A sweet and refreshing take on modesty and formal dating, is it not?
Share your thoughts!
Recently I heard a story about someone who did not pass The Real Mensch Test.
This past year, I lived in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem, Israel where I studied in a seminary for newly-observant Jewish women. Every day, I learned about anything from Jewish prayer and spirituality to how to read biblical Hebrew. Now, I don’t know if you’re planning on ever cracking open a bible written in Hebrew, but one thing for sure is, if you’re going to do it, you will need serious help. Thank G-d, I was fortunate enough to sit every day with a kind tutor, who didn’t mind listening to an American butcher the holy language. To my delight as well, it just so happened that my tutor and I got along so well, that we would sometimes chat during our time together (I have a theory that she would strike up conversations to distract me from my reading/noise making). I found one story she told to me during this time to be particularly share-worthy.
Once upon a dinner meal, my tutor was a guest at someone’s house when an odd thing happened to her. At one point during the evening, when she was peacefully standing by the bookshelf, one of the men of the household came over to her, and *gasp*, tapped her on the shoulder! It’s horrible, I know--how dare he have the audacity to do such a thing?! You can only imagine, that my tutor never went back to that home after that. Never again!
Now…at this point, you may be a tad confused. What’s the big deal? He only touched her shoulder! Well, the big deal is that in Jewish religious life, men and women do not touch one another, other than immediate family (stand back, creepy uncles!) In fact, if a man even tries to hit on you, without ever actually hitting you, it is still completely frowned upon. These laws and social constructs are there to keep men from seeing and treating women as sex objects. They are also there to protect and savor our sensitivity to touch, in order that when it does happen between a married couple, it brings as sweet, as fresh, and as profound a feeling as possible—a feeling that reflects a deep and mutual sense of respect and love towards one another. So you can imagine the horror on my tutor’s face when she realized that this un-mensch of a man had violated her shoulder, when she had never been touched by an unrelated man in her life. And although this idea may seem a bit extreme, a bit un-P.C., or a bit of anything else, it’s also a bit of what I like to call, The Real Mensch Test.
Now, of course, The Real Mensch Test can’t save you from every man with ill-intentions out there, but it definitely helped my tutor out. Because she lives in a world where it is socially appalling for a man to touch any other woman than his wife, it is extremely easy to see right through a man via his simple TReatMenT of you (I’m trying to see how far I can stretch this thing). Iin her world:
1. If the man taps you on the shoulder, ponytail, or G-d forbid your back—he fails The Real Mensch Test
2. If he gives you a wink when there is no dust to be found—he fails The Real Mensch Test.
3. If he doesn't ask a third party to be introduced to you, and directly asks for your phone number (and he is not a tax collector) he fails The Real Mensch Test.
4. And lastly, if it gets to a point where he asks you to go to his place to “talk”—he receives the Olympic gold medal for men who have failed the The Real Mensch Test.
Sounds extreme, right? Well keep in mind, people in this community are dating for the purpose of marriage only.
When I was in sixth grade, a seemingly very nice boy put his shoulder around me. I was kind of irked, but embarrassed to complain about it because it was only a shoulder hug. Later on, that same nice-eleven year-old enlightened me to the fact that my bra-strap was showing. In this day and age, we’re supposed to let everything “slide”. If a guy calls you hot at the bar after knowing you for two seconds, we’re supposed to be flattered. Or if a guy is upset that you haven't gone all the way after three dates, we can't really blame him, right? This is too bad, because nowadays what we do see as troubling and line-crossing is so far down the line, that he may have us cornered alone in a room by then. So I’m here to say, that if a guy does not respect your right to be appreciated as a woman with a beautiful body and soul, then he is not a mensch! And that anyone who makes you feel stupid for wanting only the best treatment—well, he is not a mensch either.
Imagine the following make-believe conversation:
Betty: “How’s college going?”
Shirely: “Great! I love it!”
Betty: “Wonderful! What are you majoring in?”
Shirley: “What do you mean?”
Betty: “I mean…what is your major?”
Shirely: “Betty…are you from like the 1950s or something? No one has a major anymore!”
Betty: “They don’t?”
Shirely: “No way! Why settle with one major, when there’s so much to learn about in the world!”
Shirely: “We’re not tied down to any field! Why should one field of study take control over my life? What, am I slave or something?”
Betty: “Uhh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to..”
Shirley: “No, no don’t worry about it. How could you know any better? You just need to start being a bit more mature and honest about yourself. You know, we weren’t created to have one occupation.”
Shirley: “We weren’t?”
Betty: “Of course not! Look at the human brain! There are so many different ways to apply yourself. If we were created to be stimulated by so many different things, why not experiment in everything? I don’t plan on leaving college or thinking about a profession for 20 years!”
Now, obviously, that conversation would never happen. We value educational and professional commitment too much. We understand that true success and creativity can only come from focus and limitations. If we let ourselves be limitless, we spread ourselves horizontally, but never reach ultimate vertical knowledge. So if we can understand this, then what is so ridiculous about wanting to settle down with one person? Isn’t there anything admirable in getting your bachelors, your masters, your doctorate, your post doctorate on the one you love? If it’s so admirable to commit as a doctor, to learn all you can learn about medicine, to appreciate it and take painstaking amounts of time to perfect your relationship with it, then why do we feel so strangled by settling down and committing to love and learn about one person?
Apparently, society believes it is so ridiculous, so archaic, that commitment has been stored away as if it were an "I Love Lucy" video. It’s something that we can look back and laugh at once in a while, and not know what's sillier--the Lucy-Ricky traditional marriage or Lucy's fire-engine red hair. But as an article on CNN points out, is it possible that some aren’t really laughing? That some have been made to believe that freedom comes from not having to settle down, only to realize that freedom kind of stinks? Not to mention, when we are ready to break away from freedom and develop true commitment, there really isn’t a market out there. And that’s when it stops getting funny.
