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A question on The Workplace from a man uncomfortable with the dress of some of his new, female coworkers got a highly-voted answer saying that you get used to it and he should just wait it out. That might be true for people who are exposed to a lot of immodesty in general, but I don't think it works as well for those who've carefully avoided immodest situations, as is common practice for observant Jews. I think we're more challenged because we don't see this all the time. As a woman I haven't had related experience; immodestly-dressed men in the office aren't all that common in my experience.

We have a long tradition of men and women taking extra measures to avoid these kinds of situations, but that breaks down outside of our own communities. Most of us will come into contact with many people who do not meet our expectations of dress, so my question is: what are some practical things that men can do for themselves when forced, e.g. through work, to be in regular contact with women whose dress they find distracting? What are your halachically-compatible coping mechanisms, in other words, if you can't just avoid the situation? I'm not asking how you might discuss it with your coworker; I'm asking if there are things you can do on your own to make this easier?

  • highly related if not dupe? judaism.stackexchange.com/q/16734/759 – Double AA Nov 28 '14 at 4:16
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    I don't know if the discomfort that one feels from others' dress automatically reaches the level of sexual desire, though the questions are related. When I see other women dressed very scantily what I feel is more akin to embarrassment, for instance; it's unpleasant and distracting but I'm in no way attracted. As a woman I'm not in the best position to know what the range of reactions that men have is. – Monica Cellio Nov 28 '14 at 4:20
  • @DoubleAA see also: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/34449/4682 – Baby Seal Nov 28 '14 at 4:30
  • @MonicaCellio what sort of "reactions" are you referring to? – Daft Nov 28 '14 at 16:49
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    Get older. Works wonders. :-) – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Nov 29 '14 at 17:29

10 Answers 10

15

I always heard of people taking off their glasses. I had pretty good vision until recently, and just last week I was able to try that trick, and it actually (somewhat) worked! So for men who have impaired vision, that can be used to their advantage to some extent - blurry women are not as attractive. This isn't practical for all occupations. If you're a driving instructor, it's probably a bad idea.

That being said, I have only one thing which I had in my arsenal until the glasses thing came up, and that was a Gemara which my Rebbe pointed out to me when I was engaged.

Yevamos 63a:

א"ל דיינו שמגדלות בנינו ומצילות אותנו מן החטא

It's enough that [our wives] raise our children and save us from sin

Rashi:

מן החטא - הרהור עבירה

From sin - impure thoughts

My Rebbe explained the Gemara to mean not that a person fulfills his desires with his wife and therefore doesn't have fantasies, but that his relationship and excitement of his wife keeps him from thinking of "other options" even when he isn't with her.

Hopefully a man is attracted to his wife. He can/should have something with him to remind him of her, and his attraction to her, for whenever these situations come up.

Obviously this isn't a complete solution, but I think that there won't be any complete solution except to avoid the situation.

  • Is it a sin to be near / see a woman who is dressed immodestly? – Daft Nov 28 '14 at 16:51
  • What's your definition of sin? – bimargulies Nov 28 '14 at 18:23
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    It's disappointing that "I always heard of people taking off their glasses" is the highest voted answer. What about people who don't need glasses? What about people who wear contacts? What about those of us who need glasses so much that we'd die every time we tried to cross the road if we took them off whenever there was a beautiful woman nearby? – David Richerby Nov 28 '14 at 23:57
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    @DavidRicherby You'd have to *gasp* read the second paragraph of the answer! – Y     e     z Nov 30 '14 at 19:21
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    @YeZ But your second paragraph doesn't work if you're single. – sem Dec 3 '14 at 10:51
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So, we all have yetzer. As Jews, we believe that yetzer is part of our condition; reference the midrash about the disastrous effects of disabling it temporarily (Yoma 69b).

It's all of our job to recognize yetzer and deal with it. That, of course, includes avoiding some situations, channeling some urges, but, at the end of the day, taking responsibility for our own actions, and realizing that we choose. We are never 'at the mercy' of it.

There's no difference between a co-worker with shapely ankles and a valuable object sitting unattended. There's really no difference between a co-worker with shapely ankles and a co-worker with cleavage. Any of those, and a host of other things, are yetzer-fodder. It is each person's responsibility to do the right thing regardless of the constant parade of temptation in the world.

Most of us, most of the time, have no problem resisting the urge to pick up someone else's pen, let alone coat or camera. The behavior that results by following a sexual urge is likely to be at least as bad in any number of dimensions. So, the question almost turns itself on its head. No one thinks that they need to write a question here asking, 'Why am I having so much trouble avoiding the urge to steal my co-worker's wallet? How can I resist that urge?' What is it that makes people like that OP from Workplace think that this is any more complex than that?

