Somebody needs to do some house cleaning in the Jerusalem Post photo department.
On Friday, the Jerusalem Post published an article reporting that the state had come out strongly in favor of women pictures on bus advertisements. The state had filed an opinion on a case before the Israeli Supreme Court against bus advertisers that are requiring exhorbitant deposits to cover any damage to pictures of women by Haredim.
It’s an open question how many people actually read the story, because the picture accompanying the story was so eye catching and offensive.
The Haredi line is that pictures of women are inherently sexual. For them it is black and white: either no pictures at all, or women as sex objects. The Jerusalem Post couldn’t have done a better job of playing into this dichotomy if it tried. There are so many worthy pictures of women in advertisements: women in business suits, mothers with children, women advocating for organ donation or breast cancer awareness. Or how about the Jerusalem city council campaign bus poster with Rachel Azaria that Egged refused to post on Jerusalem buses? All of those would have been newsworthy pictures associated with the very court case the article was about.
Did the Jerusalem Post pick any of those pictures? No. They chose a bus poster with a woman licking a plate in a sexual manner.
That photo is objectionable by any standards. It certainly is objectionable from the religious point of view that says that the public space should be asexual. Neither men nor women should be used to sell objects or ideas or themselves on the basis of sex appeal.
It is also objectionable to a great many secular feminists who very much want women in the media but object to degrading, violent and over-sexualized portrayals of women. The documentary “Miss Representation” focuses in on exactly this issue, but its solution is to have more women telling their stories in their own voice rather than through the filter of male desire. “You can’t be what you can’t see… the media can be an instrument of change” the film concludes.
There is however an open question about whether the photo selection department is even thinking through these pictures. A little over a month ago, they published an article on the Kaet Fellowship Program a Jewish social entrepreneurship program in Moscow sponsored by Present Tense and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The fellows include both men and women, and most are secular Jews. The one religious participant is a male rabbi. What picture does the Jerusalem Post use? An all female Haredi workspace in Israel. For pictures of the actual program participants, see here.