In creating this website, it was striking to hear from many women and men who feel strongly about this issue, yet at the same time experience a strong "chilling effect" from their communities. They were concerned that speaking out publicly could lead to negative consequences for them or their families.
This anonymous page was created to allow them a space to voice their thoughts without fear.
(the following is a letter a Mother sent to the toy distributor who created the catalogue pictured at right.)
On Friday night, my 3 year old daughter was looking through one of your [a toy] catalogues which came with this week’s issue of a Frum family publication. Suddenly she asks me, “Mommy, why do these people not have eyes?” I turn to look and am dismayed to find that all of the photos of toys which have pictures of children on the boxes have had the girls faces blurred out. (Mind you, none of the little boys faces were blurred out).
My daughter then asked me how the girls could play with the toys without eyes. How could I possibly begin a conversation like this with my daughter? How could I explain to my sweet little 3-year-old that to some people, seeing your face or a face of another little girl your age is “offensive”? This is not a conversation I should need to have.
Something needs to change! I respectfully am asking that you put girls faces back in your catalogue.
Although I feel strongly about this issue I am choosing not to share my name because I feel that earning a reputation as a “feminist” in my community means I have a smaller reach. There is a price to pay for advocacy and I’m not always ready to pay it.
I've been in kiruv for many years and have always defended the way women are treated in Orthodoxy. And always felt comfortable with it - until my daughters started feeling the pinch. When they started asking me why a woman's completely tzanua face can't be printed in a women's magazine, or worse, when a woman is being honored for an achievement, and her name is not printed (rather Mrs. X), her husband's face appears instead of hers in the advertisements, and she cannot even receive her well-deserved award, well, what was I supposed to answer? Why should they believe me that women are valued and esteemed for who they are? They aren't. They are erased, marginalized and ignored.
But the damage is even worse for our sons. When our sons grow up with an elitist mentality - that they are inherently better for being male - this makes shidduchim and relationships far more complex, besides for being a patently false, non-Torah idea. It also gives men an unhealthy balance when it comes to women. There can be no "normal" interaction - everything becomes sexually laced.
And I am not above admitting that I feel hurt. I feel hurt when I am asked to go through the back door of a shul or simcha like a servant. I feel hurt when a Rav is speaking and I cannot see nor hear him, and no one has taken the pains to concern themselves if I can. We are wondering why so many are leaving Yiddishkeit and the reasons are very complex. But one thing is for certain: alienating 50% of our community in the false, extreme, and unsustainable name of tzniyus will not help.
I pray for the day when women who feel erased and marginalized can share their thoughts without being embarrassed. I pray for the day when I will not be asked to defend the indefensible.
-Just a Jewish woman who loves Hashem and Torah
The Kiruv Professional
While I feel strongly about this issue, there is so much community pressure to bow to these policies, and even to falsely enshrine them as "a higher standard of modesty" that I am concerned about my ability to work effectively in the community if I speak out publicly.
Over the last 30 years as the pictures of women have steadily disappeared from the frum press, visions of Jewish women as teachers, thinkers, leaders and contributors to the Jewish world have also diminished... It is as if women are not part of the community. And in fact, that is how many girls and women feel.
One place where they CAN see themselves is on social media. The computer has given them a place that can talk, be listened to, share feelings, have friendships- all from the comfort of their phone or computer. All outside of their neighborhood, all outside of the mainstream Jewish community.
It has cost our community dearly.
It has cost our families dearly too. Now that most women work outside of their homes, many see the contrast and feel the divide more keenly. Where at work they will likely be included in photos, in contrast, in many of their communities, their images and even sometimes their first names are omitted from materials that refer to them.
In addition, the omission of pictures of frum girls and women creates unrealistic expectations in the area of shidduchim. Even if one is trying not to look, the majority of media pictures of other young women are distorted, with the aid of extreme diets, plastic surgery and airbrushing... few of our young women can, and none should have to, compete with those images.
For the past several decades, I have worked closely with many rebbitzens and mirkarvos, and I have clearly seen how this escalating policy has impacted their effectiveness. The gulf between today’s college students and young professionals and the frum community is now so wide that few can find an entry point. Not only that, but as a mentor, a generation older than most of these mikarvos, I am hearing more and more questions about their own doubts about the role of women in frum society.
-A Kiruv Professional
The Chassidishe Grandmother
I have chosen to stay anonymous on this issue out of respect for my mother-in-law and my family. I don’t wish to do anything publicly that might give an impression that I don’t support them and their work.
My mother–in-law’s life work was speaking to groups of girls encouraging them to be tznius and how tznius is shmearah, protection. It is a value I share with her, and hold dear. So why do I feel that women and girls SHOULD be included in frum publications? Just as anything can be used for the good, it also can be used for the bad. It is important to dress like a bas melech and act in a certain eidel way.
However, this value has been twisted to the point where normal interactions are not being allowed.
I am not asking to be in front of the mechitza. I am perfectly happy with all the mitzvahs I need to work on, I don’t want more. However, the pendulum has swung to the extreme now. This is not where our gadolim meant for us to be. The Torah and Midrashim are full of stories of righteous women. Sara Imenu, Rivka, Rochel, Leah. Chava, Devorah, Yehudit and Esther have been models for us to emulate, to be strong Stick up for what is right and correct. It is the righteous woman who will lead us to the Geula.
The Torah doesn't ask us to do the impossible; but people are expecting the impossible. Girls today are being put onto an impossible place, where they have to look perfect, act perfect, be perfect. It is sexual exploitation, in a way. It makes us into objects, not people. By erasing us from public view, it feels like we not important; that we don’t matter. It is only for procreation that we are needed. It has gotten to the point where even healthcare information cannot be shared due to this warped definition of tznius! This extreme view is pushing people away from Torah. It is creating a barrier to observance, not enhancing it.
We are part of the world, we are part of a family. Why are there only pictures of Tattys? Where is the Mommy? Where is the Bubby? We exist. We want to be heard, we want to be acknowledged. Bring us back from the shadows and put us back where we belong: as part of the Jewish Nation.
-A Chassidishe Grandmother
As a Bais Yaakov teacher, it is hard for me to speak out publicly about how much this policy affects my students. While my school does include pictures of women and girls in its newsletters, I am concerned that the general attitude toward the acceptability of our policy is shifting. Halacha is no longer frum enough for us as a frum community, and those who oppose newfound stringencies are branded as m'chutz l'machaneh.
Women are revered in Judaism. I teach this and I truly believe this. I struggle with this foundational belief when a woman, especially a woman who everyone agrees is worthy of kavod, is dishonored. The exclusion of pictures of women from frum print media goes against my conviction that I am an important member of klal yisroel. It hurts our women and it hurts our men, it hurts our sons and it hurts our daughters. It hurts because it sends a message of disrespect, of exclusion and of "In Yiddishkeit, men are valued more than women."
More upsetting than this is the fact that while the publishers freely admit that this is a marketing decision, (Chasidim won't buy a magazine with pictures of women, and they want to reach as large a readership as possible). It has created a new normal where pictures of women are considered immodest, regardless of how tzanua the women in the picture might be. Most frum Jews assume that this is part of being frum. Those of us who have spoken out against this are vilified as being "poreitz geder" and called "feminists". In truth, we are Rabbanim and rebbetzins who care deeply about the alienation of our neshamos. This policy is harming klal yisrael's connection to HKBH in a serious way.