Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Your freedom of speech silences me

A guest post by Shoshana Keats JaskollL

There is an increasing trend in the Orthodox Jewish world- one that can be seen here in Bet Shemesh and worldwide.

The erasing of girls and women from magazines, newspapers and billboards.

It has gotten to the point where hardly any of the circulars delivered to local homes have images of females, or even images that hint at the feminine.

To understand the issue and the problems with it we suggest taking a look at this post - Vanishing Women. http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vanishing-women/
A group of us, being concerned about the future of this city and sympathetic to the women who are harmed by this practice, produced a flyer to raise awareness of the damage of this policy.

This post is a response to certain feedback that we have received. The overwhelming reaction to our efforts has been positive. Charedi and Dati women contacted us and have spoken about the difficulties they are having due to this phenomenon.

For example: female speakers are prohibited from publicizing their pictures, newspapers alter photographs and history by erasing women, phonebooks list only the husband’s name, families are honored but only the men accept the awards, etc. This causes the women to feel increasingly marginalized. It also severely hampers kiruv efforts.

Some feedback was not positive. Responders who oppose our view that erasing females is wrong, told us that we “do not understand”. We have been called everything from ‘misguided’, to ‘dead wrong’. One local resident actually referred to us as ‘Satan’.

These are quotes from actual letters, our response follows:
  • If it bothers you, just don’t buy them, its really that simple. 
  • Women are so sexualized in the world that we must do the opposite:
  • A woman’s worth, her beauty is internal. 
  • Achdus! Why must you start up?
  • Its always been this way
  • We are telling our daughters that their externals are not important.
  • Preserving women’s privacy does not prevent them from having a major influence in our lives.
  • It’s our right

If it bothers you, just don’t buy them, its really that simple.

Well, no its not. Because these circulars are delivered to our homes and then our families are exposed to this distorted, offensive worldview- a view where women are objects and men are uncontrollable.

We are forced to throw away these circulars without opening them and yet, we are counted as numbers to the poor advertisers who actually pay because they think we are reading them. (Is this not dishonest by the way?) 

It is offensive to us to see publications that discriminate against women. We do not want them delivered to our doors. Yet we are given no choice. 

Moreover, you fail to consider the women who are put at significant disadvantage to their male counterparts. Open the RBS Views and you will see smiling male doctors, male real estate agents, male store owners, male health practitioners, but you will not see one woman. There is a reason that people put their pictures in ads. It elicits trust and recognition. By not allowing women to advertise with their pictures you are directly harming their parnasah. Is that ok? 

We should also mention here that it is illegal. 

It is illegal to discriminate according to one’s sex. 

We realize this will not matter to some, but we feel it is worth mentioning.

If a magazine feels it cannot print women, it must also not print men. Having one without the other is blatant discrimination.

“Women are so sexualized in the world that we must do the opposite”:

Let's put this clearly. We have a Torah. God created male and female. God gave us laws. We are meant to live Torah, choose life and not sway right or left. The middle ground is the holy ground- so says the Rambam. Far from being reactive and simply swinging far away from the world. We should be the guiding light. We must show that women are not to be exploited, not through nudity and not by erasing them.

“A woman’s worth, her beauty is internal. She is precious and her image should be guarded and reserved for her and her husband alone.” 

This amounts to telling a woman where she should and should not be. We will counter by saying that we are not jewels to be put into and taken out of a drawer when you so choose. Women are p e o p l e who have been trusted by God to know right from wrong. We have been given sachel and mitzvot to act appropriately and with honor-- and most of us do.

And we want to tell you a secret. 

When and if there is a woman who is less modest than you believe she should be, it is your commandment to look away. Yours. And the pasuk that people like to throw about “Kol Kevudah Bat Melech Pnima” and claim that it means that her worth is internal and that she must remain behind the scenes. That pasuk-- from tehillim, is used by Chazal to exempt a woman from activities requiring her appearance in public. It does not prohibit her from such activities. If she chooses, she can abstain. The key of course here is that it is her choice. It was not meant to manipulate a woman into staying out of sight.

