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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cherry-picking on Online Dating, and On Pornography

I am told a profile posted on "Frumster" (the major Orthodox dating site) (or any other dating site, Jewish or not) without a decent picture gets very few views.
--- "MiMedinat HaYam" commenting here

I have heard this as well - heck, Frumster themselves will tell you it - but I still don't comprehend it.

Whenever I've ever used online dating, I've systematically gone through every profile that met my search parameters. The reason is obvious: any one of the women who meet my parameters could potentially be the perfect woman for me! So what difference does it make what she looks like? How will skipping unattractive pictures or profiles without pictures at all help me find the woman who's right for me? Statistically, any one of the women - attractive or not - could be "the one".

So what's the logic in cherry-picking profiles to look at, rather than - as I do - systematically looking at every profile that meets the search parameters?

Am I missing something? It isn't cherry-picking for the sake of attractiveness that stymies me - it's cherry-picking period that I don't understand. Why would anyone cherry-pick from the profiles based on any criterion?

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In The Goyls Next Door, Jessica Pauline writes, inter alia,
Looking into our history and culture, it doesn't take much digging to speculate about the root of our [viz. Judaism's] unease with exhibitionism, or nudity for any reason besides procreation or showering. In the strictest branch of our religion [Judaism], a woman's sexuality is literally hidden from everyone but her husband. It hearkens back to the notion that men will be too tempted to control themselves when confronted with female sexuality (ahem, Adam), and so it's the woman's job to cover up -- which frankly doesn't give much credit to women or men.

Additionally, typical antiporn arguments...rely heavily on the notion of respect, or lack thereof, for women. Porn results in men respecting women less, society as a whole repsecting women less, and women respecting themselves less...in short, the complete undoing of everything feminism has accomplished to date.

But I would argue exactly the opposite. What is disrespectful is assuming that women who pose for porn magazines don't know what's best for themselves. What is disrespectful is analyzing porn only from the point of view of the consumer, thereby taking away the voice of the subjects, and all the while arguing that porn takes women's voices away. And what is disrespectful is relying solely on stereotypes to understand the decisions a woman makes.

...

I’m disheartened, friends. I’ve always liked to think of Judaism as slightly more open-minded, but apparently we’re just another organized religion frantically waving our moral compass over the heads of our congregations (particularly, of course, our young women), and while we like to couch our panic in intellectual discourse, it seems we’re really no better than all the rest.
I personally fail to see how porn isn't demeaning to women. Essentially, the idea of porn is: women are nothing but sexual objects, so let's put them on display. Porn is a lot like the zoo, except in print rather than behind cages.

The whole point of tzeniut is to avoid representing oneself as an object, and/or to avoid seeing others as objects. (Rabbi Marc Angel's Losing the Rat Race, Winning at Life excellently makes this point, using Buber's I-Thou relationship as his springboard; we are to relate to others as "Thou"s, not as objects. For a more involved psycho-philosophical exposition of this thesis, see Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits's "A Jewish Sexual Ethics" in Crisis and Faith and in Essential Essays on Judaism (ed. Hazony). Berkovits's thesis is that Judaism aims at redeeming sexuality from animality, and instead investing it with humanity and personality. The climax of his essay is when he brings the famous Talmudic aggadah about the yeshiva student who visits a prostitute and gets slapped in the face by his tzitzit. Rabbi Berkovits notes that initially, the man and the woman are referred to as "the man", "the woman", in third-person. (For example, the man journeyed to "the prostitute", and the prostitute's secretary/bouncer called out to her, "the man who paid 200 zuz is here", etc.) It is only when his tzitzit slap him in the face and he and she descend from the bed and refrain from sex, do they begin to refer to each other as "you", as human personalities with biopsychic/psychosomatic reality, i.e. with body and soul. Cf. Tamar Biala in To Teach Tsni’ut with Tsni’ut: On Educating for Tsni`ut in National-Religious Schools:
Again, instead of confining the conversation to strategies for confronting the sexual impulse (regarded as threatening and uncontrollable), we sought to focus on strengthening the sense that one is capable of maintaining human relationships with another person to whom one is not married. In contrast to seeing the other primarily as a sexual object, we tried to emphasize the concepts of personality, soul, and self-control. ... Observance of sexual tsni`ut is part of the demand that one conduct oneself with tsni`ut in all aspects of one’s life in this world. As we have seen in the various sources, there exists in every one of us an impulse to see the man or woman standing before us as a sexual object; and there sometimes exists an impulse to present ourselves to the man or woman before us as entirely or primarily a sexual object. The sexual component of our selves is important and blessed, but we must take care not to place it alone at center stage in the connections we form with others. Connections of that sort constitute “objectification” (that is, they involve seeing the other or presenting ourselves exclusively as a sexual object) and disregard the full range of the personality of one created in the image of God. Sexual tsni`ut, accordingly, does not mean nullifying or even weakening the sexual impulse; rather, it means assigning it its balanced place within the full scope of our existence as human beings.
Rabbi Berkovits also makes the crucial point that a human can never be a healthy animal, for even to consciously desire to be a healthy animal is something an animal cannot do. A human has both body and soul, and there is nothing one can do about it. Thus, one can either be a healthy human who appreciates his or her full biopsychic/psychosomatic/body-soul reality and that of others as well, or one can be an unhealthy human who vainly attempts the impossible task of becoming a healthy animal.)

