Monday, February 11, 2008

Sheitl Store Ban, continued

Whenever I come home from a weekend in Brooklyn, there always seems so much to post about afterwards.

The hot topic of conversation around the old Shabbos table this weekend was the boycott of the sheitl store that was across the street from Chaim Berlin. Here is my post, Frum Statire's post, Dov Bear's post, and Jacob Da Jew's post.

The pro-ban supporters seemed to feel that:
1) The store owner should have been more sensitive to the needs of the Yeshiva and not have responded harshly (and reportedly, with profanities) to those who asked him to take down the pictures.
2) The pictures, while not technically un-tznius, were inappropriate, especially placed across the street from a boy's Yeshiva.
3) The Rosh Yeshiva is entitled to recommend or ban any establishments he likes to his students. It's a free country. If the store owner is free to post the pix, the Yeshiva community is free to take its business elsewhere.
4) It is unnecessary to post pictures of women wearing sheitls in order to advertise them. The sheitls could have been attractively arranged on styrofoam heads, as many other sheitl stores do.

The anti-ban folks seemed to feel that:
1) The owner has the right to put up whichever pictures he likes in his store window, and the male members of the Yeshiva community can avert their heads if they are perturbed.
2) The pictures were neither un-tznius nor inappropriate.
3) The Rosh Yeshiva, as a community leader, needs to make the punishment fit the crime. To take away someone's livelihood because this someone refused to remove pictures that were questionably inappropriate in his store window is harsh.
4) Displaying pictures of women wearing sheitls is a perfectly valid way of advertising sheitls.

My two cents was essentially posted in a comment on Frum Satire's blog. I completely embrace the concept of Jewish Feminine Modesty and the idea of "hiddenness." I am an elbow-covering, knee-covering woman, and when I was married I covered my hair. I don't view any of these practices as misogynistic. Oto ha-hefech; I think the practice of tznius honors women. I think what women wear on MTV videos is misogynistic.

However, I believe that this is a case of "Tznius Gone Wild." It's gone way past tznius. When you cover a woman's body parts that might be deemed sensual (including her hair), that is tznius. When you cover or erase a woman's face, you are attacking her humanity. Women exist. Some women are pretty and attractive. This, in and of itself, is not un-tznius. Tznius, as I have often talked about in shiurim on Megilat Ruth, is not about denial of self or denial of femininity; it is about self-actualization. You cover the parts that might distract the world from seeing the real you or taking you seriously as a human being. It's why women wear business suits and not halter tops in the board room. The Yeshiva objected to attractive photos of attractive women's faces. Objecting to the image of a woman's face is not a very high level of tznius; it is qualitatively different.

Last year, Dennis Prager did a radio show on Eric Yoffe's (
President of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations) comment about how the Muslim veil should be given the same religious respect and sanction as the Orthodox Jewish woman's head covering. Prager was shocked at the misogyny implicit in the comment. He could not believe that a Jewish community leader would equate covering one's head with covering one's face. I heard the original broadcast, and when an Orthodox man called in to say that he agreed with Yoffe that there was no difference between the two, Prager shredded him. It was one of the few times that I've heard Prager actually lose it.

From Prager's Jewish World Review column on this:

In the long history of women's inequality, it is difficult to name almost anything more anti-woman, dehumanizing and degrading than the veil. We know people by their face. Without seeing a person's face, we feel that we do not know the person. When we read about someone in the news, whether known for good or ill, we immediately study the person's face. One can have one's entire body covered, and it means nothing in terms of whether we feel we know the person. But cover a person's face, and the person might as well be invisible.

There are Yeshivish institutions that will publish dinner journals and advertisements showing the honorees' names, i.e. Rabbi and Mrs. Shloime Goldberg, and atop the name, a picture of only Shloime. Where is Mrs. Goldberg? For reasons of tznius, these institutions do not post pictures of women, period. To me, this falls under the same category as objecting to the photos in the sheitl store window. You cannot visually erase women from Orthodox Jewish culture and call it a high level of modesty. Rather, I believe it is a low level of misogyny. Any way you slice it, it isn't right and belittles real tznius. It creates a women-denying subculture in the Yeshivish world.

Final word on the store: when I passed it on Sunday evening, as I headed away from the wilds of Flatbush, there was nothing at all in the window.

7 comments:

frum single female said...

the thing i find most humorous is that ive passed that sheitel store numorous times and only noticed how tacky the colors of the store window and didnt even regster the photos of the women's heads. two weeks after i heard about this ban i finally realized the ban was on this store because though i heard the store was across the street from a yesiva i didnt realize it was across the street from chaim berlin. the only reason it even registered was because i walked by the store with a friend who pointed out that this was the infamous sheitle store. i guess as a woman i dont really see what the big deal is, but to be honest ive walked past the store more times than i can count and it didnt even catch my eye.

Anonymous said...

While I can understand both sides, to me, at least, some of the pictures are of blatantly sexual, head tilted, come hither poses. And it's much more disconcerting when you see a woman wearing a shaitel doing that.

WebGirl said...

Anonymous,

I guess that all depends on your definition of "sexual." This is where I believe we have a slippery slope. Are "come hither poses" and "head tilts" un-tznius? There is a world of difference between being attractive and being sexual. I have to share with you that many frum women, during the course of a regular day interacting with other people, engage in head tilts, hair flips, eyelash flutters, and all sorts of looks, some possibly falling into the come hither category. It's called being feminine, engaging, and interacting. It's not the same thing as shaking your rear end, rocking your hips or shimmying your shoulders. That would be overtly sexual. I'm going to have to disagree with you here. Being overtly feminine and attractive by tilting your head or giving someone a "look" is just not un-tznius.

Why would it be more disconcerting to see a woman in a shaitel doing a head tilt or come hither pose? Are shaitels supposed to make you uglier and less attractive, less feminine? I always thought shaitels were for covering up your natural hair, which is an erva. What are tznius dresses for, covering up the body parts that might be sexy or for making us ugly and unattractive? These are not the same things.

I don't understand why wearing a shaitel and being attractive and engaging should be mutually exclusive. Tznius is not about being ugly and crawling inside yourself. Tznius is about bringing the person in you to the surface, by covering up that which is external to whom you really are. It's about self-respect, not self-negation.

At least, it should be.

Jacob Da Jew said...

You see, Anon's comment is precisely my point in my post.

Women have been over-sexualized by the religious world that the mere gesture is considered a "come hither" look when in reality it just a tilt of the frickin head.

People, get your mind out of the gutter and stop thinking that every girl is out to bed you.

Oh, and thanks for the link :)

onionsoupmix said...

To some extent, I completely disagree with you about tznius. A woman's face is much more sensual than her elbows or collarbone, for crying out loud.

WebGirl said...

OnionSoupMix,

Then we disagree about the very definition of tznius. Is it about sensuality or ervah? Can a woman's face ever be considered an ervah? And when men buy pornographic mags or videos, are they interested in the faces or other body parts?

The face is who we are. Erase my face and you have erased my identity.

-WG

tznius lady said...

I take pride in operating the http://www.simchawear.com 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.