Conversation at the Shidduchim Family table over Pesach:
Good4:…she loves Chassidim, she’s going to marry a streimel.
Bad4: I hope she’ll marry the man in the streimel.
Good4: (rolls her eyes) Duh! You don’t have to be so technical.
But I wasn’t really. I think we have a serious social malady on our hand: the objectification of the male accessory.
Feminists of secular society decry the objectification of the female; the fact that women are seen as the sum of their parts and develop identities tied to their appearance. This can (studies claim) severely hamper their social interactions.
But in our society the “checking out” often goes the other way. Important questions: is he a black velvet or a kipa sruga? Is he a blue shirt or a white? Is he a black hat or a streimel?
There is no doubt that this leads to men developing identities tied to their headgear or shirt color or the location of their tzitzis.
But the yarmulke is the most objectified, perhaps because it can be so much more nuanced in meaning than a hat or shirt. The fabric, the color, and the position on the head all create a detailed dossier of the wearers political, theological, and social beliefs. Men who arrive from small communities wearing a yarmulke that they liked for fashion reasons are quickly set straight and sent shopping. And when a classmate informed me that he was going to buy himself his first, I felt the need to advise him on a neutral style. The idea of an innocent outsider purchasing a yarmulke based solely upon aesthetics and comfort can wake you screaming in the night.
In fact the yarmulke is fair game for engagement arguments. I’ve heard of women who think their beau is perfect… if only he’d wear something darker. And why shouldn’t he? She’s all dolled up so he can proudly walk down the street with his beautiful fiancé, why shouldn’t she get to be equally proud of an “objectively” gorgeous guy? It’s just a piece of fabric, and takes a lot less time and effort than blow-drying her hair every morning.
Studies remain to be done over whether this objectification inhibits men’s social interactions, but I suspect it does. I mean, would you bother being charming to someone who was already writing you off as a “black leather, top of head”?
Now, I’m not saying you can’t try to judge people by their appearances. There’s something to be said for affiliation by clothing, even if it’s not always accurate. (Shirt-out-tzitzis-flying means Chabad when paired with a scruffy beard, but yeshivish slob when paired with a 5 o’clock shadow.) But for goodness’ sake, don’t objectify them!
Sorry Good4: she’s not marrying a streimel. She’s marrying a chossid. A man who wears a streimel.
Just give him the courtesy of being a man and not his hat.