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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
On Modesty and Politics (rantish)

A couple of months ago, I subscribed to Wendy Shalit's group blog, modestly_yours.

I put it on my jblog filter because that seemed the place for it. I have a different one for my more political blogs. But when I read it, I feel rather odd.

Yes, modesty is a big part of my life. It, for me, comes with accepting a halachic way of life. I've studied the issues and made my own conclusions, and I've also considered other things - the place I work, the place I live, the place I daaven, the things I do in my off time, and my own general preferences - not to mention what I think looks good on me. And that last, btw, isn't frivolous. One is supposed to feel that one looks good. After all, someone who dressed unattractively, or just feels they're dressing unattractively, will stand out more than otherwise.

So. My tops cover my elbows and my collar bones (and I have visible collar bones now!), and I prefer them to reach my hips and my skirts do not have slits and do cover my knees whether I'm sitting, standing or climbing stairs. I try to avoid wearing garments that are too tight. Also, I just prefer very full skirts because then I have complete freedom of movement. Pockets are also good. :)

And, of course, I cover my hair with an assortment of color-coordinated headscarves. I try to avoid dull clothes because they don't look good on me, and if I do wear something like that, I'll brighten it up with jewelry or a sparkly scarf or even a pair of handmade socks. I don't wear make-up because I don't like it on my face and I don't polish my nails, but I see nothing wrong with doing either.

I don't dress this way out of shame. I do it because I'm more comfortable keeping some things private, and because I do believe Jewish law requires me to do it. As I said, I've studied the issue.

Anyway, this is my way of dressing. I do wish that modesty was more more generally accepted - I'd think it would be hard for anyone to gain respect with body parts hanging out (that is, I think a man in very tight trousers would also have this problem) and I don't think a person's self worth should be tied up entirely in how her body appears. And, yes, because I'd like to not have to reject 3/4 of a catalog because of necklines or slits in skirts. (And on the other side of the coin - it's as hard to avoid being body conscious when one is keeping things covered as it is when one is keeping things bare, so I'm not sure what one wins.)

But I don't think I have a right to dictate to others what they should wear. I might advise someone coming to a synagogue event to take a wrap with them if they want to wear something that exposes chest or shoulders, but that's about it.

So here's this group blog. And they're all for pushing the modesty agenda on the world (not Wendy Shalit herself - she's content with putting the case forward and letting others decide) and they're very judgemental on those who don't feel as they do. Again, I think modesty is a good idea, but if someone else feels differently - fine. What also amuses me is that a lot of the people on the blog appear to be Mormon and they're always linking to "modest clothing" sales sites - and they're *not* modest by my own standards. They're hardly immodest - I'm just personally stricter.

And then I can see glimmers that these people are also politically much further to the right than I am. And, honestly, that's not all that hard, as I'm pretty much left of center for most (not all) issues. This is not a deep, dark secret. But it makes me uncomfortable to read about people objecting to the HPV vaccine because it's best for girls just after adolescence, or to legislate other things that I think are personal choices or just...I'm not sure.

I dress the way I dress for a number of reasons, but my politics are my politics and in neither case do I need to have the world believe as I do - except it would be easier to shop.

(no subject) - (Anonymous)

Thank you! It's been building for awhile.

I wish that people in general could find a way of life that makes them happy, and talk about it, without wanting to force that same way of life on everyone else.

I think there's a human urge - if other people agree with you, then you're clearly *right* and everyone wants to be right.

I've seen this before; a mailing list or a group that is purportedly about one thing turns out to be in fact about another thing completely. The list members assume that if you're interested in x, you must agree with them about y, z, a, b, and c, and if you don't there's something wrong with you. And the majority of their discussions are about y, z, a, b, and c.

Which means that if you're just interested in x, the actual purported subject, you end up with an inbox full of stuff you normally wouldn't read. And if you express an opinion that doesn't follow the unwritten rules, look out!

Fortunately, it's in a filter with other blogs and it's never more than a couple of posts a week - and I can unsubscribe with no one else knowing.

It's weird, I dress modestly (generally) and I'm not religious. Not even a little bit religious.

I just think it's more comfortable emotionally and physically not to be pulling things down all the time.

Or pulling things up.

Honestly, I always dressed on the modest side before I became religious - I didn't like tight jeans and I didn't like low necklines or high hemlines. And once I got out of university and started teaching - well, I looked young and didn't like dress pants, so all of my clothing budget went to skirts and such. By the time I got married, I had *one* pair of jeans, and I just never replaced them.

