Hipsters, Hasidim and a Bike Lane in Brooklyn

I’ve been following this story for a while now, not only because I also live in a gentrifying/gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood, but because it’s an interesting clash of liberal ideals — religious tolerance, feminism, environmentalism, skepticism about gentrification. Basically, Williamsburg is a Brooklyn neighborhood that is currently synonymous with hipster-ism (even though like everyone else I kind of hate that term and I think it’s vague and encompasses a lot of different types of people, I will use it here because it’s handy short-hand). Williamsburg is Ground Zero for hipsters — for plaid shirts, beards, dive bars and fixed-gear bikes (and students and artists and some professionals and whatnot thrown in too). It’s also a neighborhood with large Hasidic, Latino and Polish populations. Here’s how New York Magazine sums up the most recent neighborhood fight:

At immediate issue is the Bedford Avenue bike lane. It’s the longest in Brooklyn and runs through every imaginable ethnic enclave—including the South Williamsburg redoubt of the Satmars, the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish sect. In December, after many complaints from the Satmars about “scantily clad” female riders, the city sandblasted off a small stretch of the lane; some enterprising bikers painted it back in protest; the city then painted over the unauthorized paint job. Now two activists are up on criminal-mischief charges, the lane is gone, and the two groups are glowering at each other with even less empathy than usual. Worse yet, each group finds itself standing in for a larger one in a larger fight: the Satmars for all Orthodox Jews and the bikers for all young secular Williamsburgers, i.e. hipsters.

The Satmars have been in Williamsburg since after WWII, and the neighbhorhood is home to the largest Hasidic enclave in the world. Traditionally, the Hasidim lived on one side of the tracks, and Latinos lived on the other. Then, in the 1990s, more and more young white folks started moving in — mostly artistic types who were looking for cheap space. That didn’t go over very well:

But after a while, says one Hasidic real-estate developer, “People started talking to the rabbis—‘Hey, something’s happening, all these young white people are moving in.’ ” When the Satmars realized that the Artisten—the Yiddish name they used for the bewildering newcomers—were there to stay, something like panic set in. Rabbis exhorted landlords not to rent to the Artisten, builders not to build for them. One flyer asked God to “please remove from upon us the plague of the artists, so that we shall not drown in evil waters, and so that they shall not come to our residence to ruin it.’’ Rabbi Zalman Leib Fulop announced that the Artisten were “a bitter decree from Heaven,” a biblical trial.

I’m sympathetic to wanting to maintain the character and tradition of your neighborhood; I’m definitely sympathetic to not wanting lower-income people pushed out of the places where they grew up in order to cater to wealthier outsiders. And of course I’m sympathetic to the necessity of maintaining a tight-knit community when you came to this country explicitly to flee persecution and genocide based on your religion. But it’s a little more complicated than that, here. The New York Magazine article frames the problem as Hasidic Jews vs. Secular Hipsters, but that’s not all that’s going on. For example, there have been lots of complaints of Section 8 (and other) tenants being either refused housing or evicted from their buildings because they didn’t share the religious faith of the landlords. And there have been tenants who have been refused apartments or pushed out because the landlords want to rent to the wealthier newcomers. Those clashes have been going on for decades, and have largely involved Latino residents who are pushed out or refused apartments. And of course lots of landlords throughout the city aren’t particularly accommodating to religious folks, and I would imagine that a lot of Hasidic Jews and Satmars face all kinds of problems in trying to rent apartments from people outside of their community, or obtain apartments through public housing. So this isn’t just “obnoxious hipsters are ruining our neighborhood” (although it’s also that). And as the NY Magazine article says, a few outspoken people have become the face of All Hipsters, or All Orthodox Jews, which is… horribly inaccurate. But the bike lane fight again brings up legitimate questions of how much seclusion one can reasonably expect, especially in a city like New York where everyone lives very, very close together. It brings up legitimate questions of how far one should be able to go to achieve some sort of cultural separatism and purity, when that separatism relies on excluding outsiders from resources.

New York, for all of its diversity, is a pretty ethnically and racially divided city — there are Russian neighborhoods and Polish neighborhoods and Italian neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods and Jewish neighborhoods and Chinese neighborhoods. There are also neighborhoods that are very intermixed, obviously, and these neighborhoods all bleed into one and other. But a lot of ethnic groups have carved out their own areas where most (or at least many) people share some sort of common background, and the signs are in your language, and the stores carry the kind of food that you eat. It’s awesome, in a lot of ways — many of us want to live around other people who are also like us, and who share certain cultural markers and belief systems. It means that immigrants often have more resources, and more connections to the community. It means that you don’t have to leave all of your traditions behind if you come here from somewhere else.

But it is also very much a reality here that you get white landlords who will take pains to not rent to black or Latino residents, or landlords of varying ethnic and/or religious and/or cultural backgrounds who will take pains not to rent to anyone who doesn’t share certain characteristics. And once those neighborhoods are established, they sometimes become desireable places to live for outsiders, often leading landlords to solicit the wealthier incoming demographic at the expense of those who traditionally lived in the area. And when wealthier people come in, housing prices are driven up, local businesses are driven out and the community that was so carefully built is fractured. Young white people who move to Williamsburg are not typically at the bottom of this totem pole; they can generally find a place to live even if they’re refused by a landlord or two, and aren’t typically reliant on public housing programs. Also, as evidenced in the New York Magazine article, a lot of them run around acting like assholes, possibly on purpose. It’s hard for me to muster too much empathy for their plight, even though I look a lot more like them than anyone else in this story. It is much easier for me to muster empathy for the plight of a religious minority who have traditionally faced severe persecution.

