I hate the idea of enslaving women to the mores and power of men. I want women to make their own choices regarding every aspect of their lives, and I will defend to the death of someone younger, poorer, and less able to avoid being sent to die in one of our seemingly endless imperialist wars than I, their right to do so.
But what do I do when they choose badly? It is one thing, for example, to hate the burka when it is imposed on women by men, and another thing to hate it when women freely choose to wear it. No, I’m not talking about Muslim women. I have my doubts that Saudi women are any more free regarding the clothes they wear then they are regarding the cars they drive.
I am talking about Jewish women. I learned from Miriam Shaviv’s column in the April 29th issue of the Forward that there is a small movement of ultra–Orthodox women in Israel who have taken to wearing the burka as a sign of modesty. Their men are not asking them to do this, let alone forcing them. Indeed, in 2005 a rabbinic court granted a divorce to one man married to a burka wearing wife on the grounds that any Jewish women who took modesty that far suffered from a “serious mental disturbance.”
The burkah babes are followers of Bruria Keren, a convicted child abuser who wears ten layers of clothing whenever she leaves her home. They argue that their fashion choice is a statement of modesty and choice. Ms. Shaviv disagrees seeing it instead as the logical extension of the male imposition of modesty on women. She sights the fact that ultra–Orthodox women must wear high necklines, thick colored stockings, long sleeves, and wigs, and that they are being asked to wear rubber soled shoes so as not to disturb men when they walk by. It is a small step from Birkenstocks to burkhas.
Maybe so. But since most Jewish women choose not to wear burkhas, I can’t help but think that those who do are doing so of their own free will.
So while I would like to use the burkha as a sign of women’s oppression in some Islamic societies, I cannot do so when it comes to some Jewish ones. Given this double standard, perhaps I should stop using it as a sign of anything.
I would love to hear from you about this. Are burkahs always a sign of oppression? What about male imposed modesty laws in general? What about restaurants demanding that patrons wear shirts and shoes when entering (exposing one’s genitals and butt is still OK)? Maybe we should all just go nude as sign of our freedom? I hope some of you agree with that. I hope most of you don’t.