Friday, January 05, 2018

Erasure of Women - Fighting the Tide of Extremism

'Womanless' Illustration of Eishes Chayil (Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll via TOI)
The issue is not going away. The increasing phenomenon of deleting or distorting images of women in right wing publications is being discussed ad infinitum it seems.  A phenomenon started by the more extreme right wing of the Chasidic world that found  home in mainstream Charedi publications.

Many women from a a variety of Orthodox camps have objected to this practice. Rightfully so. I fully agree with them and have discussed this issue several times. Most recently a few days ago.

I’m happy that attention to this issue has not faded away. It is unfair, not only to women, but to all of us that women are treated as though they were invisible. Mainstream Orthodox publications are increasingly catering to this extreme. Images of families without wives, mothers, and sisters are becoming the norm even in children's books. What message does it send when a child sees only men and boys at a Shabbos table where the father is making Kiddush?!

I have suggested that there be an alternative publication created that would compete with the current ‘glossies’.  But the naysayers don’t have any confidence in such an enterprise. They believe it cannot succeed because its appeal would be to a demographic too small to make it financially viable. How many Centrists are there after all?

Well, I disagree. I think that given a chance - it could succeed. There would have be the right people backing it and running it. It would have to include top notch reporting and a variety of columnists from the moderate religious right to the moderate religious left; political commentators from both the right and left;  state of the art graphics; a good marketing team and… would feature pictures of women as prominently as pictures of men. In other words it would be geared to all segments of mainstream Orthodoxy including Charedim most of whom are basically moderate and have no issue at all with publishing pictures of women.

Rabbi Natan Slifkin had made a similar suggestion and has recently posted that he was contacted by someone with publishing know-how and by someone with the money to financially back him. Rabbi Slifkin ‘made the Shidduch’ (to use his words). We’ll see what happens.

There is also a new effort to change the trend of erasing women in existing publications. As noted in the New York Jewish Week
There are… Facebook groups exclusively dedicated to this issue. An administrator of one of these groups, who describes herself as a “yeshivish rebbetzin,” started her group to organize yeshivish community members to fight the exclusion of women. She says the change will come when the readers of these magazines, not the Modern Orthodox community, speak out against this practice.
“This needs to be a movement from within,” she said. “Nobody wants to be changed by somebody from the outside.”
Her group, which has over 500 members who have to identify as “past, current, or potential subscribers” to magazines like Mishpacha and Binah to join the group, encourages members to write letters to the magazine editors explaining why they have unsubscribed. 
“They are afraid of their readership and their advertisers,” said the group administrator. “These are decisions that are being made as business decisions that are somehow being seen as philosophical decisions, and they’re not.”
(S)he hopes that the push from the right-wing community will have an impact. 
“This time the movement is from within the readership, within the target audience of the publications that exclude pictures of women,” she said. “And I think that’s why we have potential to make change happen.” 
I am happy to see this development. But I question whether this strategy will have any impact on the magazines’ publishers. As noted in the article… it’s all about the money. Follow it and you’ll know  why it probably won’t work. 

As long as the extreme right demographic of their readership insists on eliminating women form the pages of the magazines they buy, that will continue to happen. They are large enough to hurt these magazines financially - if they cancelled their subscriptions and thereby reduced the circulation numbers. 

Unfortunately even if the number of modern Orthodox readers were a large enough demographic to replace the them, there is no real incentive for most modern Orthodox Jews to buy or subscribe to a Charedi magazine – even if it did feature pictures of women.

I still believe that these groups should keep up the pressure. But as mentioned - the best answer to this problem is to create a magazine that modern Orthodox Jews would be as interested in as would moderate Charedim. Even though success is far from assured, a new publication is a realistic option that is worth a try. Let it get off the ground and see what happens.  If enough people from the mainstream like it, you never know...