Modesty

Jun. 11th, 2015 10:25 pm
liv: oil painting of seated nude with her back to the viewer (body)
[personal profile] liv
Modesty is something that's valued in my religious tradition, and also something that's difficult for me personally as well as being politically fraught. Recently a friend was kind of vehement about modesty, specifically women's modest dress, and as it happens we didn't have time to have a proper conversation. So I've been turning the question over in my mind in anticipation of having the conversation, and I think it's enough thinky stuff for a blog post, so:

Jewishly, the idea of modesty comes from Micah 6:8: It has been told to you, human, what is good and what the Eternal requires from you, namely doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God. So the word for modesty might be better translated as humility, depending on context. It seems clear that in a theistic system everybody should be humble in relation to God, but rabbinic tradition has tended to extend this to the moral idea that people should be humble and modest in general behaviour as well.

So modesty is primarily about not demanding attention, not taking up other people's space, perhaps not boasting about how virtuous you are. This seems like a good moral value, and one that I'm quite bad at personally because I tend to be quite arrogant and noisy and liable to blunder around not noticing other people's needs. So it's something I put effort into as part of my general moral aims.

The problem is that although this idea of modesty isn't inherently gendered, it plays out in a sexist society. [personal profile] hatam_soferet had a brilliant insight some years ago, which has really stayed with me: a lot of Jewish law is based on the assumption that the target audience are people with a relatively secure position in society. So Torah says that "you" should protect widows, orphans and strangers, but has little to say about how you should behave if you yourself are in one of those subaltern groups. People who are already assumed to be the default, the sort of people society is built around, need lots of religious strictures to tell them to be more kind and more charitable and more modest (humble). But people who are already marginalized, who are always expected to serve others ahead of their own needs, generally don't need religion telling them to make even further sacrifices. Indeed, people who are in positions of power may end up using religion to consolidate their power, using it to control others and tell them that it's their duty to serve the powerful people.

Of course, in contemporary Anglo society, men are more likely to be in the category of assuming the world exists for their benefit, and women are more likely to be in the category of being heavily pushed towards sacrificing themselves to please and support others. I didn't notice this at all because in spite of being assigned and raised female, I have also spent most of my life in an environment where being female isn't really a disadvantage. I am definitely the sort of person who needs reminders to be more compassionate and modest, and part of that is that until [personal profile] hatam_soferet pointed it out, I hadn't really noticed that telling women to be even more modest and even less confident of their value is a way of controlling people who often already defer to others more than they should.

A relevant example I came across recently was [personal profile] legionseagle's rant on ill-advised admonitions in meta and connected discussion. The post referenced basically takes the tone of, thou shalt not write insensitively about rape! Be more considerate! Remember that there might be rape survivors consuming your stories! I think this is a microcosm of a lot of debate that's being going on at least since Racefail. People are setting up moral laws with an implicitly assumed audience of, well, default or we might even say privileged people. And they're good moral laws ('thou shalt not write racist dreck' is kind of a no-brainer), but the way they're being socially enforced is hurting a lot of people who have history of being controlled by being told they're selfish and morally bad people if they have any desires and needs of their own. To some extent that's many women within a sexist society, and as [personal profile] legionseagle very lucidly illustrates, on a different level it's survivors of certain kinds of emotional abuse.

This connects to the specific case of modesty which is about dressing in a way that's not perceived as sexual (which I'm pretty sure is what my friend was objecting to, not to the whole concept of having a modest demeanour in general). I am to some extent in favour of being considerate about how much you push your sexuality on other people, but also very conscious that treating sex as dirty and damaging is often used to control women. No matter how much in theory rules about modest dress apply to all genders, the discussion nearly always ends up being very much centred on how women should or shouldn't dress. I've read a lot of analysis suggesting that a lot of slut-shaming isn't really about sexual behaviour at all, it's about respectability; women with low social status are perceived as being "over-sexual", and therefore not deserving of protection from male violence.

I get very impatient with the kind of feminism that insists on a very narrow "right" amount of skin to show, because if your body is on display or you are read as sexy, you must be dressing like that for male sexual gratification, and if you cover up too much, you're being controlled by patriarchal ideas of modesty. It's just respectability politics under a different name, essentially the message is that the only way to be taken seriously is to dress like a fairly high status professional or business woman from an Anglo culture. That said, I do take seriously feminist critiques of using modesty requirements to control women, as long as they're not swinging in the other direction and forcing women to display their hair or breasts or legs in public when they may not feel comfortable with that, for any reason.

