I used to write for Haredi magazines. I owe a lot to the editorial staff at those magazines--they gave me publishing opportunities and lots of writing advice. They showed me the magic of cutting just the right amount and moving around text so a piece of writing flows more logically.
As a reader, too, I've enjoyed Haredi magazines. I've learned about Jews around the world, absorbed beautiful divrei Torah, and benefitted from divrei chizzuk. I've laughed and cried over fiction, humor, personal essays, and poems. I've seen how frum publications have grown over the years and been impressed.
But the one thing that doesn't impress me is the absence of women's and older girls' faces from these publications. For that reason, I stopped writing for publications which do not print women's photos nearly one year ago. Not only did I no longer submit stories, essays, or articles to these publications, I stopped accepting offers editors made me. Eventually, I started telling them why.
There is no halachah preventing us from appearing in Jewish magazines. Not looking at women's photos is a chumra taken on by a minority of the community which has been pushed onto others.
The Mesillas Yesharim praises those who take upon themselves chumros for the right reasons. However, one's act of chassidus cannot interfere with, harm, or inconvenience other people who do not share their aspirations.
Here are the interferences, harms, and inconveniences posed by eliminating female faces from magazines, books, and ads seen in Jewish communities:
1) I am a freelancer specializing in writing and editing. My face cannot appear in many magazines although the faces of men--some of whom offer the same services as me--can appear. This puts me at a disadvantage, as most marketing experts will tell you that presenting a smiling professional photo helps attract clientele. Female realtors, insurance agents, and others suffer from similar problems, probably to a worse degree.
2) Women and girls are constantly urged to dress in a way that represents tznius. When our photos--taken when we are dressed b'tznius--aren't published, it sends a message that no matter what we do, we will never succeed in the middah of tznius. It is a discouragement for those who aspirte to this important middah.
3) When girls' photos over age 6 are not printed, it sends a disturbing message that a young girl is a sex object.
4) When young people who have left the path of Torah are asked why they left the community, women frequently cite their feeling that women are not important to the Jewish world. How do they get this impression? One way, they say, is that women are simply not seen in books, magazines, and advertisements (even ones which target female buyers). We need to make women feel included for our communities to persist and thrive.
5) Girls and young women crave seeing the faces of other women--it is a natural instinct. If we want them to look for role models that are tznuah and behave as baalos middos, we need to show their faces. Otherwise, they will chas v'shalom, look elsewhere for those images. For the sake of chinuch, we need to put girls and faces in our publications.
6) Men sometimes are cruel, dismissive, and condescending to women--yes, in our communities, too. While some men certainly don't draw the conclusion that because women are unseen, they are nothing, there are certainly some men who do feel this way. Putting women's images in photos about their accomplishments, showing happy couples receiving awards or doing chessed together, showing women as chashuve people who offer wisdom, may help this sad situation.
7) Marriage is disdained, divorce is simply too high, and we need to do something about it. Showing marriage as a happy situation of togetherness in frum media--where happy husbands and wives are smiling with their kids--will help. We need to make marriage look appealing and sound appealing, and I think this is a start.
Do I think there may have to be limits? For sure. You can say, "We want only headshots," or "No women in clothing or sheitel advertisements except in publications which target primarily women," or something else. You can put a female mashgiach in charge to ensure that clothing of females in photos are indeed conforming to tznius. But our faces should be seen.
I have taken a financial hit since I have left behind magazines which don't publish women's faces. I have had to actively seek out other forums for my work, and I am slowly making headway. Unfortunately, I have not yet made up for the reduction my income has seen. I'd love to be able to return to my former employers, for whom I owe affection as well as appreciation. But I think this issue is too important.
Rebecca Klemper, Writer