to be quite boring and rather moot. In this day and age when bodies jiggle and quiver in revealing abandon, does it really make a cosmic religious difference if a skirt is two inches higher or shorter? 
But it is never-ending, and it is not contained in specific religious groups. My shul boasts a variety of members across the spectrum, yet I was stunned to find one Shabbos a poster plastered on the women's section stairwell primly dictating how a woman should be dressed when entering the shul. 

Let's be honest, here: If a woman walked the distance to shul, finally arrived, and saw that sign, would she turn around, go back home, put on a pair of stockings or a longer skirt and head back? Please. So what purpose does it serve? Guests don't exactly pack alternate attire for a weekend occasion. 

Despite the fact that there are countless other matters, explicitly explained in the text, that we should expend the energy on, many gleefully pounce on this "cop-out" of a topic. We are not supposed to embarrass somebody, but apparently only in this case. 

I was wondering as to the constant fascination of this subject when I came across John Tierney's article in the Science Times, "A Cold War Fought by Women." 

Now, we know that men and women display aggression differently. When the Seinfeld crew chatted about boy-on-boy violence, Elaine scoffed at male barbarity, stating that girls "just tease someone until they develop an eating disorder."
Women can nourish a mean competitive streak, usually based on the primal desire to score a mate. Therefore, if another woman is dressed more attractively or more skimpily, she can be verbally ripped to shreds based on sight alone.

In the cited study, while the comparatively "modest" woman, in jeans and a t-shirt, did not stir up rival tendencies, the short skirt and low-cut top released the harpy in the female group. 
The results of the experiment jibe with evidence that this “mean girl” form of indirect aggression is used more by adolescents and young women than by older women, who have less incentive to handicap rivals once they marry. Other studies have shown that the more attractive an adolescent girl or woman is, the more likely she is to become a target for indirect aggression from her female peers.
“Women are indeed very capable of aggressing against others, especially women they perceive as rivals,” said Dr. Vaillancourt, now a psychologist at the University of Ottawa. “The research also shows that suppression of female sexuality is by women, not necessarily by men.” 
Older women, come to think of it, will generously flatter a younger gal if she is nicely presented, and don't mention inch-issues at all (except for schoolteachers). Also, I tend to get more compliments from women who have all their daughters married, as opposed to ones who still have yet to pair them off.

But  things must get rather confusing when a fine frum girl is harassed to dress with a ruler next to her mirror, yet bachelors seeking miniature sizes are validated. 
Indirect aggression can take a psychological toll on women who are ostracized or feel pressured to meet impossible standards, like the vogue of thin bodies in many modern societies. Studies have shown that women’s ideal body shape is to be thinner than average — and thinner than what men consider the ideal shape to be. This pressure is frequently blamed on the ultrathin female role models featured in magazines and on television, but Christopher J. Ferguson and other researchers say that it’s mainly the result of competition with their peers, not media images . . . He found that women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies did not correlate with what they watched on television at home . . . But he found that women were more likely to feel worse when they compared themselves with peers in their own social circles, or even if they were in a room with a thin stranger, like the assistant to Dr. Ferguson who ran an experiment with female college students. When she wore makeup and sleek business attire, the students were less satisfied with their own bodies than when she wore baggy sweats and no makeup. And they felt still worse when there was an attractive man in the room with her. 
What if this constant, repetitive, pointless "tznius" hysteria—which tends to be pushed by women, not men—did not stem from frumkeit, but rather from good-old-fashioned evolutionary instinct, from envy and insecurity? 
On the left, she is happily included; on the right, she must die.
What if the more we talk about it, the less spiritually elevated we actually are?

I posit a solution: If anyone feels a deep urge to critique the "tznius" of another, spend five extra minutes on getting dressed in the morning. Put some thought and effort into it. Don a neat pencil skirt that fits. Throw on an interesting jacket. Clip in a pair of earrings. Swipe on mascara, buff on some blush, dab on a little lipstick. 

I have a feeling that that confidence in appearance will neutralize any need to put down someone else. 