So I am not entirely happy about modest dress as part of my religious tradition. I've thought about it quite a lot, because my approach to religion is not about cherry-picking the stuff that's spiritually meaningful to me, it's about engaging thoughtfully with all the requirements and trying to apply them in a way that fits with me as a person and my ethical values. I also studied modest dress quite intensively (but only for a month) at Drisha back in 2006, with a bunch of passionate feminist women who were nearly all to the right of me religiously, and nearly all more modestly dressed. The upshot is that I am willing to dress more "modestly" than comes most naturally to me, partly because I don't want to make other people uncomfortable, I feel like I'm more prone to being self-centred than self-sacrificing so it's worth making an effort to correct that. And partly because it's something that my people do and (like many other things that I'm not personally passionate about, such as keeping kosher), I want to assert my identity as an observant Jew.

But I don't think it's really modest to cover yourself way beyond the social norm. That's the opposite of modest, that's wearing clothes that draw attention to you and how religious you are. Also restrictions being applied way more strictly to women than to men is sexist, and therefore not in keeping with my Reform values. So I generally try to cover collarbones to elbows to knees (not, say, throat to wrists to ankles), and I keep my hair tied back but I don't cover it. That last one is a bit complicated because my husband isn't Jewish, therefore I don't count as married in Jewish law, so it's unclear whether I even should be covering my hair anyway. I don't bother with wearing only dull and dark colours, I just like purples and reds too much for that, and also I think in a modern context, coloured dyes aren't showing off how rich you are, they're just as cheap as plain colours. And I do try to adapt my dress for circumstances; for example in Leipzig where the local norm was elaborate goths, many of whom were half-naked or in fetish gear, it was appropriate for me to display a lot more cleavage than I normally would in the street. Or if I go to a black tie party, it's appropriate to dress in a more sexy and revealing way than if I'm at work or synagogue. I have no issues with wearing a swimming costume at the beach or a park for sunbathing, but equally I'm happy to cover my hair and arms if I'm visiting a mosque, church or other shrine where that is expected. Again, the point is to be modest, to fit in and not try to make myself look better than others.

I'm also trying to dress a bit more revealingly around my friend who objects to modesty rules. Because the underlying value is consideration for other people, and if my relatively covering, conservative clothes are making her uncomfortable, that's the opposite of the point. But it's surprisingly hard; some of my clothing choices are just habits I've formed and not really expressions of the value of modesty. For example, I generally feel more comfortable in calf-length or longer skirts, so knee-length skirts are in principle fine but I'm not used to them. And shorter skirts than that are fine too, in a situation where in general that's appropriate and not outside social norms. At the weekend I wore a top that exposed part of my tummy, because I was at a summer barbecue where that sort of thing is well within the range of normal, and because I wanted to respect my friend's views. And I felt a little strange, not that I think it's wrong and most certainly not that I would judge anyone else for a bare midriff, but just that I'm not used to wearing that little.

I think my modesty is partly reflecting my moral and religious values, but also partly it's a protective habit. I was fat and ugly as a teenager; now I'm still fat but tolerably pretty, at least to people who don't expect that you have to follow fashion rules closely to count as pretty. But at some level I have the experience that if I dress sexily, I will get grief for daring to imagine that I'm the sort of person that others would want to look at in a sexual way. Unlike many women, I don't personally have the experience that if I dress sexily, I will be harassed and groped and molested (which I know isn't really about clothing choices, it's about bullies exerting power over women), but I do basically expect to be mocked. Not consciously, not if I actually stop and think about it, but I have a kind of visceral memory of it. Especially if what I'm showing off is my legs and bottom, which is one reason why when I am in an appropriate context to dress more revealingly, I default to low cut tops rather than short or tight skirts.

My personal experiences of feeling uncomfortable about uncovering more than I'm used to are therefore comparatively mild. But enough to give me empathy for women who, for religious or personal reasons, do prefer to cover up a lot more than the default for women in the societies they're part of. Muslim women who wear headscarves or veils or abayat, for example, but also women who for purely personal reasons feel uncomfortable wearing the amount of clothes expected for women of the culture they happen to live in.

