In the video below, the editor of Israeli fashion magazine Belle Mode, Maya Polack, and photographer Lior Nordman explain the intent behind the provocative photo shoot in .
The photoshoot express their belief that woman’s sexuality was something to adore rather than hide. It is meant to be a counter argument to the Haredi belief that respect for sexuality means suppression rather than celebration. To underscore that point it uses Haredi dress in a sexualized way. It is shot on an Egged bus . In the last several months the Egged bus has become a symbol of exclusion of women. Bus posters have omitted the faces of women.
The photographer, Lior Nordman, derided the notion that men can’t control themselves in the face of overt sexuality. He remarked that he spends many hours a day around sexy women and doesn’t have a problem controlling himself.
Note: this photoshoot may be offensive to some readers. Although the amount of skin is minimal by catwalk and fashion magazine standards, it is still well above the standards of most religious comunities. In certain parts of the video, religious dress is used as part of an outfit that is clearly intended to be sexually charged.
This video underscores a huge gap in perspective between the Belle Mode approach to sexuality and the Haredi approach. To the Haredi eyes it is almost certain that the models are licencious and lewd. How can this be respectful?
The answer lies in where one sees the locus of sexuality.
The logic of Haredi sexuality revolves around the notion that sexuality is inherent in particular body parts and acts. When those parts of the body are exposed one becomes sexual. When they are hidden one becomes asexual.
With the help of feminists, artists, philosphers, and rape survivors, non-Haredi society has been exploring a very different approach to sexuality.
In the non-Haredi view body parts and even sex acts are neutral when considered on their own. Rather, our subjective relationship to them distinguishes between aesthetic enjoyment, sex, and assault. When the body is observed with a mental focus on beauty and aesthetics then it becomes an object of aethetic enjoyent. If it is probed for purposes of scientific knowledge or medical care, those same body parts become an object of dispassionate and asexual scientific interest. When partners touch and move together with moment by moment mutual consent, only then does the body becomes an instrument of sexuality. When choice and mutuality are absent, touching and even looking, at best becomes a slow poison. At worst the becomes a destructive assault on both body and soul.
In this view covering up can’t stop an interaction from being sexually charged or abusive. It is of little value when it comes to treating the body or its sexuality with respect. One can even gaze on a fully covered body and still see a sex object if one is mentally undressing the person. At the other extreme, two fully clothed individuals standing several feet apart can be erotic in a loving positive way so long as there is mutual interest and passion.
Rather sexual modesty is defined by mutuality. A modest sexual interaction is one where both parties share a mutual goal and do not demand or force more.
Paradoxically, the very things that Haredim believe are modest, can actually seem immodest and profoundly violating when sexuality is understood as our subjective response to another. In the most extreme segments of Haredi society men define what women can wear because only men can study Talmud and Halachah. A women’s options are to obey or not. She cannot chose a third alternative.
But in secular society, society laying out the choices for women means that someone other than the woman is controlling her body. If modest sexuality only interacts with another under conditions of mutual consent, then any one-sided attempt to define a woman’s dress or behavior is inherently immodest even if a certain percentage of women actually happen to like the choices laid out their society.