Here in the west we hear a lot about how pornography and nudity objectify. Not that we can ever really know the effects as apparently there isn’t anyone to compare ourselves to.
With the current wave of conservatism, and religious fanaticism (multiple religions) a more pressing and modern question is ‘Does modesty objectify?’
Women who live in Taliban-controlled provinces of Afghanistan are expected to cover themselves head to toe with mesh across their eyes. There, a woman’s ankle is thought incredibly sexual, as are her arms and face and eyes and hair. Every part of her body becomes sexualized through extreme modesty.
I read recently a New York Times article about a similar experience
Last month, an innocent, modestly dressed 8-year-old girl, Naama Margolese, living in Beit Shemesh, described being spat on and vilified by [Jewish] religious extremists — all men — who believed that she did not dress modestly enough while walking past them to the religious school she attends.
The article takes a stance that fills my heart with joy and pride by not vilifying religion but by examining how extremism can pervert a wholesome message.
But the Talmud, the basis for Jewish law, offers a perhaps surprising answer: It places the responsibility for controlling men’s licentious thoughts about women squarely on the men.
The Talmud tells the religious man, in effect: If you have a problem, you deal with it. It is the male gaze — the way men look at women — that needs to be desexualized, not women in public. The power to make sure men don’t see women as objects of sexual gratification lies within men’s — and only men’s — control.
Jewish tradition teaches men and women alike that they should be modest in their dress. But modesty is not defined by, or even primarily about, how much of one’s body is covered. It is about comportment and behavior. It is about recognizing that one need not be the center of attention. It is about embodying the prophet Micah’s call for modesty: learning “to walk humbly with your God.”
I am frequently guilty of throwing out the religious baby with the religious extremists bath water and it’s refreshing to be reminded (if you do subscribe to a religion) that it’s not your religion that makes you crazy but your crazy that makes you crazy.
P.S. A great reminder that our political leaders need not always be protestant white men. Just a note.
P.P.S. Also a good reminder for any of your friends who might believe that sexism doesn’t exist and feminism isn’t necessary anymore. The fact that men can still force this sort of unnecessary and un-religiously mandated obedience on women with hardly any push back at all should put them right again. And if they disagree with such evidence I think it’s a good reason to Lysistrata them.