Objectification of Women on Both Ends of the Spectrum

protest against separate sidewalks for men and women in Mea ShearimIn the Jerusalem Post Yehuda Mirsky asks “Where is the Tzniut?” Mirsky was among those who filed a petition with the High Court to prevent separate sidewalks for men and women in Mea Shearim during the Sukkot holiday. When he visited, secular security guards blocked women from entering the main streets. They refused to tell Mirsky the name of their company. Mirsky also writes:

Yet there can be no denying that it is tied to a corresponding extremism in secular society. The objectification of women in extreme haredi practices is more than matched by the objectification of women to which we are subjected to day and night by the colossal apparatus of marketing and advertising. And that apparatus is taking over the public sphere in its own way, with massive billboards and inescapable ads which forcibly revamp the public sphere no less than the mehitzot of Mea She’arim.

Ironically, it is the ideal of tzniut itself which seeks to undo objectification. It is a moral demand to refrain, step back, pause for reflection, precisely to enable another to be present. True tzniut should not attempt to erase women, whether in the recesses of Mea She’arim, or in the aggressive world of advertising.

Photo via Marc Israel Sellem of the Jerusalem Post


  1. It’s true I am never soooooo self-conscious of my sexuality as when I pass a really objectionable billboard or when I board a ‘segregated’ bus.

  2. Nurse Yachne says

    When I board a segregated bus, I am mostly conscious of how my bad knee, my weak ankles, and my post-surgery left foot will stand up to the g-forces of the Egged drivers.

    ( I used to take care of patients, not all of them elderly, who were thrown, lurched, dragged, or crushed by those Egged broncos. In a contest, bus defeats human passenger by a knockout. As Amy Winehouse says, “I don’t want to go to rehab, no, no, no.”)

    And I agree with Risa about the dirty billboards. Makes me want to crawl under a burkha covering my cargo pants and baggy t-shirt.

    I’m not going to march through the area to protest, but I sympathize with the idea. More to the point, I tend to decide that if they don’t want me in the area, they can do without my consumer dollars.

    • Nurse, I knew an elderly woman who fell when the bus jerked before she could sit down. It took her months to recover. As for your dollars, that’s why people are boycotting badatz.

  3. So true! I am really bothered by this trend and the Mea Shearim incident is the next step in the progression from segregated buses to separate supermarket shopping hours to… What’s next?

  4. i agree that both forms of objectification are bad (although i admit that i almost never acknowledge the secular version), the difference is that one is coercive and the other isn’t. one can argue about how the secular objectifcation is subtly and subconciously coercive in molding societal attitudes, but this can’t be compared to in-your-face coercion of the haredi variety.

    i also don’t think it’s smart from a policy perspective to link both forms of objectification.

  5. Thanks for sharing that.

    It reminds me of a phenomenon I noticed while studying at Hebrew U. For some reason, as soon as the sun started shining, a lot of the chiloni women felt they had to put on skimpy summer clothes. It wasnt even warm yet, especially not inside (I was still wearing vests and sweaters). I always felt it was some kind of social reaction to something, but never figured out what. Maybe here lies an answer.

    Also, Leah, regarding the supermakets, I heard it’s really a marketing strategy. They learnt that they can attract more clients in chareidi areas by adopting the chumre of the month.

    • Nasch, thanks for stopping by. I heard that some cellphone stores were going to open for women only, in the secular realm. Because women were intimidated by the men superior knowledge about the technology.

      • Correction – It’s not the men’s superior knowledge, it’s their superior attitude about whatever knowledge they think or pretend to have. This is compounded in Israel, because Israelis always want to/try to help, even when they don’t have the answer, and Israeli stores don’t display prices. There’s still the concept that you need a personal consultation with the salesman to decide what is right for you. I have a tough time with this, because I can read the English on the box and I like to compare the price and features myself and not wait for the salesman to finish his cell phone conversation. When we finally got our phone hooked up, I raced down the street to pick up a phone about half a block away. I was gone over an hour, first waiting for service, then waiting for the salesman to try to explain the features of the phones, which I could read myself if he gave the box, and then he had to continuously ask the boss for the prices.

  6. Leah Peretz says

    I refuse to travel in a segregated bus, though I won’t sit next to males.
    We had a store with different hours, but I guess it didn’t work too well, because the first and so far last time I went there, all gendres were shopping.
    In the kiryah hacharedit here in bet shemesh there is one street where the males and females are segregated on the sidewalks mainly because one side has yeshivot and shuls making it the men’s side.
    What really makes me angry is that the women walk on the sidewalk while the men walk on the road, endangering themselves and often their young ones they’re taking with them. The sidewalks are wide enough for both gendres to pass each other without touching, so why are we treated like muktzeh and even worse?!

  7. I think this type of segregation along with hyper-tzniut *erases* women as much as it objectifies them. While skimpy dress objectifies women’s physical presence (thus negating the individual), gender segregation and hyper-tzniut erases both the physical *and* the individual. IMNSHO, proper tzniut balances both – allows the woman to be seen at her best physically and as an individual.

  8. The last time I was in a Charedi neighborhood in Jerusalem erev Shabbat I was overwhelmed by the pushing and shoving. The men didn’t seem to care that they shouldn’t be touching me. I joked that the men are so pious they can’t look at women, so they end up bumping into them.

    This just isn’t how I picture the gedolim of old acting. I picture them interacting in an appropriate way with the opposite gender on a daily basis. We have enough fences around the Torah. We should be careful of Yichud (laws about being in private with the opposite gender) which are ACTUAL HALACHA, not stringencies, and the way we speak, act, and maybe walk. Saying “Shabbat Shalom” or looking at someone enough to see who they are (my Rabbi, my best friend’s husband?) is a far cry from flirting, flaunting my sexuality, or temping someone to sin. We should worry more about how we act behind closed doors, and maybe even the way we act and things we say when we are around the same sex.

    Oh, and personally, if you want to make anyone walk on a the other side of the street, how about smokers? And these communities where you have to prove you are religious enough to join? I’d like to start a community where you can’t smoke anywhere and there are enforceable fines for dropping gum or dog doo on the sidewalk. I don’t know how these men have time to worry about women they might get to close with, I’m too busy dodging clouds of cigarette smoke when I go out for some “fresh air”. (This is my past-my-bed-time rant. Good night!)

    • It’s no joke. Try crossing kikar shabbat on a friday afternoon. The men really arent looking and consequently bump into you.