This past week, Allison Josephs of Jew in the City published a piece of mine about my 12-year-old daughter and her synthesis of gymnastics and modesty. You’ll need to read the piece in order to follow this post, so go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Done? Great.

Now, the post seems to have been met with a lot of positivity. And of course, my goal in publicizing the story was to show people that Orthodox people – especially women – have plenty of opportunities available to them if they’re willing to use some diplomacy and creativity. Maybe I could encourage or inspire someone who’s struggling with the same stuff. So it was nice to see lots of positive feedback on Facebook and on the site, like “Nice job!” “An important piece!” Y’know, that type of thing.

But I’ve long been a believer in the idea that you don’t grow from your supporters, you grow from your critics. So it’s always important to know what your dissenters think, and why they think it. Business owners should, if they’re smart, read their negative reviews on Yelp or Amazon or TripAdvisor or whatever, so that they can respond and improve. Those in relationships should regularly ask their loved ones: “What can I do to be a better wife/husband/mom/child?” While it’s often not fun to hear the truth, it’s how we become our best selves.

Here are some of the dissenting views I saw:

Poor girl. How sad for her that she has to not participate in some of the activities because of your ridiculous made up rules. I hope she grows to reject them one day so her daughter can be free.

OK, so that’s really just mean. This person is not arguing fairly or even presenting anything of substance. Let’s move on.

There’s a time and place for everything, and I can’t see anything “immodest” about a 12-year-old girl dressed for gymnastics the way all the other girls are dressed for gymnastics (in an all-female group, yet!). We Orthodox Jews tend to fixate on details, and often the wrong details too. What, after all, is “modest” about a skirt? In such a situation, if you ask me, the real point of the “modesty” argument is to ensure that the girl or woman knows she’s out of place, that she is always aware she’s unable to do naturally or comfortably what men can do without a second thought. Useful for the patriarchy; a terrible lesson for any girl.

I don’t want to be understood as condemning any of the individuals in this story. It seems they all tried their best to do what they thought was right. It’s the nature of the “values” involved here that I think needs closer scrutiny. When Orthodox women begin to ask — vigorously, seriously, at every point — why Orthodox men get to decide what women can do, how they can do it, and how they ought to feel when they’re doing it (or not), I think we’ll be on the right track.

Now this is a thoughtful, well-articulated view that is kind enough to make me really want to consider its message. In my sillier years, I would’ve commented on the thread, but now I’m a big girl with my own blog so instead of emotionally arguing with strangers, I’ll respond here.

1. There’s a time and place for everything.

Yes, yes. I fully agree. One of the ways I determine what it’s the time and place for at a given moment is by halacha (Jewish law). The man who posted this is obviously Orthodox, so he either interprets halacha differently from how I do, or he sometimes decides for himself how or if halacha applies. This is entirely possible. Different people have different rabbis who counsel differently. Some don’t consult with rabbis much at all.

2. I can’t see anything immodest about a 12-year-old girl dressed like everyone else for gymnastics.

Actually, leggings are pretty revealing. I often venture out in public and see women in leggings in ways that make me really uncomfortable – having nothing to do with Judaism; simply with propriety. But again, the comment starts from a standpoint of “what I see,” “what I think,” as opposed to “what does Judaism have to say about this” and afterwards assessing its merits or possibility. This idea of looking to an external source for guidance first, instead of relying on our intellect first, is one of the biggest differences between liberal and traditional Jewish thought. I believe our practice has to be a legitimate synthesis of halacha and independent thought, with the guidance of those who know us well and respect halacha. Besides, what everyone else is doing… reminds me of the Brooklyn Bridge.

3. We Orthodox tend to fixate on details and often the wrong details too.

This I agree with. We tend to fixate on details, and often the wrong details too. We fixate on how others are dressed (wrong). We fixate on what we eat (mostly right). We fixate on what we say (mostly right). We fixate on fitting in in the community (mostly wrong).

4. What is modest about a skirt?

OK, really? I know there are skirts that are immodest, and pants that are modest. Yes, there are even some pants that are more modest than some skirts. But overall, you can’t argue that pants hug the body and particular the upper legs and tush while skirts do so less. And putting a skirt over leggings – I mean that’s just fairly obviously more modest.

5. She’s aware she can’t do what men can naturally do… useful for the patriarchy.

In families like mine, where halacha (the way we follow the laws) is the first guiding force in our lives, men are just as bound as women – if not more so. My sons can’t do gymnastics because of all the women who are wearing sleeveless clothing and such. My husband can’t go to the beach unless it’s deserted – I can. My men can’t go see a Broadway musical because of the female dancers and vocalists, but I can. The “patriarchy’ seems to be denying itself just as many indulgences as it is women. The point of it all is to enhance modesty and propriety. The topic is so loaded because of how out-of-control things have become, that it’s become almost impossible to have a non-emotional conversation about modesty within religion. It devolves into rape culture conversation before you can blink.

The point of the modesty laws for men is to keep guys’ minds clean as much as possible and, for women, to help them retain their personal dignity and refinement. Each sex has its own rules and limitations in order to achieve these goals. If you would like to discuss this further in the comment section, please do so politely and logically.