Recently, Angela Merkel was removed from the now famous picture of the recent rally in France by an ultra-Orthodox newspaper. In this, she joins the ranks of Hillary Clinton and many Jewish women and girls who have been literally erased from the public eye by elements of the Jewish community who fanaticize the concept of “guarding one’s eyes”
Though the aim of this practice is to be holy and desexualize casual encounters, it instead has the opposite effect, making every interaction between genders a potentially sexual — and thus sinful — one and effectively renders any normal interaction between the sexes impossible.
Though this community is small, it is also the fastest growing and its influence reaches beyond its own neighborhoods.
In this society, men seldom look at women and refrain from reading secular newspapers; strict gender segregation is enforced in schools, synagogues and, really, anywhere that it can be implemented. This has extended to buses and certain bus lines are unofficially (because it is illegal) segregated, with women sitting in the back.
Magazines censor images of women and girls. This relatively new phenomenon extends to magazines that cater to religious, yet far more main stream Jewish communities. Magazines such as Ami, Mishpacha, and Binah all censor women despite having a predominantly female readership.
The reasons given for not showing women are as follows:
1- It is inappropriate for men to gaze at women as it can lead to sexual thoughts.
2- It is not holy/respectful to show images of women. Women should not risk the chance that their images could be used for unholy purposes.
3- Women do not belong in the public sphere.
Do I care if an insular community, in their own place and tiny publications omit women? Yes, I do; but I would not be writing about it if it remained within said small community.
Instead, it is spreading, and this is a sample of what we see:
- In some communities, women’s names are not printed. Not in publications and not in announcements such as wedding invitations. (Imagine if the Torah had done this. A son was born to Abraham and his wife. The prophetess D waged war on Sisera. Tzlephad’s daughters, M N H N & T came to Moses… and God said, “They are right”)
- Posters, campaigns and billboards with women on them have so regularly been defaced that advertising companies stopped running them due to financial losses, which is exactly what the extremists wanted. A baby formula even stopped printing an outline of a mother holding her baby.
- Booklets put out by certain cities have zero women or girls in them. To the point that the city actually looks like a city of homosexuals and pedophiles (not to equate the two) — with nary a female in sight. Pamphlets published by health care providers within these neighborhoods also exclude women and girls. One recent booklet showcased four neighborhood doctors- the men having pictures next to their profile. The female? A large white blank spot stands where her picture should be.
- Even the CARTOON pamphlets have no women. Like this one depicting the ‘Charedi family’: Two dads and four boys…
(I will take the opportunity to note here that the words “breast cancer” are not used in Charedi society. It is called “the woman’s disease.” Because of this extreme take on modesty, women are less aware, get fewer mammograms, and often do not do breast exams. The rate of death from breast cancer is estimated at 30 percent higher among Charedi women, who also have the lowest life expectancy in Israel. Excluding women from health pamphlets, both as doctors and as patients, can only exacerbate this phenomenon.)
Books have also begun excluding females. A book we received as a ‘gift’ from a local organization depicts a Shabbat table — completely female free. The entire book dedicated to the Shabbat, a day of family and Torah, is devoid of even one girl or woman. Where is the Ima??
An entire generation is being taught that women and girls should not be seen because seeing them can lead to sin. Women and LITTLE GIRLS are being objectified, sexualized, and erased.
When a little girl is told that her picture cannot be shown because it is not proper, she learns she is an object. Something that by nature can cause sin and so she must be concealed.
When little boys hear that they must not look at girls, they learn that girls are for one thing, sex, and that men are incapable of controlling themselves and so cannot interact with a female without it being sexual.
Every encounter becomes potential for sin. Every interaction — on a bus, in a store, on the street and while reading a newspaper — becomes one where a glance at a woman immediately brings to mind sin, sex and a need for repression.
This goes beyond ‘their’ community. It is not their billboards they are destroying. They are ours, all of ours. They are buses that we ride. My preteen daughters were told to go to the back of the bus on their way home from school. Extremism seeps outward.
Beyond the damage it does to boys. Beyond the damage it does to girls. Beyond the damage it does to a healthy society where respect, interaction and balance between genders should be the norm. Beyond all of this — it is falsehood. That thing that the Torah and God tell us explicitly to stay far from.
When Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel and other female leaders and public figures are erased from pictures of world events, it is a LIE.
A practice that erases girls and women, that denies their contribution to life and society — that tells people that women are not in leadership positions, or in the public eye and capable of tremendous things, is a lie.
What can we do about it?
First, let us not be silent. When a new local magazine printed flowers next to the bios of the female authors, compared to pictures of the male authors, I called the publisher. He told me: The rabbis told me to do it, so as not to offend anyone.” I told him that I and many others had in fact been offended. Eventually, he replaced all authors’ photos with their business card images. Another local business blurred out girls’ faces from an ad; when we protested and threatened to boycott, they stopped doing so. So write, protest, boycott.
Second, teach your girls and boys that they are meant to interact in a normal way, that they have within them the ability to treat one another and behave as respectful human beings, whether in your community this means being social, or if it only means saying thank you when someone opens the door for you.
Removing images of women tells women that they do not belong, they are not needed, and moreover, that their very presence is detrimental to a healthy society. In fact, the exact opposite is true. It is a society without women that is an unhealthy society indeed.