Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In the "Under" World

NOTE: Any reader who gets squeamish at the mention of undergarments or body parts might want to skip this posting.

Has Klal totally and completely lost its mind?!  It is hardly a secret (and I've commented on this phenomenon before) that members of the press are not all that objective.  Let a scandal erupt, and, short of its actually being a church-based scandal, we will have no idea about the religious affiliation of those involved.  Except, of course, if Jews, particularly religious Jews, are part of the scandal.  Given that this approach by the press is common knowledge, it behooves us, as members of Klal, to watch our behavior. And of course, let's not forget that we are told to behave ourselves in our own code of laws.

I was standing in line at the supermarket yesterday, and a headline caught my eye on the NY Post.  It was a long wait in line so I opened the paper to read the story.  There went my day.  In a nutshell, a woman was fired from a company that is a purveyor of woman's lingerie and undergarments.  Why was she fired?  According to the article (and to comments printed in other news outlets), and as seen in the accompanying photos, she was quite buxom, looked "hot," dressed in figure-presenting clothing, and was a distraction, therefore, to the other workers.  Her supervisor, a woman, wanted her to, among other things, tape down her busom so it would be less pronounced.

Why am I reporting this?  Sigh.  The opening lines of the article state that the company the woman worked for is owned by orthodox Jews.  That information is repeated more than once in the article.  There are also a number of orthodox Jews who work for this company, both men and women.  What is also mentioned in the article are descriptions of some of the merchandise that this company sells, and that this merchandise is displayed on mannequins in the workplace.  To be blunt, some of the products the company sells are what I would call just plain "prost" or in poor taste.

Then there is this excerpt from the Post article:  "A male worker, who refused to give his name, said of Odes’ choice of clothes, 'It’s not appropriate.  The women here, they dress nicely but covered up. Most are Orthodox. There are a lot of married men here, and it’s not OK to have a woman dress like that.'  When it was pointed out to the man that there is lingerie displayed throughout the workplace, he said, 'It’s what we sell, but it’s not the work environment.'” 

There is a rather earthy Yiddish saying that answers this last statement: "Ahz muh handelt mit tinuv, shmekt min fun drek."  Translated this means that if you deal business-wise with excrement you are going to smell like manure.  The company sells undergarments which are sensual, bawdy, obscene, lust-inducing, raunchy, smutty and suggestive, but that's not part of the work environment?!  These garments are on display where the people are working, but that is not part of the work environment?!

The woman who was fired has filed a suit for an EEOC violation  This is not just going to be a few moments of talk and then no one will remember it. 

There has been a lot of talk about how some men of Klal are not working for a living, but are sitting and learning instead.  Given the nature of the business described in the article, perhaps we had better redefine what we mean by working when we tell our men to go out and get a job or start a business.  Is this the type of business that men of Klal should be involved in?  Is this what we want to the world to see us as?

Frankly, this whole thing disgusts me.  Unfortunately, for some in Klal, this is just business as usual.  Anything to make a buck.  And I couldn't help but wonder if the owners of this business, and those who work there, are also the ones who tsk-tsk when a frum girl walks by wearing a piece of clothing that is not black or doesn't follow exactly the "rules" for what is tsniusdik.  So much a case of do as I say, not as I do.

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Anonymous said...

I bought my first bra from a shop owned by a chassidishe couple. A lot of old-time lingerie shops are owned by chassidim, it's not surprising at all, although granted, they're not in the business of selling the kind of stuff that Victoria's Secret sells. I'm not even upset about the fact that they wanted her to cover up more, a private business has every right to tell their employees how to dress- yes, even if it's a lingerie business.

The problem here is the statements allegedly made, and how she was treated. That's just wrong. In addition to lacking basic human decency, anyone who knows the first thing about running a business in this day and age ought to know that statements like that are a lawsuit waiting to happen. Eschewing college so you can "just open a business" is not as simple as it looks...

Pragmatician said...

For me it's not so wrong (as lingerie per se is not untsnisedik under the right circumstances even for chareidi people). The real question is if she was respectfully requested to dress differently before being laid off.
But seriously I question the choice of self-declared frummies ( frum enough to have issues with how a co-worker dresses).

AztecQueen2000 said...