Achdus! Why must you start up?

Well, this is a very difficult thing to discuss as this word is thrown into the faces of those people who tirelessly work to make things better. Achdus does not mean keeping silent when people are being hurt. It does not mean avoiding discussing problems in a community. Judaism has always been about encouraged arguing L’shem Shamayim and it shouldn’t stop now. But why, when people say, “Hey, this is damaging and its getting out of control” are we the ones being accused of sowing discord?
We have seen a chumash, the Torah itself -- edited for content in a girls school. They took out the stories of Lot and his daughters and that of Tamar and Yehuda-- the subjects they think God should have left out. We have seen Megillat Esthers, with no image of Esther- the same with female free hagadot etc. and picture books for children with no drawings of girls or women.

When you remove women and girls, you are altering the way Hashem made the world and you are removing the balance Hashem intended. You are also removing personal responsibility which is a core value of Judaism. 

Allowing people to bully others -- and many of these publications are bullied into this policy -- is not Achdus. Enabling the discrimination of women business owners is not achdus. Teaching little girls that they must be hidden and little boys that they are lust filled creatures who cannot be trusted, is not achdus.

And if we are going to speak of achdus, why do our sensitivities not come into the equation? What about the bullied publications and store owners?

It’s always been this way.
No. No, it hasn’t. It is part of the growing extremism. Please watch this:

As I woman, I feel that preserving women’s privacy does not prevent them from having a major influence in our lives.

This is simply untrue. This is not a privacy issue. No one is publicizing women who do not want to be publicized. What is happening is censorship of women who do want their name, face, product out there for parnasah purposes. Moreover, it is a censorship of an entire gender that is being normalized and it is a fallacy of logic to not see where it leads. When women are made pasul they are taken less seriously. They have less of a voice and will be seen as less worthy. It is a natural and inevitable conclusion. As mentioned above, it is not only faces that are being censored. Even anonymous photos of stockinged ankles, or skirts are not being allowed in these publications.

“We are telling our daughters to be modest and that their contribution to the community has nothing to do with their outward appearance. 

No, you are telling them that their appearance is a PROBLEM that it causes sin and is offensive and thus they must be hidden. What you are saying is that even a modest, respectable woman is a problem and that men cannot be trusted not to lust and so YOU girls, must hide and YOU boys, are lust filled creatures who cannot normally interact with a female because she is not a person, a spark of God you can respect, you can only see her as a sexual thing (YES that is what you are saying) and so we cannot allow you to have normal interactions.

And this. This is our very favorite:

“Must everybody do as you do? Don’t we also have the right to free speech?” 

Apparently, sir, the irony lost on you that your free speech silences all women. 

What you call a ‘right’ not to see women means removing their right to be seen.

And so, when you claim that it is a community’s right to hide, to shame, to put a girl in the back of the bus, you are not only physically erasing her but you are silencing her as well.

Friends, erasing women and girls from books and magazines is not a holy thing. It is a thing that comes from one of two places. It comes from misogyny, from thinking it is your right to tell a woman where she belongs. Or, it comes from a place of over sexualization, a place where men and women cannot interact normally because men cannot see a woman as more than her parts.

Is this who we are? We desperately hope not. 

It certainly isn't who we are meant to be.


Concerned Jews who want to stop the madness,

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, Gary Swickley, Mark Granat, Michael Lipkin, Eve Finkelstein, Yehuda Fulda, Chuck Davidson, Alisa Coleman, Nili Philipp, Naava Swirsky, Rena Hollander, Miriam Weed, Etana Hecht, Yaakov Har-Oz, Leah Berman, Gillian Kay, Sandy Cash, Daniel Goldman, Naomi Silverman, Miriam Friedman Zussman, Irena Gossels, Len Gossels, Alana Assaraf, Ashley Coleman, Shifra Friedman, Bracha Epstein, Jessica Golomb, Helen Abelesz , Sorcha Mildiner, Marta Berman

To add your name email: weareallbeitshemesh@gmail.com

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