FrumGeek said...

I think that a shul should be allowed to request that those attending dress properly. Just saying.

Princess Lea said...

What is up with "Just saying"? Are you expressing an opinion or not? So don't bother with "Just saying"? You are saying, duh!

What is properly? I'm not talking about women showing up in halter tops. I mean not wearing stockings. I mean wearing opaque tights and the skirt is an inch above the knee.

Normal people understand what is proper. If they aren't normal, no sign is going to tell them otherwise. And I would think antagonizing and ostracizing signs will excommunicate them further.

Secondly, men shouldn't comment about tznius at all. Because they should be pretending not to notice it. If they do comment on it, "Dude, you were totally checking her out!" Find the floor incredibly fascinating instead.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree about the men not commenting on tznius.
I attended a shuir last week on parenting by a rather charedi Rav who begins with " communities have problems with the girls innaprobrite dress" and then continues the rest of the shiur with " if your son does this or that"
Men really shouldn't go around commenting on tznius.

Anon2 said...

I (female) think that a shul has right to display a dress code. True, those signs don't seem to make any difference in how people come dressed, but just like my shul requests all men to come wearing a yarmulke and that everyone turn off any cell phones, it also asks women to follow basic halachic guidelines for tznius and hair-covering. I've never been offended by an innocuous sign. That being said, I do think that's about as far as it should go and that's how far it does go in my shul.

By the way, about put-together women vs. schlumpy ones, I tend to avoid females dressed to kill in casual settings. Because, duh, they're dressed to kill.

Anon3 said...

A shul has a right to request that you dress a certain way; a neighborhood has a right to request you dress a certain way, just as a store has a right to request you dress a certain way ('no shoes, no shirt, no service'.) You don't want to abide by the rules, don't enter into their r'shus. And yes, a few inches or stockings makes a difference, because it's more about following daas torah than anything else.

Sweet Profusion said...

...unless you come across a sign in shul (as I did when out of town a few years ago) admonishing the women not to use mascara or any excessive eye make-up...

Princess Lea said...

Anon: Especially since tznius applies to men as well, but whenever they mention it, it is always about blaming the women.

Anon2: I don't think they are intentionally trying to murder you with their wardrobe.

Some women really feel good and like it when they are dressed up. Some of them are really quite nice once you get to know them. Shouldn't tolerance reign?

And I find that the shlumpy don't exactly have a monopoly on nice.

But as to your point, a kapul is a black-and-white requirement of when praying. Not disturbing others (vis a vis cell phone) is another.

Not so much with stockings. I don't believe that it is a halacha to don them before prayer.

Anon3:"A shul has a right to request that you dress a certain way; a neighborhood has a right to request you dress a certain way, just as a store has a right to request you dress a certain way ('no shoes, no shirt, no service'.)"

A neighborhood as a right!?! No it doesn't!

There is no concept of "daas Torah" nowadays because there is no clear concensus. When there was one Sanhedrin, yeah. When there was one Rav of a community, yeah. Now there are more ravs in a neighborhood than people, and to find a clear majority is not possible.

As Sweet Profusion notes, one shul's tznius is not another shul's tznius. This is about an awareness that there are many types of Jews, and to make our intolerance of their ways of life obvious is pretty much sinas chinum: My way or the highway.

To everyone here, there is always someone on the "right" who will find you untzniusdik. If you went into a shul, feeling as though you were dressed perfectly tzniusdik, abiding by "daas Torah," and a fellow shul member questioned your garb, you would be ticked off. Admit it.

Why shouldn't someone on the "left" get that same consideration?

Let's take down the walls instead of building them up. We can't see moshiach from behind them.

wellspring said...

I think it very much depends on the standard being enforced. Some poskim allow women not to wear stockings, or to wear natural-looking sheitels. Although I don't go by those poskim, it's none of my business to 'enlighten' these women about my 'superior' standards. They follow the halacha – according to their own rabbis.

