The great rub-out

When a haredi Web site makes women invisible, its actions can easily be misconstrued.

By
March 11, 2008 20:13
4 minute read.
The great rub-out

ladaat 88. (photo credit: )

 
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My letter to the editor of February 22, about the rubbed-out photos of women on www.ladaat.net has been the focus of some debate in my hometown of Efrat. The community is populated in the main by the national religious, many of whom have made aliya from English-speaking countries, and not a small number of whom are well-educated professionals. I, however, am an anomaly in that I identify with the haredi way of life. As such, I often find myself in the position of defending ultra-Orthodox opinions. To recap, my letter stated that women do not need to see photos of other women to attain greatness. Those in my community who agreed with this position understood that my intention was not to encourage the wholesale censorship of women's photos from all media. Rather, I find that this practice is of little consequence to a woman's sense of self. My husband says it all the time: Men are visual. And, in fact, though women have clamored at times for equality, a centerfold of a nude Burt Reynolds appearing in Cosmopolitan in 1972 was the beginning of a downturn in his career. Having got it, women didn't really seem to want their own version of Playboy. But they kept on trying to want what they didn't need, creating Playgirl, the counterpoint to Playboy, a year later, in 1973. The magazine still draws a large readership, but who's paying money for seeing male frontal nudity? Well, the figures are controversial, but singer Peter Steele expressed regret over his decision to pose for a Playgirl centerfold after he was told that only 23% of Playgirl's readership was female. While the actual percentage of Playgirl's gay readership varies depending upon whom you ask, from the moment of the magazine's inception, there were whispered rumors that the publication was only masquerading as a woman's rag, and was really an undercover gay men's guilty pleasure. ACCORDING to Judy Cole, former editor-in-chief of Playgirl, the magazine was created during the height of the women's liberation movement - not by a woman, but by a man, who saw dollar signs reflected in the rapacious demands of females for equal rights. Cole says that no matter which woman's name stood at the masthead of the magazine during all the years of its existence, these were only figureheads. As Cole put it, "[Playgirl] is a magazine for women filtered through a decidedly non-female set of sensibilities, which is grounds enough for sexual disorientation." To be frank, I have never heard of teenaged girls having their stash of Playgirl magazines discovered by worried parents searching their rooms for contraband. I know that this is due to the fact that visual images do not elicit the same response in females that they do in men. At the same time, I doubt that seeing a photo of Supreme Court judge Ruth Gavison would inflame any of my eight sons. But to each his own. Rubbing out the photo of the female jurist, as ladaat.net did, was not an expression of prejudice, but rather an expression of a desire to avoid the physical and attain the spiritual. This is a predicament unique to men: The special gift of their visual acuity aids in the perpetuation of our species; but at the same time, it might distract them from their higher, more spiritual purpose. Such men as these, to my mind, place their wives on a pedestal, in a place of honor, as being the suitable place for their visual attention. They strive not to see other women in the same way that they see their wives. This is something we should honor, even as we might not wish to emulate this expression of a desire for living in an elevated state of holiness. SO WHAT about the intimations of one reader: that pedophilia lurks, repressed, in the dark minds of those who would rub out photos of five-year-old girls? This is another topic altogether and speaks to the desire of some haredim to raise young girls in such a way that they will place their modesty above all virtues. As such, they would hope that their daughters would decline the chance to appear on Web sites or in other media. In truth, I am certain that my daughters would not take offense at a display of photos doctored in such a manner. They understand what these altered photos represent: a communal effort for spiritual attainment. My girls would understand that someone is trying to empower them. The Yeshuat Yaakov states that the angels were consulted in the creation of Man. The angels argued that God should not create Man due to his nature, which was such that he would sin. However, when God created Woman, He did not bother to seek a second consultation with the angels. Her nature was such that she would not sin, obviating the need for a second opinion. This is why women make a blessing in appreciation of their special, spiritual nature: Sheasani kirtzono, "Only according to the will of God, was I created, with no need for consultation with the angels." And no need for photos, either. The writer is a haredi feminist, freelance author and volunteer at www.jewishgen.org/ where she 'mans' the support desk for the Jewishgen General Discussion Group.

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