Before the age of the spontaneously produced selfie (really, before anyone dreamed such technology was possible), we would buy film for our cameras. We had to wait until the roll was finished and then we went to the local pharmacy to have our photos developed. There was always excitement and anticipation which was quickly satisfied when that precious envelope was handed over, its contents reminding us of outings, celebrations, shenanigans and family gatherings. For an extra 99 cents we could get doubles printed. We skimmed through those pictures, careful not to get finger prints on them, gifting the second copy to family and friends. I’m dating myself, but it’s true. Every image, even the ones when we blinked or that were overexposed, was cherished and placed into an album. I still love leafing through the pages today. It’s a piece of my living history.
My love for photographs — the older the better — is just one of the reasons that this growing trend of erasing, blurring, omitting and replacing women in pictures in advertisements and publications is so incredibly offensive.
And, when it’s done so in the name of a warped and weaponized interpretation of religion, it becomes damaging to ourselves, our families and our communities. This draconian effort is best described as a power move and an attempt for men to exercise control over women.
Women – and men – are taking notice and are sharing their anger over the erasure of women and girls from paid online and print advertisements. Individuals and organizations alike have taken to calling out companies and publishers for excluding women’s images. Take a quick look at social media feeds and you’ll find hashtags that include #womenhavefaces #frumwomenhavefaces and #Iwontdisappear.
The practice erasing girls and women from the public sphere will continue until enough pressure is exerted to result in a reversal of the trend.
Public outrage is one useful tactic. Targeting the purse-strings is another. If companies looking to advertise refuse to capitulate to the demands of newspapers and journals by declining to remove pictures of women from their ads, then those newspapers and circulars will be the ones to lose out. Similarly, newspapers and journals can refuse to accept ads that intentionally exclude girls and women. Finally, if thoughtful rabbis weighed in and denounced the practice of erasing half of our population, perhaps the tides would turn.
It’s no secret that I was raised in a fairly religiously right-wing home. When I was nine years old, my family discovered Orthodoxy and and started to follow the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, o”bm (the Rebbe). Over the years I spent many Shabbats in Crown Heights. It was fairly common for me to attend the Rebbe’s afternoon farbregens (sermons or lectures) at 770 Eastern Parkway. I participated in N’shei Chabad conventions where he addressed all-women audiences and at overnight camp we gathered to listen to his voice piped in over the loudspeaker in the lunchroom where he dedicated his remarks to and in honor of children. But my most memorable experiences involved waiting patiently on Sunday mornings to receive a blessing and a dollar from the Rebbe, as was famously the custom when he was alive. To be sure, this isn’t a referendum on the Rebbe, his teachings or his followers.
It is only to say that I never felt diminished as a person — at any age – due to my gender. On the contrary, any time I had an additional request for the Rebbe, he took the time to respond.
On those Sundays every visitor could request to have their interaction with the Rebbe captured on film. It took me years to finally signal that I wanted my photo taken, and it’s the only one I have. That next day Rabbi Schneerson suffered a devastating stroke. I believe that was the last day he greeted visitors at 770 while disseminating blessings and dollars. As I think back, I have no idea where my dollars were left – probably still in a dresser drawer in my childhood room.
But I do know that to this day, that photo sits in a simple plastic frame near my Shabbat candles. It’s a memento of a distant part of my life. And one that won’t soon be erased.
Daphne Lazar Price is the Executive Director of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.
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