The Tznius Obsession Reduces Women to their Bodies

Religious conservatives often go on about how modern society reduces women to their bodies and there’s certainly tons of sexually explicit advertising everywhere and women being treated as nothing but pieces of meat. But the frum world is better right?

Certainly girls going into their shidduch parsha aren’t set insane standards for dress sizes no normal adult female should be expected to wear. Nor do girls diet like crazy just for the shidduch. Nor do they make themselves anorexic for it. That’s Chukat HaGoyim. Doesn’t happen among us.

But let’s skip past the small stuff. Let’s go straight to Tznius. Tznius which all the Haredi Rabbis now tell us is a woman’s central mitzvah. It’s the one they dedicate endless lectures for women on.

Congratulations. The woman has now been reduced to her body. Dress it up all you like in Kevodah Bat Melech but that’s what we’re doing, no different than the crazy Yishmaelim with their hair rays and burkas and acid throwing. Oh no we’d never throw acid at a woman who isn’t wearing proper modest clothing. We use bleach.

The Tznius Obsession reduces women to their bodies worse than the modern sex obsessed society does. They leave room for women to be something more than their bodies. We tell women that their most important mitzvah is to cover themselves up, to neurotically study the endless guidelines of how much they need to cover up the evil flesh that is their bodies, which otherwise will corrupt klal yisroel and cause endless tragedies and wars.

Yes we’re so much better than the shkutzim who put half-naked women up on billboards and devalue them. We value our women. We value them so much that about the only torah we teach them involves the length of their skirts. We value them so much we send them off to work and tell them that we’ve invented a new mitzvah that has the woman working while the man sits and learns.

The Gemara tells us that Pharaoh sent the women to do men’s work while the men did woman’s work and kept the men apart at their labors in order to prevent Am Yisroel from reproducing. So the women went to their husbands who were toiling and made themselves attractive for them and slept with them there. Now the Haredi world has duplicated the work of Pharaoh. They’ve sent the women off to do men’s work and they’re not too crazy about the making themselves attractive part either. With Pharaoh gone, we’ve made our own Pharaohs.

Here’s an idea. Let’s get past the euphemisms for what we do and let’s give women a real role in the frum world. I don’t mean female Rabbis. I don’t mean tearing down the mechitzas. I don’t mean jettisoning halacha. But how about some real respect. And a function that’s more than being a housewife and a pile of ervah body parts meant to tempt men.

And if we’re going to reduce women to their bodies, let’s at least be honest about it and stop looking down at all those shkutzim.

The career woman in the secular world more than meets her match in the frum woman who has to raise a family and work at 2 jobs to make ends meet. The teenage girl dieting to fit into her scandalous clothing is little worse off than the frum girl dieting to fit into her perfectly modest dress which can only fit a store mannequin.

And the abused wife. The molested daughter. The forgotten women are all around us. Unlike the secular world, we lack a mechanism for even hearing their cries, when it would embarrass someone we go to shul with or do business with. Do you really think those women are worse off in the secular world?

We reduce women to their bodies, we blame them for their bodies and for being their bodies and then we congratulate ourselves for our superior values in comparison to the secular world which treats women as nothing more than pieces of meat. And then it’s time for another Tznius lecture. Because there’s nothing like telling a woman who works 2 jobs and raises 3 kids that she’s not acting like a princess. Her kavod had better be on the inside because we’ve certainly made sure there won’t be any outside.

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26 thoughts on “The Tznius Obsession Reduces Women to their Bodies

  1. quietann says:

    ***applause***

  2. Lou D. says:

    More applause .
    I want to see more of women, not less.

  3. Orange County Resident says:

    I agree. Its gone far over the line. The men fostering this have serious sexual issues.

  4. Well reasoned- well done!

  5. Ben-Yehudah says:

    B”H Although I would agree that anyone having the above kewannah behind tzni’uth, both for women and men, is far from getting it right on, that does not exempt us from misswoth. One of the many things which [is supposed to] separate[s] us from the goyim, is our understanding of how to determine the proper course of action in a particular circumstance (Read: “halacha”). We do not interpret halacha based on “feelings,” but rather an halachic process. If you are critical of the interpretation [and in this case kewannah] of particular rabbis, I can understand that. I may disagree, but understand. If you want to throw out tzni’uth all together (which I don’t believe you’re trying to say), then I would be very interested in your halachic basis for this.

  6. samuraimohel says:

    My point is that the current approach to Tznius has distorted its proper meaning into a Muslim-like focus on covering up bodies instead of the larger issue of how we, men and women, act and behave

    The distortions have made tznius into a sexual issue when it is a character issue.

    Finally reducing the woman’s role to tznius means reducing her to her body and then treating that body as a toxic thing certain to contaminate men. That is the point of my post.

  7. Ben-Yehudah says:

    B”H I’m afraid I will have to disagree with you here. It is a Torah issue. Is it possible that some have inappropriate kewannah about this? Yes. yet, we are not excuse from the performance of the these misswoth.

