Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Where her body ends and the space around her begins

It's so much easier to know what Hashem wants for a man: not to be a woman. Unlike the blessing women say, in small print, the men's blessing appears in the regular, large typeface of the prayerbook. Blessed are You, Hashem, men say every day, Who did not make me a woman.

Raizl is having a hard time of things: she's18 years old and refusing dates set by the matchmaker, so her mother sends her to therapy, where we learn about her porn addiction. For a Hasidic Jewish family, she's already been granted a lot of liberties — allowed to work to pay for her dowry, allowed to pursue accounting at college after earning a scholarship, allowed to use a laptop for her studies, but she has a niggling, she yearns for something more, something porn has opened her eyes (legs, mouth, mind) to but cannot satisfy.

She is somewhat resentful of men, but eventually realizes that although men live more public lives, they are not more free. Men are also bound by ritual and obligation, by family and expectation, by god.

Shmutz, by Felicia Berliner, is funny. And sad. And more than meets the eye. And there's a lot of Yiddish in it, glossary included (but as with A Clockwork Orange, I didn't realize it until it was over).

It is harder for Raizl to wear jeans than to eat bacon. She finds her place among the outsiders at school, the goths who appreciate her Hasidic sense of style. She learns to sound less Yiddish. But she never wants to be someone else. It's never a question of her walking away from her constrained life. Raizl struggles to accept her world as it is and her place in it, to reconcile her ways of thinking and of being to what her god wants of her.

While there's a match on the horizon, she finally learns compassion, and maybe something like love, above all for herself.

She enjoys herself in the mirror. In her new marriage-date clothes. There is no skin showing, no collarbone and no wrists, just her face and hands. What kind of porn would that be, a video of a fully dressed woman, a long-sleeved blouse with a cotton sweater over it, not even a tight sweater, and a skirt down to her boots, not even high-heeled? The modesty-porn video. She is walking, her skirt moves, her shoulders understand where her body ends and the space around her begins. All the porn is in her face.

See also
You can judge 'Shmutz' by its cover
The under-celebrated erotic power of… hamantaschen (Felicia Berliner)
Yes, there’s a reason hamantaschen look like vaginas

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