My BMG-going brother-in-law is getting married this summer to a girl from Lakewood, in a Lakewood wedding hall. We found Easter dresses – I mean, wedding gowns – for my daughters for a great price, but were told they would have to wear shirts under the (sleeveless) dresses to cover their arms. My daughters are seven and four. Worse, this dictate was passed to us by my wife’s sister, who was similarly surprised and dismayed when her mother told her that her one-year-old had to have her arms covered. My mother-in-law said it was implied to her that everyone must conform to Lakewood standards of tznius.
Tznius is touted as virtuous, and the tznius frum woman supposedly is not identified solely with her body, in sharp contrast with the debauchery of the general culture, where women are sexualized and objectified. In truth, tznius (at least in its current incarnation) creates a culture where women are highly sexualized, so much so that they are basically walking sex objects. Granted, they’re valued on how well they keep their sexuality from distracting men, rather than on how much they flaunt it, but that just makes it worse. It lets the society pretend that it’s exceptionally virtuous, that it’s not sexualizing women, while in fact it’s making women’s sexuality their most salient feature. The culture around an underwear model is not claiming piousness, while the pious tznius culture sexualizes women so much that even an elbow is pornographic.
Nor is it just a matter of social norms, of what is and isn’t considered acceptable to show in public. Women are told that their greatest mitzvah is tznius, just as men’s greatest mitzvah is learning. And why is tznius so important? Not as an end in itself, but so that men don’t chas v’shalom notice anything sexy, because apparently a man noticing a woman and thinking, “Hey, she’s pretty!” is a horrible aveirah. To say nothing of actual sexual thoughts. For a woman, it’s not talmud torah k’neged kulam, but hiding-that-you’re-at-all-attractive k’neged kulam.
Which brings me back to my daughters and niece and their sleeveless dresses. If the reason for tznius is lifnie iver, the concern that a non-tznius woman will cause a man to have sinful thoughts, then it follows that anything banned for tznius reasons must be at least somewhat arousing. And because we don’t pasken halachos based on far-fetched cases, it must be something that is arousing to most people, and not just one or two people with strange predilections. It further follows that if little girls are made to cover their arms for tznius reasons, then it must be that the average person in the society finds little girls’ arms sexual. [For the record, I doubt that anyone in the yeshivish world has thought through the logical implications of tznius for one-year-olds, but still…].
So not only are adult women sex objects whose sexuality must be minimized to prevent sin, but even little girls are sex objects! And they have the chutzpah to call secular society sick!