In short: pornography exhibits women as being nothing but bodies, and reduces them to the level of animals. Like I said, the only other thing we put on display is animals in the zoo.

Another point: even those men who themselves look at porn, they would never suffer their daughters to be published in porn. Adam Carolla, on The Man Show put it well: every man fantasizes about having a loose scantily-clad girlfriend, but no man would ever actually want such a girlfriend in real life. Why? (The following is me, not Carolla.) Because he wants someone reliable and trustworthy. Every time a woman dresses scantily, she is selling herself short, because she (whether intentionally or not) is telling the other men that she is personality-less meat on display. Every man, when seeking out a real intimate relationship, will forgo the scantily-clad women, and will go for the woman he perceives as being wholesome and reliable and possessing of real personality and humanity, viz. the woman dressed modestly. Behind every woman who dresses immodestly is the lack of a father who taught her what men really think (see Dave Chappelle's What Men Want).

Therefore, even the men who look at porn, would be aghast and heartbroken if their own daughters were to be published in pornographic venues. (That is, assuming they actually respect women. In Hitch, a sexist pervert comes to Will Smith (who plays a "date doctor") to help him have sex with a certain woman. Will Smith replies that he only works with men who "actually like women", and the pervert replies, "Let me make one thing clear to you, rabbi...".)

Don't get me wrong; I'm not advocating that we seal up women in their homes as sexual objects. Just the opposite! In fact, the Haredim themselves are the most egregious violators of the ideals of tzeniut! For the object of tzeniut is that women present themselves as full humans, and that men appreciate the women as being more than just bodies. But Haredi tzniut hypersexualizes men and women, making women out to be nothing but sexual objects, and making men out to be nothing but seekers of sex. I prefer what (Orthodox) Rabbi Avraham Shamma says in Kol b’Isha with a Current Perspective:
If a person asks what the meaning is for us in our times of the ruling to "distance oneself from women very, very much", as the Shulhan Arukh rules, I would answer and say that if I were asked to express this [ruling] in a form that is relevant to our times, I would say thus: 'Women and men should behave in a manner that reflects great respect for one another; they should not consider one another in a crude manner such as sexual objects; they should not dress provocatively, nor should their body language be provocative; they should not digress to intimate conversations and they should not exaggerate their physical closeness when having a discussion, or the like; the wise person has his eyes in his head and not find loopholes in the Tora, but should know that no two situations are exactly alike and therefore should use good judgment with integrity and honesty, because the essence of these laws is not to observe them literally and formally, but rather their purpose is to improve society.' It was my intent at the outset to phrase my words in egalitarian language, addressing men and woman equally, [language that does] not objectify women or men: women are not defined as [objects of] lewdness nor are men [defined] as male animalistic or chemical creatures that are pheromonally attracted, without control, to females. Rather, the definition [of men and women that I suggest] recognizes their self-control and demands of them behavioral standards. Even more, this formulation does not attempt to 'defend the purity of men' at the cost of hiding the women and covering them.

