Last spring and summer, I began hearing the question of “why are you writing about erasing women in forums that use photos of women?” More recently, I’ve been using the hashtag of #frumwomenhavefaces and my new one of #facingmyMaker for Elul and I’ve heard the question, “Aren’t you just preaching to the choir here?”
The answer is that yes, I am “preaching to the choir.” When I write about this issue, whether it’s for the Queens Jewish Link, for Jewess Magazine, for Nashim Magazine, or for my own blog “True Tzniut Is True Beauty,” I’m reaching out to an audience that, for the most part, agrees with me that erasing and silencing women is wrong.
So if I’m “preaching to the choir,” then what’s the point? Shouldn’t I be writing to the publications and entities that do erase women?
Well, yes. And I have. So have others. The problem is that it’s not working right now. Why? Because we’re jumping ahead of ourselves.
The first step to solving any problem is raising awareness. If people aren’t aware of a problem, they’re not going to try to solve it. And too many people are either not aware of the problem of erasing women, or they’re just not paying attention, or they don’t realize how harmful and dangerous it is, or they don’t feel that it’s worth it to say anything and risk a fight.
I admit that I was one of those who wasn’t paying attention to it until I began reading about it on social media. I had noticed, but I hadn’t paid close attention to it. I’m sure I’m not the only one. But I’m glad that others brought it to my attention and I’m trying to write and raise awareness now.
Then there are those who are aware of it but who don’t see it as any big deal. They might dismiss it as silly. Or they might see it as belonging to more right-wing communities as in “it’s their problem, not ours.” Or they might be thinking “live and let live.”
All of the above are why we need to start by “preaching to the choir” and raising awareness.
First, we have to make sure people are aware that this is happening. And they have to be aware that it’s happening HERE. At least some of the publications that erase women do have a market in the more modern communities. There are publications that do use photos of women but that accept ads that erase women. There are groups that advertise their fundraisers in which they honor couples but they only show the men and they send out invitations in the modern communities and ads for the papers that otherwise show women. We’re seeing this all the time.
Second, it’s not just silly. Erasing women is harmful and dangerous. It turns women and girls into objects which is the exact opposite of tzniut. It says to men and boys that they’re incapable of being mentschen and controlling themselves. It deprives our boys and girls of many excellent role models. It erases part of our history. It makes a Chillul Hashem. None of the above deserve to be dismissed as silly.
In addition, it’s harmful for mental health. According to my friend, psychologist Daniel Hoffman Ph.D, avoidance of anything that causes anxiety only makes the anxiety worse. If the mere sight of an Ishah Tznuah leaves a man anxious about having impure thoughts, then erasing women will only make that anxiety worse.
Should we just “live and let live?” When it comes to different practices that are otherwise harmless, then yes. But erasing women is harmful and dangerous. We don’t “live and let live” if we see people doing something dangerous. We even fight as needed. Plus, even if the erasing of women was contained to the more right-wing communities, they’re still our fellow Jews and they’re being harmed by it.
There are those of us who have tried contacting the publications and entities that do this. But it’s all too easy for them to ignore us. They don’t have to publish any articles or letters to the editor about the issue. Recently, we’ve seen posts on social media in which a group of men are asked a fun question and their photos are shown along with their answers. Many women have posted responses along with photos. Any comments about women being absent from these are deleted.
Sometimes, there are responses, but they usually dismiss the women as being feminists with an agenda. I was once called a “modern crusader for women’s interests.” I say “Yes, I am. Why aren’t you?”
This is why we need to raise awareness first. That means “preaching to the choir,” reaching out to people, making sure they understand how important it is to say something. There is strength in numbers and we need numbers. It’s much harder to ignore hundreds or thousands of people than to ignore a few here and a few there.
So yes, I will continue to raise awareness. If that means “preaching to the choir,” then so be it. But I want to see enough people speaking up that we cannot be ignored. Only then can we make real change. And I refuse to give up hope that we can make real change.