August 22, 2008

In Defense of the Skirt

Rather than give the same old dissertation about skirts and modesty (and yes, the amount of written material out there about modesty and skirts sometimes does feel like a dissertation), I would like to approach this from a slightly different angle and offer why a preference for skirts is not such a bad thing. Let me be clear that I do not believe pants, in general, to be immodest. I’m not sure anyone really can. Do Orthodox Jews believe that Hillary Clinton is immodest for wearing pants? What about your average woman on the street? I believe, when Orthodox Jews discuss “modesty” we are really referring to our peoples requirements for modesty (ie, yes, these women are perfectly modest, but they are not “OJ modest” per our guidelines). This is fine of course. Every group can define its own parameters no matter how subjective it is to the rest of the world. The problem is, it’s for this very reason, that people are questioning it. The halacha itself is causing the problems. Saying something is “halacha” when the reasoning behind it is a bit weak is not going to fly for many women. For this reason, I believe a different and perhaps better value should be placed on the skirt.

Jews, seem to lack something that other cultures around have. I’m not sure exactly how to phrase it, but perhaps it’s a cultural expression to identify the group as one. Different cultures have a particular art or even architecture that identifies them as a whole. Mosques have a certain art form that is very unique to them. Asian countries have a certain art form as well, that is easily recognizable to identify their culture. The same can be said about dress. There are very specific trademark outfits. So for example, you have traditional Greek dancing with traditional Greek dress. Jews seem to lack this, and it’s quite understandable. Jews were dispersed and simply followed the dress, art, dance, and song of whatever culture they were in. Yemenite Jews and Litvak Jews seem very different. The present is no different. We simply dress like westerners. Ahhh, but you can say: "what about halacha, hasn’t that tied the Jews around the world together?" Well, yes. It has. Jews keep halacha. We pray, keep the same diet and wear tzitziot that identify us as one. And that, is my entire point in this. I believe, that even though the original reasoning behind wearing skirts was modesty, we should shift focus and see skirts as an identifying marker for the Jews. Sure it is not as interesting as a Dutch girls outfit, but I believe its the best approach with what we have to work with. I don’t think this is so far fetched. When we were in Yosemite this week, I immediately recognized a Jewish woman by her outfit. There was a certain kinship I felt and it was initially there because of how she was dressed. Israeli folk dancing also has a unique outfit for its female dancers, but that is only Israeli, not necessarily “Jewish.”

My point is simply to take an existing phenomenon and give it a different meaning. Many women believe these rules to be simply male attempts to control what they wear. Of course, to some extent it may be true, and so, if a woman realizes this, should she just chuck the skirts out the window? I say, she donesn't have to. They can take the skirt and give it a better purpose. Not just for themselves, but to add it as a significant cultural marker—you uniform, if you will—for our people. Is this full proof? Will every woman out there immediatly realize the wisdom of the skirts? No, of course not. But I believe it is a better approach then the same old modesty line. And like I said above, it's not that far fetched. We already do identify with each other when we see a common identifying feature.

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