Sunday, November 1, 2009

If You Can't Take the Heat, Keep Out of the Kitchen

If you tend to shy away from anything that might discuss body parts, you might want to go get a cup of coffee right now and skip this posting. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Start a tsnius discussion and inevitably you are going to hear that women have to be more tsniusdik in their dressing and in their actions because men can see them. And if they see something untsniusdik they begin having thoughts that are impure. And they have those thoughts because they can't help it--their yetzer ho'rah is stronger than they are. So it's up to the women to be less distracting. It matters not at all whether the speaker is male or female--everything focuses on tsnius as regards women.

Well, if you go according to this thinking, that men can't help themselves and that everything about women is distracting to them, you end up with only one solution: women need to be done away with, put where they can never be seen and taken out only when needed. Yeah, right. Welcome to the year 2009 gentlemen.

I, for one, believe in equal opportunity. If women are being constantly told to watch out for their behavior, to control themselves, just why is this not being equally stressed to the men? Seen an advertisement for a men's shiur dealing with male tsnius lately? Men can't help themselves? Says who! What, I wonder, would be the result if rabbeim spent equally as much time in exhorting the men to get their minds out of the gutter as they do in telling women to stop being so tempting? What if they started calling the men on some of their behavior instead of only blaming that behavior on the women? What if they realized that what is "tempting" or "distracting" is in the eye of the beholder much more often than not? (Note: yes, there is some behavior of some women that clearly is tempting--and so all women are tarred with that brush?!) What if they told the males that treating women and thinking about women as solely "sex objects" is demeaning and not the expected or accepted behavior of a Ben Torah? What if they recognized that one root of the problem is with the men and went after that root? I'll do my part but the men have to be equally active in doing their part.

When I mentioned these points elsewhere in a discussion someone asked me what untsniusdik actions men could possibly be taking in public. Instead of answering her directly I asked her if she thought it would be a breach of tsnius for a woman to adjust her underthings in public, tugging a strap into place or tugging her pantihose into a more comfortable position or what have you. All the women present said that yes, this could be considered a tsnius breach. It was not modest to do this in public because it called attention to the body. A few said it was also just plain not according to etiquette. Such adjustments belong in the privacy of a bathroom, not in public.

There is no way to put this euphemistically so a few of you might want to skip this section. Ever watch a group of boys/men when they are together? Or even a single man? I work in a mostly all-male environment, but the behavior is hardly limited to a male-only environment; it happens everywhere. Men are constantly "adjusting themselves." It doesn't matter if they are sitting down or standing up. And yes, it seems that they "just can't help themselves." You would think that being in the room with their female teacher or in an environment containing women would put the brakes on the behavior, but it doesn't. They are so "accustomed" to it that they adjust at will, wherever they find themselves. Can't help themselves? Balderdash!!! What is stranger yet is that most of them--maybe all?--don't think that anyone will notice, or find this behavior as outside of acceptable. It's just what males do. They don't consider this as a tsnius issue whatsoever. (Note: a closely related male explained that this has nothing to do with tsnius and a lot to do with uncomfortable underwear. Nice rationalization, but I'm not buying it.) So, if one of the underpinnings of being untsniusdik is calling attention to a body part that shouldn't be called attention to through an action that is public and visible to all but that shouldn't be, then males are violating tsnius laws much more often than females are.

And yes, they can help themselves--they just have to want to or have to find that the penalties for not helping themselves are far harsher than the behavior. And for those who spend a great deal of time in all male environments, they need someone older and wiser to tell them that this behavior belongs in a bathroom, not in public. And yeah, if their dads and rabbeim won't tell them, indulging in the same behavior themselves, then it's more than past time that moms raise their voices. Here's the thing: they need to learn that old saw: "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." If they feel free to comment upon women's behavior and mode of being they had best prepare themselves for a critique of their own behavior. You know, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

I fully well realize that there are going to be some gasps out there over what I have written. There are those who are going to point a finger and tell me that I'm wrong to have brought out in public an area like this where men need to improve. Well guess what? Tough! The male audience that has no problem with labeling a bas Yisroel as a Hot Channie (feh on that label!) and subjecting every part of a woman's attire to public commentary had better understand that when you strike out at me and mine you had better be prepared to take the consequences. And yes, if you can't take the heat, keep out of the kitchen.


