Then I ran into the end, where the author questions whether these writers/advocates can be feminists (in the sense of believing in the equality of the sexes, it appears) and implies that she can't help but think these women have been brainwashed to think they're actually more spiritually connected and fulfilled through the laws of tznius. "Perhaps, then, it’s not modesty I take issue with – it’s that so many women dress modestly because they feel they have to, as required by their (our!) religion."
The first commenter doesn't even pretend to be PC:
You're 100% right that any kind of explanation about spirituality that justifies rules imposed from without (read, men) is disingenuous. Coercion negates any possible genuine spiritual value. Because it's about women trying to find some kind of meaning within a system that is by definition oppressive. And impositions like this, even if somewhere deep down they may have once had value, are completely antithetical to spirituality.I'll admit it. I'm not a classical feminist. (I think classical feminism either/both 1. says women are better than men, rather than seeking equality and/or 2. says that women can only be successful if they succeed at the things men are "successful" at.) However, I totally believe in the equality of the sexes and that each sex/gender has its strengths and weaknesses. I also believe this is the Torah perspective, and I have yet to meet a Jewish woman (including every orthodox woman I've met!) who isn't a "tough old bird." I have met more positive female role models in the Jewish world than in the entire greater society.
I'll even admit that I have these writers' concerns when it comes to the frum-from-birth community, at least to a degree. There is a well-publicized concern about domestic violence and get-withholding within the frum community, particularly the more insular the community. I worry that there are women in communities I don't know who do keep the laws of tznius just because that's "what's done" or simply because their husbands enjoy and/or require it.
HOWEVER, that does not mean there is not intrinsic value in the laws of tznius. Because they may be abused or "imposed" in some segments of Jewish society does not remove their intrinsic value. I have chosen these standards. On my own. No husband, no shidduch crisis, no rabbi forced these rules upon me. I think that G-d himself has provided me these rules for my benefit and growth. And let's not forget that men also have dressing requirements for tznius (that are actually quite similar to women's requirements), but those requirements just happen to fit more snugly with secular society's view of what is appropriate for men's attire. Women's requirements are an issue because they buck secular society. In fact, they're practically revolutionary! But that's just my opinion. I've always been a "modest" dresser by secular standards precisely because I felt there was something wrong with the sexed-up attitudes of secular society, as well as having the typical self-esteem issues caused by that secular standard.
So, thank you, particularly Commenter #1, for making me feel patronized because I clearly have no idea what I've chosen, what it means, or who has influenced me to make that decision.
If you're interested in reading about my change in clothing, read Changing from Jeans-and-T-shirts to Skirts-and-Sleeves. As I say below in the comments, I am treated a) more respectfully, b) more seriously, and c) in a more friendly (non-sexual) way.
Further, this commenter's comments go to my larger problems with classical feminism:
A) Men are not the ones imposing any fashion/physical standard on women. Women impose these standards on women. It is the criticism and ostracization of other women that is the societal peer pressure. Marketing creates these visions of "the Size 0," but it's other women's judgment (or perceived judgment) that pushes women to try to be that size 0.
B) Even if it is "the man" who is imposing physical/fashion standards on women, that's not the fault of men today. It is a cycle that is reinforced by each new generation doing exactly what the generation before did. And as my theory above suggests, I think it's women who've taken up the oppressor's mantle anyway. Or even worse, perhaps the cycle is self-sustaining at this point. In some ways, these arguments about "men!" remind me of the snide comments/"jokes" made about young Germans, those who had nothing to do with the atrocious actions of their grandparents or great-grandparents in Nazi Germany. Or, being an American Southerner, getting comments that all white southerners should continue to feel guilty that our great, great-grandparents may have owned slaves. (And for the record, I did the research, and mine did not. They actually spied for the North during the Civil War. -- If you think this is a ridiculous argument/analogy to make, I've more than once had someone try to shut me up in an argument with the phrase, "Well, your family owned slaves!" Apparently that is the argument to end all arguments in the South.)
All this blame is misplaced. And further, what does it accomplish? You've just demeaned and demonized half our society. I can't blame them for not wanting to cooperate (and who says they aren't??) with a partner who refuses to do anything but play the blame game.