    In a related matter, I believe that a woman can be covered up leHumrah, and yet still be immodest,…through her behavior. The same goes for men, too, of course. Yet, this does not excuse her from dressing appropriately. We can certainly debate what “appropriately” means, of course.

  8. samuraimohel says:

    Clothing is not a Torah issue. It is a Da’at Yehudit issue.

    The distortion of tznius is not a question of kavanah, it is a question of an entirely backward understanding that distorts everything about it.

  9. DivaDivine says:

    What does kewannah mean?

  10. Shifra says:

    Kudos! To add to your comments, I was reading a beautiful book by Rav Henkin on Tznuit. He gave an excellent reason as to why the Charadie public has increasingly coined Tznuit as THE women’s mitzvah. He explains that in the Charadie world there is a tremendous sense of purpose given to the Men .Men are taught to pursue THE MITZVAH : limud hatorah. However, for the Charadie Female, limud Hatorah( and certainty Gemara) is not the focus since she must support the male in HIS Tafkid. Thus, to insure the woman that she to has THE MITZAVH of HER own, Tzuit has become the central focus of a woman’s Judaism. As it has become more common for Charadie men to learn full time, the emphasis on female Tzniut has increased.

  11. samuraimohel says:

    Yes the Charedi world needed a focus for women, except that Tznius as they implement it really isn’t a mitzvah, but more like the lack of an aveirah. It’s not going to substitute for affirmative deeds since it’s mainly defined in the negative.

  12. samuraimohel says:

    Yes the Charedi world needed a focus for women, except that Tznius as they implement it really isn’t a mitzvah, but more like the lack of an aveirah. It’s not going to substitute for affirmative deeds since it’s mainly defined in the negative because its focus is on women not tempting men, rather than cultivating anavah.

  13. Ariel says:

    Man’s mitzvah is not limud HaTorah, and if they think it is, they are dead wrong.

    The purpose of our life here on earth is to make a derra b/ tachtonim- a dwelling place in the physical world- for G-dliness and that is by going out and doing physical mitzvahs. By doing mitzvahs we are elevating and refining the world and readying it for the coming of Moshiach. TO sit in kollel for twenty years perfecting your Gemara knowledge while your wife is struggling to juggle a job and multiple children and be oppressed by her wardrobe is absurd.

    Tznius is a incredibly important mitzvah, it applies to men as well.

  14. Ariel says:

    women have eight million mitzvahs of their own to try to “give” us the mitzvah of tznius is more sickenly degrading than anything else.
    Also al pi halacha tznius is not meant to just cover up our bodies with potato sacks and say we’re dirty and seductive and bad. we are SUPPOSED to still look attractive, just within certain guidlines. We are supposed to look attractive to the point that many Ravs forbid women from shaving their head after they get married, even though for mikvah purposes many people consider it s hiddur or even necessity to do so, because we are supposed to be attractive to our husbands and even to ourselves.

  15. Ariel says:

    What I would like to ask you personally, is:

    A) Are you religious? If not, why do you care?

    B) If you are and you disagree with the views of the community you are in, why don’t you move? I know nothing about the CHaredi community and am doing just fine.

    Instead of being reactive, be proactive- try learning Torah so that you’ll be inspired to fulfill Hashem’s commandments for their own sake. Ignore the belittling rabbis. If, for all the Gemara they learn, they have no Middos i.e. bedside manner, then all their Torah is sadly for nothing. Torah is only as good as what you do with it. Tznius is not because men cannot control themselves, It’s for G-d, and ONLY for G-d. Hashem did not tell us why we need to keep kosher, the same for this. We can speculate but in the end only He knows.

  16. Ariel says:

    and eating disorders are across the board. for because of tznius. i know just as many bulemics/annorexics that are fry AND frum

  17. samuraimohel says:

    Is that addressed to me?

  18. Ariel says:

    who do u think?

  19. samuraimohel says:

    A. I’m religious

    B. This isn’t about me, it’s about the distorted views of some things in the frum world.

    I didn’t say that Tznius causes anorexia. This is what I said

    “The teenage girl dieting to fit into her scandalous clothing is little worse off than the frum girl dieting to fit into her perfectly modest dress which can only fit a store mannequin.”

  20. ariel says:

    there are a lot of distorted views

    in many worlds

    be positive

    otherwise you’re doing the opposite of bringing moshiach

  21. ariel says:

    and then what’s the point?

  22. samuraimohel says:

    Your premise is completely false. Being positive is a Pollyana self-help virtue, it has nothing to do with bringing Moshiach. You don’t do good by just being positive, you do it by fighting what’s wrong as well.

    See Moshe, Pinchas, David, and just about every one of the Neviim

    Being positive all the time is not a Jewish value, if it was a Gemara would be one page with a smiley face scribbled on it.

