Jun 15, 2017

Frum Men, Wonder Woman and Disappearing Woman

Alexandra Fleksher wrote an article in the Cross Currents blog about why her husband will not be going to watch the new Wonder Woman movie (starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot).

Before I comment, and there are a few comments I want to make, I excerpt:
Last Shabbos, Wonder Woman came up quite a lot. Friday night dinner with guests, Shabbos lunch at guests, and at kiddush after davening. Men were the ones who brought it up. My 14 year old son said some classmates are seeing it with their fathers. Our Friday night male guest said it’s not so bad unless you have a problem seeing lots of arm, and it’s better than the last version of Wonder Woman who was wearing even less. My husband’s friend said he really, really wants to see it but is proud of himself for deciding against it.
While I haven’t seen the movie, I have seen the Facebook posts of friends who say, with lots of exclamation points, that it is breathtaking and truly a marvel. Articles I have read applaud Wonder Woman for its revolutionary film-making in that it is extraordinary in its treatment of women. That it depicts not only a woman heroine, but a vision of womankind not limited by society’s expectations and limitations.
Awesome. But my husband won’t be seeing it.
My husband won’t be seeing Wonder Woman because he fights hard every waking day to uphold and protect the Jewish value of modesty. Because he does not want to put himself in a situation where this value would be questioned, weakened and compromised for the sake of entertainment. Because he feels that it is his obligation to be true to the precept of shmiras einayim, guarding his eyes. Not that he is perfect, not that he doesn’t stumble, but he is not prepared to willingly submit himself in a movie theatre to a 25 foot screen with a Jewish woman, nonetheless, exposing body parts that according to Jewish law constitute erva (nakedness).
He is not weak. He is actually quite strong.
I find it ironic that on one hand, I am steeped in discussions about the strict definitions of modesty adhered to by the publishers of Orthodox publications. Not since the Jewish Observer has woman’s face, or even a girl above a certain age, appeared in the pages of chareidi magazines. In fact, the face of a 14 year old cancer survivor was pixelated in one of the weekly magazines just a few weeks ago. Some defend the policy in the name of tsnius. Others say this policy is business driven, as magazines will lose readership and advertising from the Chassidish population if pictures of women are featured. Yet the erasure of women has all but become the norm in many areas of non-Chassidish life, with Bais Yaakov dinner invitations honoring Mr. and Mrs. but only showing Mr.
On the other hand, I am listening to frum men who daven with a minyan three times a day discussing Wonder Woman around Shabbos tables. Heck, more than her face is showing. A lot more, and in a lot of interesting ways since she is Wonder Woman. What’s the shaila?
Everyone has boundaries as to what he or she deems is acceptable, and what he or she is prepared to do and not do. For some, Wonder Woman is a lot better than other stuff out there, and choosing her over the alternative is a true victory. I don’t presume to know what each person’s struggles are and from where each person is coming.
After this past Shabbos, I decided that if anyone in this family would consider seeing Wonder Woman, it was going to be me – alone. All the talk of it being both feminist yet feminine is totally up my alley. Then I read that in an act of rebellion against gender mores, mainly the blockbuster imperative to show the lead female in a scene with even less clothing than usual, director Patty Jenkins created a scene with the male lead in even less clothing than usual. For the females, to make a point to the men that they got a scene for themselves this time.
And now, my comments and thoughts:
1. Ms Jenkins does not need to explain why her husband will not watch Wonder Woman. There is no obligation to see the movie, and just because some people watch, and even like, this movie, or any movie, does not mean everyone else must.

2. I don't get her comparison of frum men watching Wonder Woman and then having magazines that do not print images of women. I suspect, and it is only a suspicion, that the men watching Wonder Woman are not behind the ban on printing images of women in magazines. I suspect that these men, among many others, would have no problem with it. It is not contradictory for one man to watch Wonder Woman and another to refuse to print images of women. Despite the fact that both are frum, it is not a contradiction when two different people have two different sets of beliefs and behaviors.

3. I don't care if she or her husband watch Wonder Woman or not. I do find it interesting that nobody at Cross Currents had no problem with her writing about going to movies, any movie, as if it is ok. She says her husband won't go to this specific one, but she might. He might go to others, and she might go to this. That is surprising to me.

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  1. I stopped reading when she confused Tzniyut with Erva. It's a common mistake, perhaps, but it's a mistake. You can't have a rational discussion of the topic with people who don't know the difference.

    1. Shok be'isha erva.
      Is there no shok in this movie?
      Come down off your condescending high horse and make a substantive comment.

  2. Reminds me how the Jewish Observer wrote, at the time, why not to see Schindler's List (sex and nudity). I thought it was brave of them to provide what they considered an important warning, even though it meant publicly acknowledging that their readership would go to movies in general.

  3. I understand the issue of modesty. However, this goes into "crazy frum" territory. Then I have to part company.

    Yes, I can see how this can be a problem for a frum man, since Wonder Woman is not dressed modestly. However, most men should be able to "control themselves" and can decide whether or not this is a problem. However, the issue of women being airbrushed out of magazines and catalogues is different. This does not show a realistic view of the situation. I have even heard of problems with the use of the word "breast" in the context of breast cancer and even the use of the word "women" when describing a women's clinic. Need I say more?

    This is insane. Don't impose your chumrot (strictures) on me. If you want to avoid Wonder Woman or any movie, that is your choice. But in the modern world, frum men should have the free will to participate in something and should be able to decide what is too much for them relative to their practices.


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