If there's a 'trick' here, it's to recognize that the procreative urge is just another urge, and if you detach yourself and observe yourself (a bit of anti-devekut), you can say to yourself, 'oh, I see, yetzer is very busy with this one. OK, back to work.' It's interesting that this came from 'Workplace', since the workplace is an endless set of opportunities to learn to self-observe and thus get better self-control.

Some additional context: in traditional Jewish thought, and somewhat contrary to some of what I wrote above, sexual temptation is the sine qua non of temptation. (e.g. Kiddushin 81a.) To deal with it, traditional communities build some very extensive fences:

  • get married promptly
  • don't be alone with a woman you're not married to
  • don't even look (mehitza, etc)
  • in a few extreme communities, insist that the married women in your community shave their heads even under their wigs
  • (as per other answers) remove glasses strategically

All in all, build a closed community with a set of practices that help hold temptation at bay. This is all of limited utility to people who aren't part of those communities. My remarks above are addressed to people like me who want to apply the underlying categories of Jewish morality to life where you might have a co-worker who typically shows the nape of her neck (to reference another culture's area of emphasis) or a bit of some other bits.

9

Let's examine the converse of the question...

Suppose you have to deal with a person that is horribly disfigured from birth, disease or an accident. Do you treat them with any less personal respect because of your revulsion? Are they less of a person? Where does the problem lie?

I work in a hospital as a Medical Technologist, in the ER, and OB/GYN. There is not one part of a human that I have not seen either macro or microscopically, male or female.

I'll tell you how I deal with it...I talk to the person within, not the 'meatsack'. I speak to their essence, not their material manifestation.

Go, in peace, and sin no more...

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    How does that help when some 'meatsacks' are really attractive? – Chaimy Aug 3 '16 at 1:07
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    You talk to them, as a person, not as a sexual object. – Nelson Oct 18 '16 at 9:07
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I hightly focus on the work's subject when I'm discussing with her about work and I reduce my discussion to the strict minimum.
I'm discussing her opinion, not her body.

Also, don't take the opportunity to work with her when you can.

8

Concentrate on looking (only) at her face. There is a difficulty in doing this that helps, as well. You can probably notice that her eyes are too closely- or widely-set, or slightly different heights, or whatever flaw makes it less stimulating to look at her.

This might not work as well for you (my wife has an uncommonly pretty face), but it's worth trying.

If you can't take off your glasses (e.g., because you have to read) you can slide them down your nose and look over them. That's that I do when I'm in a shul with a lenient mechitza during the summer; it works great! And if doing that makes you look older, all the better.

4

As a wise man once said:

When I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes, I just turn my head until the darkness goes.

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    That's not how the song goes: "I see the girls walk by, dressed in their summer clothes / I have to turn my head until my darkness goes". Also in context, it's about grief, not fear of sex. – Alexei Averchenko Nov 30 '14 at 16:52
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    I did quote the song wrong, but you are right about the song's intention. Nonetheless, out of context, it fits the question. – Clint Eastwood Nov 30 '14 at 21:08
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i will try and be as honest as possible, in hopes that something may prove to be helpful for you.

It's a good idea to spend some time thinking about why are you looking in the first place? For example, i have discovered that whenever i am looking at women dressed provocatively, it usually doesn't have anything to do with thinking about sexual thoughts about them. Once they are out of my field of vision, life moves on, there is no real sexual images that pop in my head. i finally realized this when i was walking and looking kind of downward to read a piece of paper in my hand. Suddenly i noticed a pair of thin shaved legs covered by a tiny short skirt. i looked up to see who the legs belonged to and lo! It was a transexual male in female clothing. Then there was a gust of wind and my eyes had the impulse to dart down to see what was under the skirt, but thankfully i got ahold of myself and prevented that from happening.

So what i discovered was that for me, my urge is actually to see something hidden. I live in California, where women are mostly naked most of the time. i never pay attention to their arms, or their ankles, or their knees, etc. However, if i was in a country where women were completely covered from wrist to ankle, i would probably be tempted to see her arms because those arms are hidden. And so i now learned where my desire comes from, and have since discovered that it is linked to also wanting special private information about people/women. So i have to work very hard to keep myself distant from sins that revolve around things that are hidden.

