Women Take Action Against Disrespectful Purim Advertising

This pre-Purim season was marked by two most interesting sets of Purim circulars. At one extreme were the Purim costume advertisements published by Hadash B’Beit Shemesh, a Haredi newspaper. At the other extreme were Purim costumes designed by Soshi Zohar.

As expected the Haredi newspaper blurred out the faces of all the little girls. They explained their actions to the press saying:

This is not a case of women’s exclusion or girls’ exclusion. The ads were blurred by the advertising company, at our request, out of respect to our readers – both men and women – who want to receive a paper which matches their worldview and lifestyle.

All that might be well and good if the newspaper’s advertising circular in fact was distributed only to Haredi homes. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The paper, or at least the circular in it, is targetted to a much wider audience. Parents in the non-Haredi neighborhoods also got the advertising circular. These parents do not hold to the idea that women’s faces are immodest and they resented the blurring out of girls’ faces.

At the other extreme was an advertisement for Purim costumes of Shoshi Zohar. Her costumes for toddlers and children under six were innocent enough. However, nearly every single costume worn by a pre-teen, teenager or adult woman looked like they had walked off the set of a Lady Gaga video.  Even the costumes for dressing up as a professional women or animals were sexualized. There was not one costume of a notable woman leader in history, nor even one of a notable woman in fiction. One might assume from Shoshi’s costume collection that either (a) women don’t want to imagine themselves as anything notable or (b) women can only imagine themselves as sex objects.

When confronted by the press about her over-sexualized all-but-prostitot costumes she was puzzled by the negative reaction. Like the publishers of the Haredi newspaper she asserted that she had done nothing wrong. She explained that ” her range of costumes provide something for both secular and religious communities”.

As a commenter on the Mother in Israel blog eloquently exclaimed:

Well, tell me: why should a sexy costume be considered secular? Do all secular women want to dress in a sexy costume? Do none of them want to dress in a non-sexy costume – you know, have fun at a costume party without being a sex object? What a ridiculous assumption. And do religious women not have sex or ever want to feel sexy? I guarantee you that many religious DO want to feel attractive and dress attractively. Finally, is it not possible to be sexy without being sleazy (fishnet stockings and a whip?!)? Of course it is!

All too often women see such portrayals of themselves and stay silent. However, not this time. It often happens that suffering from violence drives home the need to act. We can’t always prevent the crime that happened but we can work to make a better world. This is exactly what happened to Hadassah Margolese, the mother of Naama Margolese, who was traumatized this fall by adult Haredi males who spit and cursed at her. She writes in a Jerusalem Post op-ed about her reaction to the blurred faces in the Beit Shemesh Purim costume catalog:

A few weeks ago, an advertisement booklet from Ramat Beit Shemesh was put in my mailbox. I was not shocked to see that the girls’ faces were blurred, because we’ve become used to this. However, following my daughter’s experience, the phenomenon took on new meaning for me. Things seemed to click; they hide our faces in magazines, as well as trying to hide us in real life. This time would be different, I said to myself. I would actually do something about it, because I could not keep quiet any longer.

Hadassah then went to the facebook page of Red Pirate, the maker of the costumes advertised in the booklet, and complained. Several other women joined suit until Red Pirate was forced to respond. Red Pirate explained that they had not authorized the blurred photos:

The newspapers’ kashrut supervisor made the decision to publish the blurred ad… As this is the first time we encounter such a thing, which happened shortly before the newspaper was printed, we were unprepared. Therefore, we will prepare accordingly for the next ads directed at the haredi sector and put an end to this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, the “end” did not involve showing the faces of young women. Instead the Haredi newspaper chose to blur both the little boys and the girls. Although it had complied with the Red Pirate’s demand not to discriminate against girls, it and possibly Red Pirate as well, had entirely missed the point: people don’t need to be hidden. Worse yet, the store had blurred girls faces on yet another set of toy advertisements and also put the blurred advertisements on Beit Shemesh buses. Not to be deterred, Hadassah Margolese took action again, this time writing an editorial in the Jerusalem Post, where she called out the store for yet again allowing faces to be blurred:

The store was apparently so desperate not to offend the extremists that it now allowed the blurring of all children’s faces. Did the store’s owners thinks this was some kind of compromise? I do not see it as a compromise. We pointed out a problem, they acknowledged it – and then decided to work around it rather than fix it. “Working around” a problem like this is unacceptable. Resolving the issue is what is necessary.

Meanwhile on the ground male and female Beit Shemesh community members protested the continued blurring by standing on the street in front of the store to educate potential customers about the store’s practices of blurring the pictures of women. Television cameras came in to cover the story, thus ramping up exposure of the issue.

The battle to convince stores and bus companies to stop allowing blurring of women’s faces is going to be a long one, but Israelis are used to fighting when they need to. Stores need to sell their product. Unless they risk losing more customers from bad publicity than they gain by using blurred photos they will likely continue the practice.

Women also took action over Shoshi Zohar’s oversexualized costumes. The Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) condemned her costume collection and called for a boycott. Said chairwoman Gila Oshrat:

We have seen that the nation does have economic power and maybe it is time for parents to speak out about this. With only these kind of costumes available to women, it leaves them with little choice but to wear a near-pornographic outfit …. There is no need for a nurse costume to consist of a short mini-skirt and fishnet stockings. Why do all costumes, whether they are professional or an animal, need to be sexy?” Is this the message that we want to send our children? …. These kinds of sexist ads increase attacks against women and portray us as cheap.

The Israeli branch of WIZO has been actively involved in combating sexist and degrading images of women in the media. Each year it gives an “award” to the commercial that is the most sexist and degrading. The award for this year will be announced later today at the Knesset.

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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