Blurred Lines: Private Things In Public Places

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I was recently flipping through a fashion magazine and came across an article about a celebrity’s makeup. She was wearing this color eye shadow, that color lipstick, and then I saw what the blush color was called, and I wanted to blush! I couldn’t believe it – the name that this popular company uses for one of its blushes is a sexual term for when a person might look flush (preceded by the word “super.”) SUPER!

When did this happen? When did the most private things creep into so many public places? Now, before you start to think that I’m just some prudish Orthodox woman, let me assure you that I’m not. Despite not being religious as a kid, I grew up in a household with pretty traditional values. That being said, my mother spoke very openly about sex and bodies and never made any of it a matter of shame. So too with my kids, everyone knows what the proper names for their body parts are and feels comfortable using them, and I gave my kids a talk about the birds and the bees (like my mother did with her kids) at the ripe old ages of five and three. (Age appropriate of course!) And before I got married, when I learned about sexuality in Jewish law, my kallah teacher (the teacher a bride-to-be learns with before the wedding – a groom-to-be has a teacher too) was also far from prudish. In fact, she was quite clear that according to Jewish thought, a husband and wife should have a very satisfying marital life, and that there aren’t too many restrictions once you’re behind a closed door during the right time.

So it’s not sexuality that I’m uncomfortable with – it’s the constant, in your face displays of it. Which is why, incidentally, I’m not writing anything explicit in this post. There’s an idea that in the Talmud the rabbis would use euphemisms for sexual terms. Not because they were anti-sex or embarrassed by it, but rather in order to maintain a certain level of tznius (privacy). The expression for this phenomenon is “hamayveen yaveen” (those who understand will understand).

What public displays of sexuality am I talking about besides risqué makeup names? There are so, so many, but most recently I’ve noticed blog posts being written and broadcast to the world about some of the most embarrassing, private sexual stories you’d only share with your very best friend, and reader after reader applauding the writers for being so “raw” and so “real.” Or a recent YouTube video about a twelve girl at sleep away camp who is the first in her bunk to get her period and how she casually and flippantly talks about her private parts (using both technical and slang terms) like she’d talk about the weather.

She’s just “acting” you say, what’s the big deal? Well, in my humble opinion, twelve year old girls SHOULD feel like private parts and periods are a big deal and even a bit embarrassing as they adjust to this momentous change. When young viewers see how blasé this funny, viral video makes the subject, they might start to force themselves to treat something that is monumental like it’s insignificant, and I find that troubling.

I’m sick of seeing hashtags online where people describe their excitement over a pair of shoes using a compound word made up of “shoe” and a sexual term (the same one used for the blush!). And I don’t know why when people post pictures of what they’re eating it’s become commonplace to use a hashtag compound word which mixes “food” and adult entertainment. And speaking of adult entertainment, I can’t believe that books like 50 Shades of Grey are being read on buses and planes out in the open for everyone to see. Where books like that fit into (or don’t fit into) Jewish law is a separate discussion. I’m not talking about what people read in the privacy of their homes. I’m talking about men sitting on buses coming home from work, trying to mind their own business and seeing the woman next to them reading this book. (True story!)

It’s poles used for a certain type of, ehem, dancing – objects that used to be reserved for private spaces where men would go to see, well, dancers – popping up in gyms all over the country, being used in prime time TV shows on major networks. Again – something SO sexual becoming so commonplace. And I hate that I can’t seem to play ANYTHING on the radio when my kids are in the car. Songs like “Blurred Lines,” the most popular song of the summer, is chock full of racy lyrics and two explicit videos, one more explicit than the other. It’s not the rapey undertones of the song or the fact that according to an article I read, singer Robin Thicke’s wife is the one who suggested that he make a version of the video with naked women. No – I’m not talking about those points today. It’s that this song is being played constantly on the radio, being spoofed all over YouTube, on every late night show, which means that if you’re out shopping or sitting at home on the computer, you’re being bombarded by these highly sexualized ideas again and again and again, and they start to become meangingless.