But here’s the real issue. Let’s break up the world into the masculine and feminine. Even if you don’t agree that there are such divisions, it works to even divide them as socially constructed values if nothing else. Masculinity is a sort of conquering outside of one’s self. Masculine values are ones of striving, of aggressively pursuing and accumulating. It’s a more external outlook. Femininity is much more internal. It’s a bringing in of others into one’s space to nurture, rather than seeing others as distant and separate. And as someone who does believe in such divisions I would like to point out that the feminist movement did not emerge because women have been dividing, conquering, and acquiring for thousands of years. Men were the ones who naturally stepped up to that plate.
Now, even if you believe that femininity and masculinity are socially constructed, this question is still relevant: What does our society value most? Or better yet, who is more admirable? A woman who is the CEO of a major corporation with no husband to slow her down, or a woman who is married with five children and no career? Which one of those made you cringe? Made you feel more pity? My guess is the latter.
As Wendy Shalit explained in her book A Return to Modesty, nowadays femininity sadly makes us squirm. In fact, in society today, we are waging war against femininity and trying to pretend it doesn’t actually exist. But the saddest part of all is that society can only become a much more moral, loving place when feminine values of uniting and nurturing are the objective, not only divide and conquer. It’s no wonder why women often feel so unfulfilled by the hook-up culture, and feel at a loss when they do wish and try to seek commitment. It isn’t deeply fulfilling to have detached sexual experiences with men, and because society doesn’t value feminine ideals, it’s exceedingly difficult to find commitment in a masculine world where detachment is synonymous with freedom.
Until we see the true beauty of femininity, women will continue to feel robbed, and men will continue to feel relatively satisfied with their superficial experiences. Neither one will reach a deeper level of understanding of any one person, but will have extremely little and superficial knowledge about many. And as the scientists now seem to be saying, it appears that most really do want a Ricky to let us know that they've come home.
The other day I was walking around my house when I had a thought. "Wait", I mentally exclaimed. "Why is it normal for married actors to kiss other people in movies?" Many will agree that cheating is not okay (unless they are supporters of Ashley Madison). But then why is it socially acceptable for actors and actresses to kiss and intimately touch other people in front of millions of viewers? Is this something we have seen before?
We often believe that if need be, people can easily emotionally detach themselves for the sake of the moment—whether it’s purely for physical enjoyment or for “art”. And for anyone who has seen the show Friends, I remember an episode when Chandler becomes upset with his girlfriend for the love scene she performs in a play with another man. She then proceeds to tell Chandler that he "autta grow up”. I mean, if we think about it, would anyone be taken seriously if they protested against Hollywood on behalf of the sanctity of marriage? But what about teenagers who see their parent’s movie, only to watch them embracing a stranger they just saw moments ago for the first time on the red carpet? Would they be seen as immature, too, for feeling hurt and uncomfortable?
I went online to check out if there is any type of discourse on the idea of art as an exception to our standards against cheating. And here is something unique I found on someone’s blog:
I was reading this movie review on Revelife of Fireproof starring Kirk Cameron. First of all, yes – that Kirk Cameron – a.k.a. Mike Seaver a.k.a. Boner's best friend. If you have no idea what I'm talking about – you make me feel super old. This part of the review actually struck me the most: "Kirk won't kiss anyone except his real-life wife Chelsea Noble. So, the producers dressed her like the actress and shot the scene in silhouette. I just saw the movie, and I promise, you can't tell. It's a very sweet, tender scene...." First of all - wow. At first I thought this was ridiculous, but then I thought about it again. It's kinda romantic in a way - the fact that some dude only wanted to kiss his wife. If I was a actor, would there be an actress I would rather kiss over my wife? I really couldn't think of one - love is funny like that.What do you guys think? And if you're interested in commenting on the idea of the movie, Fireproof, as well, here is the trailer:
All of a sudden, I was constantly being mocked and challenged. From intense criticism for my decision to “wait till marriage”, to condoms being handed out around me, to pressure to justify my reasons for not going out on the weekend, to being seriously asked if I felt "repressed" after spending time with an Orthodox Jewish family I love dearly--I felt completely attacked and misunderstood.
So I decided to do something about it.
A couple of weeks ago, I had to give a presentation in my senior culmination class for women studies majors. With a shaky voice, I told them that I am a growing-in-observance Jewish woman who felt excluded by feminist theory. In legitimizing the idea that casual sex is normal, feminism de-legitimizes those of us who believe sex is special. Insisting on making sexuality louder makes it harder for people like me to keep sexuality private and unique. I have been told that when I go to my Rabbi’s house for Shabbat—the Jewish day of rest from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown—that I am running away from the real world. But the real world makes it extremely hard to be spiritual. How do I remain spiritual when I can hear parties down the street Friday night? When I’m expected to be casual with guys and just have a good time? I do not feel as though I am running away. I feel as though I am not welcome. I feel unappreciated by a society that operates under a façade of acceptance—something I didn’t realize when I too was part of the feminist club. Now I see that if the open-mindedness were true, I wouldn’t be scared to tell people I am going to Jewish seminary next year and I wouldn’t feel so alone in my classes.
During the time I was presenting all of this to my class, I saw tears in many of my classmates’ eyes. The student who presented after me came to the front of the room crying, telling me how sorry she was for the experience I went through. Almost everyone came up to me at the end of class to tell me that they wished they had heard this perspective sooner. Another student told me, “Something happened here today”, and the rest of them agreed. So here I am! Making something happen. Proud for being myself-- finally.