1989 or 1990, I’m 15 or 16 years old.
Place: Raanana. High School.
Class teacher: Male.
Deputy Headmaster: Male.
Literature teacher: Male.
Teacher of Mishna, Character and Family life – the halacha of married life: Male.
Sociology teacher: Male.
And they check our modesty.
Miss Naor – your hair has several shades.
Miss Naor – that jeans-shirt is not a uniform shirt.
Miss Naor – it is forbidden to come with a different ear-ring in each ear. And since when has it been acceptable to have more than one hole in an ear?
Miss Naor (Naor means Enlightened) you are enlightened, but not for long…
The assumption is that a woman after marriage will change her surname (how ironic that it took me more than 20 years to find he whom my heart loves, and even after marrying I kept my surname and added that of my partner)
A young woman finds herself under a masculine regime that checks her modesty. Thankfully I have never felt the need to expose my legs. The girls that did dare to go around in skirts that were too short – hem-lines up to their knees – were really scolded by the management of the school.
The unspoken message was that there is something illegitimate about the body. I don’t understand what. What are they so worried about, these authoritative men? What danger do I contain within me about which I am unaware?
What can a nice girl from Raanana really get up to?
The year is 2011, I am married. Nissimmi and I get on a bus, from Givat Shmuel – a mixed neighborhood next to Bnei Brak – to Jerusalem.
Bus line 402.
A “Mehadrin” line – a separation line.
We sit in the front. Together – not to be assumed on a separation line. We are surrounded by men only. The women are requested to move to the back. I still don’t fully understand how the Supreme Court of Justice allowed this practice. My personal rebellion is to refuse this request. I sit on the interior seat by the window: My husband wishes to shield me from any pushing and spitting. I am dressed relatively modestly: It’s winter. Leggings, skirt, long shirt, covered head.
Within a second, before the bus has even set off, he is asked by a man dressed in black to tell me to move to the back. The vein of anger from my high school days begins to throb. This is a democratic country. It is my right to sit wherever I want. If you wish to move places, you are welcome. You are also welcome to get off the bus if my presence upsets you. The man gets off the bus. His friend moves past. My partner squeezes my hand. I remain angry.
I raise the incident on my facebook. Some of my friends back me up. One of my friends asks me – why did you have to be provocative? Why didn’t you agree to move? Wouldn’t it be best to solve these things pleasantly?
No. There is no peaceful path here. A man who sees in me, in my presence, in my voice, in my appearance, a dangerous presence does not acknowledge me. He sees in me his own fears of femininity. He does not recognize the divine image in me. He categorizes me as woman=promiscuous sexuality. In so doing he turns me into an object. Like men who buy porn so as to see women as temptresses. They are not interested in their life stories, their hobbies, in what makes them smile, in their humanity. They are only interested in their sexual promiscuity.
In speaking out clearly against “excluding women” against preventing women’s voices to be heard, in favor of advertising hoardings with pictures of women in Jerusalem (who would have thought one would ever have to fight for that?) I stand for my natural right to be a human, and to enjoy the freedoms this right affords me. I redeem myself from the status of object – to be a human – a woman in my case.
And whoever cannot cope with the presence of women, with the voice of women in the public sphere – can stay home and ennoble his soul.
I look at the cartoon of Shay Charka – a talented artist and friend. What did he do with this cartoon? Did he raise a mirror and show the damage caused – to men, and not only to women – by this exaggerated discourse on modesty? Or did he go too far, and the eyes of the rabbis became slanderous?
I am with Shay and with the freedom in the distorted eyes of the Rabbi. Sometimes art needs to kick us, to hurt us, to make us look away in recoil. Art need not be “beautiful” or “exhalted”. Art must warn us against ourselves. Hence Charka corresponds with The Scream of Munk, or Guernica by Picasso. He shows us the latent dangers in our situation. Latent in the obscene and corrupting discourse about modesty.
Shlomit Naim-Naor is Deputy Director of Melitz, and Chair of Bet Midrash Networks of Israel, poet, and translator.