At first it sounded like just another distasteful manifestation of extremism among ultra-Orthodox Jews. Modesty glasses.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get more ridiculous, we learned that the latest trend for those men who will do anything to avoid any contact with women, lest they awaken forbidden sexual urges, are stickers that they can plaster onto their eyeglasses. According to the Associated Press:
The ultra-Orthodox community's unofficial "modesty patrols" are selling glasses with special blur-inducing stickers on their lenses. The glasses provide clear vision for up to a few meters so as not to impede movement, but anything beyond that gets blurry – including women. It's not known how many have been sold.
For men forced to venture outside their insular communities, hoods and shields that block peripheral vision are also being offered.
The glasses are going for the "modest" price of $6.
Naturally, since the story falls into the category of ‘what will those nutty Israelis do next,’ it has been spread wide, in media outlets as diverse as National Public Radio which called it “a novel solution to an age-old conflict” (inaccurate, since the extreme modesty obsession is a recent development) to a newspaper in North Carolina which said the report was “so crazy that you might think the story is a joke.”
At first, a modern woman’s knee-jerk reaction to news of the glasses is to reflexively protest against it vociferously. Just like gender-segregated buses, the removal of women’s images from billboards, the blurring of little girl’s faces in Purim ads, signs requiring women to dress ‘modestly’ in certain neighborhoods, keeping their voices off of radio broadcasts, and forcing women to switch seats on airplanes so as not to sit next to the men, it all appears to be part of the same package that oppresses women by putting them in the category of ‘forbidden fruit’ that cannot be seen or heard on any way.
But then I decided to rethink the issue.
If you step into the extremist ultra-Orthodox mindset for a moment, there is indeed a problem - haredi men must move around in the world to a certain extent - if only to travel to and from yeshiva and run their errands. But in this wider world there are women. Let’s accept the premise that any glimpse of any woman awakens base instincts that they have absolutely no control over. It’s an absurd premise, but I’ll accept it for the sake of argument.
Until now, most of the ‘solutions’ to this quandary have women giving up their freedom and their comfort, requiring them to cover their bodies and hide themselves, to stay out of the public realm, to avoid stepping on the public stage, in order to keep the men away from temptation.
In this context, the glasses, in fact, represent a refreshing change of approach. They limit and hampering the freedom of the men, not the women. They make clear that if the sight of women bother them, it is their responsibility to limit their sight, not force women to get out of their line of vision.
Glasses that disrupt these mens’ eyesight and ability to move around in the world is actually an excellent answer to their troubles, and also spares women the insult of having men cover their eyes when they approach, let alone being spit at or being called a ‘whore.’ In fact, the blurrier the glasses are, all the better, making it easier for women to walk in front of them in the most immodest of attire and yet not disturb their holiness. Hoods and shields that block their peripheral vision further? Even better. Why not a black hood pulled over their head entirely - a sort of a male burka? Or earphones that distort voices so that women can speak freely without awakening their base urges? Of course, many of these innovations may carry the unfortunate side effects of men walking into walls or oncoming traffic. But if they choose to adopt them, that is the price they will just have to pay, presumably a small price for the great benefit of living in a permanently female-free zone.
I say that we embrace and endorse these types of solutions - those that cover up and segregate men, not women. If haredi men have issues with a life that includes seeing and interacting with half of humanity, it is indeed a problem. It is their problem. Let them deal with it. Let them find solutions that limit their comfort and movement, their own ability to function freely in the world. Because women should not be asked to give up their own.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now