The Objectification of Male Accessories

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.

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24 thoughts on “The Objectification of Male Accessories

  1. Normally I don’t argue, but here it goes. The outside world, even other men don’t seem him as a Chossid, they seem him as a streimel. Give you a perfect example. Five years ago, I am stuck in America for Sukkot, so I do what every other really frum person does, I go to Borough Park to buy Arba Minim. At this point I have been a student of BMG, and Rav Kaduri ZTz”L respectively, so I think I am fairly frum. Though in typical Israeli-Sephardi style on warm days I go around without a jacket and hat until its time to daven arvit.

    Walk into three different etrog stores within maybe a block radius. I can’t get anyone to give me even a second glance. No matter how hard I try, nothing doing. Holding cash in hand, pointing and asking, “how much?” nothing, I even got shooed out of one store. So I run out to my car(oh the days when I owned a car… I digress) I through on my long black jacket and hat(the garb of a Sephardi Rav, or a Dayyan or Rosh Yeshiva to Ashkenazim), and in each of the same stores, I don’t get two steps inside the door before some Chossid/Chareidi worker is on top of me asking me what quality of etrog do I want and what my price range is. In short in a white shirt, black pants, black shoes, with a black velvet yarmulke on top I wasn’t holy enough to even tempt them into helping me when I am waving a handful of hundred dollar bills, but… put on the long black jacket and the hat, no need for money… my new level of kedusha gets me all the help I need… even a discount.

    Point in note, all the people who sneered down their noses at me the first time around. Weren’t sneering at the man inside the clothes, they were sneering at the clothes… that’s all I was, an outfit that didn’t match the level on which to do business(crazy I know). All the same people who jumped to help me, weren’t jumping to help me, they were jumping to help a long black jacket and a hat. If not the guy who shooed me out of his store just three minutes earlier would have noticed that the same person just walked back in, just dressed a little different.

  2. I think the problem is that for the vast majority of frum people, their Yiddishkeit is a levush. And I don’t mean just clothing.

    So, in a sense, she is marrying a shtreimel. That’s about 65% of his identification of himself. (The rest are minhogim and extraneous things which are equally lacking in pnimiyus.)

  3. mekubal,

    That story is sick. That’s the kind of ugly behavior that chases people away from Judaism. I know people who aren’t frum today because when “black hatters” see them with a yarmulke perched on their head and treat them like garbage. Treating only someone in a long coat and Hamburg with respect is not kavod talmidei chachamim, but bizayon habrios.

  4. Michael,

    I am not arguing. To me a Jew is as a Jew does, not as a Jew wears. I just know how to play dress up when I need to buy something… What can I say, I am a Kollel avereich who works for a living in his spare time. So when I need supplies, if wearing a hat and jacket gets me an automatic 10% off I will do it. Actually i am off to do it right now…

  5. sad but true. The hat thing doesn’t apply to me as a female, but I certainly make it my business to “dress Brooklyn” when I shop there. I just get better treatment in a wig than in a mitpachat. oh well.

  6. Sadly some people do want to marry a black hat or streimel or penguin outfit and not the guy wearing it. I wear the penguin outfit complete w/a black hat on Shabbat, but find it disturbing how conforming with a dress code = being frum in some shuls/communities.

  7. I found out about this whole business when my Shana Bet chevrusa in Israel made me, or should I say, “convinced me” to switch from a black suede to black velvet because suede simply didn’t go with the whole black hat thing. He bought me a 4-sided velvet, just like his – but I HATED the dome-y-ness of it. One of the reasons I liked the suide so much is that it was flat, visible and gripped my head well. So off I went to Mea Shearim and found (I think) a 6-sided velvet that was much more to my standards of dimensions and poofyness. Since then, I’ve been very hard pressed to find a similar kind of kipa in the states. I only bought one velvet here which I THOUGHT was similar, but ended up being a dud. Since then, I’ve only worn kipot purchased at (what I assume) is the same store in Mea Shearim. I have not been back in Israel since January 2007, so usually end up sending an older, fading to brown kipa with a friend who searches for the store and buys me another 3 or 4 to hold me until the next time I need new ones.

    Two other male garb things: apparently wearing kippa clips is also a big no-no amongst the more yeshivish types (something about lacking emunah that it’ll stay on). All I can say is that I quietly laugh to myself when clip-less guys are scrambling to grab their wind-blown kipa from skittering across the ground, while mine is firmly attached to me head. Back in my suede days, I even wore it clipped down Space Mountain with no issues. The other is the whole rim/no rim on the velvet kippot, which is also a “thing” it seems. I’m not quite sure what means what, though. I tend to think rims are more for younger boys who eventually grow out of them, but I could be wrong.

    There is a similar concept in black hats – some have edges on the brim and some don’t (which looks a little funky to me). Not to mention the styles of bands on the hats, big bow, little bow, one button, two buttons – and the guys who flash the Borcelino logo (in gold or silver, along with a little gold/silver triangle) that makes the whole thing seem like displaying the Nike logo on your athletic shoes. THAT is pretty tacky, and a sign of guys who flipped out and bought their (usually) first hats in Israel. At places like Fersters in Mea Shearim, you’ve got to specifically ASK them to switch out the band to one without those little advertisements.

  8. My father wears a suede bobby-pinned kapul during the week, my brother a rather battered velvet, my other brother recently switched to the domey-look of mystery fabric, my brother-in-law wears black knit. I would say they all live the same lifestyle.

