“Hey Noah! I was just wondering, are you available?”
“Yeah for sure, what can I do for you?”
“Oh, I meant, are you available”.
“I mean, in theory, yes. What’s up?”
“Sooooooo there’s someone I know and she’s really awesome. She’s a ton of fun, she’s got a great personality, and she’s modern slash liberal, like you!”
Stop for a second. My friend is not going to say anything about this woman beside the fact that she wears pants, isn’t s/he. Please not again. Please not again. It’s gonna be that, but please not again.
“Oh, modern slash liberal? In what way?”
“Well, um, hmmm, well you know. She’s open-minded, she wears pants…”
STOP. Groan. Deep breaths Noah. You can do this.
Don’t. Just don’t. It’s not a fight worth fighting. You’ve been on enough dates which began because of the unspoken assumption that “Well, she wears pants, and you’re fine dating someone who wears pants, so you two should be perfect!”
You’ve been on enough dates with women who wore skirts who are more liberal slash modern than those who wear pants, and a lot of women who wore pants who are more conservative slash traditional than women who wear skirts. You’ve done this one before. It’s the new “she’s vegetarian and so are you” and the revised, “you’re both Jewish and have pulses.” It’s an absurd standard.
You’re not going to ask your friend if s/he told this potential match that you wear a kippah. That you wear tzitzit often, but not every day. If s/he asked if that mattered to the person with whom they were setting you up.
You’re not going to ask your friend why externals like pants mean anything to them. Why it’s become acceptable to dismiss or accept someone based on what they wear. Whether they’ve looked into the modesty of this person’s heart before looking into their wardrobe.
You’re going to take a deep breath, you’re going to say thanks, and you’re going to ask a few more questions. Even though you shouldn’t.
Nuts. You’re down this rabbit hole again. You can help yourself. You can.
You shouldn’t let your own liberal views be sidelined to the point that people think that it’s just a matter of who wears the pants. In a relationship. In day-to-day life. You should tell this person off. For the dignity of this woman with whom they want to set you up. Because she also has far more to her personality than what she wears. You probably aren’t fully compatible, is anyone? But the conversation which begins with what we wear often ignores what we think.
You aren’t going to mention your ear, which has been itching for a piercing for the past three years, since you finished the army, but you knew would end you in the exact same place as this young woman. And you didn’t want that. You didn’t want people to lead your bio with, “he’s unique, he has a piercing”. Eventually, you got over that. But you haven’t gotten over the fact that you ignored your own wants for long enough because of what people would think or say. And you can’t handle the fact that they do this to women.
You aren’t going to tell your friend this is the result of years of dealing with externals, of educators acting like the outside is more important than the inside. I mean, why wouldn’t you, it’s easier to make sure someone covers their knee than that they act like a mensch to someone else, just like it’s easier to make fun of someone’s dress than it is to mock their personality. You aren’t going to quote the individuals you’ve heard make statements about who you should and shouldn’t date. That you’ve heard them talk about women who wear pants as an impediment to someone’s service of God.
You can’t get into the Halakhic perspectives, you can’t and won’t get into the extended arguments you’ve had over the course of years on this topic. That you know more women who learn Daf Yomi who wear trousers. That you know far too many people who felt tzniyut was over accentuated in school. That you know people who have lost their faith in Halakha over this. People who are scarred. People who still keep Shabbat and Halakha but will not allow themselves to wear a skirt, simply because of the emotional weight and scar they bear because of it. Because of what it meant in school.
You won’t tell this person just how absurd it is to talk about what a woman wears as if this was a modest conversation. If our outfits are modest, our discussions should be too. And yet, they aren’t. We talk about what people wear; we talk about what parts of their anatomy you can see. Where is the modesty in this? We talk about how much of a woman you can see and don’t talk about the fact that most of the men with whom she’ll be set up have seen far less modest things in movies and dare I say pornography. But we are still meant to judge our partners by what parts of them others have seen.
You won’t even mention that you find it absurd how you’ve never been asked what you wear at the beach or at a maayan. You might wear a shirt at all times, but you’ve never been asked about it, and you’ve never had friends who have missed out on potential matches because they don’t wear shirts at the beach. Male modesty is not a concern. Female modesty is.
You won’t mention to this person that you see this as a horrible example of the ongoing patriarchal power dynamic. You so badly want us to get past this stage in our religion’s development, to get past the discussion. But you know the conversation hasn’t gotten anywhere because the conversation in schools, at Yeshivot and Midrashot, in Shul and in camps, hasn’t changed. And you know the place to start this conversation is not with this person. It is with the principals, the Ramim and any man who speaks to women about religion. I’ve always been told that God wants our hearts, God wants our modesty in walking with Him. He wants us to do well for others. None of the current conversation feels like what God wants. And if God isn’t present in the religious conversation, then what is religion, and where is God?
You won’t accuse your friend of turning their friend into an object, a temptation, an object inciting sin, harming the inner impulses and drives of a man, turning him into a monster, slave to his evil inclination, for which he is not responsible, she is. You are accountable for your actions. Everyone is. Why should how a woman dresses dismiss us from accountability?
You won’t accuse your friend of perpetuating these stereotypes. You can’t. They aren’t the ones responsible. It’s generations of judgment, slut-shaming, terrible sex-ed, objectification, and symbolic annihilation. You, however, are going to recommit after this conversation to talking differently. As you always do after these things. You’re just one person, but if you talk about this, there’s one more person noting that wearing a skirt means nothing about who a person is, like you having a piercing or this woman in question’s decision to wear trousers.
“Noah? Are you there?”
You might take them up on this date. Maybe. And maybe you’ll find out that you and the woman in question have more in common than the fact that you both wear jeans. But for now, you’ve got to blog about this. Someone must.