Except that real life often does not fall so easily along these lines. The ongoing bike lane drama is illustrative. As more and more New York City residents take to bike riding, the city has responded by painting more bike lanes, and trying to make New York more bicycle-friendly — a good and very necessary thing, in my opinion. One such bike lane goes down Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg’s main thoroughfare, which means that it goes past Hasidic communities. And where there is a bike lane, there are girls on bikes.

The Satmars were incensed. Hasids are prohibited from looking at improperly dressed members of the opposite sex, and some complained that the women cycling through their neighborhood were an affront. “It’s a major issue, women passing through here in that dress code,” Simon Weiser, a Hasidic member of Community Board 1, told the Post. “Most Hasids have acclimated to living in New York,” says Sholom Deen, a semi-lapsed Hasid who, since 2003, has been publishing a blog called Hasidic Rebel. But each fresh bit of modernism—the Gretsch Building, the bus ads for Sex and the City—tends to touch off an uproar, he says, and the bikes were something new altogether: “It’s a direct intrusion.” The city, having spent $11,000 on the bike lane, appeared to encourage that intrusion, and the cyclists themselves seemed, if not improper, impudent. It felt like a seniority issue. “How long have you lived in the community that you now want to make the rules and totally ignore my opinion, when I’ve lived here for 50 years?” Abraham says. “You just got here. You either offer to help and do as the Romans do, or …”—and here Abraham goes into a spirited, if odd, impression of a spoiled young man—“ ‘I live here now. I lived here for ten years, and now I’m going to make rules for the entire community!’ ”

…and this is where I lose sympathy. I get it you’ve lived here longer. And you know what? I do believe that when a wealthier, more powerful group comes into a traditionally marginalized community, seniority does matter. But at some point, you don’t get to pull the seniority card when it comes to your religiously-based objections to female use of public space and transportation. And here, the hipsters weren’t making rules for the entire community. They were using a public street, paid for with everyone’s tax dollars, to ride their bikes. I run out of patience for objections to people using public streets because your religion objects to the female form. I run out of patience where people object to having to see people who are different from them in New York City. This isn’t about, “Damn, all these outsiders are coming in and driving up the rental market and now I can’t afford my place” or “I moved here to live in a neighborhood, not to have a bunch of loud bars built on my block.” This is, “I think that my religious belief regarding the appropriateness of women in public should trump the rights of women to move through public space.”

But the objections worked, because Bloomberg wanted the Satmar vote. So he axed the bike lane, and the city ripped it up. Bikers re-painted it (which the magazine frames as not nice, but which I personally think is kind of awesome). Hasidic police officers interceded, but there wasn’t really a crime being committed. Some bikers started acting like jerks — suggesting topless bike-rides, for example (a knee-jerk reaction that I can understand, to a point, but which seems kind of purposely antagonizing and not particularly productive in this particular circumstance). Bikers were eventually charged with criminal mischief for painting the streets. And on and on. Now the two groups are trying to work it out, without much success, even though I suspect that most members of both (all) groups would like to come to a compromise.

Making matters worse is the reporting on the issue. As I said above, there aren’t just two sides here — bikers are hardly universally white hipsters, a lot of community members from all kinds of backgrounds use the bike lanes, and there’s a long history of oppression and gentrification and a neighborhood that despite recent memory has been steadily changing for basically ever and animus towards outsiders at play, from a lot of different directions. Groups that saw their communities decimated and their fellow religious followers exterminated understandably want to maintain their sense of community and tradition; other groups that have also been marginalized continue to be squeezed out of their homes and refused new ones; the question of “who was here first” goes back a lot more than the past decade; and while the fixed-gear-riding hipsters are the easiest targets here, it’s not unfair of them to expect that they should be able to ride their bikes safely in public bike lanes. So this isn’t cut-and-dry stuff.

But as much as it pains me to say it, I have to come down on the side of the bikers here. “I don’t think women riding bikes in skirts is appropriate” is just not an argument I’m willing to accept.


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98 comments for “Hipsters, Hasidim and a Bike Lane in Brooklyn

  1. April 13, 2010 at 11:18 am

    If being here first controlled, it wouldn’t just be the bike lanes we’d have to rip up. The original inhabitants of Kings County didn’t immigrate by plane or steam ship. They followed herds across the Bering Land Bridge.

    Just sayin’.

    Also, attempting to impose cover-up rules on U.S. public streets, by indirect means, due to the religious conservatism of the local majority? I’m never going to be for that.

  2. preying mantis
    April 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

    “Also, attempting to impose cover-up rules on U.S. public streets, by indirect means, due to the religious conservatism of the local majority? I’m never going to be for that.”

    Yeah, I didn’t get much beyond “The city ripped up a public bike lane because the local zealots were upset because of not being able to police the female flesh thereon.” No, no, fuck no.

  3. April 13, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I rode my bike to school today in a skirt. And I’d like to see anyone prevent me from doing so.

    This is all so very ridiculous; public streets and private beliefs may intersect, but the side to be on here is definitely with the riders. The sense of entitlement (while thereby mocking the “other’s” sense of entitlement) is pretty amusing as well.

  4. April 13, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I’m much less in a quandry myself. I think the would be theocrats are dead wrong and the bike riders are dead right. Women wanted to behave like people, not property, and that offended a bunch of would be thocrats; I’m 100% for the women and 100% against the theocrats.

    We can’t permit creeping theocracy on the grounds that the would be theocrats are from a formerly oppressed group. Otherwise you wind up with a situation, like in Israel or Saudi Arabia, where the religious loonies feel free to physically assault people who don’t abide by their crazy rules. You’ve got to smack that sort of theocratic thinking down hard, every time it comes up, no matter who brings it up.

    If Critical Mass organized a nude ride through “their” neighborhood I’d consider that an appropriate response. The sort of theocratic behavior that they successfully pushed requires a major response to force them to STFU and stop trying to force their religion on others. “Oh? You ruined a bike lane because you got upset about women in skirts? Fine, let’s see how you like a bunch of completely naked people!”

  5. norbizness
    April 13, 2010 at 11:48 am

    What do the Dutch think?

  6. La BellaDonna
    April 13, 2010 at 11:48 am

    I wonder why it never occurred to those terribly, terribly offended, terribly, terribly religious folks to just ….

    Look away?

    You know what? You don’t want to see the scary, scary kneecaps of teh wimmins? Look the other way.

    There. Was that so hard?!

  7. Zes
    April 13, 2010 at 11:49 am

    It’s not about who was where when when that conflicts with what is right. Women are equal adult citizens who pay tax, work jobs, and contribute in non-paid/paying ways (parenting, civic involvement, charity work etc). Even those who, for whatever reason, do not do these things, are human beings with equal rights in society. If some men do not like women they have the right not to look at them. They do not have the right to infringe those women’s freedom of movement.

    Multiculturalism means you wear fishnets and eat fries and the guy next door wears lycra shorts and eats hummus and the gal next to that wears jeans and eats curry and nobody gets to say anything. It doesn’t mean you send your child up the chimney and the guy next door beats his wife and the gal next to that performs human sacrifice and nobody gets to say anything. You don’t get to defend the indefensible by slapping “tradition” and “culture” on it.

    The order of priority should be equality first, THEN any tradition or culture that doesn’t conflict with it.

  8. Emily
    April 13, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Yeah, I don’t understand how the city’s response to “We don’t like it when people who don’t adhere to our rules use the public streets that are for all people” is “oh, okay, we’ll just remove the legal protection they have while using the bike lane!”

    I’m personally against bike lanes as the be-all end-all solution for how bicyclists and motorists can co-exist, but that is neither here nor there.

  9. preying mantis
    April 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    “You know what? You don’t want to see the scary, scary kneecaps of teh wimmins? Look the other way.

    There. Was that so hard?!”

    Having grown up around the Christian version of these same douchebags, you really wouldn’t believe the apparent conspiracy afoot to put women they find attractive in their line of sight at all times.

    There also appears to be the same glaring and oh-so-shocking lack of anyone getting upset about men’s modesty-fails. I’m guessing there are pretty high numbers of male cyclists failing to wear full-length, baggy trousers and long-sleeved, loose-fitting shirts while en route through the same neighborhood the aforementioned lady-kneecaps are sending into a frothing apoplectic episode.

  10. FashionablyEvil
    April 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Any time you’re dealing with a religious culture that severely restricts the actions of women and exists in a broadly secular and egalitarian society, you’re going to have problems, particularly when the proposed solution is to require all women (regardless of their religious affiliation) to accommodate those with the most stringent requirements.

    You might be able to get away with it in a theocracy, but not so much in the United States.

  11. Amanda6
    April 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Taking sides aside, this was a very interesting and well-written article, Jill.

  12. April 13, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Agreeing with Amanda6. Thanks for all the nuance!

  13. April 13, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    “Multiculturalism” may mean that, Zes, but I’m not sure that’s always and only a good thing. Aestheticising the Other by their food, cultural products etc is very often erasing of all but minimal difference, either become People Like Us with different food, or be dehumanised altogether. It’s not just as easy as Hommus (Good!) vs Human Sacrifice (Bad!).

    Jill’s post did a good job of laying out the issues, so can we not dismiss the concerns of communities about coherency, forced assimilation etc as simply being about Evol Theocrats and their unpalatable difference?

  14. Lauren B.
    April 13, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for this post, Jill. It’s the first time I’ve heard about this dispute, and I found your article to be extremely informative (plus it forced me to look up new words for me like gentrification, and to read up on Hasidic Judaism), so thanks for the history lesson!

    I am all for religious freedom (I am a religious studies minor) and I love to learn about religions. What really bothers me is when people try to force their religious beliefs on others, the most obvious example being the Religious Right trying (and in many cases succeeding) to force their religious beliefs about sexuality and “the right to life” to create laws and infringe upon reproductive justice.

    As you brought up, Jill, bike lanes benefit a lot of people and the community as a whole. It also seems to me like there could be some class issues involved with riding a bicycle as your main mode of transportation. Being poor myself, and coming from a poor family who struggles to pay rent and have enough food for the week, riding a bike sounds to me like one of the cheapest forms of transportation. Having a car obviously costs a vast amount of money, and for those of us who struggle on a regular basis to find money for the bus or metro (trolley, subway), or who can’t afford a taxi, and who don’t have family and friends to drive us around, walking or riding a bike is an obvious solution.

  15. Lauren B.
    April 13, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    queen emily- spot on.

  16. Athenia
    April 13, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Do Hasidic men not ride bikes?

    Also, would they like to rip up the sidewalks as well?

    Me thinks they just don’t like that their tax dollars are being used for bike lanes.

  17. Lance
    April 13, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I currently live in Williamsburg. My landlord puts the acidic in ‘Hasidic.’ I am frequently amazed at the intolerance on display for non-Jews in the area.

    Queen Emily- I have to disagree. If they were agitating for policies that would ensure that their synagogue would remain in the area or that housing would continue to be affordable and available to Hasidic residence, that’s one thing. To demand that people who happen to be passing through your neighborhood– or might live there themselves– comply with your religion’s beliefs is simply theocratic. These ‘volunteer religious police’ aren’t making me feel any better about the situation.

  18. jenny
    April 13, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I live in a satmar community in London and find people quietly friendly despite my decidedly non tsnius English girl appearance. Intolerence is not an essential requirement of even this specific sect of the most orthodox of Judaism.

    I’d be all for regular scantily clad female marches until the bike lanes returned. Removing the lanes puts cyclists at more risk and that’s just not ok to risk lives because of your religious closed mindedness.

  19. April 13, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    I think this post illustrates religious intolerance to some extent, but to me it highlights how people will use any excuse and any rationalization to not have to accommodate anyone who is “not like them”.

  20. April 13, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I didn’t say I agreed with them, I said that extrapolations about all immigrants (in the form of “multiculturalism”) and musings about human sacrifice are profoundly unhelpful.

  21. April 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I have sort of a weird perspective as a liberal, bike-riding, hipster type (I guess, kinda) and an egalitarian, but very serious and observant Jew.

    These Hasids piss me off. Tradition my ass. The right wing Jews in this country have gotten way right wingier in the past twenty, thirty years or so. They’ve started becoming more stringent on all sorts of nonsense that no one made a fuss about. A bunch of us were actually talking about it at synagogue this past weekend. They make us all look like nut bars, and that makes me angry, especially since Jews looking like nut bars has been, historically, not good for the Jews. So they anger feminist Shoshie and Jewish Shoshie.

    On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of nude bike rides as a response. That’s beyond current dressing norms, and while I think people need to be tolerant of typical dress (and even legal atypical dress), I think purposely exposing people who are invested in modesty to random nudity is cruel, especially since there may be those in the Hasidic community who are innocent in this debacle. Those people may just want to keep their religion to themselves. Redrawing the bike lane was a much better form of protest, and makes the hipster folks look less like mean reactionary nut bars and more like reasonable people who just want a bike lane.

    • April 13, 2010 at 2:42 pm

      Agreed, Shoshie. To clarify, there aren’t any nude or topless bike rides actually planned (as far as I know). I think it’s just an idea that someone threw out. The re-painting thing, in contrast, has actually happened.

  22. Alara Rogers
    April 13, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    How about, men who are not allowed to look at female flesh must wear blackout goggles when on public streets?

    Why is it *my* problem that *your* religion says you can’t look at me when I’m dressed for exercise or the heat? It’s not *my* religion. Blind yourself if thine eyes offend thee, but you do not have the right to control where women go on public streets when they’re dressed appropriately for biking.

    Either that, or you are not allowed to live on a public street. So retreat to a fucking gated community with walls already, and stop expecting anyone from the city to come in and plow your street when it snows. This isn’t about gentrification, it’s about the freedom of New Yorkers to ride bikes and the freedom of New Yorkers with vaginas to ride bikes while dressed appropriately for the weather and the exercise.

  23. Sailorman
    April 13, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I frankly don’t see why the Hasids should get any more respect at all than should anyone else. So what if they were there first? So what if they want a nice community? Who the fuck cares?

    Our society is set up to encourage people to be able to move around, and it’s set up to give all citizens equality. When you start setting arbitrary* delineations between who has “extra rights of ownership” and who does not, then the whole social deal gets screwed up.

    I once got into an argument with someone who castigated me for being a “newcomer” who shouldn’t disagree. I pointed out that I’d be happy to drop my vote in exchange for a property tax reduction, but that he could otherwise piss off.

    *Who has “rights” anyway? Current residents? People who were born there, left, and moved back? People who haven’t even been born there yet? People who were there first? As #5 points out, should we return Haarlem to its status as a Dutch community?

  24. April 13, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Loved this piece, Jill — so thoughtfully written.

    As someone who also lives in a diverse, jam-packed city, I wonder what sorts of practices people might adopt in the spirit of becoming ‘good neighbors.’ I totally agree that women have the right to use public bike lanes while dressing however they want to. (And personally, I think that should include toplessness — for folks with every kind of body and gender. But that’s a longer-term goal!) At the same time, I wonder whether, before repainting the bike lane, hipsters could have gotten together, baked some Kosher pies, dressed in a manner comfortable for Hasids, and stopped by their homes to at least attempt to have a friendly conversation about the conflicting needs. If that doesn’t work, then hell yes just repaint the lane.

    There are better ways to form relationships with communities different from one’s own than simply eating their food, turning their religious objects into jewelry and home décor, and then remaining as separate as possible. We seem to forget that we can reach out and actually listen — at least for a start.

    Similarly, the Hasids might have approached the issue in a better way than just complaining to the city until they sandblasted the road. Cultural dissonance doesn’t have to escalate into hostility. Time to try some new methods. And as a group with a particularly large stake in, and familiarity with, nonviolent communication techniques, I hope we feminists can take the lead in modeling them.

    • April 13, 2010 at 4:11 pm

      At the same time, I wonder whether, before repainting the bike lane, hipsters could have gotten together, baked some Kosher pies, dressed in a manner comfortable for Hasids, and stopped by their homes to at least attempt to have a friendly conversation about the conflicting needs. If that doesn’t work, then hell yes just repaint the lane.

      I’m not sure if that honestly would have been possible. There are lots of prohibitions when it comes to intermingling between the sexes, and the Satmar community is extremely tightly-knit and not super accommodating to outsiders. The NYMag article detailed a get-together at a local bar, but it doesn’t sound like it was particularly fruitful. Also notable, of course, is the fact that only Satmar men participated, because women aren’t allowed to socialize with men outside of their immediate families.

  25. JSC
    April 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I’m also an egal observant Jew, and I agree with Shoshie here. What isn’t really mentioned is that the Satmar are probably the most extremist sect of Judaism on the entire planet, barring a few smaller but even nuttier communities in Jerusalem. The Hasidic Rebel blog is actually a really interesting read, if anyone wants to check it out.

    There is nothing in Jewish law that says non-Jewish women have to dress according to tsnius (Jewish modesty laws) in the presence of Jews. The Satmars are just wingnut bigots. I’m not on their side at all on this. If someone tried to open up a strip club on one of their blocks, that might be a different story.

    As for their intolerance, that’s really based on the individual not the sect. There are good and bad apples everywhere.

  26. melancholia
    April 13, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    This is only tangentially related to Jill’s piece, but the assumption that a historically marginalized group can choose to exclude privileged outsiders from their traditional neighborhood seems problematic to me.

    Who decides who is privileged and who is marginalized? We cannot say that the marginalized people get to decide, because it begs the question of whether they are marginalized in the first place! I know there’s got to be some neutral standard out there but I’m just not seeing it.

    • April 13, 2010 at 4:15 pm

      This is only tangentially related to Jill’s piece, but the assumption that a historically marginalized group can choose to exclude privileged outsiders from their traditional neighborhood seems problematic to me.

      Oh definitely. To be clear, I was NOT trying to say that anyone should be legally allowed to exclude others from their neighborhood, for whatever reason. If Satmars (or whoever else) doesn’t want to rent to tenants because they’re secular, that violates Fair Housing laws and should, rightly, be punished.

      I was just trying to outline the various competing ideals here. I think it’s possible to discuss and be critical of gentrification without going so far as to say that some groups should have the right to bar other groups from living in their neighborhoods.

  27. JSC
    April 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    @preying mantis

    You mentioned the lack of anyone getting upset over male modesty. Judaism in theory holds both men and women to modesty, dress code and otherwise, and the dress code for Hasidic men is quite strict. They are not allowed to wear short sleeves or shorts for this very reason, even during the summer.

    That said, aside from enforcing conformity, the Hasidic community doesn’t care much about the modesty of men in general. In practice it’s almost always about women, Jewish or not.

  28. April 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Shoshie – I am right there with you. I was raised in a very conservative Jewish tradition to BE A FEMINIST (not mutually exclusive at all, these things! or at least in my family!), and I totally feel the same way.

    I always approach anything about Jews and culture clashes and especially hipsters in Williamsburg with trepidation, though, because there is something about your folk being called out, especially when they have been criticized historically because of their religion . . . and then I read about them wanting to police female bodies, and I am all fuck no. Nothing makes me madder than that.

    Also, unless we are going to give everybody’s land back to Native Americans, the “we were here first!” argument only works if you have a very short historical memory.

    Jill, thank you for this post, it was incredibly nuanced and well-written.

  29. Mica
    April 13, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Since when does religion trump First Amendment rights of expression – and clothing is expression? What makes these believers so special? Why should we accommodate their ancient whims at the expense of other citizens? What makes them better than the bicycle riders?

    It’s clear from Bloomberg’s actions that their votes matter more than the bicyclists.

    The believers have no case and are acting anti-democratically to protect a religious enclave.

    I see this getting resolved in one of two ways: Protest or politics. The bicyclers should peacefully resist this blatant favoritism or they should get politically active and make Bloomberg respond.

  30. April 13, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    thanks for this post jill! shoshie and gayle i totally agree with you. though i’m not observant, i’m jewish, so this angers feminist-kate, environmental-activist-kate, and jewish-kate so much that it makes me want to give up jewish-kate. i know i can’t just walk away from judaism because of one extremely observant sect trying to tell women what they can and can’t wear and do where, but when the issue is using an environmentally-friendly form of transportation down a public street, i can’t help but be embarrassed that i identify with the same religion as these jerks. i am having a serious identity crisis lately.

  31. Roy
    April 13, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Similarly, the Hasids might have approached the issue in a better way than just complaining to the city until they sandblasted the road.

    I don’t know. I find tremendous fault in the reason for the agitation, and I find fault in the fact that the city removed the lanes, but I don’t fault anyone for using their voice to agitate for change. That’s the way it’s supposed to work–if you don’t like something–for any reason–you have every right to take your complaints to the city/state/national government and say “Hey, I don’t like X, Y, and Z, and I want it changed.” I have no idea whether these groups were engaged in local meetings about the issue beforehand, but I can’t imagine that it would have been particularly fruitful. The people riding through may or may not have lived in the neighborhood, and may or may not have known or cared whether their state of dress was bothering anyone.

    Anyway, just echoing what others have said–very nuanced and interesting read.

  32. April 13, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    I’m not sure if that honestly would have been possible. There are lots of prohibitions when it comes to intermingling between the sexes, and the Satmar community is extremely tightly-knit and not super accommodating to outsiders. The NYMag article detailed a get-together at a local bar, but it doesn’t sound like it was particularly fruitful. Also notable, of course, is the fact that only Satmar men participated, because women aren’t allowed to socialize with men outside of their immediate families.

