I’ve noticed this trend for a while. First I saw magazines that were dedicated to Jewish women, having as a rule, no pictures of women. Then I heard about all the women that were being photo-shopped out of Charedi (right wing Jewish orthodox) newspapers- even newsworthy women like, presidential candidates. Last week I saw someone post a picture of a mazal tov ad in a Monsey newspaper, wishing congratulations to new couples on their engagement. Except, only the names of groom’s were mentioned, and the names of the bride, were considered too untzius (immodest) to mention. Then I just heard about Adina Miles (aka Flatbush Girl), the Orthodox comedian who was asked to blur her face in a full page ad she took out in the Flatbush Jewish Journal. They asked her to also remove the word “girl,” as it was an immodest addition to the ad.
I’m gonna say that again. The word “girl” was deemed immodest.
I am becoming increasingly distressed over this trend. As a basic premise, the purpose of my project, The Layers Project, is to photograph Jewish women and give them space to explain what their lives are like. They can flesh out their experiences, their struggles, their triumphs. It’s a space where women can go from being one dimensional caricatures thanks to short status updates- to full three dimensional humans, who feel, think and create.
At a time where opportunities for women are skyrocketing, more women are in college than men, women are in the workforce just as often as their husbands- why is part of our Jewish community going backwards? Let me tell you what I really take issue with. Why are they hypersexualizing our daughters? The thought of a woman is unclean? Are we objects to be possessed and used and lusted after- or are women humans whose creativity, intelligence, spirituality and warmth are a worthy contribution to our community. We are the pillars on which that community stands- women make families, raise them and make the money to support them.
It’s not about what we wear anymore, or what we do, but now it seems likes on a fundamental level it’s a problem to be a girl.
What about the men? Aren't we treating men like animals, if we think that they can’t control their urges to see a woman’s face? What are we depriving young men, if experiencing a feminine presence is portrayed as strictly a sexual experience. That is what we are doing when we tell men that it's not ok to look at our faces. Forget what it teaches young men about seeing women in leadership positions, educated, contributing to society. Forget any sort of seeing us as equals with equal power to create and be worthy.
So when I show my daughter one of these publications, and she asks me, “Ima, why are there no pictures of women?” What am I meant to respond? If I tell her the truth, that these publications don’t think that pictures of women are tzanua (modest) what is the conclusion that she is meant to come to about herself? What are we teaching our girls about who they are and what they can contribute to the world? We are teaching them that they are meant to be tucked away, pushed to the side. That her contributions to the community will be expected but will never be valued enough to be seen in it’s entirety. That her body, her face, is purely sexual in nature, and needs to be hidden away in order for other men not to sin. Forget having layers and depth, her beautiful form will be all that will be acknowledged and therefore she will be denied. This is pathology.
So I will push on, plastering the walls of the internet with the faces of Jewish women. Not just their faces, but also their words, their feelings, experiences, strengths, goals and stories. We need to stop removing women from what we read and do the opposite. Give our media space to women, in order that they can be fleshed out, to be impactful and to make our community whole.
Women were made “Sheasani Kirtzono” “according to His will” and “Btzelem Elokim”- “in the image of God.” I will continue to post pictures of Jewish women of all kinds, and give others the opportunity to look into their eyes and see how beautifully human we are.