Basically I'm one of those "choice" feminists, I do expect that people should make their own decisions about what they want to wear. And yes, I am aware that those choices carry messages which affect others, and take place in a social context, there are factors other than purely personal expression which determine how people dress. I believe that consideration for other people should in fact be one of the factors that go into clothing choice; for me that's the main point of modesty. Equally people don't have a right to ogle my body, much less to have access to it, and people do have a responsibility to control their own behaviours and behave in a civilized way if they happen to find me sexually attractive, it's not up to me to hide myself from view in case some hypothetical stranger finds me sexy and is offended by that.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-11 09:34 pm (UTC)
angelofthenorth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] angelofthenorth
Really interesting. Not got much to say beyond that.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-11 09:48 pm (UTC)
penlessej: (Books)
From: [personal profile] penlessej
You make a pretty significant jump in the fourth paragraph that you rest most of the rest of the post on. What you are saying with the observation made from your friend is that Torah, really, should only apply to people who are in a position of power. Because, as you pointed out, poor people, marginalized people, do not need to be told to be more humble. But the Torah traditionally was not written for just the well-off in society, it was written for society as a whole. If you justify a departure from the Torah on the grounds that it does not apply to you because of X Y and Z than really all you are doing is rationalizing the departure from your religious doctrine. Which is all well and good, just call a spade a spade. You do not agree that modesty should apply to woman in particular.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-11 11:13 pm (UTC)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hatam_soferet
But the Torah traditionally was not written for just the well-off in society, it was written for society as a whole.

That's rather a large assumption. The Torah is talking to men ("do not go near a woman," and so on), Tanakh is mostly talking to men (otherwise we wouldn't need to go around making all these lists of women in the bible, we don't bother making lists of men in the bible), and the Oral Law is largely framed, developed, and applied by men. Not well-off men necessarily; don't confuse well-off with powerful.

That's not to say that the Torah intends for non-men to be exempt from everything, but it does mean that it doesn't necessarily have the best interests of non-men at the forefront. Rabbinic Jews have always had to interpret the Torah through lenses which correct for time and place, that's what the history of halakha is, and marginal Jews (women, slaves and so on) also have to use lenses which correct for position in society. Elisheva Baumgarten's recent work explores this idea in the context of medieval Ashkenaz, talking about aspects of Jewish religion which are not the ones which make it into the pages of the Mishneh Torah or whatever, but which ought to be viewed as valid expressions of Jewish piety.

And when we don't use corrective lenses, sometimes the results are kind of toxic. You've heard about the chap who had, in one pocket, a paper with "Because of me the world was created," and in the other pocket a paper with "I am dust and ashes"--the idea was to preserve a balance between the two extremes--your average woman (or poor, or disabled, or enslaved, etc person) accumulates several kilos' worth of "I am dust and ashes" papers just by existing, so telling such a person that they need to put one of each paper in their pockets is a different message than telling that to a person with empty pockets. And it's ok to realise that the message is "balance" and interpret accordingly, even if that means that I personally don't put one of each paper into my pocket.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-11 10:14 pm (UTC)
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
1. Concept of micro- vs macroproblematic?

2. Twitching a bit at use of "civilised" particularly in this context?

3. Perhaps more later when not on auxiliary internet device.

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Date: 2015-06-11 10:35 pm (UTC)
403: A rack of test tubes with the caption "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate". (Solution or precipitate)
From: [personal profile] 403
The history of me and clothing is that whatever I select will be deemed "wrong" because I have an unacceptable body-type. So. Screw 'em.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-12 04:21 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
+1, there's people, including me, who are not going to be considered appropriate or able to fit in regardless of how we dress. These days, I don't think that's my fault, but it's still not going to stop other people behaving badly. And I count concern-trolling such as "Oh, you're *so brave* to be wearing a swimsuit and going swimming" to be part of that.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-11 11:15 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
I think you're the first person who believes in modesty who I've seen say that if the point is to not draw attention to oneself, ostentatiously covering up more skin than is typical in your culture or context is the opposite of modest.
So thank you for that.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-12 12:54 am (UTC)
nicki: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nicki
I think in "choice" feminism, it's important that it be INFORMED choice. People need to think about why they are doing what they are doing.