However, since I did study this subject, I know that no Posek allows for uncovered knees or elbows. None think that very tight clothing is OK. There ARE some norms all rabbis agree about. And when I see women dressed otherwise – again, it's none of my business to reprimand them or even judge them, but I definitely think they either lack in knowledge or choose to ignore what they know. It's not the same as 'judging' because, heck, we ALL lack in knowledge in some areas and we all sometimes do what we know to be wrong (lashon hara, anyone?) I am no better than these women, but I refuse to condone their dress mode any more than I expect anybody to condone my own halachic lapses.

And men has no business commenting on women's dress – except when it affects them directly. For instance, a shul with a low mechitza where it's impossible not to see low necklines and uncovered heads of married women, which might be problematic for reciting prayers. I actually found out that when it comes to immodest women, men are not only forbidden to look – at least according to some views, they are forbidden even to SEE, and in such cases as I described above, this is simply impossible, unless they shut their eyes at all times. It that fair to expect? I think not. (and yes, they can simply make the mechitza higher, but at least here in Israel, sometimes women are more offended by that than by any suggestions regarding their attire…)

Princess Lea said...

My shul's mechitza is pretty bulletproof. No worries there, vis a vis the sign.

In terms of condoning or not condoning, if one is not saying anything either way, then it doesn't really matter how one feels. As long as one isn't telling off anybody and potentially embarrassing them or turning them off frumkeit.

I think it is more likely that ones that would attract attention are the non-Jews who wear Daisy Dukes and sheer tank tops in summer, not the Jewish girl on the street wearing short sleeves.

Men don't have to shut their eyes. If they find themselves feeling overwhelmed, focusing on feet while on the street should be sufficient.

The Beckster said...

I love this post. I couldn't agree more!

Anon3 said...

A neighborhood has a right to ask that you dress a certain way, because the majority of the people living in that neighborhood dress a certain way/try not to look at women, especially when they aren't dressed how their mothers and sisters dress. A little respect? If you take offense, then don't walk through their neighborhood. They aren't telling you to wear a burka, just to kindly cover your knees, elbows, neckline, and refrain from tight clothing (basic halacha).

There's no such thing as daas torah nowadays?! No general daas torah maybe, but every person needs to follow his rav. The shul is that rav's r'shus. He has a right to ask that his congregants dress a certain way. It's not just about men not looking. Ever think that tznius isn't just for a man's benefit? Shul is a place of tefillah; one should be dresses a certain way when she enters into such place and engages in such an action.

This isn't about ostracizing women and building up walls. Tznius is a real problem in a lot of places. It causes MANY problems. Sinaas chinam? Being open-minded? If you don't agree with this shul's guidelines, please daven somewhere where you feel accepted. Plus, I doubt these people are spitting in your face for not wearing stockings. If you feel bad/guilty about it, put on a pair of stockings when you go to shul. (I bet you wear a suit when you go on a job interview.)

Princess Lea said...

Beckster understands.

Anon3: My neighborhood happens to not have a majority. But even if a neighborhood did so, I don't think when such demands are made it was from an official vote. When there is a clear, provable, majority, then maybe we can talk.

The rabbi didn't put it up, and if he did, I would find that disturbing. A rogue woman did. She did not consult the "majority."

I am not sure when you say "you" if you mean me or a general "you," but let me clarify: I dress as according to my background (knees, elbows covered, stockings to shul, etc., and I plan to cover my hair come marriage iy"H). This sign is not lecturing me in particular. But it makes me cringe when others come and think this is what the shul considers to be the main issue (there is no sign that says "Please don't talk in shul" or "If your child can't keep quiet, please don't bring him to shul so he won't disturb everyone's davening").

I am saying when we focus too much on dress code than we miss the forest for the trees.

What are the MANY problems no stockings cause, out of curiosity? Every frum Jewess dresses with what she thinks is appropriate for shul; a chassidish appropriate is not a yeshivish appropriate is not a Young Israel appropriate. None of them are in bikinis, and those who do wear a few strands of fabric are not within our "jurisdiction." So this is all, again, moot.