Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Girl in the Blue Uniform

Reading this post on DovBear brought me back to high school and the rumors that circulated about this guy or that yeshiva. It also made me remember the Yeshiva’s attitude toward sex and the opposite sex. Their opinion of contact between guys and girls can be summed up in one word: EVIL. [Since then Frum Satire has also had a post related to the subject.]

Girls were presented (intentionally or not) as evil succubae that would lead a yeshiva bochur away from all that is good and holy. They weren’t human – they were GIRLS.

A few anecdotes to illustrate what I mean.

The yeshiva I was in had a lot of guys (like myself) from other cities who stayed in the dorms. The yeshiva would usually arrange for us to eat one of the Shabbos meals with families from the local community. If the family had any daughters over the age of eight or so, these girls had to leave the house in order for the family to invite us. Not so bad, right? The girls went to friends’ houses, and we got a good meal. Why, though, couldn’t the families’ daughters and the bochurim sit at the Shabbos table together? Because we might talk to each other. Which brings me to my second anecdote.

One Shabbos afternoon in the spring one of the guys in yeshiva decided to go for a walk and ended up at a local park. The park was full of frum families enjoying a pleasant Shabbos afternoon. While there he struck up a conversation with a girl about his own age. After chatting for a while they each went their own way. Someone in the park recognized him and told the Rosh Yeshiva that he had been talking to a girl. The result was a week’s suspension.

Now we come to my personal high-school experience with a girl. Ready?

I used to bike the six or seven blocks from the dorm to the yeshiva every morning. Over the back wheel I had a rack with a spring-loaded clip that I would use to hold stuff I was transporting: books, snacks, etc. On my way to yeshiva I would often pass groups of girls on the way to one of the local bais yaakovs. One day as I was passing a group of girls the clip gave way and spilled my books into the street. One of the girls helped me pick up my books and handed me the ones she had collected. I said, “Thank you.”

That’s it. My entire high-school experience with girls. Yet it was such an anomaly that even now, eleven years later, I can remember the blue uniform skirt she was wearing and the shy smile on her face as she handed me the books.

Why is there this insistence on the strict separation of the sexes? Why is the worst thing a teenager (and in some circles, even an adult) do is talk to a member of the opposite sex?

I think answer is in the yeshivah world’s opinion that people can’t control themselves and in the stereotypes promoted by yeshivas and bais yaakovs.

The idea that humans have no natural self-control is illustrated by the often-repeated argument that we must be slaves either to our desires or to God. While this argument contains a number of logical fallacies, I’m not going to address those now. The point I’m making here is that the underlying assumption of this argument is that without God’s rules to restrain us we would follow every whim with no possibility of self-restraint.

If that is true, then men and women should be separated, since they won’t be able to control themselves. Yet we see that, aside from a small number of criminals, men and women do not assault each other when they are allowed to interact.

The yeshiva world largely ignores this obvious fact, and instead points to teen pregnancy rates in society at large as evidence that guys and girls shouldn’t socialize. Apparently interaction inevitably leads to sex. And why is that? Because guys, especially teenage guys, can’t control themselves around girls. This has a grain of truth – teenagers (guys and girls) do tend to be obsessed with sex. And yes, teenagers, due to a lack of experience and a tendency not to think of consequences, do a lot of stupid things. Letting guys and girls socialize does carry some risk that they may make unwise decisions. But parents and schools should teach them how to act responsibly and how to make the right decisions. Instead they are denied the opportunity to learn how to interact appropriately. This leads to a mythologization of the opposite sex.

Girls, according to yeshivas, come in two varieties. The first is the aishes chayil – our mothers and sisters, the wives of tzaddikim, the kind of girl every guy should want to marry. This version of women came up infrequently. Far more common was the girl as the temptress who would lead the good yeshiva bochur astray. Of course, the poor yeshiva bochur, being a guy and therefore unable to control himself around women, had no defense against these girls. Not that these girls meant to be evil. It was simply the nature of things that girls tempt guys, guys have no defense, and the results were always catastrophic.

As I understand the girl’s point of view, they are taught that guys have no self control, and that dressing untzniusly will cause him to sin. In other words, they are being taught that men see them as sex objects, and that they must make every effort to minimize their unholy influence.

So we have guys characterized as animals who can’t control their desires and girls as sex objects who stir those desires. These stereotypes represent the worst extremes in relations between the sexes and present those extremes as normative.

How insulting.


  1. Yeah, I remember Yeshiva Chiam Berlin. Rev Motttel sent out guys to see who was talking to girls and then gave them a talking to. Every guy should know that all girls are evil, and we guys cant control ourselves...Avi

  2. Why are you assuming that what the Torah is avoiding is a complete breakdown of all morality and wild orgies everywhere?

    Small aveiros also have to be avoided, and their prevention is worth the precautions they require.

    You have a very good point about the popular YESHIVA mentality on men and women however, since it can sometimes be quite unhealthy, lead to bigger problems, and most importantly - is not th way the Torah wants us to think.

    If I had to guess, I would say it is more a consequence of outdated culture than of adherence to the Torah. Things do ultimately change with time, but old ways die hard, especially in the frum community where many things which were done in previous generations for no significant reason take on a life and meaning of their own.

  3. > Why are you assuming that what the Torah is avoiding is a complete breakdown of all morality and wild orgies everywhere?

    Um, because that’s what I was told was the justification for these rules? Not exactly your hyperbolic “breakdown of all morality and wild orgies everywhere,” but that talking to a girl might lead to sex, sex outside of marriage is an aveirah of the gravest concern, and that therefore there should be no contact between the sexes.

    > Small aveiros also have to be avoided, and their prevention is worth the precautions they require.

    What small aveiros are you referring to?