I do think a woman looks more attractive when she's comfortable (and covering things up can be sexy, too, if you want to go that way.)

My tops cover my elbows and my collar bones (and I have visible collar bones now!), and I prefer them to reach my hips and my skirts do not have slits and do cover my knees whether I'm sitting, standing or climbing stairs. I try to avoid wearing garments that are too tight. Also, I just prefer very full skirts because then I have complete freedom of movement. Pockets are also good. :)

I was reading that and thought, wow, that's familiar! Because other than the elbow-covering sleeves and occasionally a slit in the skirt (if it's long), then you've just describe what I wear. Not for religious reasons, but just... because. I like shirts that cover my collar bones because I have a very active job, teaching music, and if I have to bend over to touch my toes with a game with 5 year olds, I don't want to be flashing cleavage. I usually wear pants with a long shirt which I don't tuck in because it looks better on me to leave it out. If I wear a skirt, it's long and full because again, sitting in the floor with five year olds just can't be done in a short/straight skirt. (It amazes me that I have an easier time getting up and down out of the floor than half my girls, because they have on skirts that are halfway up their thighs.) I wish more people dressed like me or even more modestly because I hate going in a store and seeing NOTHING I'd be caught dead wearing.

There should be a difference between the clothes one wears to a club, say, and what one wears to work, just out of sheer practicality. Yeah, no one wants a five year old staring down their blouse. Meanwhile, I've done martial arts in a skirt (I felt silly doing it, but I've done it.)

And, as I said, it does get tiresome to have to reject 2/3 of a catalog - and usually the cutest things, doesn't it?

Funny; I just saw her book remainedered yesterday. I hadn't thought about it in ages.

I'm not a fan, so this post resonates some for me. :-)


I read her book, but she had the zeal of a new convert. I've been there. :)

I could have written that post word for word. You summed it up perfectly!

I have a feeling there are a lot of women out there who dress as please themselves (or whatever other standard they adopt) who don't expect the same as others.

Yeah, I'll snark about the way some people dress (or dress their daughters, which is an entirely different kettle of wax) in private or to myself, but ultimately, it's their business. I *am* human, after all. :)

Frankly, I can't Shalit because she claims to believe in modesty for women as a counterpart to chivalry for men. AFAIK your practice expects modesty from both men and women, which is IMHO a very different approach. What Shalit believes in is *teasing*.

The Future of Fandom and her circle of friends are *very* modest dressers by current HS girl standards, but it's not because they're committed to modesty as a principle. It's because they're self-confident enough to be committed to comfort for daily dress: they want to look nice, but it's more important to them that they feel comfortable in their clothing, not bothered by nor reminded of it. Immodest clothing calls attention to itself, it is not humble and self-effacing. Truly modest clothing covers what you find comfortable convered, reveals what is comfy revealed, but doesn't involving wondering about whether the skin revealed conforms to any other set of rules. If you are dressing in a perfect hijab but it is made of cloth of gold, that's the very opposite of modest.

:) You haven't read Rabbi Falk's Modesty: An Adornment For Life.. It makes Shalit's position sound enlightened and modern. He believes that tzniut for women is the exact equivalent of Torah study for men. I'm serious.

I'm working from a different definition of modesty, though, because I honestly don't see the problem with a gold lamé hijab. I mean, it's probably not in great taste - I keep my sparkles to individual threads - but that's something else. You still don't see more than her hands, feet and the circle of her face.

Also, no one has ever said *I* had a modest personality. :)

I was OK with modesty in my frum days. Sometimes it might irk me but it's not one of the things I look back on and wonder why I did it, even if I find the idea somewhat problematic now. Especially since it was a bigger deal for women than men, even though yes, men were also technically required to be modest.

But some people (and I mean in general, not even just religious people or even just people who have strict modesty standards) want to judge a woman's morality or worth based on how she dresses, and that just drives me crazy.

My daughter's still religious but she's planning to get the HPV vaccine. As far as I know her father and grandmother are fine with that.

I should hope she's getting the vaccine. It's not just what she does, after all, it's also what the men in her life do. A person can be perfectly faithful to a cheating SO, after all.

It's not just women that are judged, although they are judged more harshly. After all - a boy in black pants and a white shirt is *automatically* better than another in jeans and a polo shirt, no matter what their actual behavior. We really believe that it was my husband's association with his teacher - a kind, lovely man who is respected in the community - that has allowed him to be accepted despite his ponytail. Now, of course, he's been part of the community for years and is judged on his own merits.