  23. Jerusalem mom says:

    I know that this blog is old but I truly cannot come across it without commenting.
    I am so astounded at the misconceptions and absolute baseless generalizations of Rabbanim and Halacha. Samuraimohel- I am a religious mom here in Jerusalem and I am one of those people that speak all over the city on my favorite topic. The topic of tznius. TZNIUS IS NOT MODESTY. The focus is not about covering up only. We teach that Tznius is what we call dignity. It’s intelligence and self worth. Did you notice that the more intelligence and dignity is expected of an individual, the more clothing he/she tends to put on. A teenager on the beach is expected to wear close to nothing and when she isn’t wearing anything, we expect her to have just as much brains matching her clothing. A female lawyer shows up to court dressed for the occasion- and I mean dressed. If she has cleavage and a miny skirt, no one will take her seriously. If a two year old runs out of the bath naked, we giggle and think it’s adorable. If a 20 year old does it, we lock them up. Tznius teaches us that woman MUST be inspired and if not PUSHED to prevent themselves from being objectified and remain dignified women. The further the secular world pulls away from this concept, the more it has to be stressed in our circles. And we have come to the point that this has become a huge struggle for us.
    I truly am disappointed that you think that you can sum up this issue being a man. The day you become a religious woman and feel the difference in your self worth when you start dressing like a dignified human being, is the day you can comment accurately. I grew up in Miami Beach and I truly have seen the gama of the undressed in South Beach. In fact, I was PART of that world until 8 years ago when I started to become more religious. How dare you say that I have been reduced to my body because I am more focused on covering it. I have been LIBERATED from being reduced to my body by subscribing to the tznius dresscode. I still dress beautifully and my clothing is always up with the latest trends. But never is it revealing or degrading.
    In regards to the other issues you brought up in the article, including abuse, molestation, working moms to support kollel husbands and eating disorders: It is embarrassingly immature to bring up every issue you can think of in your small mind and pour it all in an article speaking about tznius. Ma Hakesher??? But I will humor you and address a few of the issues.
    Kollel: You believe that we have self inflicted the Shibud mitzrayimg because of the gender role reversals. In mitzrayim, the women were given BACKBREAKING LABOR that only men can handle and then whipped for not succeeding. The men were forced to handle the chores at home (show me a man that can iron and I’ll show you a viable peace plan for the middle east). What a gross difference between that scenario and women ELECTING to take jobs in speech therapy, or teaching to support their husbands TEMPORARILY while they are preparing to be a role model for their children or community leaders. If we became a society that promoted the men going to medical school and the women supported them through this, you wouldn’t care one bit. If you truly had a respect for Torah learning and you were a wife that saw how much your husband grew and changed, matured and became wise through his learning, then and only then would you understand. Then and only then can you comment. Granted that unfortunately not all men who are learning are serious about it and granted, not all supporting wives feel the privilege. Usually the the two cases are connected.
    When my husband and I got married, I supported him by working. Then I had a baby and I wanted to continue working from home but my husband insisted on me taking a break because being a mother is a priority. So he started a little money management business on the side to make ends meet. When I was able to go back to work, I encouraged him to continue learning full time because I saw the difference it made to be freed to focus. And with each child, was the same story. Now he is making a great living with the money management business and teaching Torah to potential Baalei Teshuva and I am taking care of my children and composing music for singers in my free time. I truly feel fulfilled and I always have.
    In regards to abused women and eating disorders, I have very little to comment. The subjects are so off topic it’s absurd. There is virtually no connection between tznius and women with these problems. Women suffer from these issues everywhere in the world, religious or not and obviously in your ignorance you aren’t aware of the countless Jewish organizations that deal with such matters. We just don’t publicize the cases because we believe in people’s privacy. Privacy- what a novel term in our generation.
    I hope you forgive me if I spoke in a disrespectful way at any point in the above message. I only meant to teach you and sometimes it involves putting someone in their place a little.
    I wish you all the best in affecting the world in a positive way.
    Jerusalem mom

  24. Devorah Leah says:

    Thank you so much “Jerusalem Mom.” I agree with your words. The man who wrote this article does not understand Tznius, or the meaning behind it- or he wouldn’t have written this. It deeply upsets me when people write or comment on other people’s beliefs when they do not know the importance behind every aspect behind it, nor do they follow it themselves or have any personal connection. I cannot comment on a christian’s life, because I do not live it- what they do they do for themselves alone, and I, as a Jew, cannot accuse why they do what they do, or how they feel. I am baal teshuva, a women who DEFINITELY chooses to dress the way I do. I made this decision later in life, and was never forced, nor are any religious women, it is a personal choice. Just as wearing a skimpy tank top or a mini skirt is a choice, so is wearing a long skirt and feeling absolutely empowered about who you are as a person. For shame for this man who wrote this article.

  25. Devorah Leah says:

    PLEASE READ:

    If you still feel the same way after reading this article then you are entitled. But at least understand this before you do…

    http://articles.latimes.com/2000/jun/11/magazine/tm-39626

  26. Pharaoh says:

    If you havent noticed men are attracted to women. In fact for most men this is all they think about. Women are reduced to their bodies FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF MEN no matter what they do.

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