Friday, June 25, 2004

Girl, You'll be a Woman Soon...

I've mentioned that I get to do some wake-up stuff with Rachel, but G's definitely in charge of dressing her. Rachel doesn't necessarily enjoy the process of getting dressed and I have a fashion sense we can just call lackadaisical (think "straight guy" without the benefit of "queer eye"), so if left to my devices Rachel would end up pretty much in a diaper and maybe one of my old sweatshirts. (Easy to put on, totally wash and wear. I'd cut the sleeves and maybe tie it in the back so Rachel could have some use of her limbs, but otherwise it's perfect.)

Rachel has, B'H, like, a ton of fabulous outfits, and G does a great job dressing my daughter.


A few days ago I came downstairs to see that Rachel's wearing this pink spaghetti-strap halter dress thingie. (Kind of like this dress
except less sweetness and light and more h00chie mama.)[fn1]
[fn1:] I'm trying to avoid showing up in this search. This search is only a little better, which is why, if I do reference it again, I'll just call it HM.
I don't bring this up to talk about fashion choices. The fact is the dress looked really cute on Rachel. What bothered me, I think, was the admittedly small HM factor. Now before anyone gets all in a tizzy, I realize that Rachel is less than a year old and could care less about the clothes we foist upon her as long as they taste good and don't bind.

(And aren't too hot. That's a new thing Rachel does, trying to get out of clothes that are too hot. But she doesn't understand the mechanics of clothing yet, so she just pulls the fairly resilient cloth away, leaving these cute-if-you-don't-work-for-Child-Protection-Family-Services lines on her body where she's effectively embedded the seams into her flesh before one of us realizes what she's doing. I digress, but it's my daughter and my blog and I can do that if I want to.)

And I'm not worried that somehow we've set her on a path of wanton licentiousness. Halloween's not a Jewish holiday at all, but I think I can cite the precedent with safety that despite the occasional costume, few kids grow up to be jack o-lanterns, lions, flowerpots, or God forbid! Barney. (Yes, I realize that sentence was entirely gratuitous and included solely for the purposes of having those links. I'm feeling a little whimsical today. By the by: most clever baby Halloween costume in recent memory.)

It just brought home to me the amazing and terrifying fact that my little girl is my little girl. And I'm going to be raising her, for the foreseeable future at least, in the United States of Scantily Clad America.

(The "scantily clad" link is just Safire on the hyphenation, and not worth the buck fifty; you can look here instead.)

There's an obligation in Orthodox Judaism called "tzniut," which translates (poorly) to "modesty."[fn2] The obligation devolves on both men and women, but the nature of the world we live in today makes it seem as if the burden falls more on women, and I'm willing to talk about it in that context for now.[fn3] It is for reasons of tzniut that Orthodox girls and women wear clothes that are significantly less suggestive than the majority of clothing worn by women today.[fn4] Now, at less than a year, Rachel's neither obligated under those rules nor do they have any real applicability; she neither picks her own clothes nor understands anything about social context and messages. But looking at the outfit Rachel was wearing I realized that the same outfit (in a larger size, of course) would be inappropriate for her in a few years.
[fn2:] Read more at (part 1 and part 2), or Aish

[fn3:] It's important for me to note here that (a) married women covering their hair is not the same obligation as tzniut, and (b) tzniut is not about protecting men from their evil thoughts. I get really bothered by those misconceptions.

[fn4:]It is also for reasons of tzniut that Orthodox women don't wear a burka or other kind of full-body covering. The ability to express oneself (as represented by the uncovering of the face and hands) and the ability to make oneself beautiful and attractive are inherent in tzniut as well.
Looking down at Rachel, I was glad of the whole tzniut thing, because -- having given it some serious thought -- I really believe that it's a mechanism of inculcating into both her and her peers both a respect for women and an appropriate awe of their beauty. I'm not saying it's a perfect system, but it helps, a lot. I think the tzniut requirements help raise sexually healthy and secure and responsible kids, in a world with P4ris Hi1ton(see fn1) and the recent madness in Westchester, I think that's a critical job.

