Aside from this blog, I write a column in a local Jewish newspaper about how to dress well and look good within tzniut. Three times (in two years), I have written articles for that column about the erasing of women. I (and many other women and men) agree that the policy of not using photos of women in Jewish publications and ads is harmful and dangerous. The only feedback I have seen up until now was positive.
But then came my third article. I wrote it as a shout-out to my friend Merri who came up with the hashtag of #Iwontdisappear. I shared the article on Facebook in the hope of the newspaper getting good feedback about it. I’m not sure if they got any positive feedback, but they certainly got some negative feedback. The only response printed was by the paper’s Rabbinic Consultant. He felt that while erasing women from photos is “silly,” but those publications have a right to do it. As it is, this paper has already taken a stand by using photos of women and therefore, the paper doesn’t need to publish any more articles on the subject.
There’s a part of me that’s laughing about how I’ve been promoted to chief troublemaker. But then there’s the part of me that knows how dangerous this is.
First, the policy of not using photos of women is not “silly.” It is harmful and dangerous for many reasons:
- When even a woman’s face is considered too provocative to be seen, it turns the woman into an object. That’s the antithesis of tzniut no matter how much these publications claim it to be about tzniut.
- It infantilizes men by implying that they cannot control themselves. B”H, I know a lot of men who are mentschen and who know how to treat others with respect and Derech Eretz. They know that it’s not my job to hide.
- It puts the entire onus of tzniut on the women while forgetting that men are just as obligated in tzniut as the women.
- It harms the woman’s parnassah by diminishing the impact of any ads for her professional products or services. The publications won’t erase the photos of men because they know that photos have an impact. The editor of my paper once told me that it’s important to have photos because they make the article come off better.
- It deprives our girls of visible role models. The only images they’re seeing are the images from the secular world. Many of these images are not tzniut-appropriate and most are unhealthy. And our girls are seeing these images no matter how hard we try to avoid them. The only effective way to combat them is to give them healthy images of our Nashim Tzidkoniot. There are those who say that these girls have their mothers and grandmothers, but our communities hold our Nashim Tzidkoniot as role models because they know the importance of having good role models. And with healthy images, our girls can see these women as real people whom they can try to emulate.
- It erases our history. One of the wonderful and unique things about Torah Judaism is that we have always held our Nashim Tzidkoniot as role models throughout history. And we used images of them as a matter of course until the 1990’s. We have enemies trying to erase our history and we don’t need to do that to ourselves.
- It’s a Chillul Hashem. There is a prevalent belief that Torah Judaism is sexist/biased against women. This policy only perpetuates that belief and makes it harder to counter with the truth. It’s true that we do not change Halacha or water it down to please the secular world and of course we shouldn’t do that. But this policy has no basis in Halacha or Mesorah. So is it really worth it? I say no.
- It’s dangerous on a physical level. Especially in the era of MeToo, we need to teach our children- boys AND girls- about self-respect and body autonomy. The policy of erasing women makes a clear statement that women and girls are too provocative to be seen and that men and boys cannot control themselves. That undermines our efforts to teach our children how to respect their own personal space and to respect others’ personal space.
So much for “silly.”
The response also stated that if other publications want to have this policy, it’s their problem and not ours. First, we’re all Jews and if this policy is harmful, then it is our problem. Second, if there are people trying to pressure our paper and others into going along with this policy, it’s very much our problem. And the pressure they’re putting on the paper to shut me up means that it’s definitely our problem.
The response stated that since they already take that stand by using photos of women that this paper is not the place for such things. Actually, the fact that it’s reaching so many people and touching that nerve is exactly why this paper is the perfect place for such things. It means that my writing is making a difference. That’s why I write in this paper (they don’t pay me money).
We women do not deserve to disappear or to be silenced.