|Aly Rasiman giving an impact statement at the Nassar trial|
That may be true. Nonetheless it is sad that a highly accomplished and proudly Jewish woman does not recognize the importance of modesty in Judaism. In my view she has accomplished the opposite by contributing to a culture that so mightily objectifies women.
The #MeToo movement has opened up our eyes to the vast amount of sexual misconduct, molestation, and abuse that is going on this country. Hundreds of women now have had the courage to come forward with their own stories of abuse ever since Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a sexual predator. That is what generated #MeToo.
Much of that sexual misconduct was by prominent and respected men in positions of power. In some cases long time icons of their profession or industry have been exposed as predators - same as Weinstein. I need not mention any names. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention knows them. Their downfall has been nothing short of breathtaking. None of this is new. I’ve said it all before.
First let me state the obvious. There is a difference between consensual sex and non consensual sex. The same act done in either context will correctly be seen in radically opposite ways. The question is why do they do it? Why do so many successful and accomplished men do it? Are they all sexual predators by nature? Is there nothing that might contribute such behavior in our culture that might be changed in order to reduce the number of people that can’t control their impulses? …where self control is abandoned in order to get immediate sexual gratification? Do these men not respect women for who they are instead of what they look like? Why can’t they have the self control the rest of us do under such circumstances?
As I have said in the past, I think there is something we – as a society – can do. But in my view never will. More on that later.
Fortunately Judaism does have an answer to that. We do not live in a vacuum free of enticement. And although we should all be able to control our desires - even as we are constantly being bombarded with sexual images – it doesn’t always work. Those images are not lost on men in a position of power. Liberties might be taken that might not otherwise be if it wasn’t always there staring them in the face. Is it any wonder therefore that the entertainment industry seem to have the lion’s share of sexual predators?
This does obviously does not excuse their behavior. But it helps to explain it.
If that is the case (and I think it is) then we should as a society try to minimize those stimuli which would in my view reduce the amount of sexual misconduct that goes on. It may not eliminate it. But in my view it will surely help to reduce it. Which is exactly the opposite of what Ally Raisman did.
Halacha (Jewish law) recognizes this human condition and therefore legislates a standard pf modesty geared towards exactly that. Which brings me to a Tablet article by Rabbi Avi Shafran with whom I find myself once again in agreement. Here in part is what he says:
(O)ur supposedly enlightened, progressive, post-patriarchal society, with its proud claim to value and respect women… we (now) know… is balderdash. And the fault for that fact lies not only with perpetrators but with us all, men and women alike.
Do we really imagine that true respect for the integrity and honor of women can survive, let alone thrive, in a world where standard “entertainment” fare is saturated with the objectification (and all too often actual abuse) of that half of the population, where women’s skin is used to sell everything from cars and candy to beer and barbecue grills? Where female performers–claiming “liberation” no less–feel compelled to appear on stage in costumes that once would have had them arrested if worn in public? Are the divas offering the public their talents or their bodies?
And we expect their male fans, home from the concerts or looking up from their screens, to respect women? Are we serious?
As I have said in the past – and as Rabbi Shafran notes in his article - Judaism mandates a standard of modesty that better enables men to see women for who they are. Not what they are. Modest clothing and behavior as well as the laws of Yichud (avoiding seclusion between a man and a woman) is mandated by Halacha. Men are supposed to avoid looking at images of immodesty dressed women.
I believe that Orthodox Jewish men who fail to observe these laws are probably the ones most likely to be involved in some form of sexual misconduct. I can think of at least three cases of Orthodox Jews (two of which were highly respected and internationally known rabbis) – where their positions of power, lack of self control, and not observing Yichud laws resulted in that.
The problem is that in western culture the spirit of permissiveness dominates our way of life. As such we ridicule modest clothing and behavior. The Vice President of the United States, a devout Christian, was laughed at when he said that he never goes to a restaurant with another woman unless his wife is present. That attitude was underscored by Aly Raisman.
While I am glad to see that the #MeToo movement has had a positive impact, at the end of the day, I’m not sure things will change all that much as our culture continues to objectify women in so many ways.