Cf. Tamar Biala in To Teach Tsni’ut with Tsni’ut: On Educating for Tsni`ut in National-Religious Schools:
The conduct of “normal” activity in which men and women share the same physical spaces requires a degree of tsni`ut, and we tried to clarify that the tsni`ut is the responsibility of the one who is “looking” and not of his or her object. In doing so, we made use of halakhot and talmudic stories and of the responsum by R. Ben-Zion Me’ir Hai Uziel, dealing with the participation of women in elections for public office (Resp. Mishpetei uzzi’el, vol. 4, Hoshen mishpat sec. 6). ... Sexual tsni`ut is equally binding on men and women. Every person must take responsibility for his or her sexuality and not take advantage of or deprecate the sexuality of another person. Women must take care to avoid exploiting the sexuality of men, and men must take care to avoid exploiting the sexuality of women. In contrast to the concept that requires the other to limit himself or herself in order to avoid causing me difficulty or complicating my struggle with my impulse, tsni`ut is an action I take toward myself, an act of self-restraint, sensitivity, and concern taken as a result of maturity and health.

16 comments:

FrumCurious said...

I think personally that pornography objectifies both men AND women, considering they're just making the whole act of sex into a video meat-market.

Good post!

Naamah said...

Ok, I'm repeatedly confused by your assertion that it doesn't matter what a girl you may potentially date looks like. I need to be attracted to the person I'm dating /marrying. If they are totally physically unappealing to you, that's going to be a big problem. Maybe you're referring to men who use very specific standards and only click on the profiles of the women that have the most attractive pictures, forgoing those that are not models, but not bad either. If that's the case, then it's problematic. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt because I am whatever the opposite of photogenic is generally. But I don't click on every single profile, sometimes using attractiveness as a filter, because there are just too many of them and I have to narrow it somehow.

Mikewind Dale said...

FrumCurious,

What you say ties well into what I said about the Haredim hypersexualizing everyone. (Tamar Biala makes this same point.) The reason I didn't emphasize this point is that the author of the Jewcy piece to which I was responding was arguing that pornography empowers women. Therefore, arguing that pornography hurts men wouldn't really have helped my case; she'd have responded "Tough on them!". So I instead had to argue that pornography sells women short as well. Who'd have thought such an argument would have to made??!! It seems like the most obvious point in the world, but I guess someone has to say it.

I was glancing at a book by Gila Manolson earlier tonight, The Magic Touch I think. Her book seemed pretty solid, as far as I could tell. I read the chapter on how men seek mostly physicality in a relationship, and so they have no problem jumping in and out of sequential relationships, but that women get more emotionally evolved, and will ignore the danger signs that the relationship is superficial. Moreover, Manolson said, women - even seasoned ones like herself - have difficulty remembering that men are so different than women in this regard. She cited the Gemara as summarizing the nature of a male well: "Go to the prostitutes' market and see who is hiring whom." In other words, she said, men are hiring women to do something superficial and materialistic that the women wouldn't do on their own without something deeper and more fulfilling being involved.

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Naamah,

Maybe I'm just weird, or maybe I'm just so hypersexual that I've transcended physicality. (Among my peers in high school, I was known as the particularly sexual one, believe it or not! I'm not lying, and my best friend told me more times than I can count that I was the most sexually-minded person he knew!)

I'm not saying I don't have to be attracted to her, but to be attracted is not a very tall demand. First, the fact that she has female genitalia already puts her in the 50th percentile of attractiveness, and I'm not being facetious. Besides that, unless she's downright hideous, and I mean grotesquely so, almost (but not quite) so bad that you have to look away to save yourself, then she's passable. In (almost?) all cases (probably indeed all), her personality can redeem her physical defects, and I'm not the only one who thinks this; it is well-known (at least among men) that a woman's personality can affect her physical (repeat: physical) attractiveness. This is so well-known that Dennis Prager decided it had to be empirically tested, and he found this bit of folk wisdom to be absolutely true (see here).

