Gender-based nastiness

“I have a question for all the pathetically offended men,” Rebecca wrote on Times of Israel’s most commented upon article last week, Halachically sanctioned degradation of women makes me scream.

“If men are so base and pathetic and immature, and incapable of controlling themselves around women, why do men treat women as inferior to them …

“Shouldn’t such pathetic creatures with no control look up to the creatures with the control and leave running this world to those who can control themselves? …

“What is a wife for? Is her success to you what *she does for you* or is she your equal, a full spectrum of rich humanity, hopes dreams, talents that need your support, a team player, colleague, companion – not a free slave and surrogate mother to a little boy who can’t be bothered to grow up and be an adult.

“So what is it men? Are you blithering idiots who can’t control yourselves or do you think that might be a myth you have bought and a privilege you indulge in? …

“If you can’t control yourself, then your opinions on this subject are null and void, a I do not respect and find value in the thoughts and ideas of creatures that do not have the brain power to view women as equal human beings.”

We pathetically offended men have never elected an official speaker, but here are the views I think we share:

We do not think men are base and pathetic and immature and incapable of controlling themselves.

We do not think women are inferior to men. We hope we don’t treat them as inferior, and if we do, we sincerely apologize.

A wife is not “for” anything. She is (at least in my wife’s case) a wonderful human being with a full spectrum of humanity, hopes, dreams and talents. I don’t know if she needs my support but she certainly deserves it, and I try to provide it. Marriage is for joining lives with a woman you love, respect and admire.

Both choices you provided to the next question are incorrect, as we neither are, nor believe we are, blithering idiots who can’t control ourselves.

None of this changes our view that many of the comments on this article, like Rebecca’s comment for example, are nasty and offensive.

The article itself was a strong piece by Bahtya Minkin that made a few points:

  1. “The whole concept of modesty needs to be re-framed in a positive light”
  2. “The focus of modesty is meant to be self-respect.”
  3. “It is not the responsibility of a woman to cover herself for the benefit of another. Ever. So don’t even suggest it.”

The first two points are good reminders.

The third point struck some as too absolutist. It’s a reasonable claim that many accept as true. But is it so self-evidently true that any attempt to respectfully discuss it is necessarily stupid and / or evil?

Moshe complained that the third point “teaches people to ignore consideration of others. I have to take into account the effect my words, attitudes, facial expressions, etc. will have on the people around me and must regulate and modify them accordingly. … There are many who pretend that the sexual allure of females is not an issue and they completely ignore it, there are those who have an unhealthy obsession about it; neither approach is proper within Torah.” The line that set off much of the firestorm was “A woman who does not take into consideration the effect her body has on men is being profoundly inconsiderate.”

Bahtya responded that Moshe was “propagating the rape culture that is so rampant in society at large.”

Shoshanna explains “when women are told that what they wear is the reason for men’s sins, it is, in fact, victim blaming … A man or woman’s actions are their own. No one ‘makes’ them do anything … Should we all be considerate of one another? Hallevai! Can I be blamed for your sins? No.”

Shoshanna, I agree with you. And if we agree that it’s wrong and offensive to blame anyone other than the rapist for rape, can you see why some of us find it offensive when the author blames Moshe for rape? Godwin’s Law is that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In gender discussions, the same is true regarding rape. Once you establish that we cannot be blamed for each other’s sins, let’s be a little more considerate before blaming a commenter for rape.

Leah follows with “Are you truly such an animal that the mere existence of women ‘makes’ you behave inappropriately? … We put a bib and diaper on a baby because it cannot control its own body. Should we put a blinder on you, that you cannot control your mind?”

Moshe did not suggest that the mere existence of women makes us behave inappropriately. And nothing a woman does or doesn’t wear can in any way make me G-d forbid act in any negative way towards her or anyone else. But do I have full control of my mind? Do any of us? Does that give me the right to demand that you cover up for me? No. Is it considerate to think of others when you get dressed? I think so. I’m sorry if you think that makes me a baby.

Leah later writes “If you take our anger personally, perhaps you should examine why- do you view it as a personal attack? Is there something here that resonates with you, that you feel your own behavior is being called into question? GOOD, then!” She then suggests that if I feel anger over the accusations it just proves that I have a “need to control the appearances and life choices of the women in your life.”

Do you get offended when some jerk calls a woman slut? I do. Does that mean that I am a slut? Or that she is? Decent people object when people say nasty things about other decent people.

Leah adds “Revolutions are not led by the polite. Give me one historical example of an oppressed group that was granted equal rights after being nothing but peaceful.”

Can you give me a historical example of an oppressed group who won their equal rights by making obnoxious comments? Some would claim that the biggest advances for blacks, women, and others, were when they were inspired by a positive call to which they could rally, like the dream that children “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Many commenters, including some of those mentioned above, had helpful and constructive comments, but for the most part the comments section was a place to demonize the men and women who suggested that men and women should be considerate of each other. And it wasn’t just the comments section. The post itself asserted that modesty was being “usurped for the purpose of abusing and controlling others,” and that the Rabbis “decided to focus on how [modesty] can benefit men” so that men would view women as “only being something nice to look at.”

In a different way, the most troubling comment for me was Rebecca’s “… to 99% of men I am just a body to be rated for its usefulness to them … This may be a reason why I will never marry again, because I refuse to be measured for my usefulness. There is nothing more empty and lonely than that.“

Rebecca, I know that some men are pigs and many men find women’s bodies exciting, but I’m horrified that your experience with men has led you to believe that to 99% of them you’re just a body to be used. Even 1% is too many, and we must work hard to bring that number down.

As Rebecca’s comment brings home, there are serious issues here that people feel profoundly affected by.

Those who agree with Bahtya should be encouraging the religious community to have serious discussions about these points.

We often demonize those who respect Rabbis and Halacha as being close-minded holier-than-thou sanctimonious absolutists who cannot respect the other side enough to have a reasoned discussion. In this case, it was those who respect Rabbis and Halacha who attempted a respectful debate only to be met with sanctimonious vitriol by those who claim to believe in tolerance and mutual respect.

Which is a pity, because these are discussions we need to have.

About the Author
Gil Reich is the author of If You Write My Story, which helps kids deal with life, love, and loss. He is also co-founder of internet marketing and development company Managing Greatness. Previously Gil was VP of Product Management at He has been a popular speaker at internet marketing conferences around the world.