    They didn’t always abide by their current looks, but dabbled around until they found the look for them. When I say “look for them,” I mean whatever clings to their specific hair type.

    As for Boro Park – once, my people hailed from there. I go there often. Sure, sometimes you get snap-judged (we’re not the only ones who can do it, y’know) but I don’t recall anyone discriminating against my money. My father has been accused of being an apostate (and he proved himself in perfect heimishe Yiddish), but the money? Oh, the money was welcomed with absolute tolerance.

  9. The “objectification of the male” you describe is a wholly different concept from that of “objectification of the female.” In the traditional usage (female) “objectification” refers to the “object” of the female body; i.e. for the objectifier, the physical object is all that matters. What you describe about frum guys is objectification of social and theological concepts.

    As much as we hate it, it’s not as bad as objectification of females. In the latter it’s a degradation of humanity whereas in the former it’s just an efficient way of describing someone’s theological opinions and social identification.

  10. I’ve been meaning to address this issue of what jewish girls in the orthodox communities seem to be trained when looking for a spouse. Very often I notice that many girls Want the yeshivish type of guy but their personality seems to indicate they Need something slightly less. There is also a trend of singles who look for more yeshivish types of boys only to lower their original standards as they get older. Many girls get confused by what they are “told to look for and what is good for them” and what they “should be looking for and what they need”, every girl is different and has different needs…

    Furthermore, something I am going to write about in the near future is an article on my experience with two divorcee’s who were very open and honest about their personal situations. When asking if it was ok to think of some names for them and to let me know what they are looking for, both girls (who were married for several years and had 3-4 children with their husbands) said the following to me: “We don’t care for black hat, look where it’s gotten us. We just want a good guy who is normal and has good yiddishkite. ”

    It took these women several years, a few kids and cheating/abusive husbands to finally realize it’s not what’s on his head, but what’s in his head that matters. Unfortunately these types of stories are becoming more and more popular.

    I’ll be writing a full article on my conversations with these two women in the coming week hopefully.

  11. Bad4, I love your blog, but maybe this could have waited until after sfirah, a time when we are supposed to work on bein adam l’chavero, to post a blog which is going to cause strife between jews and cause people to gripe and be disgusted by the pathetic “system”?

  12. One of my cousins supposedly only stipulated that his daughter marry a man with a beard (Chassidic). Learning, observance, interests, middos, all that was not mentioned at all — just the beard. Now for a very different A friend of my daughter’s (just 12) declared that she would marry a man who would allow her to wait 3 hours between meat and milk, oh, and he she work and not expect her or her parents to support them. But her first concern was the 3 hours. I find that utterly absurd. I grew up waiting 3 hours but never stipulated anything about it. In fact, I do now wait the more common 6, and I manage even when I would like to have a cup of coffee with milk (can’t abide artificial creamer). I didn’t take the measure of my husband in terms of either earnings, headwear, or custom.

  13. My only stipulation is that he eat gebrokst. But I kinda assume it’s kosher gebrokst, and that he observes Pesach properly, as well. 😉

    Tehila – don’t forget: he’ll beat me every night… but only when he’s sober. Hey, at least that gives you a picture of the guy. Although telling me monopolized the conversation with technical castles in the air is also descriptive, and approximately as appealing.

    tzafnas – true. I imagine artsy people have to put up with the same thing. “Oh he’s sooo artistic. You should see his Jackson Pollack imitations! They look just like something my eye doctor has in his waiting room.”

  14. Hey Bad4, Have you ever spent Pesach with a family that doesn’t eat gebrochts (at least until the eighth day)? My sons-in-law, all of whom came from gebrochts eating families, were almost panicking at contemplating a Pesach without matza brei, matza balls, pesach bagels and rolls. After being around our house with all its non-gebrochts culinary delights and amazing cakes, cookies and desserts, they were shocked that not only could they manage, they absolutely thrived. Now when it comes to just waiting 3 hours after meat, well that’s another story! Keep on trucking, with each guy you meet, you are one closer to meeting ‘the one’ kein yehi ratzon!

  15. Sorry, but no matzah brei? No jelly or butter on my matzah? No matzahballs? No matzah blintzes? No stuffed zucchini? I’m sure your food is good – we eat good stuff made of potato starch too – but that doesn’t mean I want to give up this stuff. And eating gebrokst on the last day is just stupid. You survived seven days – why are you going to keep a pot just for a single day of the year?

  16. I don’t know any reason a person cannot eat butter or jelly on their matzah, I eat matzah and butter every pesach. and the reason ppl eat gebrochts on the last day is just to say, we know the stuff is not chometz and could have always eaten it, we am just respecting the minhagim and hanhagos of our forebearers. I am not really sure why but we never used a special pot that was dedicated to gebrochts. when we make those matzah balls for the last day, it just goes in any ordinary pesachdik pot. Actually, there are some ppl out there that will only eat gebrochts on the eight day of Pesach if the following year is a leap year, so the pot has at least a year to get “ungebrochted (?)We are not so makpid. But if you must know, my food is not just good. you can ask anyone. I guess when you are dealt your hand, you have to make the best of it and if your ingredients are limited, you just have to be more creative. we are foodies here, after all!

  17. PS: ishchayill – technically, neither can you objectify an object. It was a sort of parody, a 50% serious tackling of a social issue.

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