“As a religious person, I find the debate over women’s images in publications in itself embarrassing”

…when I am told constantly, that the religious world protects women from being objectified, by omitting their images — that this reflects some “essential community value” of appreciating women’s inner beauty over externals, I can’t help but laugh at how out of touch this is from reality. It’s a joke. Simply look at our eating disorder numbers. Or ask any young Orthodox woman who has gone through or continues to go through the system of shidduchim, that all-powerful machine which ensures communal obedience — here, where she is promised to be protected from the evils of secular dating, where women are so clearly objectified, girls, just look at them, how disgusting it is, people with no morals — and she will tell you just how lofty-spirited her community experience is.

Is this shocking? That this is where we have come to? When we nod away and accept that women ought to be hidden, like “jewels” — is it shocking that we have created a generation of young women forced to become dolls? That they are, in effect, only further objectified and thus sexualized? When their modest pictures remain forbidden, when religious women’s magazines only portray empty beach chairs and empty kitchens, where women are mere ghosts — what exactly is the message being sent to my generation of bright, religiously passionate women, who are anyways stowing the September issue of Vogue under their beds? That they are dangerous creatures? That there is no middle ground? That they are at once expected to be hidden yet also on display? Today’s religious woman is caught between two extreme worlds — a religious world which offers only contradictions, which tells us that our beauty is key to happiness in life yet we should also hide ourselves lest we attract attention, and a secular world which seems to equate liberty with exhibitionism.

As a religious person, I find the debate over women’s images in publications in itself embarrassing. I suspect it has plunged many a young woman’s rather-clean-mind into some wild, terrifyingly imaginative conjuring of male desire. The more I think about this debate, the more I have trouble walking in Borough Park without it plaguing my mind, without religious male desire suddenly lurking right below the surface of every street, every corner.

In a world where I am told by respected leaders that mere images of modest women are offensive, that Talmud learning for women leads to the destruction of Orthodoxy, and that God willing, my future daughters’ worth will lie in their looks alone — I wonder how on earth one can be expected to raise daughters here in honesty. And how on earth, as a rabbi’s wife, do I tell the starry-eyed young women who approach me with questions about religion, that religious society embraces them as minds, not merely temptations?

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, “The ‘Shidduch Crisis’ Has Led to an Orthodox Obsession with Female Beauty”, Forward (1 September 2015) [http://forward.com/sisterhood/320209/the-real-dating-epidemic-is-the-orthodox-obsession-on-externals/]