So I'm not talking about guys who pass all but the most attractive pictures. I'm arguing more: I'm arguing that men who pass up any profile due to physical attractiveness or lack of picture are to be criticized. To use attractiveness at all confounds me. If these men were looking for a one-night stand or something, then fine, I get it; you may as well get the most attractive person you can. But if you're looking for marriage, then I assume you're looking for something deeper, like emotional and intellectual connection. If so, then physical appeal is necessary, but only barely so, and the emotional and intellectual connections will easily and nigh inevitably make up for any lack of physical appeal.

Here's an example to illustrate: imagine you're looking for a one-night stand; will you choose a quadriplegic or severe burn victim? Of course not! But if you're looking for a long-term relationship, will it matter to you that the person cannot walk or looks like a featureless manequin? Again, of course not! All the more if this tragedy occurs to the person during the marriage; I cannot imagine anyone ending a real and authentic marital relationship simply because the person became physical disabled or disfigured.

Naamah said...

Wow, I hope your future wife never reads this. Of course we women want partners who like us for our personality, intellect, or other characteristics...but no one wants to be that chick whose looks you tolerate. You know, I was disappointed when it turned out some men I dated turned out not to be interested in having a significant relationship - at least I was somewhat flattered that they thought I was physically attractive. Now, thanks to you, I have to question even that, since apparently just being anatomically female is good enough.

Mikewind Dale said...

Naamah,

You've got to be kidding me!!!!! Men are accused of being too superficial, and now I'm accused of being not superficial enough!

Okay, let me clarify: I'm not saying that attractiveness means nothing. Believe you me, if halakhah didn't forbid it, I'd be looking at porn as much as the next guy. (Whatever ethical reasons I have against it, as enumerated in this blog post, wouldn't be sufficient to overcome the physical urge.) And believe you me, every time an attractive woman walks by me, it does take approximately 50% of my cognitive faculties to avoid oggling her.

I'm saying that despite all of the above, her attractiveness is not a deal-breaker. It may be icing on the cake, and even the most tasty icing that was ever created, even icing with addictiveness of LSD and PCP and every other drug combined, but all the same, it's still icing. In the end of the day, the man wants cake.

Naamah said...

Men are generally superficial in my experience, which is why your comments were highly confusing. I do like the cake metaphor. I think most men eventually do want cake...but eventually is the operative word. In my experience many men (and women too, according to some books I've been reading) spend a significant period of time just dating for fun, not looking for anything serious. So in the cake metaphor, maybe they're tasting the icing, but they don't want to commit to eating the cake. Because then they would be full and there would be no more room for other cakes?

It was quite disheartening to realize this is what is going on, since on most dates I have been on, I always hoped that perhaps this was the right one. I'm baffled by the secular attitude that you are just supposed to throw away your 20s with a bunch of partying and who knows what else. Maybe that's why I feel the religious world is a better fit for me in some ways, although I know that has its share of people who are not ready to commit.

Mikewind Dale said...

Hmm...I might say that like little children, the men just want a sweet rush, but eventually, they grow up and realize it's more important to just have some plain food in your stomach so that you don't die.

Yes, a food's flavor is fantastic. But in the end of the day, if you're starving and you have a mutually exclusive choice between flavor and nutritiousness, even the most fanatical gourmand will choose tasteless nutrition over tasty nothing.

Mikewind Dale said...

Really, your twenties are considered to be meant for partying? I always thought the twenties were the time for getting a college degree...at least, that's the impression I got from my mother and high school authorities. (And remember, all my friends were from computer science, AP, and IB, so they sure weren't going to tell me otherwise!)