I’m afraid that when everything is sexy, nothing is sexy. That when private matters become public matters, intimacy between friends and spouses can no longer exist. That when nothing is left to the imagination, there is never an opportunity for a couple to uncover and discover, and what a shame that is. I am sick of how society has blurred the lines between private and public; not because I am anti-sex, but specifically out of a desire to preserve the specialness that ought to come with it. Sex is extremely potent. We all want it to be. But I think much of secular society has forgotten how to achieve it. Like a drug user who has become tolerant to his drug and keeps needing larger quantities to get the same high as before, so too the world at large keeps pushing the sexual envelope to feel more since the previous thrill has left them numb. If only more people understood the secret to desire that Judaism has known all along: passion is created when freedom is mixed with measure and restraint.

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Allison Josephs About Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. I agree that tznius about marital stuff is good. Sex is a private matter between (we hope) a husband and wife.

    You say that you’re not a prude, that you use the right words for body parts with your kids. So why is the camp gyno commercial so offensive to you? Why are we afraid to talk about menstruation? No one is afraid to discuss other natural biological functions. No one blushes when someone says that they have to go to the bathroom. It’s not good, bad, mutur or assur, it just is.

    So the girl in the commercial used the “v” word, so what? You said that you use the same word with your kids, right? Sex is one thing, but teenage girls, or any woman, shouldn’t feel like they’re hiding a shameful secret from the world when they have their period.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      great question! i used the “v” word with my kids at home, in private. i have NO problem having talks about these subjects with close friends and family. but notice how when i wrote a public post i was discreet with my language. THAT is the difference IMO.

      • How are kids that don’t have parents who can talk about it (the prudish ones) supposed to learn about these things (including the proper terms) if not from videos, articles, etc?

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

          Well, let’s get one thing clear – this Camp Gyno video was not a PSA – it was a commercial. You don’t really learn anything about puberty or safe sex from it. Number two, I have no problem with information on this topic being out there in a dignified way, though I do think it’s a parents’ job/responsibility to educate their own kid on sex just like it’s his/her responsibility to educate his/her kid on honesty, doing well in school, etc. and I’m weary when someone else takes up that responsibility.

          The thing that made this video so popular/shocking/viral was that we never see twelve year old girls take about their private parts so openly and flippantly. And I think that has nothing to do with education. I think it’s just one more thing that someone found that pushes the envelope.

          • Sandra Mort says:

            I didn’t really think it was so far off base from how I would have approached the topic as a tween, other than her coming up with snappier jokes than I would have. But the language? Spot on. I wasn’t the average kid, but I don’t really see anything wrong with it.

            But the rest of the examples? ICK.

  2. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

    I heartily agree, though I’d like to make one note. The Talmud in tractate Pesachim (3a) discusses the use of euphemistic language in the Torah. R. Yehoshua b. Levi points out that the Torah uses eight Hebrew letters more than necessary in order to avoid using an unpleasant term, by saying “from the animals that are not clean” rather than “that are unclean.” The Gemara goes on to ask why the Torah should avoid using the word “unclean” when it uses that very word many times in other places. It answers that when a “clean” and an “objectionable” term are both equally appropriate, the Torah will use the nicer expression, but when the meaning may be obscured, the Torah uses the more direct, if blunter, term. “Hameivin yavin” is only when speaking to a maven – if one may be misunderstood, it’s advisable to be direct. (This is why I use words like “bra” and “breasts” in The Tzniyus Book, even though other works typically euphemize such things. My intended audience is different and I feel the need to be clear outweighs the need to be genteel. Being crass, however, is another story altogether.)

  3. Yeah, I saw that video with the camp gyno. Talk about crude. Good grief. I sometimes think that I am the only female on earth who prefers others not know my calendar. For myself this is a private matter. Oh there have always been Open Olivia who moaned and carried on each month. But. BUT! let me tell you, I have come to learn that far about the children of my friends than I need to know. _They_ all insist that this is a perfectly natural bodily function and there fore the subject is open to all who care to comment. I must say I am floored to hear teenage boys weighing in on the matter as casually as they would sports or cars. The problem is of course that there is a casual vulgarity about it when they are discussing the subject. A distinct lack of self respect in both the boys and the girls. Some things should be private.