In the instance of modest dress, for example, that is particularly important. Take that idea of wearing a tank top. One could be wearing a tank top because one has a great rack and has the intention of wearing one to the barbeque to outshine your ex's new girlfriend. One could be wearing a tank top because one is going hiking and it's 100 degrees. One could be wearing a tank-top because they have hellaciously sunburned shoulders and it's the only thing that doesn't hurt. Same action, different reasons. If one's society is operating off of the idea of intrinsic morality rather than extrinsic morality, those reasons become important because one is expected to self-police. And I have to admit, I'm a fan of intrinsically moral culture.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-12 02:38 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] daharyn
But sometimes the choice is "because I want to," or "because I like [the chosen option/item]," or "because it feels good," or even just "because," and all of those ought to be enough. It's not cool to force other people to justify their choices to others. Sometimes there isn't a reason why.

Why did I wear this skirt today? I honestly don't know. There could be a million reasons, but nothing jumps out at me, and I don't give a fuck about how anyone interprets that choice, ya know?

Sometimes a tank top is just a tank top is just a tank top.

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Date: 2015-06-12 03:00 am (UTC)
rushthatspeaks: (the unforgiving sun)
From: [personal profile] rushthatspeaks
This is a very interesting look at a question which I don't think about much until every few years it eats my head, so thank you. I appreciate the reminder that modesty is about, well, humility, because so often it turns womens' bodies into a battleground.

The last time that happened to me was in Istanbul about two years ago. I was raised Baha'i, though I no longer identify that way, and one of the things that Baha'is use to differentiate themselves from their Islamic roots is that not only do Baha'i women not wear any sort of veil, but Baha'i women may not wear any sort of veil. There are multiple female martyrs in the hagiography I was raised with who were killed for unveiling in 1860s Iran. And so as a child and adolescent in religious education, I was repeatedly told, in so many words, God does not want you ever to do this thing because it will halt the emancipation of women. One year my entire class of girls at Baha'i summer camp signed a pledge, on paper, saying that no matter what the circumstances we would never wear a modesty veil.

And, as I said, I don't identify with that faith anymore, but, well, I promised. I was young, sure, but my twelve-year-old self thought it over and was willing to commit that to paper, and I feel some responsibility to safeguard my twelve-year-old self. My wedding, for instance, was not the level of formality for which a bridal veil might be expected, but I would not have had one if it were.

So there I was in Istanbul, and there was the Blue Mosque, and portions of the Topkapi Palace (the ones which have significant religious artifacts), and if you present as female, you can't go in without something that the guard will accept as a headcovering. I tried tying the hood of my hoodie very tightly, because that is a garment I own anyway and an action I am willing to take under other circumstances, and was told that wasn't good enough; they will give you a scarf at the door if they believe you need one, so I could have taken one of theirs.

The thing is, I don't identify as female either.

What happened was I went away and had a three-day crying fit about the confluence of unavoidable self-presentation with my inability to suck it up and do this thing I had promised not to do and my desire to respect their desire that people who go into these spaces show the proper respect and how what that means in practice is that I don't get to go into these spaces. I know it is my decision, but it still hurt. And it didn't help that when I went off to cry in the bathroom of the Topkapi, which seemed like the least public option, there were several women in there who had, as soon as they were in the ladies' room, removed full burqa for a chance to cool off a bit, and it seemed like the same category error in the opposite direction that I was inadvertently allowed to see that.

The whole thing still smarts, but your post does remind me that modesty in the eyes of others should never, ever trump your own self-respect, which helps me remain firm in the belief that excluding myself from those spaces is the right choice for me. Thank you.

I just wish it didn't ever have to be a choice between modesty in the eyes of others and your own self-respect, I guess. Those things are not inherently dichotomous.

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Date: 2015-06-12 08:21 am (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (Default)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
Mostly I think this is interesting and I basically agree with you, but - I am a little bit bothered by your decision to deliberately wear more-revealing clothes to "respect my friend's views". Because, although presumably that isn't the intention, it comes across as saying to me that you are exposing more skin than you personally would choose, and that makes me uncomfortable. Would you argue that it is the same as covering more skin to respect someone's views? It feels asymmetrical to me.