And it wouldn't even have to involve someone cheating... what if she ended up married to someone who had been in relationships before? He might have acquired the HPV virus.

That's true, men are judged on appearance. I guess I wasn't technically connecting it with "modesty" since how much of them is covered isn't always the issue but it's true.

I would guess that if we lived in a larger society where chest-baring vests and painted-on pants were as popular for men as high hemlines and low necklines are for women, we'd hear a lot more in frum circles about the importance of male modesty.

'Course, that's just speculation.

It's sad that as soon as you started talking about a site about modesty I thought I wouldn't like it because it would attract this sort of thing. Which is odd because I don't think that dressing really any which way says anything about the personality. You can be a modest dresser and not judgmental of others at all, or an immodest dresser and be completely judgmental of others. Yet the topic does seem to be a lightning rod for all sorts of people who think it's about whatever their agenda is, and unfortunately a lot of those people are pushing things I completely oppose.

I remember recently I was modding at FAP and came across an exchange where a girl was claiming that, for instance, women wearing burkhas was feminist because they weren't judged just on their bodies as women were in the west and I found that completely offensive and misguided. Not just because I know perfectly well that I'm not judged primarily on my body in my life (I have a job, friends, etc. that have nothing to do with that), but because I thought that the specific situation she was talking about was backwards. If a woman has to cover up everything in order to be not judged on her body, it's admitting that her body is something to judge her on. You should judge me on things other than my body because you see those things as having value, not because I've agreed to remove the object that will distract your attention.

Ahem. That was OT--but just an example of how the way one dresses can be interpreted any number of ways. Your definition of modesty, otoh, is completely reasonable and probably not so different from the attitudes of many women who probably dress differently than you do. It's an intelligent balance of your own comfort and well-being and societal conventions and cues.

It doesn't bother me when women wear burkhas. It bothers me when they're forced to wear them as opposed to deciding according to their own religious laws and traditions.

My feelings about revealing clothing is complex - I really do believe that if a woman wants to dress that way, she should do it - in appropriate times and places, such as clubs and parties. I don't think that short skirts and tiny tops are an invitation to rape or even unwanted touching, which is assault. I do think they are an invitation to *look*, though.

I also happen to think that they're losing something. Part of sexiness (not *all* - there are so many factors to it, many not tangible)is the revealing of parts normally not revealed. On old Star Trek, the costumes would be open down the sides, which is a part of the body rarely seen. They were also designed to look like they might fall off at any time - a securely fastened bikini is less sexy than an evening gown that's barely hanging on.

There's a reason why turn-of-the-20th C men referred to a woman's ankles - they were the only part of the leg they could see, and that only intermittently. Or, in the Talmud, there's a passage forbidding women to wear face veils. Why? Because these were designed to flutter in the wind, hiding and displaying the woman's face, which has a great effect then simply not wearing the veil at all.

(But I can also rant about how fashion considers that all clothes should be "sexy" - that some clothes should be, fine, but not all.)

I'd be interested in that rant if you ever post it!

But yes, I think a woman should be able to wear whatever she wants--if she wants to wear a burkha she can wear that. It only becomes an issue when it's forced or considered to say things about the woman that it doesn't necessarily say.

For instance, a woman wearing a short skirt doesn't mean she would be happy if any man in the room raped her, obviously. Though it might actually say plenty of other things about her--you just don't know unless you really know the individual. Perhaps there are women who like wearing very short skirts they have to pull down a lot (which is pretty much all those skirts mean to me. I have one that I like the way it looks fine, but I'm unable to walk from the subway to work without feeling it creeping up to my waist on the side where my bag is. It's just irritating). There's nothing more unattractive than looking at a person who's showing more than they want to be showing, or being aware an uncomfortable in their clothes for whatever reason. I'm fine walking around in a pair of shorts the same length as the skirt, because I don't feel like they're moving around.

It seems to me that part of growing up is figuring out what clothes you look/feel good in, and that's sometimes going to depend on your body (as well as personality and many other things). Like, one woman wearing a v-neck might be very different than me wearing a v-neck, because she's far more aware of her cleavage. (I don't have any, really, so can probably reveal more while revealing less and so not being self-conscious.)

I'm also cleavage-free, but I've never been very comfortable exposing a lot of chest. So my necklines didn't really change at all.

I haven't worn a short skirt in a very long time, and then I only owned the one. I only felt comfortable wearing it with black tights. However, it was denim and didn't ride up, so I never felt I had to tug it down. I also was less than pleased at the way a junior high school boy looked at me in it, and changed to jeans.

As for the rant - one day. :)