    • Some things should be private, but there is a downside to it. I have talked with many nonfrum Jewish women who simply cannot get past the idea of tehoras mishpucha. Shabbos is beautiful, kashrus is meaningful, but they don’t want to buy into something where they think that they are dirty, unclean, less holy. Our mesoyreh doesn’t teach that we’re less holy for being in niddah, the outside world teaches that shame, and they project that onto tehoras mishpucha. Mikvah night is private, because of the private activity that follows, but I think we do more harm than good to make a big shameful secret out of niddah for a preteen girl.

      • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

        Show them these videos we made about the “dirty” myth http://jewinthecity.com/2009/02/jewish-women-dirrty-episode-5-2/ and the mikvah http://jewinthecity.com/2012/08/mikvah-splish-splash-is-it-a-jewish-bath-ep-6-season-2/

        I don’t think that there’s any shame in one’s cycle. What I objected to in the Camp Gyno video was a ten year old girl nonchalantly talking about private parts to the camera. That’s the part that made me cringe. I think when a girl is young she shouldn’t have that much confidence yet about the subject. She should be allowed to slowly adjust to feeling more comfortable over time.

        • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

          It’s a little off the main topic but my issue with the video is different. The girl in the video says she started out an outcast. Do you really think getting her period first will make an unpopular kid magically turn popular? An unpopular kid will be bullied for ANY reason, even if others might not be. My objection to the video was dangling the prospect of popularity. If an unpopular kid thinks that’s the sudden key to success, she’s in for a rude awakening.

  4. A friend of ours just made “slutty brownies” for shabbos desert, i was thinking the same thing!

  5. We now have facebook comments on JewintheCity.com! thanks Leah Rothstein!

  6. Anonymous says:

    It’s a little bit scary how you took those words out of my mouth. I promise you I was having this EXACT discussion with a friend last night. And as for “Blurred Lines”….I loved humming along to that song on the radio….until I read the lyrics and remembered why I don’t listen to the radio.

  7. Leah Rothstein says:

    You're welcome! hope we get lots of good conversations going

  8. Leah Rothstein ok people of Facebook – start talking!! 🙂

  9. I was just having a similar discussion with someone tonight. I think society has no sense of busha (shame). My mom used to tell me how when she went to public school if your skirt was more than half an inch above your knee you got sent home. The worse thing you did with your bf then was kiss (teen pregnancies, although an occurrence, were rare). In my parents days there were hardly an shdchanim (match makers0, boys and girls met through ncsy, social events etc, and you didnt have to worry that the girl would come home a non- virgin. Not that boys thought any differently back then (boys will be boys)- but society had a sense of shame. Nowadays that shame is gone and it’s sad. BTW if you want something to listen to in the car, i happen to love country music and it’s usually, more or less clean- sometimes even conveys a lesson.

  10. Really great article!

  11. I agree with you 100%, and in a certain area, there is even medical science to back up your position. Since the advent of the Internet made pornography so easily accessible, there is now an epidemic of young men suffering from impotence due to the lack of “measure and restraint” in their sexual expression. I am linking to a Psychology Today article that addresses that issue from a medical perspective. Note: The wording in the article is graphic, though not vulgar. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cupids-poisoned-arrow/201107/porn-induced-sexual-dysfunction-growing-problem

    From my perspective, I have never understood modern swimwear. If I wouldn’t go out in my underwear in public, how on earth can I justify going out in modern swimwear in public? It doesn’t cover any more than my underwear does. Some covers less. It’s almost like an “Emperor’s New Clothes” story–all these people running around virtually naked, but they think they’re dressed appropriately.