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Date: 2015-06-12 08:25 am (UTC)
highlyeccentric: Sign on Little Queen St - One Way both directions (Default)
From: [personal profile] highlyeccentric
I think there's something rather peculiar about wearing deliberately *more* revealing clothes to make others comfortable?

I'm trying to put my finger on why and can't quite articulate it, but there's another factor in 'modesty' which you haven't picked up on here explicitly: privacy. I have fairly conservative standards in teaching clothes, for instance (at least in terms of coverage; these days I'm pretty casual in register). People have asked me why: some of it is practicality (I can swing over a desk in a long skirt more easily than an above-the-knee one), but a lot of it is *privacy*. Those are my legs, they're not for students. That mole on my upper cleavage is mine. My friends get to see it. Random people at the beach get to see it, if i feel like it. But students don't.

I think that's where 'dressing more covered-up than the norm', even if it draws attention, isn't necessarily ostentation. There's a factor of privacy in there, which isn't foremost about other people's reactions.

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Date: 2015-06-12 09:55 am (UTC)
sfred: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sfred
Thanks for writing this - it's really interesting.

I like the broader idea of modesty being more like lack of ostentation. In British Quakerism, "plain dress" was adopted to steer people away from ostentatious dress, by encouraging wearing of the most neutral clothes of the time. It was largely abandoned for the same reasons: the clothes that had been neutral/unostentatious when plain dress was introduced had become peculiar and had started to be ostentatious themselves by the time it was abandoned.

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Head Coverings

Date: 2015-06-12 12:46 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is a fascinating and thoughtful discussion, especially for someone who tends to be somewhat socially conservative in dress without any particular analysis. Thank you.

As a complete side issue: until at least the 1950s it was unusual in Western society for either men or women at any level of society to be bare-headed in public, with obvious contextual exceptions. (I strongly suspect that the Queen's predilection for head scarves merely reflects her generation.) Does anybody know when or why this change occurred?

I have seen a suggestion is that this change in dress code is attributable to President Kennedy not wearing a hat at his inauguration but this seems unlikely.

Southernwood

Re: Head Coverings

Date: 2015-06-12 04:58 pm (UTC)
slashmarks: (Default)
From: [personal profile] slashmarks
In relation to women, part of it is likely the Vatican II dropping the doctrine suggestion women cover their heads in church. Part of it may be related to the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis, which fueled the association of Muslims with terrorism (sigh) in the West. AFAIK that's most of why headscarves suddenly stopped being a thing in the Christian West.

I'm less sure about hats, though.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-12 03:03 pm (UTC)
lizcommotion: Lily and Chance squished in a cat pile-up on top of a cat tree (buff tabby, black cat with red collar) (Default)
From: [personal profile] lizcommotion
I think it's really great that you've come up with a system that works for you, and also that you're really thinking about each ethical choice that you make. (Which is from what I understand a lot of what Judaism is about...? Could be wrong, I got a lot of excited Jewish!thoght!squees for awhile from a friend who was converting.)

For me personally (not saying this is The Way Everyone Should Do Everything, just Sharing Experiences/Perspectives):

I have a lot of chronic pain which actually dictates a lot of my clothing choices, and actually can mess with my gender identity a bit because I can't present the way I would like to at times because it takes way more energy than I have. (I'm somewhere in the genderfluid category, and days when I would like to say wear make-up or shave it's often not even an option because showering took all my energies.)

So like today I am wearing one of those tank-tops with the built in bra. I haven't actually been wearing bras much lately for the past couple of months because I've been having intense back and shoulder pain that bras intensify. My strategy has been either tank top with shelf bra or t-shirt large enough that it's not super obvious I'm not wearing a bra underneath, but this all requires a certain amount of laundry and wardrobe juggling and it's fortunate I'm not trying to dress for a professional job atm. Depending on how much pain I'm in, it's anywhere from yoga pants to shorts to a skirt and some sort of footwear that provides arch support.

I'm also extremely heat sensitive, so wearing a tank top under something in the summer is not actually an option unless I'm in a super-airconditioned movie theater or something in which case I might just be enjoying the a/c.

