It occurred to me, as I read about the “tznius wars” between various frum magazine publishers – each trying to equal, as well as one up each other in frumkeit, lest they lose valuable advertising and sponsorship dollars – that women are paying through the nose just to be erased. Not just in expensive frum magazine subscriptions (seriously, have you seen a yearly subscription fee to these magazines?), but I get pop up ads on Facebook every day advertising for specialty modesty clothing, all usually quite a bit more expensive than items found in general department stores.
While it’s true that Amazon and internet-only shops without brick and mortar overhead costs have brought the cost of tznius clothing down a bit, the evolution of new chumros guarantee the continuation of women needing to purchase specialty clothing or be required to bring off the rack department store clothing for expensive tailoring to meet these standards.
The other day, yet another Facebook ad for a $100 tznius bathing suit sale popped up in my feed, and I can’t help but wonder what our mothers and grandmothers did without bathing burkas? I know that going swimming isn’t a new invention. What did they do without the plethora of basement businesses importing the latest expensive tznius fashions from the basement businesses of New York?
For sure, there are women making money off of the 21st century stringencies – whether clothing, wigs, or publishing magazines for women, without women shown in them. It isn’t only men who have a stake in oversexualizing women to the point where even our names can’t be mentioned. Until we express our displeasure in a way that targets the benefactors of the hyper tznius system where it hurts – their wallets – women will continue to be erased. Until publications lose advertisers and subscriptions, and until women stop running to buy items that adhere to the latest modesty chumra of the day, women will continue to be erased and covered into oblivion.
A Facebook group devoted to putting women’s images back into frum publications challenged members to write about why they won’t subscribe to magazines, like Mishpacha, with such policies.
I wrote that Mishpacha makes its money off of a female audience that it sees fit to continually diminish and disrespect by not including their images in its pages.
Magazines like Mishpacha with “no women’s images” policies are complicit in the growing erasure of women from frum public society – and in their case it’s purely for financial gain – their “religious” objections are a perversion of Halacha.
Just as I would never financially support the pornography industry that sexually objectifies women in order to make a buck by exposing their naked bodies, nor will I support any religious media that likewise objectifies women by over sexualizing them to the point that even their faces and modestly clothed bodies are forbidden to look upon.
At their core, both pornographers and the ultra orthodox press are the same – making money by promoting an agenda of exploitation and objectification of women.
There was another challenge in the same Facebook group that asked people to make memes about the exclusion of women and girls in orthodox media – which is why I made the meme accompanying this post.
I don’t know if “Mishpacha Masks” has any affiliation with Mishpacha magazine, or if this was just a single flyer for an independent store, but that isn’t the crux of the issue – the issue is that this erasure is happening and companies are selling products because people are beginning to approve of businesses that are too frum to show the faces of little girls – it makes them feel uber pious to patronize a store like that.
Erasing girls and women is like a hechsher that all the costumes in that shop will of course be “kosher.” People like to be seen as adhering to the strictest of standards, and if a business, organization, or magazine doesn’t show women, that’s a sign of its yichus.
Business-wise, it’s common sense that until people start boycotting female-free publications and competitors show up who do feature women, things won’t change. As things stand, women business owners are at a clear disadvantage when men can show their faces and they can’t. Like it or not, people want to see who they will be working with – a male realtor with a photo will probably get more calls than a female realtor represented by a house logo. Also, if names are ambiguous it might not even be clear that a female business owner is even female without a photo (which could make a difference if a woman is searching for a female doctor, therapist, etc.).
I experienced a similar disorientation yesterday reading a recent Mishpacha article that had a man’s photo near the byline, and because I skipped over the author’s name assuming the man in the photo was the author – I missed the fact that the author was actually a woman (they have since changed the photo, but here is the image link in its original form)
This speaks to a larger issue of women not getting the credit they deserve – of men being the face of humanity and taking ownership of the works and talents contributed by women – as husband’s faces are shown to represent wives who have won awards, and little boys are shown celebrating holidays with no girls to be found, and grooms are engaged to nameless women in marriage announcements.
Photos are just the initial representation of women losing their personhood altogether, only existing as the invisible support network – ghost writers if you will – of a male dominated society that plagiarizes their contributions and charges them for a copy to boot.