Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al
2015-06-19 12:39 pm (UTC)
I really really appreciated this comment, and I'm sorry it's taken me ages to get back to you. I definitely take the point that people outside the Orthodox community shouldn't be projecting our ill-informed assumptions onto people who actually live in this context. And I agree with you that in practice it's women who are at the sharp end of tznius issues.
My experience learning about tznius and kisui rosh at Drisha chimes with yours, the Talmudic basis for modesty customs is entirely reasonable and mostly common sense and contextual and puts a lot of onus on men not to go around ogling women. Though there's definitely some really machmir opinions in traditional halachic literature, it's not all just modern invention. I have to take at least the Rambam seriously and he espouses a very strict standard of doubled head coverings for women in a very broad definition of reshut rabbim. But then he was after all living in a Muslim context, so part of that is that what was normal for his society was much stricter than what's normal for say, modern post-Christian secular American society.
I am not too worried about Orthodox-typical tznius clothing, really. I mean, if it happens in a context where women have no autonomy that's one more way of controlling women, but the problem is the lack of women's autonomy, not the particular dress-code. I do have empathy for people who find tznius empowering, because there is something very positive about getting back-up when you say, my body is mine, it is not for the consumption of anyone other than intimate connections. It's a kind of opting out male-dictated secular beauty standards. Fully acknowledging that I'm coming to this from the outside, I'm much much more uncomfortable with machmir interpretations of kol isha. Because that's literal silencing, and symbolically it just feels really hard that women's public voices are regulated in those ways.
I do definitely like your approach to negiah and tznius in general. There's so much awfulness around women not being allowed to enforce personal boundaries in secular society (and in non-traditionally observant contexts where secular norms prevail), that having a default of not touching unless invited seems like the ethical thing to do. (Again, thinking of stuff that's difficult for me, I'm more bothered by strict shmirat yichud than by negiah, it feels like it's based on the assumption that all interaction between men and women is suspect.)
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