I do have a friend who wears hijab who's also trying to bike ride over the summer in a warm area, and we have been swapping "staying cool in summer" tips. Because part of hijab is not just the head covering, it's also keeping the rest of you covered too. She tends to wear long sleeves and long pants no matter the weather, so I think she's been looking into moisture-wicking fabric and those sorts of things.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-12 07:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] woodpijn.livejournal.com
Thanks, this is really interesting and thoughtful.

I so identify with this part:
But at some level I have the experience that if I dress sexily, I will get grief for daring to imagine that I'm the sort of person that others would want to look at in a sexual way. Unlike many women, I don't personally have the experience that if I dress sexily, I will be harassed and groped and molested (which I know isn't really about clothing choices, it's about bullies exerting power over women), but I do basically expect to be mocked. Not consciously, not if I actually stop and think about it, but I have a kind of visceral memory of it.

I'm generally fine these days to dress at a culturally typical level of revealingness, e.g. short sleeveless sundresses in summer, but I have wibbles about wearing things that are explicitly sexy as opposed to keeping-cool-in-summer or little-girl-pretty, and I overreact emotionally to experiences that slightly evoke that kind of mocking.

Part of me is curious to investigate what makes the difference between women who experience harassment/groping and women who experience rejection of their sexuality. I don't think it's a straightforward function of attractiveness (in as much as attractiveness can be quantified) - there seem to be women less conventionally-attractive than either of us who are in the harassment-experiencing category.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-12 08:31 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
This is a subject about which I have a lot of emotional responses and not many good thoughts.

I know, first of all, that the issue of modesty in clothing is one that disproportionately affects women, and therefore that I cannot really know what it is like to be a, for example, Orthodox Jewish women who is subjected to the laws of tzniut, and kol isha ervah, and etc... I therefore try to form my opinions as much as possible by listening to women talking about how it affects them.

And I know that I have spoken to many, many Orthodox Jewish women who believe that the laws of tzniut empower them, and I have spoken to as many women who feel that the laws restrict them. So I think it's a hard thing to make a value judgement about either way.

I get very resentful of people who say that the only reason why Orthodox Jewish women observe the laws of tzniut in dressing is because they have internalized sexism. Except when it's being said by someone who grew up Orthodox. Which it rarely is, usually it's people who don't know the first thing about living life as an Orthdoox Jew who are saying things like that, but sometimes it is, and I of course don't want to say they're wrong.

And I think back to college, when one of the Rabbis at Hillel did a class where he took a bunch of us through the Talmudic discussions of kol isha ervah, and at the end of the class, people from much more traditional backgrounds than me were saying "Wait, that's it? That's the basis under which I have been making the modesty choices I have" I think it is very hard to read the halachic laws of modesty as they're written in the classical texts as being absolute in any fashion. They seem pretty damn clearly to me to be saying "Whatever society and culture you're living in, dress and act in a way that is appropriate and contextually respectful." Which is your basic approach to modesty as I'm understanding it, and which makes a lot of sense to me.

But in general I find it's a lot easier to be deferential to other peoples' sensibilities by being more modest than it is to be deferential by being less modest (though your friend that you show more skin for is an apparent exception). I do not observe shomer negiah, but I have lots of friends who took a while to realize this, or may still not realize it, because when I meet girls I don't know, I assume that they are shomer and don't try to touch them, and let them make the first effort to show that they are not. And this is my general approach to most questions of tzniut, to build a fence around my approach in order to try to be respectful to as many people as I possible can.

But it probably doesn't hurt that this approach is congenial to my general social conservatism, and so it's worth asking if this general approach of trying to be as accommodating as possible to people who are observing laws of modesty that I think are out of proportion is itself sexist or at least supportive of patriarchal attitudes. I don't really know how to answer that question.

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] seekingferret - Date: 2015-06-19 01:57 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-14 02:09 pm (UTC)
ceb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ceb
I'm also trying to dress a bit more revealingly around my friend who objects to modesty rules.

For example, I generally feel more comfortable in calf-length or longer skirts, so knee-length skirts are in principle fine but I'm not used to them.