In general, i have found that the more sexually involved i am with my wife, the less my eyes wander. Sexual text messages/emails from the spouse are very helpful in keeping me focused on her even when i'm at work. And if we are going somewhere (like the beach) i have found that having her dress in a spectacular way helps keep my eyes on her. Afterall, lust is only a sin if it's directed at someone or something that isn't permitted to you. Unfortunately, most Rabbis i've encountered treat sexuality with your wife as kind of like a necessary evil, which leaves many men ill equipped to handle their sexual passions. i've found it useful to work with my wife to channel my sexuality toward her. A similar thought was expressed by Rabbi Abraham Ben HaRambam

You already know what is reported of Abba Chilkiyah (Ta'anith 23b): When his wife went to greet him, she wore beautiful clothing and jewelry. He explained to those who questioned, that "This is so that I will not regard another woman."...

-Sefer haMaspiq l'Ovdei Hashem (The Guide to serving God) Ch 12 -Self Mastery

  • Perhaps you're simply attracted to transsexuals, not the hidden? – Chaim Aug 3 '16 at 1:59
  • @Chaim I've been around enough transsexuals to know that isn't something I'm attracted to. But good question :) – Aaron Aug 3 '16 at 2:27
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I look them in the eye if they're addressing me. Otherwise, I mind my own business. I don't really care what they're wearing/not wearing. In most cases, it's pretty petty to allow someone's choice of clothing to negatively affect my mind state.

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Men: how do you control your reactions to women in immodest dress if you can't avoid them?

Proverbs 11:22 As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.

Women who dress to entice become less attractive. If one adds to one's visual perception the cognitive realization of poor judgment, self-focus, and intemperate inclination, what may have been initially attractive quickly becomes just sad.

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    How did achieve that cognitive realization? By studying this passage repeatedly, by keeping it handy to read/see in times of stress, something else? That is, how did you get from knowing that Proverbs says that to living it? Thanks. – Monica Cellio Nov 29 '14 at 23:02
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    The problem with this approach is that it casts the other person in an entirely negative light, which is not really fair if that person does not share your cultural and religious starting point. – bimargulies Nov 30 '14 at 0:45
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    @bimargulies What does fairness have to do with it? All that matters is establishing that you don't want a personal relationship with this woman. – Double AA Nov 30 '14 at 6:32
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    @DoubleAA I suppose the question is this: in your head, does 'poor judgement' leak into your view of their professional self? It's not a rhetorical question; I've never tried this, I wouldn't know. If you end up pre-judging professional issues that might be problematic. – bimargulies Nov 30 '14 at 12:32
  • @Monica Cellio In answer to how discernment is achieved and applied, I suggest Proverbs 2:1-11. Consider the "if/then" nature of what is promised. G-d is truth and His word is truth. The closer we walk to both, the better able we are to receive what He gives. – timf Nov 30 '14 at 16:46
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..if you can't avoid them?

If you live in a major city you cannot as it is not possible to withdraw oneself from worldliness.

I think it's a good question as we cannot avoid to be confronted with people whos heart is not directed towards God. Maybe timf when stating

Women who dress to entice become less attractive..

had in mind, that, as this behaviour of drawing attention away from oneself to one's body does not reflect a humble spirit, it can help us to treat the person in a way not regarding their appearance.

Finally, it is about our relationship to God. Before the Fall of Man there was nothing impure neither between Adam and God nor between him and Eve.

Genesis 3:
ז. וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם וַיֵּדְעוּ כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת

So, although something can become a stumbling block to us, it is up to us how we deal with it. We even more need to turn to God in such situations and if we stumble we need to uncover our transgression to God and our brothers.

Leviticus 5,5: [..] And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things , that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing : [..]

Also Proverbs state:

(28,13): He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.

Confession can help us that sin does not prosper within us in the darkness of the unsaid. It helps us to attain ruefulness and the broken heart, which are the sacrifices, desired by God, as David prays:

Psalm 51,19: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Such a heart God will not despise, but renew our purity, giving us a pure mind and a pure sight. Surely we should not look for such temptations and if there is a way out, it can be reasonable to make use of that. But I don't think that there is a technical solution for this.

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for the insights. However, this doesn't seem to provide an answer to the question, which asks for practical advice for men on controlling their thoughts. Hope to see you around though. – Scimonster Nov 30 '14 at 14:26
  • @scimonster Indeed I read that over, i. e. the practical things parts. However, does my answer not provide a practical advice? Not certain what practical advice is supposed to mean exactly. – Pameas Nov 30 '14 at 14:40

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