The modesty "warnings" included billboards excluding women and signs on public building reading: “Dire Warning: It is forbidden to walk on our streets in immodest dress, including slutty clothing worn in a religious style.” It was signed “residents of the neighborhood.”
The women allege that the signs promote a threatening and violent atmosphere towards women and has actually lead to violence towards women. Thankfully, the court saw reason. You can read more about the story here: Women Activists Celebrate Legal Victory Against "Modesty Signs" in Beit Shemesh.
But that brings up something I still struggle with: the difference between the words tznius and tznua. In our sometimes-crazy society, we put an inordinate amount of attention on the physical trappings of modesty, but only for women, of course. That means you see and hear the word tznius everywhere. It's one of the first "Jewish" words I learned, in fact. But I constantly misuse it, grammatically. And probably so do you.
What's not tznius today: Makeup? Skirts with spandex in the fabric? Any sign of butt curve in that skirt? Lipstick? Long sheitels? Luxurious wigs? Wearing a scarf instead of a wig?
So if we're going to talk about tznius all the time, we should learn how to use the word correctly. I am the #1 offender here. In fact, it's not correctly used in the last paragraph! So maybe I'll learn better after writing this out.
Helpful rewriting of sentences we women hear way too often:
[Adjective] That dress isn't tznua, I can't believe she's wearing it!
[Noun] We need to promote tznius among our women; these sheitels are getting out of control!
[Adjective] I heard her kids got kicked out of school because she's not tznua.
[Adjective] Why are you complaining that the school makes you dress more tznua to pick up your kids? It's for the children!
[Adjective] It's a shonda that she dresses so untznua around the children. (Catch yourself: you'll want to say untznius here! Notice how involved the schools are in enforcing tznius standards? Not an accident. Attack her through her children.)
[Noun] I can't really judge the burka ladies because they're doing such teshuva in tznius. (Yes, I have heard this multiple times in conversation, even after the same person declared these women insane.)
[Adjective] I'm working on my middos, and I've decided to give up driving because you just can't be tznua with a seatbelt on. (Thankfully, still an outlier.)
While researching this post, I ran across a great blog post that sums up a lot of my frustrations, written by Rabbi Eli Fink, but posted on DovBear: Tznius: Is Following Halacha Sufficient? My research also shows that I shouldn't be faulted for my constant use of the word tznius for both tznius and tznua because everyone else seems to be doing it too.
Here are the highlights I love:
This is an expected response because we hear about it all the time. "People are following the "rules" of tznius by covering what needs to be covered." "But they are still not really tzanua because they "miss the boat" on tznius and are still "too attracting"." You know the drill…
Here's what I have been thinking about since reading that answer on JewishAnswers.org. Is this the only place in Orthodox Judaism that halacha is not enough? For some reason we also demand that the adherent to halacha find the "spirit" of the halacha and adhere to that as well.
...I'm not saying that an Orthodox Jewish person would not want to dress in a modest way, rather, that in this part of Judaism, for some reason, halacha doesn't seem to be "enough".
One more thing. If you read the sources in halacha about tznius, it is all about what MEN cannot do. Men cannot read krias shema if a woman in not covered properly. A man must give his wife her kesuba, UNLESS she was an "overes al das" (with witnesses and proper warning). It doesn't say a WOMAN MUST… in any of the sources I saw. I just found that interesting in contrast to today's rhetoric of "Women must do this… Women may not do that… etc..."
Like Rabbi Fink, don't misunderstand me: dressing tznius (dang it, tznua!) has made a great change in my life, and has been a big part of my everyday life for several years now. (Even though many chareidim would say my clothing is not tznius. Dang it again! Tznua.) But I don't need other people policing my clothes, and I find it incredibly offensive that segments of our society focus on women's clothing (and gossip - those chatty women just can't help themselves!) to the exclusion of almost every other mitzvah obligation or good middah (praiseworthy character trait). Tzniut is far more than clothing, and many in our community seem to have forgotten this, to their detriment and ours. See also: Can Yirat Shemayim Make You Neurotic?