Anonymous said...

Oh my. Yes I agree. Emphasis on women's tsnius is lopsided when none is put on the men.

RZ said...

You're banging your head against a wall here. Framing this as a man's tsnius issue? Better men (err women?) than you have tried and failed. It's a sociological phenomenon and cuts across most cultures. It won't be ended by rebbes talking about it or by mothers yelling about it.

nmf #7 said...

Hmm. I would say you are totally right. Does anyone know out there if there is something in halacha to back you up? Or just some common sense?

SubWife said...

To this day no one provided with a decent explanation as to why slits below the knee are immodest. I heard some - but none made any sense whatsoever.

As far as I am concerned, yes, women need to be tznius, but just as there's a responsibility on women not to show, there's a responsibility on men not to look and control their thoughts.

Rae said...

I don't ever remember hearing about any male framed tsnius issues or that tsnius for males is something that is talked about. I don't know why. Define tsnius as modesty and that makes it neuter gender. Your example falls in there. So do others. Men are highly competitive with each other, and bragging is part of the competition--hardly modest.

Ari said...

I view the faux pas you describe as the invevitable product of an all-male yeshiva environment, where grooming, hygeine and manners are ignored, if not downright discouraged.

This is what happens when children leave home at age 13, losing the civilizing influence of a mother or sister. Yes, it's immodest too, but not the type of modesty invoked when talking about supposedly seductive feminine behavior.

Men's complaints of feminine provocation are also the inevitable product of an environment where the separation of the genders, even in domestic life, is fetishized and taken to an extreme. The logical result are separate sidewalks, separate entrances and separate stores.

Yes, this seems to be a no-win for women, as seductive behavior in the eyes of men qualifies as merely appearing in public. Is that fair? No, it isn't.

Is there an unfair emphasis on modesty as being the exclusive provence of women. Yes, although you will never get anyone to admit it.

The imbalance is also due to the fact that women are seen as not supposed to be studying gemarah, mishnayos and maybe even halacha in depth...leaving halachos like lashon hara and tznius as the default shiur topics.

Anonymous said...

Well, lessee… I (a guy) missed an apparently well-attended for-men tznius shiur in my community. It was summarized for me by a few attendees, and there was a surprising emphasis on men:

• The basic lesson was that it's not for you (again, the men) to worry about what random women on the street are wearing. Your responsibility is yourself, and your kids.

• A major point was about relaxing standard. The standard in our community is slacks and button-up shirts for men. When we switch to polos and tees on weekends, we're showing that our standards are not hard and fast.

• Tznius is not something that starts with dress, clothes are the easiest and fastest way to broadcast our inner feelings. The thought process needs to be cleaned up first.

• That tznius is a major issue halachically cannot be denied, but all the yelling and the stomping in the world won't change anything. Our communities must foster an environment of tznius (in thought, action, speech, and dress), each starting with themselves.

Michoel said...

That sounds like a great shiur Anonymous. One like that has never been given in my community, and I never got one like that in yeshiva either.

I have a question about one thing though. You say your community standard is slacks and button up shirts during the week. Is yours mostly a learning community, where that's the yeshiva uniform or is it mostly a working community, where the jobs require the more formal clothes? Would make a difference in the polo shirts being considered letting down a standard. If you're learning, then the uniform applies 7 days a week. If you're working, then different clothes are appropriate when you're not at work.

Mikeinmidwood said...

@Sub Wife

I find nothing wrong with slits below the knees or not at all, dont know why they are shunned.

Anonymous said...

Us men are very insecure ... that's why we are always "checking" (adjusting, etc) the dangly bits.