You Know What’s Ridiculous? That Skin-Tight “tznius” Skirt.

It’s also ridiculous to be told that it’s not “tznius”* to wear pants (as happened today).

After I went home from being told this to do the proper research on why exactly my pants are so immodest, I discovered that apparently, according to the written rulings of one very prominent Rabbi, the very outline of my crotch is something that is “private” and should be hidden away. Presumably he wore this while wearing pants, so it’s not just any crotch, it’s women’s crotches that are the big bad wolf here. The rationale is that of course women never have dirty thoughts, because WE’RE SO HOLY. Awful, painful halakhic double standard of the century. If I see another be-Sheiteled woman in a skin-tight pencil skirt and skin-tight shell next time I go up North, I’ma go postal. Hell, I’ma go postal if I turn around in this here computer lab and see a guy wearing pants too. I may never see someone wearing pants the same way. You know what reading this was like? It’s like being told this like, disgusting joke by someone who thinks it’s funny, so you kind of start laughing too even though it’s a completely sick joke, and then, for the rest of your life, you associate what was once something completely innocent with the nasty joke and a part of your childhood just like, dies.

*tznius = Hebrew for “modest,” loosely translated.

You have to understand. I grew up completely into the whole “modest dress,” however old-fashioned that concept might be, and I still do, but I never felt wrong about wearing pants since I chose them to cover me up according to common sense. Even today, two years after GNDR 101 and around six years after Le Tigre, I still check in the mirror before going out to make sure nothing I’d find distracting is showing or emphasized, mostly because I just would rather have people talk to me instead of my chest or whatever (this has only happened a few times).


This is whyyy I really support a group of Jewish women in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood who started wearing the burqa. Maybe the only effective way to say “WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.” For too long have women been made subject to the often unequally distributed burden of modest dress, entirely determined by ENTIRELY MALE halakhic decisionmakers who basically have a hegemony on what is and what isn’t considered appropriate. To me, the burqa says, “Fine, damnit, if my fucking crotch gets you wild enough to beat me on a bus in Beit Shemesh , then don’t see any of me. I’m making the rules now. HOWS THIS FULL BODYBLANKET WORK FOR YA.” Of course this will piss off those who are so used to and fond of making the rules. They’ll call these people “cruel women making people miserable and destroying homes, risking lives and showing no mercy to little children.” At this point, I’m glad that people who can take the innocence out of pants nowadays are “miserable,” having to look at their wives through self-imposed tent-outfits. Notice that both the beating and the burqas take place in the same city (Beit Shemesh). I’ve had enough of the double standard and maybe now they’ll have enough of the double standard… PSYCHE.

The ruling of another very prominent rabbi in Israel makes a lot more sense to me, even if it is not perfect, in which he explains how it’s preferable to wear pants that have a loose fit than some skin-tight skirt (the kind that passes sociologically for “tznius-style” for clothing like “kosher-style” does for delis). I really appreciate that he pointed this out, and he really went out on a line for this. This still does not go far enough to say it’s completely allowed.

This whole thing upset me, and still does, even though I will proudly continue to wear pants without an inch of shame. I want to live a life committed to halakha, NOT to the fear of what is essentially someone else’s problem if they are coming to such wild conclusions about a completely covered part of my body.

Register this as my first official (albeit anonymous) endorsement of ordaining Orthodox women rabbis.


Tagged , , ,

9 thoughts on “You Know What’s Ridiculous? That Skin-Tight “tznius” Skirt.

  1. chortlevork says:

    Check out liberal managementsia in rare form:

    ‘Following repeated complaints from both religious and secular residents in Beit Shemesh, who encounter the covered girls on a daily basis, the National Council for the Child has requested the Welfare Ministry to look into the matter and make sure this behavior is not harmful to the girls.

    “We don’t want to intervene with their style of clothing or education,” said the council’s director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman. “However it’s our job to check whether these kids are being harmed in any way. If you recall, the known ‘Taliban mother’ incident proves that an extreme lifestyle can also be harmful to the children.”‘

    Of course, they have good intentions (to keep kids safe, not to tell women what to wear), but their professional and ideological training is so entirely dependent on secular notions of oppression that they fail to notice that their rhetoric alone, even before it becomes an intervention, is ammunition that can be used by the haredi patriarchy to silence the women.

  2. PK says:

    Oooh, mehadrin horseblinders… I sense a new market idea….

    I *might* support the burqa-wearers if they were doing it to protest how extreme some Chareidim have gotten about sex-segregation and modesty, but they actually seem to believe that this is the way things should be, and that’s just horribly frightening and disturbing.

    • Emmy says:

      You don’t sense a drop of cynicism/subversiveness in their behavior? It seems like a lot of piety movements like this have the potential to become extremely antinomian and anti-authoritarian.

  3. LadyG says:

    Ugh, this makes me sick. Almost physically.

    The only thing worse than having your level of tzneiut questioned is to have it done in public. I won’t tell any stories here because it is your moment of outrage and you deserve all the attention. UGH.

    I don’t have any coherent thoughts right now, but I wish you peace and happiness and temporary oblivion during RH.

  4. Christina says:

    Thanks Emmy, this was excellent. My understanding of feminism having been drastically altered and expanded in all kinds of excellent ways by an understanding (still cursory) of religious feminism, of the multiplicity of forms that hegemony and patriarchy take in different societies and subcultures, makes me more angry about this having happened to you than I think I could have imagined a few years ago. Screw this conception of tznius that calls for a way of dress that allows us to stop talking and thinking about women’s bodies as if they were more important than women and then has us write books with chapters about womens’ collarbones. I mean really. There is so much good in the concept, so much awful in the execution.

    My favorite bon mot of yours – “the kind that passes sociologically for “tznius-style” for clothing like “kosher-style” does for delis”

    May you have peaceful and positive reflections during Yamim Noraim.

  5. Chatulim says:

    An excellent post indeed. Bet Shemesh is also the site of a crazy protest: crazed men screaming tzniut-themed insults (along the lines of “slutty”) at Orthodox girls going to school because their dress is not tzniut enough (it’s waaaaay modest).

    Also, what about tzniut for guys? I mean, young Orthodox men should wear looser pants, because other Jews might find their buttocks distracting. Or long-sleeve shirts (not a problem with some Orthodox communities), because we might find their forearms arousing and obscene. (Iran actually tried to do that for a while. It was a total, utter failure.)

    In a certain sense, modesty has always been a battering ram of power-hungry men over women in order to instill fear. It’s not about power; it’s about fear. Fear of attack, fear of disapproval…fear of causing a fuss. And their fear too – of losing power. Or, perhaps, of losing oft-deferred-to authority. Cases in point: Puritan Massachusetts, Saudi Arabia, Bet Shemesh 2011, what you mention here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: