Since this story is all over the place, I see no reason to repeat the basic facts in more than a very brief manner. If you’re not yet familiar with it and want more details you can read the NY Times report:
It all started with a provocative, anonymous essay about premarital sex published by an online student newspaper on Monday, the kind of first-person tell-all that would probably pass without much mention at the average secular university.
Why this story is different? Because of the University involved – Yeshiva University. “And the story’s publication prompted an uproar that has resulted in the withdrawal of funding for the newspaper, the Y.U. Beacon – a decision made by students”.
This controversy involves many layers of discussion that tend to mix and interfere with one another: Legal, financial, religious, cultural and more. And the funny thing: what it all started with is really a lousy newspaper article. You can read it here. Boredom guaranteed.
Adjusting the clasp on my Hadaya necklace, I finally take in my whole reflection in the bathroom mirror. My transformation from Occasionally-Cute-Modern-Orthodox-Girl into Sexually-Appealing-Secular-Woman: complete. I had managed to startle myself so much that I rush to cover myself in my peacoat. My hand won’t stop twitching at my side while I sit impatiently on the bed. “How long does it take a person to walk?” I think aloud.
So, why the uproar and what can we learn from it?
1. Young Orthodox girls have sexual desires, and at times they act on these desires either by making out with their boyfriends or by writing sassy articles in campus newspapers, or by reading such stories. Did you not know that?
2. The younger they are the more conservative they are, and the more conservative they are, the less sense of humor and proportionality they have. Instead of responding to such trivial provocation with nonchalant disregard, they’ve raised hell and probably made this the most read story ever of the Beacon.
3. The modern Orthodox world is way too preoccupied with gender issues. We see it in Israel and all the recent controversies concerning Shirat Nashim (see here), we see it with the Beacon article controversy. Strict interpretation of Jewish laws concerning the separation of sexes, have become the litmus test that also separate the “serious” observer from the “casual” one. Why women and not Shabbat, or Kashrut, or, even better, being a good friend and a good neighbor – there’s not one agreed upon answer to this question. Shall we assume it is simply the sexiest topic?
4. In a Wall Street Journal story about the controversy I read this paragraph:
A friend sent Dena Shayne the article shortly after it was published. When she woke up the next morning, “I was flooded with emails,” said Ms. Shayne, who is student council president at Stern College, the women’s college. The “overwhelming majority opinion” was “very negative,” she said.
But here’s the catch: It is not at all clear what “negative” means in this case – and I suspect the mentioned “negativity” isn’t always clear to many of the students arguing and gossiping about the article. Does it mean they do not approve of the behavior described in the article? That they do not approve of the writer’s decision to write such story? That they do not approve of the paper’s decision to run it?
5. Play this little mind game: What would be the response had this story been published by, say, the New York Daily News. Or by New York Magazine. Or, for that matter, by The Jewish Journal. Would it be outrage, disbelief, indifference? Would anyone be mad with the paper’s decision to run such a story?
6. Towards the end of the article, the writer confesses: “I made a stupid mistake.” She talks about having slept with her friend, but one can’t avoid wondering if she’d say the same about writing this article (a nice book deal, though, can cure such thoughts of remorse).