    Heh, after Skip Gates’ beer summit with Obama and the cop, I guess drinking together is the go-to remedy for neighborhood clashes these days. :) But I still don’t understand why the women couldn’t have talked to each other, since it was the biker ladies’ attire that was supposedly posing the problem. Men discuss with men; women with women (and trans folks? don’t know how that’s handled in Satmar communities, if at all) — etc.

    Certainly, if one entire community is clamming up in response to friendly overtures from another, there’s not much else you can do, so I definitely hear you. But I also observe a tendency, in the urban and suburban areas where I’ve lived, to half-ass the reconciliation efforts. That might mean excluding women in your community from the conversations (which it sounds like the Hasids did at the ‘bar summit’), or it might mean making a totally tasteless joke about God snowing out your planned topless bikeride protest (thanks, biker rep woman).

    Not trying to derail here, but I do think that in the larger efforts to imagine feminist modes of conflict resolution, we need to look not only at the historical context of the issues (and who’s more or squarely in the right), but also at the modes of communication used to address them. It’s those modes, not real estate or legalism, that ultimately keep individuals and communities peaceful and healthy.

  33. April 13, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Thank you for a thoughtful examination of this issue. I thought the article was kind of annoyingly smug — I get that it’s funny, Hasids vs. hipsters, but I felt like the writer was kind of denying each side their humanity. (And I’m speaking as someone with not a lot of general empathy for hipsters.) Anyway, I think this is a terrific post.

  34. ClevelandLass
    April 13, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    @SoVeryUnhip,
    The popular dislike of “hipsters” seems troubling to me. Unlike “Bro Culture”, there are few unifying and widely accepted facets of hipster culture that are purely negative. Perhaps you could throw American Apparel’s rather sexist ad campaigns as an example, but I really don’t think that one brand speaks for an entire group of young people. “Hipsters” tend to be liberal, arts focused, and music focused (add in a love of bikes too). Outside of these things and an overwhelming amount of not too ironic “irony”, I don’t see anything particularly deplorable about them as a group. Some hipsters are horrible people. True. Some bankers are horrible people. True. Some politicians are horrible people. True. Some journalists are horrible people. True. Some Christians are horrible people. True. Hey? Remember when we realized that calling groups of people bad is… bad? Maybe it’s just me and my art school background, but I was under the impression that we should have empathy for all human beings—even if they are “hipsters”.

    If there is some reason I should hate hipsters other than “they think they are so cool”, please, let me know. Other than that, I think we’re just blanket categorizing another group of young people based on less than solid evidence.

  35. Zes
    April 13, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    queen emily – I am sorry, I am not quite sure I follow what your objection is. I deliberately mixed up the options (jeans plus curry rather than a sari plus curry, say) to suggest people from multiple cultures (Indian or Pakistani in jeans? Waspy American eating curry? someone else entirely, it doesn’t matter) to make clear the point isn’t really about food or any particular small difference, the point is that multiculturalism’s remit cannot pass beyond morally neutral things like hummus; beyond that there will have to be give and take, and probably compromise. Policing women’s bodies isn’t morally neutral so it doesn’t get to hide behind the (voluminous, floor-length) skirt of tradition, no matter how much the offended people care or how many generations of bigotry they have on their side. I hope that is clearer.

    It’s particularly annoying to me, like Shoshie, Kate and Gayle say, because in this case it is our own faith/ethnic/however we each define as a Jew/community behaving like fuckheads to our gender. It’s embarrassing and frustrating, particularly as my Jeiwshness and my feminism are so tied up together (eg both encourage questioning of the status quo).

    What really gets me is that the other day it was 90F in NY (freak weather for April!). I was walking along in a spaghetti strap top and shorts, carrying a jacket. I noticed two Hasids in a doorway that I was about to pass. To make their lives easy, I slung my jacket over the shoulder nearest them, and drew it across my throat to hold it against my other shoulder, covering my whole top half from their angle, and held it there for about 15 paces while passing them. I did it not out of any intimdation whatsoever, because they didn’t seem like they’d seen me and I was confident they wouldn’t harass me on a busy street (and I’d berated a man for harassing a nervous-looking young girl on the previous block so I was in a fighting mood anyway and not scared) – but it cost me very little but made someone else’s life a little easier. I felt that I had done what we Jews call a mitzvah, a little daily good deed. Not compromsing my feminism or rights as a woman, just being nice. The same way when I am out with a vegetarian friend, say, I will tend not to order meat.

    And they can reciprocate by averting their eyes next time I walk past and I don’t have a jacket or don’t feel like it – or whatever they do, at least keep their opinion to themselves. Live and let live. The trouble is some fanatics want it all one way; theirs.

  36. Katie
    April 13, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    The correct plural is “Hasidim,” not “Hasids.”

  37. Siege
    April 13, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    How timely! I rode up that very stretch of Bedford on today’s commute, for the first time since this brouhaha erupted. I knew about the bike lane erasure, but since Bedford is *THE MAIN NORTH-SOUTH CONNECTOR* in Brooklyn it’s kind of hard to avoid. I have always ridden that route with (what I thought was) a companionable mutual ignore button. I’m ok, you’re ok, I’m just passing through, just don’t step in front of my bike and we’ll have nothing to worry about.

