Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Classless Society

Up here in the Great White North there's a controversy that raises its head every so often, much to the amusement of the locals.  The issue is - ahem - topless women.
See, the first thing you have to know about Canada is that God has shown this country a great deal of favour.  If our news shows were to simply report truly bad news the news shows would be five minutes long at most, assuming that they weren't cancelled for lack of material.  Thus in order to keep our newscasters employed we invent all sorts of issues to get riled up about.  Keep it in perspective though.  We have Rob Ford.  Syria has suicide bombings and ISIS-run massacres. 
Secondly, by law Canadian women are allowed to walk around topless in public, just like men.  Every few years this becomes a national issue because (a) we have nothing better to get upset about and (b) because some people still get upset when it happens.
This came to national attention during our recent national election campaign when one of the candidates, the guy who is now prime minister, attended a Pride parade and took photographs with topless women.  The spin in the media was mostly positive - our future prime minister isn't stuck up and obsessed with dated gender roles or apparel.  He's a with-it guy who isn't shy about embracing modern mores.  The message was clear: if you have a problem with topless women you're out of date with your values.
In a way, I'm glad the woman in the picture in The National Post article I've linked to is a red head because it makes my first point that much easier to make.  Most people in Canada know that Justin is obsessed with climate change and enhancing Canada's role in arresting it.  Among the many problems with the change in our environment over the last few decades that cannot be debated is the depletion of the ozone layer.  The practical outcome of this phenomenon is an increased toxicity to the sun's ultraviolet rays.  In short, it's easier to get UV radiation exposure on a sunny day, especially in the summer which increases one's lifetime risk of skin cancer.  Redheads are especially at risk given their genetics and need to c over up more than brunettes and blondes.  So a redhead walking around topless on a sunny summer day?  Dumb.
Frankly, from a public health perspective we should be demanding than man wear shirts and hats for proper UV protection instead of fighting for the rights of women to increase their cancer risk in the name of equality.
But there's something more to this that needs to be said.  One of the problems with the Ultraorthodox obsession with tznius is that there is pushback from the rest of the Jewish community, Modern Orthodoxy included.  The idea that a woman should dress modestly has something of a bad odour about it, probably because the same people who spend the most time harping on it also demand separate seating on buses and special editions of Photoshop that automatically remove any females in the picture you just took.  Dressing appropriately becomes just another thing those "Chareidiban" are demanding from the rest of us.
We should not see proper dressing in that regard and in fact we should look at it with two other facets.  First, we should emphasize that proper dressing is not a women's issue, it's a Jewish issue in general for both genders.  Secondly, we should not view the matter as one of tznius but rather one of class.  In other words, instead of creating a whole kerfuffle around the length of one's skirt or sleeves because of a perception that God is tape measuring one and looking to get angry if He finds something the wrong size we should be instilling in ourselves a sense that we are meant to be a classy people.  Yes, legally a Canadian woman can walk around topless if she wants but a classy woman, or man for that matter, doesn't.  He or she dresses cleanly and properly to show that class.  Instead of browbeating folks why not point out the positive, reach upwards instead of attempting to drag up from the depths?
Proper dress, proper public and private comportment, all the things that go with them should be a matter of decency and fine behaviour through a sense of striving for excellence.  Maybe if tznius was presented in this fashion it would gain wider acceptance outside the Orthodox community as well.


Hannah out loud said...


Isn't it a bit cold in Canada at this time of year for topless parades? I'm pretty sure you can't as a woman, go topless in Britain, unless you're on a designated nudist beech....(I'm not sure about the legality of breastfeeding in public).

But the whole modesty meme is something I'm having to enforce at work, along with my other bug which is punctuality. Not because of my own beliefs, but because being a professional firm we can't have men in cheap suits or ripped jeans and women dressing as if they'd come out of a nightclub, skirts barely covering thighs. Whereas it's more professional to have a,modest coloured knee length skirt with tights etc. And to turn up on time.

RAM said...

Ideally, men and women would know enough about the spiritual basis of tznius to practice it properly without outside coercion.