As for dating, it's difficult for me to remember anymore what I used to think before I became religious, because I was only 16 at the time, so dating wasn't a prominent part of my activities. (Like it is now?) I do definitively recall that while being positively sure that I would marry Jewish, it never occurred to me that I ought to date only Jews exclusively - so obviously, I did had a definite disconnect in thought somewhere along the way. But while I am pretty sure, almost absolutely sure, that marriage figured no role at all in my thinking, nevertheless, I'm pretty sure (not quite absolutely) that I had some sort of general notion that the point of a romantic relationship was for something long-term and committed to evolve from it. I don't recall ever entertaining the notion of premarital sex, so I cannot imagine what I'd imagine the purpose of dating to be, other than attaining long-term relationship. Maybe my thoughts weren't quite so mature as to have decided on marriage as the purpose (and thus, the idea of dating only Jews hadn't occurred to me), but I think that I knew somehow - however vague and inchoate my realization may have been - that one way or another, dating was meant to lead to some sort of long-term relationship.

But enough about me...

If all one wants is sex, aren't there easier ways of attaining it? I know someone that every time he wanted (wants?) sex, he just found (finds?) a one-night stand. Yes, in his romantic relationships, he does have sex in them too, at least as far as I know, but that's not the purpose of his romantic relationships, because, as I said, he already knows how to get sex without a relationship. So when he has a relationship, the sex may be icing for him, but he's really in for the relationship itself. So no matter how you cut it, I cannot comprehend the notion of dating for sex. If nothing else, skip the dating and go straight for the sex, and cut out the middleman!

Mikewind Dale said...

I vividly recall an occurrence at summer camp many years ago. I would estimate that I was about 14 or so, and the following occurred at the camp dance - the camp was boys-only, but it had a sister camp, and periodically, the two met together for a dance. Now then, personally, I found it more enjoyable to have an intellectual conversation with one of the twenty-something year-old counselors than with dance with anyone my own age. So anyway, while I don't remember anymore what we talked about, I do distinctly recall being struck, at the beginning of the conversation, by the fact that she wasn't particularly attractive. But I just as distinctly recall that at the end of the conversation, I suddenly realized that as long as I had been talking to her, I hadn't noticed her physical appearance. And by the end of the conversation, now that I had been talking to her for an hour or two, she was much more attractive than she had been at the beginning of the conversation.

By contrast, when I was 16, the last year I spent at that camp, I - for the first time - actually met a girl my own age, and danced with her, etc. I also saw her a few more times over the course of camp, during various meets the two camps had together. But very quickly, it became apparent to me that we had very little intellectually in common, and most (probably all) of my attraction to her was physical. (Don't get me wrong; she was in fact a very nice person.) When I first met her, I was downright giddy from the fact that I was engaged in my first ever romantic relationship, but after two or three times of seeing her, I became *extremely* bored and tired of spending time with her. Really, spending time with her became an intolerable burden.

So in my own personal experience, when personality and physicality confront each other, the former wins hands-down, no contest.

Skeptic said...

"First, the fact that she has female genitalia already puts her in the 50th percentile of attractiveness, and I'm not being facetious."

I sure hope you are being facetious; otherwise half of the "women" on your scale of attractiveness aren't really women at all.

Mikewind Dale said...

No, I'm not being facetious. In terms of ranking human attractiveness, having female genitalia already puts her in the top 50%.

What I meant, of course, is that her simply being female is already almost enough in itself.

Similarly, I'll note that any Jewish woman is already in the 99.875% percentile of humans for purposes of marriage. (99.75% of the world is gentile, and so Jewish women are only about 0.125% of the world.) So statistically speaking, any random Jewish woman already has pretty good chances to be my bashert. :P

Anonymous said...

Hey Michael. Seriously, where do you find these people? Is that person you quoted a teenager? Sure sounds like it.

Her statement should not be given the light of day on any respectable site, despite how easy it may be to dismantle it publically, revealing it as the drivel that it is. That ludicrous posting is not worth a refutation because it's too much a of a joke to even require one. I personally believe you have a great mind and you shouldn't spend energy on shtuyot like that written by "Jessica pauline" here.

Write more about Rav Kook and Rav Hirsh, and Rambam...