    But today, it may have been my imagination or confirmation bias, but I *felt* more heat-vision directed my way as I made my way between Flushing and Division. Mostly from men, but some dagger-eyes from young women on their way to school, and one little boy, about age 7, who stared at me as if he’d never seen a such a bizarre creature before. Like, openly staring, to the point that he turned his head to keep staring as he walked past me. So I did what I would do with any little kid who makes eye contact that long. I said “Good morning.” He jumped a mile, and then the light changed and I was on my way. But I have wondered about it all day. Did I do right? My first impulse when met with incomprehension on this scale is to demystify difference–I breathe and eat and shit and sleep just like you, don’t we have so much in common? But in this case, did my friendly overture actually do more harm than good? Is this war just too hot to be circumvented by acting civilly to each other?

    I run out of patience for objections to people using public streets because your religion objects to the female form.

    THIS! This, this, this. Thanks, Jill.

  38. Lyndsay
    April 13, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    This is interesting. Didn’t women bike on this road before the lane was there? Don’t Hasidim leave their neighbourhood and see women dressed a certain way? I suppose a bike lane could attract more bikers but is getting rid of the bike lane just in that area really going to decrease the number of bikers? Anyone have a guess of how long this stretch of road with the removed bike lane is? Are “hipsters” less likely to vote for the mayor than Hasidic Jews?
    Personally, I bike everyday and a bike lane would be great but lack of bike lanes doesn’t stop me.

  39. Moony
    April 13, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    “How long have you lived in the community that you now want to make the rules and totally ignore my opinion, when I’ve lived here for 50 years?” Abraham says. “You just got here. You either offer to help and do as the Romans do, or …”—and here Abraham goes into a spirited, if odd, impression of a spoiled young man—“ ‘I live here now. I lived here for ten years, and now I’m going to make rules for the entire community!’ ”

    If Mr. Abraham is a Zionist, he needs to take a good hard look at the irony of what he just said. If he is, then this argument loses ALL credibility.

    • April 13, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      If Mr. Abraham is a Zionist, he needs to take a good hard look at the irony of what he just said. If he is, then this argument loses ALL credibility.

      Given that he is (I think) Satmar, I am going to guess that he is not a Zionist.

  40. preying mantis
    April 14, 2010 at 8:10 am

    “That said, aside from enforcing conformity, the Hasidic community doesn’t care much about the modesty of men in general. In practice it’s almost always about women, Jewish or not.”

    Well, yeah. That’s how it always works. Hence that entire section of my post. When men aren’t dressed according to whatever religious default you have, it’s no biggie*, because male bodies just are. When women aren’t dressed according to whatever religious default you have, the sky’s going to fall, because female bodies are bundles of sin made flesh.

    *Or it’s a problem because it’s an indicator that the man committing the infraction is insufficiently serious about his faith.

  41. April 14, 2010 at 9:33 am

    I run out of patience for objections to people using public streets because your religion objects to the female form. I run out of patience where people object to having to see people who are different from them in New York City.

    Right on.

  42. April 14, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Me thinks they just don’t like that their tax dollars are being used for bike lanes.

    But they’re okay with their tax dollars being used for getting rid of bike lanes that are already there?

    To clarify, there aren’t any nude or topless bike rides actually planned (as far as I know). I think it’s just an idea that someone threw out.

    There actually was one planned for a month or so ago, but we had that freak blizzard, so it was just a bike ride.

    As others have mentioned, the truly disturbing thing about this is that the mayor (I won’t even say the City, since this has Bloomberg’s greasy little hoofprints all over it, as with so many other special accommodations for favored voting blocs) used public funds to get rid of a bike lane because the Satmars have an objection to female members of the public using a public roadway that those female members of the public pay taxes to support. It’s creepily like the public bus lines in Jerusalem that are gender-segregated because they run through ultra-Orthodox communities for part of their route — and those ultra-Orthodox men are not above using violence to enforce their own rules for public transport on members of the public who do not share their values.

    Are “hipsters” less likely to vote for the mayor than Hasidic Jews?

    In a word, yes. Certainly not in the kind of bloc the Satmars can deliver if their leaders give the word. And considering that Bloomberg — who had the City Council repeal the voter-approved term limits law so he could run for a third term and then only won re-election last year (when, btw, all of this was happening) by 5% despite spending $90 million of his own money and running constant attack ads against his less-than-scintillating, less-than-well-funded opponent. He needed every vote he could, so he started spreading the largesse around. For the Satmars, that took the form of using public funds to cater to their private, religious feelings and restrict the movement of women in this city.

  43. Jay
    April 14, 2010 at 11:17 am

    this is one of those situations where the ultra-orthodox hasids are going to have to find a way to make peace with the bikers. sorry, but the rabbis have already lost this conflict.
    the amount of entitlement and arrogance from both sides of this is just hilarious, and will make for an interesting little battle.

    religious intolerance, fake piety, misogyny, anti-semitism, entitlement…. there are so many facets of bigotry and bullshit to this conflict that it is staggering.

    the hasids need to realize the folly of trying to maintain a ‘community’ in a place where it’s impossible to maintain hegemony. there’s a reason that the mormons have been successful in maintaining so many of their communities. they live in utah. spoiled young hipsters simply do not move to salt lake city so that they can pretend to be liberal. if the hasidic community truly wants to maintain their exclusive community, they are going to have to get out of the city and settle for a farm in the woods. unfortunately for them, modern cities are more progressive, and the educated residents of those cities generally look down on open bigotry and religious discrimination. they may own plenty of property in williamsburg, and they have their
    synagogues, but the sidewalks and the streets are public.

    if the hasids really want to push this too far (and they already have by erasing bike lanes that make it safer for bikers), trust me…the hipsters will one-up them every time. the hipsters are
    willing to take this much further than the hasidic community is. i’m certain that if the hasids push this much further, they will soon have hipsters interrupting their religious gatherings with
    porn or something else offensive.

    so, determined hipster pretention, entitlement, and gentrification beats out arrogant religious fanaticism and misogyny. yay?

