Originally published: 24.05.11
I have a very complicated relationship with the amount of coverage or display that my skin gets. I think most women of my background or similar – secular feminists who grew up in a traditional, religious society – would recognise the dilemmas that I had with seemingly frivolous things like skirt length while growing up.
In Jerusalem, where I grew up, what a woman wears immediately speaks volumes about her religion, her values, even her politics. Whether your skirt brushes the ground (settler), is modestly below the knee (conservative), is a voluminous part of a Mother Hubbard-like dress (orthodox) or is revealingly short (secular) gives clues to other parts of your life: what you eat (kosher/treif), who you vote for (left/right), where and when you socialise (at home or in a club on a Friday night), your sexual politics (patriarchal/permissive). The signs are not infallible, but they are ubiquitous and strong in a way that simply doesn’t exist in the secular west, except for the most pious Jewish or Muslim women. And people in Israel routinely use these signs to facilitate everyday interactions, like knowing whether to shake hands with a woman, ask her for her number, ask her for directions, all kinds of normal stuff. It’s not stereotyping (much), it’s common sense.