Hey, even frum ladies need undergarments.
However, I think firing a woman over cup size is just--stupid. It's not like she could help it. (Unless we now add "jobs" to "shidduchim" as a reason to go under the knife.)

JS said...

What in the world is wrong with running a lingerie business? Who is hurt by this? It's UNDER garments. No one sees them or knows about them aside from the person wearing them and that person's significant other. Your viewpoint is prudish in the extreme, beyond even Puritanical.

Some items of lingerie are "prost" or in poor taste? According to who? If you don't like it, you don't have to buy them or wear them. You don't even have to shop in stores that sell them. You later use the adjective "obscene." Really? I don't think I have ever, ever heard lingerie referred to as obscene. It's hard to take anything else you say seriously when you have such an extreme stilted, Victorian attitude.

The only thing wrong here is how this woman was treated - assuming her allegations are true. Told to tape down her breasts and forced to wear a ridiculous full-length bathrobe to cover up.

But comparing running a lingerie company to handling manure? Saying it's not a proper business for frum Jews? Suggesting they would be better off learning all day on the public dole and communal dime? This is really the height of absurdity.

The words you chose to use and the posture you take are more appropriate for people running a prostitution ring. Heck, I could even understand it more if it were a pornography business or a store that sold other "adult" items - even though I still wouldn't necessarily agree with the sentiment.

Save the hyperbole and vitriol for where it is really needed.

tesyaa said...

To echo JS, I'll add that kallah class teachers, even (especially?) toward the right wing, recommend that brides buy attractive lingerie. And I'm not sure how a garment displayed on a plastic mannequin is a violation of tznius.

If you are concerned that the items may be used for sadomasochistic purposes in which a woman could get hurt (I mean real S&M, not just playacting), well, I guess you'd have a point. But frum women, even (especially?) right wing women in sheitels and woven shirts buttoned to the collar, are wearing these items every day. (Not me though - I go for comfort, and undergarments from the Gap and Target are fine with me).

Miami Al said...

My family was in the undergarment industry in pre-War Europe, manufacturing and distributing. The idea that Jews should not be in the business is absurd and insulting.

That said, the reason they mention Orthodox Jews is that it is relevant to the situation. The idea that her attire is not appropriate because "The women here, they dress nicely but covered up. Most are Orthodox. There are a lot of married men here, and it’s not OK to have a woman dress like that." is in a nutshell, ABOUT it being an Orthodox Jewish owned business.

If the attire is not appropriate because it does not present the corporate image, that is totally acceptable. If the attire is not appropriate because "it offends Orthodox Jewish sensibilities" then it is relevant to the article.

However, I SERIOUSLY object to JS's ascribing your views as "Victorian." The Victorian era fashion was HEAVY into the lingerie of the time (corsets) and the writings of the period are RICH with relatively unusual sexual appetites.

While women were required to maintain an appearance of chastity outside of wedlock, prostitution was seen as normal and acceptable, and the modern concept of lingerie heavily dates from that era.

Puritanical? Absolutely?
Taliban-like? Absolutely?
Lashon Hara - calling a business selling undergarments "manure"? Absolutely.

But Victorian? Absolutely not.

The rules of Victorian society were simple: you simply DO NOT SPEAK OF IT

As Jerry Hall famously put it, "My mother said it was simple to keep a man, you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom. I said I'd hire the other two and take care of the bedroom bit”

TR said...

Yeah Al is right that Victorian is the wrong word here. But I think you're missing a whole lot of what this post was saying, at least as I see it. This isn't just a place that sells everyday ordinary underwear. The stuff they push, and that their website pushes, isn't the kind of underwear you're going to put into the laundry in you mom's house 'cuz she'd freak out if she ever saw it. And so would you if you found it in your teenager's laundry hamper.

A point or two here. You think it's appropriate to have lots of frum employees, men and women working in the same place and have all this plainly about sex underwear displayed all around? Aren't we supposed to be forbidden to put a stumbling block in front of someone?

And the point I think that everyone is missing. The reports all over, in the papers and on the net and on tv and radio have all said religious or orthodox Jews own this place and have all graphically described or shown just what kind of underwear this is. Already there have been comments about religious Jews being hypocrits to dress the way they do and then go make underwear like this for other people. One comment got a lot of agreement and smirks when the person said he wondered if all Jews wear this kind of underwear and that it'd be interesting to ask a few Jews he knows about their underwear habits.