Of course, there are a million women out there who do not adhere to the laws of tzniut who are just as well-adjusted and whole, and carry the same self-respect as those who do. And I'm sure that in the world of Orthodox Jewish women there are some pretty stunted young ladies, even though they did grow up with tzniut.

Which made me wonder what the secret was. What is it that's bound up in tzniut that I think lends itself to raising the sexually healthy kid? What can be left out of raising a daughter with tzniut that can twist it on itself and produce an unhealthy woman? What is it about the women who I respect who didn't grow up with tzniut that enables them to be sexually healthy women?

I realized pretty quickly that I already had the answer. I've been throwing around the term "self-respect," and I realize that the secret is the respect part. There will be those among you to whom this is glaringly obvious, but for me, even though I feel I grew up in a great home with amazing parents, parent who did in fact give me this, it was never explicit, it was never discussed. It was just how you treated people, especially your own children, or your own parents, or your own siblings.

So I'm not saying that without this mini-epiphany I wouldn't have been able to teach this to Rachel; I'd like to think I would. But that doesn't make it any less of a mini-epiphany.

I remember when Rachel was born, one of my first thoughts was, "where am I going to learn about girls? I barely understand grown-up women!" I had a similar thought just then, looking down at Rachel in her little skirt. Where is Rachel going to learn self-respect? Where is Rachel going to learn how a man is supposed to treat a woman, what a man is supposed to be, and what she can expect for herself.

At this point the answer isn't that hard to guess. Me.

When I was single, I used to always joke that on your first date with a woman her father was in the car with you, whether you could see him or not. I just never realized the deep truth in the joke.

Me. I'm going to have to treat her with respect, make her know she's beautiful, make her understand how to treat men and how men are allowed to treat her.

If I do that right, it doesn't matter what she wears. And I realized that that's why the laws of tzniut don't apply between a father and his daughter. (Though as she gets older it might, and rightly so. . . that's a different post.) Because tzniut is, in a way, a function of communication, a way of her telling the world how she wants to be dealt with, and a method of requiring that kind of respect and awe from the rest of the world.

But she doesn't have to wear modest clothing to demand that respect from me. I'm obligated to treat her that way even if she's in her underwear, or naked, or whatever. Because as much as G loves her, this is something that only I can teach her, and that obligation rests on me regardless of her situation, or her clothes.

So that was a pretty sobering moment, looking down at my little h00chie mama.

I didn't make a big deal of it, but I think I'm going to ask G not to put her in that outfit again.


UPDATE: I could have skipped this post and just linked to this article, which I just found. (Gotta love that Google!.) I go hot and cold on Rabbi Boteach, he says some good things and then pulls some odd schtick, and I'm not endorsing him here. But this article, at least, I can vouch for.

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At Jul 2, 2004 4:45:00 PM, Anonymous said...

[imported from old comments]
steve 06/27/2004 23:10:
excellent, excellent post!! The links and articles were right on target too. It is interesting to note that on the NY post article in the middles of ranting about teen promiscuity there is an advertisement for V Secret with a very provocative picture.

At Jul 2, 2004 4:47:00 PM, Anonymous said...

[imported from old comments]
Elizabeth Curtis at 07/01/2004 10:45 wrote:

I was searching for a tzniut site to see what is in right now in Israel, and found your sweet blog.

I am SO thankful for my dad, and the respect for self, God, and others that he inculcated in his girls. (He had six sisters, no brothers, and four daughters!) Modesty and true beauty were linked together, and I believe my abba did a great job.

At Jul 7, 2004 10:38:00 AM, Anonymous said...

[more importing from old comment system]

Rachel Ann ( @ 07/06/2004 12:21:

I posted something about this on my blog also (June 6th titled Modesty), but in terms of
older girls and their desire not to look like they are for sale. Modesty is making a


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