I’m continuously surprised by the interconnections of life. I had shared my post-Shabbat book recommendations and one provoked a discussion on sexual education in Jewish private schools. Taught in Toronto schools in grade 6, the book in question included a sexual assault (Julie of the Wolves). For myself and the commentator, none of our teachers adequately (hindsight is 20/20) addressed the sexual assault that took place in the book’s pages in preventing negative internalizations and trauma. While not included in last week’s telecourse, Gender issues in Jewish Education topics per se, Marcia Beck, Sally Berkovic, and Elana Sztokman talked about the role of educators in how we internalize messages about modesty, bodies, and sexuality.
We like to think we’re in control of our bodies and world, but we’re not. This week’s two panelists Marcia Beck and Sally Berkovic discussed the impacts of female bodies being policed, controlled, and manipulated via modesty by schools (dress codes) and other people. It’s very damaging for girls and women to have their bodies viewed as powerful & corrupting, internalized from comments by educators, peers, community members, and self-disciplined (‘your skirt/sleeves show too much skin’). Reactions to being told to cover up can be internalized as viewing your/our bodies as sexualized/ugly/fat, all negative messages.
“Of course we’re not okay… we’re punished no matter what we choose [hair, clothes, makeup]; it’s impossible to escape judgment” Marcia Beck’s comment on eating disorders as a functional coping mechanism of these internalized messages was most startling to hear. Bodies, beauty (the thin-kind is the underlying assumption of what beauty looks like), and sexuality are mainly judged in relation to marriage and social status, which carry a lot of weight in the Jewish world (contextualized within the US, Canada, and Israel by the panelists and facilitator).