(And please throw in a little Rav Qafeh and acknowledge what he has to say about the inaccurate readings of Rambam's laws of ishut. Ok that's a personal vandetta of mine which you never answered, but I mean the rest of what I said seriously. Your mind is too precious to be spent on shtus when you can tell us about Rav Kook and Judeo-Sephardiism etc...)

Mikewind Dale said...

Anonymous,

First, thank you for the many compliments!

The fact is, Jessica Pauline got many positive responses where she wrote her piece, so it seems it needed to be refuted, no matter how ridiculous. Plus, it gave me a good pretext to pontificate on the Jewish view of tzniut.

As for ishut: once you brought what Rav Kafih said, I realized that I was way, way, way, way, way out of my league, and that until I learn more there, I ought to just shut up. I hope to learn more about the issue, but it'll have to wait until I thoroughly learn the general halakhot in question in general. I hope someday to learn the entire Mishnah and Arukh ha-Shulhan and Arukh ha-Shulhan he-Atid, and bz"h Rambam as well, so hopefully that day'll come, and by then - if not sooner - I'll be able to comment further on wife-beating.

Anonymous said...

In my view, there has been excessive emphasis on how pornography is demeaning to women.

It can be compellingly argued that pornography is actually, ultimately, more demeaning to men, and undermines marital satisfaction for both men and women.

Whereas a relative handful of women in this world actually involve themselves with "acting" in these movies, a significantly higher percentage of men succumb to the temptation to view this material, and inevitably denigrate themselves as a result--whether they view it as such or not (and I believe there are many who have a "love-hate" relationship with this material, much like a drug addict).

This of course has broader ramifications on a given man's relationship with the women in his life, particularly his wife (if he is married). He is likely to find her less attractive, less appealing, and his relationship with her will suffer as a result.

Also the women in pornography often make decent $$$ doing what they do: I don't feel any more sorry for them than I do for the local dope pusher--it's always demeaning to the person to engage in aveiros, that doesn't mean they should be an object of our sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Sure a woman can grow on you--it is possible to find a woman who is considered by many to be "average" quite attractive.

I found personally, however, that women tended to grow on me much more when I knew them in a "non-pressured" kind of a way: i.e. at work or school.

On a date, especially as an observant Jew, the stakes are higher, as this woman may very well be "the ONE." While this may not bother some people, speaking personally, it makes it much more difficult for me to ascertain whether or not a particular women is attractive "enough" for me.

Let me explain: some women I've known at work and at school I initially didn't notice anything about their appearances. But after spending variable lengths of time with them, I find out later on that I indeed find them attractive. This period of time can vary from several days to many months.

When faced with a girl on a date, you don't always have "many months" to figure out whether or not this is someone you can feel such attraction for. Perhaps she is not willing to wait so long? This in itself, for me, places a certain pressure on dating/shidduchim, that potentially undermines the whole process.

Of course a woman's character, personality, and life goals are what's most important. However if you marry a woman ONLY due to these factors, but all the while are preoccupied with feelings of disappointment, you are placing both yourself, your future spouse, and children in needless emotional peril.

If you are such a mensch (and this is of course the ideal) that you can easily do this--fine, but our generation has been reared with a Hollywood vision of love, improbable standards of beauty, etc., that are very difficult to completely extricate oneself from.

Putting a person down as "shallow" does not cure the problem, as he is still left with this dilemna. Furthermore, in my opinion most normal people would prefer to feel that they are falling in love with their future spouse. Certainly most women would prefer that their husbands found them very attractive.

Naturally this initial infatuation dissipates, but this is an instinct God put into place in order to harness the Yetzer Harah to a higher, more Godly purpose: marriage. It is not an instinct that should be denigrated.

Mikewind Dale said...

Anonymous,

Your remarks on pornography are well taken.

Anonymous,

What you say about shiddukhim is interesting.

Now, I wasn't criticizing people who need time for the person to "grow" on them. I was rather criticizing people who just totally skip the less attractive people. Someone who just totally rejects a given shiddukh because she's okay but not stellar in attractiveness - these are the people I'm criticizing.

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