Rabbi Dov Linzer of writes in the New York Times: “IS it possible for a religious demand for modesty to be about anything other than men controlling women’s bodies? From recent events in Israel, it would certainly seem that it is not.”
My understanding of Judaism’s views on modesty is that men and women each have obligations to behave modestly. We each affect the other. Women need to dress modestly so as to not inflame male lust. Men need to restrain their natural instincts to sleep with as many women as possible.
The ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel who want women to dress modestly in public and to accept segregated by sex buses live lives dominated by Jewish law, which constantly forces them to overcome their natural inclinations. It’s not like Haredi men just want to control how women dress but give themselves free license to do what they like.
So I don’t agree with Rabbi Linzer, who writes:
The ultra-Orthodox men in Israel who are exerting control over women claim that they are honoring women. In effect they are saying: We do not treat women as sex objects as you in Western society do. Our women are about more than their bodies, and that is why their bodies must be fully covered.
In fact, though, their actions objectify and hyper-sexualize women. Think about it: By saying that all women must hide their bodies, they are saying that every woman is an object who can stir a man’s sexual thoughts. Thus, every woman who passes their field of vision is sized up on the basis of how much of her body is covered. She is not seen as a complete person, only as a potential inducement to sin.
Of course, once you judge a female human being only through a man’s sexualized imagination, you can turn even a modest 8-year-old girl into a seductress and a prostitute.
At heart, we are talking about a blame-the-victim mentality. It shifts the responsibility of managing a man’s sexual urges from himself to every woman he may or may not encounter. It is a cousin to the mentality behind the claim, “She was asking for it.”