JS said...


I know exactly what kind of undergarments are being sold. I understand the difference between lingerie and "functional" undergarments. It's irrelevant to me.

I wouldn't want my teenager wearing lingerie, not because there's anything wrong with lingerie, but because I'd be concerned on who she was wearing it for (though, to be fair, there are women who wear this simply to feel empowered or attractive - I see nothing wrong with that). The fact that a mother would freak out over her married daughter's laundry is comical to me. Where does she think her grandchildren came from? The stork?

This kind of gets to the heart of the whole tznius debate raging through the ultra-Orthodox community. That so many apparently have an issue with and squeamish about a woman wearing sexy undergarments for her own pleasure or her husband's when this is perfectly healthy behavior is indicative of how far off the rails tznius is. This isn't about modesty anymore, it's about being uncomfortable with healthy, private displays of sexuality - and, further, sexualizing things that aren't even sexual to begin with!

The reason this is getting so much attention is because it's a lingerie manufacturer! It's hypocritical to sell items meant to enhance and call attention to breasts and then fire someone for having large breasts.

I see nothing wrong with Orthodox men and women working in this business together. If they're too immature to act appropriately around these garments, then they should know they own weaknesses and seek employment elsewhere. There should be a preemptive ban on this entire industry because some adults still snicker like schoolchildren at the word "breasts"? It's not surprising though, there's a general attitude that the gedolim should just ban everything since people can't exercise the slightest self control or judgment (e.g., the Internet asifa).

tesyaa said...

TR, underwear is underwear. It's worn UNDER regular clothing, or behind closed doors in the bedroom. If Orthodox Jews were walking down the street in modest clothes with the underwear on the OUTSIDE, that would be unbecoming. Underneath, or in the privacy of their own homes, what is unbecoming?

Miami Al said...

I remember meeting with a large underwear wholesaler about his marketing campaign. He was based on rural Georgia, so the outside of the building was kept discrete, this is the bible belt. Given his wholesale operation, the inside "warehouse store" was more warehouse than Victoria's Secret, but it sold to the public.

He was very excited to expand his international presence, as he had only recently begun shipping overseas. Despite no overseas advertising, his US online advertising was picking up sales in the English speaking world, and the middle east.

His sales were off the charts to Dubai, where he sold to retailers catering to tourists. He was selling direct to consumers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, He was very interested in developing a big Arabic push.

His theory, the upper middle class women that couldn't spend money on outerwear because of Sharia restrictions were splurging on lingerie, because they could pamper themselves that way.

He found this eye opening, he was a third generation hosiery guy, a relatively conservative Christian that couldn't get over that his more risqué merchandize was selling in the Arab world.

His background was closeouts of "staples" -- functional undergarments, but because of his overseas operation, was rapidly expanding into more alluring materials.

Avi Greengart said...

Completely agree with your point on Jews being aware that negative behavior will be amplified by the press, and therefore they should go out of their way to avoid it. (In this case, unless they can prove she's making up these allegations, it seems pretty clear that they broke the law. You can't fire someone because she has curves. Plus, they humiliated her. Even if what they did wasn't illegal, the way they treated her was wrong, and I would think that if this gets to a jury, that's what's going to kill them.)

But I could not disagree more with your point on not selling adult undergarments. We wait until marriage. We observe niddah beyond the letter of the law and harchakot on top of that. But within that context, sex is not just allowed, it is commanded! As far as I'm concerned, sexy lingerie is a hiddur mitzvah.

JS said...

"As far as I'm concerned, sexy lingerie is a hiddur mitzvah."

I can see it now: people lining up and paying a small fortune to buy the "hiddur" lingerie set. When ordering, please specify if you want a bra with or without push-up.

Info said...

Prof. - You and some of the commenters are making a serious error here. The people involved are Sephardim, not Ashkenazic Haredim or Hassidim.

ProfK said...


The word "orthodox" encompasses ALL Jews who are religious, whether they are Ashkenazi or Sephardi, whether or not they are chassidim. Ergo, no error being made. And when the media report about "religious" Jews that, too, encompasses all religious groupings. So yes, all those who are "frum," regardless of how WE in klal may call them, are affected when someone says that "religious Jews" did X or Y.