Five Towns Jewish Times

This article appeared in the Five Towns Jewish Times,

Women and Pictures In Frum Media 5 Years later: What’s Changed?

By Ann D. Koffsky

 

Way back in time, circa the year 2012, I published an article titled Please Put the Women Back In that covered the issue of women’s faces disappearing from Jewish media. This week, your publication revisited the issue, with an eloquent and thoughtful piece by Alexandra Fleksher titled Faces of Frumkeit.

 

So, it’s been five years. With the kids all coming home from camp, and Elul just around the corner, it seems like a perfect time to reflect: How is our community doing on this issue? Here are my personal observations:

 

Inside the Community

Then: When I wrote the piece back in 2012, my article was informative. Many people-most of my friends- had no idea it was happening. I understood why—it’s hard to see something invisible. When something is left out, how would you know? So most people were pretty clueless about the whole thing.

 

Now: It is so common that everyone knows what Alexandra is talking about. It’s now a mainstream, widespread policy that affects magazines, dinner invitations, speaker fliers, advertisements, brochures, Chinese auctions circulars, and even billboards at Shuls.

 

Outside the Community

 

Then: The larger world didn’t know about it.

 

Now: It’s very much out there. We have had a string of public scandals because of this new policy: Hillary Clinton photoshopped out of the situation room, Andrea Merkel photoshopped from the Charlie Hedbdo rally, Ikea failing to include women in its catalogue…the list is long. And, it has not exactly been favorable coverage.

 

The Reaction

Then: When people did see this policy, they laughed. How silly! How ridiculous—those crazy extremists, there they go again. Tut, tut!

 

Now: When people see this policy, there is a split reaction. Some people think, mistakenly, that this has always been this way, and is based on Halacha and Das torah. (It’s not. See Alexandra’s article. ) Some people are apathetic, and couldn’t care less. But there is a third, growing segment, of stockings-clad, sheitel wearing, really frum women who are highly concerned. Even angry. How terrible, they say. Is this really who we are?

 

The Conversation

Then: With some rare exceptions, no one was talking about it. I was lighting my hair on fire to bring attention to it, but I was just one lone crazy lady. (Well not quite: There were other people writing here and there about it: Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, R. Harry Maryles, R. Yichok Adlerstein all wrote articles decrying the trend, and there were likely others that I remained unaware of. But—we were each on our own. I FELT like I was the only one, even though I wasn’t.)

 

Now, 1: Everyone is talking about it. Across the spectrum, articles, discussions and blog posts are appearing on the left (JOFA) the right (R. Dovid Lichtenstein’s Headlines show) the middle ( Zev Brenner covered the issue), and everywhere in between. Pieces have appeared in Cross Currents, The Forward, Hevria, Times of Israel, The Jewish Press, the Daily News, (Great emoji Flatbush Girl! Google this if you don’t get the reference.) and even the NY times blog…and it’s not slowing down. This issue has hit critical mass.

 

Now, 2: Social media is talking about it. There are at least four new Instagram accounts that have formed within the last several months directly dealing with the issue: Women of Valor, The Layers Project, FrumWomenHaveFaces and Like a Boss Melech. And on facebook, the group Put the Women Back In Frum Media! is up to 400+ members, and rising.

 

Now, 3: The Rabbonim are talking about it. R. Dovid Cohen, R. Ilan Feldman, R. Yitchock Adlerstein, R. Gil Student, R. Yoel Schoenfeld, have all made statements about this policy, to name just a few.

 

Where Are We Now?

 

Based on the above observations, I have to sadly concede that on this issue, we’ve gotten worse. A fringe policy, that every Rav I have spoken to has agreed is not halachic has infiltrated our larger community and miseducated a large portion of our bothers, sisters and children into thinking that a tzniously dressed woman is actually untznius. Up is now down, right is left and the sky is purple with pink polka dots.

 

BUT: The silver lining is that many frum, dedicated people from within our community are organizing and starting to fight back. And these are not crazy, fire-haired nutsy people—these are Bais Yaakov graduates, rebbetzins, and mothers of 5+. These are awesome women—I’d watch out for them.

 

What’s Next?

In five years, when Alexandra, or I…or another women who is willing to light her hair (or sheitel?) on fire comes along…what will she be writing?

 

That’s entirely up to us. As I see it, we have two choices.

 

1) We can bow to this cultural trend, and let it wash over our community and solidify as the norm. We can say, look this is the way it is, what can we do? It’s impossible to change.

 

If you choose this option, I recommend you invest in a stylish burka company—you will likely see good financial returns.

 

No, I am NOT joking. (well, maybe a little). But the logical jump is ridiculously simple: If I can’t be seen in a magazine, some women might say, how could I possibly be seen in flesh and blood? The number of burka ladies in Israel is not insignificant, and bears this out as a possibility.

 

And before you say, but that could never happen here! Let’s remember that my grandmother could never imagine this picture policy happening either.

We have to face the facts: The trend is towards more and more, <ahem> “tznius”. In some places, even women’s names are starting to be censored from publications. Lady Finger cookies have been renamed and are now called Baby Fingers, because the word “lady” was deemed provocative! Are you sure burkas aren’t next?

 

2) We can band together, and say uh-uh. Not in my town. We will NOT adopt this chukas hagoyim, not-halachic, harmful, damaging policy.

 

  • We will restore our mesorah to what it was and what it should be.

 

  • We will object when our friends who are honored are excluded from the dinner brochure.
  • We will write a letter to a publication who adheres to this policy and request they reconsider; we will write a letter to a publication who has not taken this on, and thank them for their courage.

 

  • We will make a call to an organization who has erased women’s pictures and inform them politely that, unfortunately, they will not be getting a donation from us this year because of their choice.

 

  • Most importantly: we will make a point of always, always staying in the picture ourselves. If we are honored, or placing an ad for our business, or even if an article is being written about the bake sale that we worked on, we will ask, (and even demand!) to have our photo included. Not out of gaivah, or to make a fuss.

 

But because someday, long from now, we will be someone’s ancestor. And just as our grandmothers and great-grandmother’s were there for us, and gave us their legacy along with their photos to hang in our dining rooms, we will give that over to our grandchildren as well.

 

If we do all this, then, I am sure in five years, we WILL still be in the picture.

 

And our great-grandchildren will be as well.

 

 

Ann D. Koffsky is the Art Director for Behrman House publishers, and the author/ illustrator of more than 30 books for Jewish children. Her newest book is Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor. All of her books include pictures of tznius women and girls.

 

Note: The article Please Put the Women Back In was originally published in Jewish Action Magazine, August, 2012.

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