Friday, June 17, 2011

From Birkenstocks to Burkhas

I hate the idea of enslaving women to the mores and power of men. I want women to make their own choices regarding every aspect of their lives, and I will defend to the death of someone younger, poorer, and less able to avoid being sent to die in one of our seemingly endless imperialist wars than I, their right to do so.

But what do I do when they choose badly? It is one thing, for example, to hate the burka when it is imposed on women by men, and another thing to hate it when women freely choose to wear it. No, I’m not talking about Muslim women. I have my doubts that Saudi women are any more free regarding the clothes they wear then they are regarding the cars they drive.

I am talking about Jewish women. I learned from Miriam Shaviv’s column in the April 29th issue of the Forward that there is a small movement of ultra–Orthodox women in Israel who have taken to wearing the burka as a sign of modesty. Their men are not asking them to do this, let alone forcing them. Indeed, in 2005 a rabbinic court granted a divorce to one man married to a burka wearing wife on the grounds that any Jewish women who took modesty that far suffered from a “serious mental disturbance.”

The burkah babes are followers of Bruria Keren, a convicted child abuser who wears ten layers of clothing whenever she leaves her home. They argue that their fashion choice is a statement of modesty and choice. Ms. Shaviv disagrees seeing it instead as the logical extension of the male imposition of modesty on women. She sights the fact that ultra–Orthodox women must wear high necklines, thick colored stockings, long sleeves, and wigs, and that they are being asked to wear rubber soled shoes so as not to disturb men when they walk by. It is a small step from Birkenstocks to burkhas.

Maybe so. But since most Jewish women choose not to wear burkhas, I can’t help but think that those who do are doing so of their own free will.

So while I would like to use the burkha as a sign of women’s oppression in some Islamic societies, I cannot do so when it comes to some Jewish ones. Given this double standard, perhaps I should stop using it as a sign of anything.

I would love to hear from you about this. Are burkahs always a sign of oppression? What about male imposed modesty laws in general? What about restaurants demanding that patrons wear shirts and shoes when entering (exposing one’s genitals and butt is still OK)? Maybe we should all just go nude as sign of our freedom? I hope some of you agree with that. I hope most of you don’t.


andrea perez said...

The incidents in Torah where a woman is completely covered up always wind up getting someone in trouble. Remember Leah being switched for Rachel or Tamar sitting on the road with her face covered? So where do they get this stuff? Is hiding who you are some kind of feminine stunt to trick people? or their father's method of manipulating some other guy into working for him for 7 years? Just an observation.
As for ones choice to dress the way you want to dress, if there was a trend for all Orthodox women to dress in full out Goth gear would that be okay? Jewish Vampires beware. And is it okay to go in complete drag?
Some of the "laws" that are followed are to the extreme and if some women are goofy enough to be more restrictive than maybe their choices should be questioned. How does covering your hair, arms, legs and shoulders transform into putting a tent over your head and walking around like Casper the Friendly Ghost with only a peep hole to see through? When a religious "law" goes over the top and becomes more restrictive then it was intended then what we have is misuse of "law". And that is what is taught to their daughters...and it becomes embedded in their communities...and then no one has a choice and if you don't follow their dictates you can be severely punished and that is abuse. Esp. when the originial "law" never stipulated that you had to dress that way. So no, I don't want to see Jewish women going the way of Afghan women and being denied educational choices or being forced to marry some 50 year old when they are 10. It's one thing to make a choice for yourself, but when you make it for the entire community...well that's just tyranny. And these fools never just stop at themselves.

Karen said...

Some random thoughts... On the one hand, it's interesting that women would choose to where burkas as a sign of modesty. I'd like to suggest that they wear them for other, unconscious reasons. My guess is that more attention is drawn to women who where burkas in a country where it is not the norm. I mean, who can't help but look at someone dressed so completely differently than others and wonder about them -- their looks, if they are abused, their religion, their self-esteem, etc. So, instead of blending into the landscape or disappearing from view, they become much more visible just by putting on the burka. I also find it almost laughable that a woman who chooses to where a burka would say she's doing it for modesty. Another way to look at it is that she finds herself so beautiful that she's afraid people would fall all over her if she revealed her neck, her hair, etc. My thoughts are a bit more expansive on this, but I can't seem to get them down in writing.

On the other hand, when women are forced to wear burkas, I wonder a couple to things. First, do the men forcing these women to cover up consider themselves SO WEAK that they can't bear to look at any part of a woman who is not related to them for fear that they will respond sexually on the spot? It seems to me that if a man has to strip a woman of her power so that he can prove his powerfulness, he is indeed an EXTREMELY WEAK human being. And why would God create such interesting and beautiful creatures and then turn around and say cover it all up? In my world, luckily, this does not make any sense.

Like I stated, random thoughts, not very cohesive, but wanted them out there!