Just popping by to say, I don't think you dress outside the window of plausible British clothing levels at all; your description of coverage is the same as me at work (I wear T-shirts outside work with sleeves ~10cm shorter than your typical, but everything else still the same). You have two reasons for dressing as you do, only one of which is related to religious reasons. The other is that's what you're comfortable in and used to, and that is a perfectly good reason on its own to dress the way you dress. I don't think you should feel under any obligation at all to dress differently around your friend - they probably wouldn't even have had a rant at you if they thought they were ranting about you...

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-14 07:00 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ewt
This was very interesting to me, having previously kept tzniut...

I do seem to have fluctuating levels of comfort with exposing my skin and/or wearing tight clothing, and haven't really worked out why. As a teenager I hated anything without sleeves and went through one summer wearing jumpers all the time because I hated having my arms exposed. I definitely drew attention to myself -- it was 30°C and I was wearing long jeans and a jumper!

This hasn't gone away in adulthood, I have a bunch of clothes I sometimes feel comfortable leaving the house in and other times don't, based on sleeve length or how much of my body shape they expose or skirt length. It's not about what I think is appropriate for the context, but that there are days, weeks or months where I just don't want people to see e.g. my upper arms. And it doesn't appear to be obviously linked to how I feel about the way my body looks; I'm not ashamed of my legs, I have pretty much always liked my legs but sometimes I don't feel comfortable with anyone but my very nearest and dearest seeing them, and I have no idea why.

For me one of the positive aspects of tzniut was that by using a consistent external yardstick to guide my clothing decisions, I ended up for a while not owning any clothes I would be comfortable in sometimes but not other times. This made dressing simpler.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-15 09:25 pm (UTC)
ayebydan: (potter 2)
From: [personal profile] ayebydan
So Torah says that "you" should protect widows, orphans and strangers, but has little to say about how you should behave if you yourself are in one of those subaltern groups.

I have not read the Torah (I have never come across one. I would to be educated but yeah. I don't trust online sources these days in this sort of thing) but I think this statement is very true of many religious texts and movements in life. They are formed to tell people at the top how to change while offering little to those beneath. For example, today there is a lot of 'cis people do bad GRRR' and lots of 'look at this famous trans person!' with less on the 'you need help, here is a list of information to get you shelter, a job or an education course or just, safety from your friends/family' for trans people themselves. It is a pattern that repeats across history. The top are told to change while the bottom flounder.

On the 'modesty/humility' thing...I think that is something that is easily hijacked. They are both terms that can interchange and more importantly I think they are both terms that do not have to relate to clothing in the slightest. A person can spend hundreds on their hair and make up and outfit for the day and then spend 16 hours in a soup kitchen or a charity shop or pounding the streets for an appeal. I do not think any religious group can read those terms in their texts and for certain say 'well it means that'.

Of course, we also have to understand that all these texts have faced several translations and may well no longer say what they would have and need to adapt to that. It sure is an interesting one.


Overall, very interesting post.

ps: I personally think that if a religious person has so much energy to spend on me, an atheist, and my outfit they are doing their religion wrong. I'm already going to hell for not believing in 90% of texts so why not go feed and cloth those that need it, as all the texts intend.
Edited Date: 2015-06-15 09:26 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-17 03:18 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Of course, we also have to understand that all these texts have faced several translations and may well no longer say what they would have and need to adapt to that. It sure is an interesting one.

To a large degree, this is not the case with the Torah and the Jewish tradition in general in the same way it is for Christian texts. Jewish law is still studied largely in the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts, and yes, there is sometimes academic difficulty with the diachronic linguistic problems of dealing with what words meant two thousand years ago, but they're not the same problems at all that are faced by Christian scholars who might studying the English translation of the Latin translation of a Greek or Aramaic original text.

Which is not to say that Jews don't face problems of translation, because there are still many layers of cultural translation between texts designed for an ancient oriental culture and legal traditions that are functional for a 21st century predominantly-Western culture. But the actual words? For the most part, we know what they say.

I do not think any religious group can read those terms in their texts and for certain say 'well it means that'.

There is very little tendency for Jewish scholars to do this, either. The Talmud consists not of prescriptions for legal rules but arguments between scholars about what the rules are. The laws of tzniut are debated at length in the Talmud, sometimes without reaching conclusion. Judaism is often not a very certain religion. We like it that way.

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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