  12. musicizexpression says:

    I’ve been following you on facebook lately, and your work and attitude is a real breath of fresh air.
    I am so glad you wrote about this topic – it cannot be stressed enough, and it’s time a drastic change is made in our culture. For just one example, (which you mention) it is a disgrace to every human being that this song, and accompanying music video/s, are at the top of all the charts.
    But instead, a song like this is celebrated. Women, who are clearly being portrayed as sexual objects etc in the song/music videos, are dancing along merrily to this tune as it is played around the world. Makes me wanna vomit. I thank you for talking about this important topic, and rock on!

  13. MarSea Modest Swim & Stretchwear says:

    I am a Bubby now, and in the modest swimwear industry, so I am sooo into covering up – but I wonder about the younger generation of frum young couples and the pressure especially on the woman to be like what is being projected out there – to be super beautiful, slim, firm, with one of those wigs that fall in long teresses, having to spend money regular on bikini and leg waxing, etc.

  14. OK. I had to Google the whole name. I admit it. I had to see the name with my own eyes to believe it – and there it was. Even worse was the third blush color over which is named after a 1980's porn movie with the initials- "D.T" and referring to 'oral' things. I am more open minded then most of my friends, but these names for make up, stun me! What is happening to the world's morals?

  15. wow! i have heard good things about this makeup company product wise, but i am appalled at the names they use! i saw this color and i thought about how in a few years, id' be taking my daughter to buy some of her first makeup and her seeing the name of it and wondering why she'd need to know about these things at such a young age. and again – it's not a matter of being anti-sex – it's a matter of not wanting to be bombarded by these these everywhere you go!

  16. You said it all with "…When everything is sexy, nothing is sexy."

  17. Hey, guys! We added Facebook comments to all of our posts which means that we can hopefully draw more people into every conversation!

  18. Thank G-d someone is saying it. In our present culture of everything goes, it is very refreshing to hear someone acknowledge the harm we are doing to ourselves and our children. I just wish more people would actually address the results of their emotional wants and theories regarding these issues.

    There is a very interesting, yet perverted and disturbing documentary on the effects of all this on the modern girl called "Sexy Baby". (Their 'about' page is OK (but just OK). I don't recommend going further than that.)

    http://sexybabymovie.com/thefilm.php

    It explores the mainstreaming of XXX culture and how it shapes the personality, self-worth and sexual behavior of girls as young as 13, and shows how it formed many others much older. It isn't pretty.

    In short, this generation has been sold on the theory that all of this is liberating for women and thus we shouldn't be scared to speak frankly and explore sex publicly and often; the reality is that all of this is highly detrimental for women.

  19. I was once at a store to buy cosmetics and was offered a choice between the blush product you mentioned and another one — when I saw the name, I could NOT bring myself to buy it. So I bought the other one and am just as happy. Vote with your pocketbooks!

  20. Chava Canales says:

    I've just finished sharing this article with my 19 year old daughter and we are starting a study on the laws of modesty. Thank you for a great "jumping into it" push, so to speak.

  21. One word for all of this, 'FEH!'

  22. Chava — thank you for the hint! I didn't even know what to stick into the keyword window. BLECH! I'm not frum, but clearly still have a sense of modesty from another century.

  23. Frum Femme says:

    Camp G…..oh that was awful! Tasteless AND vulgur. It looks like a marketing gimmick for parents who do not sit down and have ongoing difficult conversations with their children on all topics (not just birds and bees) from an early age.

    Whatever happened to teaching our girls to be classy ladies a la Princess Di, Jackie O etc.?

    • i’m a huge fan of both – extremely stylish women who broke the mould. but neither were exactly backwards in coming forwards, and both had multiple lovers – including other people’s husbands. so i’m not quite sure what frum are doing admiring them or teaching your own daughters to be like them – i’d have thought both were completely contrary to such a lifestyle.

      and i must say, if your daughters are not old enough to know the words, they’re not old enough for make up full stop. seems like a good enough rule to me – pretty much what i tell my own son when he asks about when he can have a bedroom tv or computer games – when you can afford to buy them yourself – the end.

  24. What was the olden day standard underwear became modern day clothing! And lycra/spandex clothes didn’t even exist! I definitely agree that society became oversexualized; and, while they think it creates freedom, it objectifies women more which sort of defeats the purpose…..

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