Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Look

Yesterday during my train ride home from Manhattan, a guy stared at me for a good part of the trip. He was, naturally, a goy and I was, to be fair, all dolled up in a suit and makeup. Still, it got me thinking...

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I noticed two related, yet equally perplexing inter-gender phenomena/rituals: As a woman walking down the street, if I
  • Wished a male "Good Shabbos", he didn't respond.
  • Approached a male on the sidewalk ,the man would look up at the sky or otherwise make a grand display of not looking at me.
(Granted, some of them probably weren't looking, if my getting pushed over on the sidewalk/into the gutter when they passed is any indication).

My ex-husband used to say to me, "Don't worry. They look! All men look". :) But I will admit that these encounters continue to disturb me. Perhaps my reaction is due to my never having had such an experience before moving to Brooklyn. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am mildly insulted by the experience.


When you begin to live in the hermetically-sealed environment that is ultra-frum Brooklyn, you begin to notice that there is, like it or not, an "Old Boys" mentality to the men. It permeates everything, from when you're doing your shopping to when you are at work to when you attempt to park your car at the end of the day. Men rule here.

Now, I go on record as saying that I like men to be men and women to be women; I am most comfortable when in a traditional feminine role. Indeed, I have zero interest in the "freedoms" of feminism, because I find feminism to be a flawed ideology that has actually worsened women's lot. Instead, I want to be equal with a man but remain a woman. Hopefully you can grasp the distinction without labelling me "oppressed". :) But despite yiddishkeit's innate equality between genders, gender inequality does exist around these parts.

As a result, when the men do their song and dance pretending that I am invisible, I feel that inequality. And when they don't move out of the way, but rather expect me to step aside! Well,that actually upsets me. I may be a woman, but there's no excuse for chivalry to be dead.

You can consequently imagine that now, almost 5 years into living in Brooklyn, it comes as a surprise when non-Jewish men look at me on the street (or cat call, depending on their culture, lol). And while yes, I am being acknowledged in a way that is sexual and therefore not empowering, I *am* being acknowledged. In short, is the act of frum men ignoring me any more respectful than the non-Jewish men staring/making comments?The answer is no.

I guess it would be fair to say then that if I were choose how I prefer to be disrespected, it would be in the goyishe style. Because I just don't buy the claim that pretending I am invisible is actually about tznius. Jewish men may sing the praises of the righteous woman layl Shabbos, but you will note that in order to sing her praises, they are acknowledging she exists.

So stop pretending you don't see/hear me, guys. Because the nicest take on it is that you're being rude. And the last thing we yiddin need is more fodder to be twisted into "evidence" of the misconception that Judaism is misogynist. At least, that's my humble opinion.


  1. Did feminism actually worsened women's lot? Many things we take for granted today are a result of feminism, however flawed it is. Only hundred years ago women couldn't vote, had extremely limited opportunities for earn livelihood, were almost completely dependent on men in their lives, etc.

  2. Step out of the way?! o.O
    I thought you did Judo.

  3. SW, the freedoms of which you speak are the fruit of the Suffrage movement, not feminism. While feminism is sometimes associated historically with Suffrage, they were in fact two separate political and ideological entities.

    Moreover, do you truly believe that a woman is not still dependent to a degree on her spouse? Given that women still earn 20%+ less than men and have not made the massive in-roads into traditionally male fields speaks of feminism's failure. In fact, in America, many tax accountants still insist on listing the husband as the primary, even when the woman is the breadwinner. Women account for the vast majority of those earning under $30,000 a year, while remaining responsible for the financial upkeep of their children.

    In short, what feminism has accomplished is decreased respect for a woman's traditional role in direct proportion to an increase in women's workload, without an accompanying increase in pay. Countless studies document how, post-feminism, women are now required to work both in and out of the home. Do you receive a salary for your work with your children? Is a crushing workload progress?

    So while I agree that Suffrage granted women legal rights, I do not agree that feminism was a boon for women. Instead, I prefer to view feminism as a flawed ideology that failed to achieve its objectives.