  44. CaliOak
    April 14, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    I can’t see any entitlement on the part of the bikers. I have a right to exist. I have a right to commute to work or school. This is a major street. Its not like people are going out of their way to ride down back allies. The people actually living in the neighborhood are a little different, and more complicated.

  45. April 14, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Agree with kloncke and zes. I think there is a lot going on here; it seems like a complicated issue that we don’t have enough information on to fully understand. As we all know, news articles have a habit of boiling situations down to a easily digestible format, while cutting out essential details that color the situation in shades of grey, rather than just black and white.

    For example, what exactly were these particular Hasidim objecting to? The very presence of women on bikes, or some women on bikes who were not wearing a lot of clothing? Would it be possible for the “hipsters” and the Hasidim to come to an agreement: women can ride their bikes all they want, as long as they cover themselves while riding through the Hasidic neighborhood? Or is that too much to ask from either side?

    Furthermore, I don’t think it’s fair to say that this particular brand of Hasidic Judaism “objects to the female form.” It’s more accurate to say that it objects to the public viewing of the unclothed female form.

    I definitely understand the frustration with the misogyny that is present within certain facets of Judaism. But I’m not sure it’s something that those outside the religion should attempt to change. In the end, this is something that Jews as a community will have to deal with themselves (as many feminist Jews are currently attempting to do).

    • April 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm

      Would it be possible for the “hipsters” and the Hasidim to come to an agreement: women can ride their bikes all they want, as long as they cover themselves while riding through the Hasidic neighborhood? Or is that too much to ask from either side?

      Um. I think that is asking way too much of women on bikes. Look, Bedford Avenue is a major thoroughfare in New York City! For real, women should have to “cover themselves” to the Hasidic dress code (or ANY dress code?) before we can ride our bikes on a public street? Hell no.

      A lot of people ride bikes for exercise, which often necessitates fitted exercise clothes. A lot of people ride bikes to work, or to go out to meet their friends, or in the summer in New York City. Long sleeves, skirts, and covered hair is not going to cut it.

      I definitely understand the frustration with the misogyny that is present within certain facets of Judaism. But I’m not sure it’s something that those outside the religion should attempt to change.

      Not attempting to change misogyny in the Satmar community. What we’re saying is that a bike lane existed, they protested because of female bikers and got the bike lane taken away, and that is wrong. This is about the use of public space and whether anyone has a right to close off public transportation options because of religious objections.

      Furthermore, I don’t think it’s fair to say that this particular brand of Hasidic Judaism “objects to the female form.” It’s more accurate to say that it objects to the public viewing of the unclothed female form.

      You may not think that characterization is fair; fine. But no one is walking down the street naked, so it’s not about being “unclothed.” And honestly? I don’t really care if they object to the public viewing of “unclothed” females. If that is their objection, then they have the full right to not go out in public. But fuck this noise of “well women should dress more appropriately.” If I’m invited into someone’s home, and I know they have a particular belief, then of course I am going to dress in a way that makes them comfortable, because that is polite and decent. But out on the street, in New York? No, sorry, I am not going to worry too much that I am offending someone’s delicate sensibilities. If someone does not like seeing women’s bodies in skirts or pants or whatever, they are welcome to stay home.

      And again, I am the first to point out (as I did in the post) that there is a LOT of backstory here. I do not think this story is black and white, and I feel like I took great pains to illustrate that. But at the same time, no, I do not accept that someone’s religious beliefs get to dictate how women have to dress when moving through public space. No.

  46. Interrobang
    April 14, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Apparently the Satmar do not accept the principle of “the law of the land is the law” (Shmuel), nor the idea that non-Jews do not have to abide by the 613 commandments, because otherwise they would realise that the women in question aren’t doing anything wrong according to the local laws, and that they themselves don’t get to impose their own code on non-Satmar. (In my admittedly limited experience, Satmar are cagey about even recognising non-Satmar Jews as Jews.)

    It looks like no matter which way you slice it (even halakhically), they’re in the wrong here.

  47. Cha-Cha
    April 14, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    So I’ve been sitting here on the sidelines of this debate wondering why, as a feminist and a Jew and a person who has lived in all kinds of neighborhoods where the majority of people are different from me in some significant way, why the tenor of the debate is making me so uncomfortable. Particularly since I’m not a person who, in general, has much sympathy for justifications about why the female form is bad, be they religious or secular.

    I’m not fully able to articulate it yet. But here are some things that raise “problematic” flags for me, that I’m going to number in an attempt to parse out:

    1. I get it that as women, our bodies aren’t bad, and that the idea that they should be “hidden” is problematic in a lot of ways. But, in some of the comments and in parts of the article, I also get this sense from the (for lack of better words) “hipster side” that our beliefs about women, about “modesty” or dress codes or whatever, are right, and the Satmars are going to have to deal.

    2. And then it seems like I hear this implication that these are public streets, and that this neighborhood isn’t just a Satmar neighborhood, it’s whoevers neighborhood, and so we should be able to live our lives as we please.

    3. I feel uncomfortable because, I guess, even tho it’s NYC, even tho its not legally “the Satmars neighborhood” or whatever… it sure does seem as an outsider like it’s been the neighborhood where they’ve lived, with their culture, for a really long time. In some ways, it does seem like it’s their neighborhood. In other ways no, but in some ways… yeah. Please understand that I’m an outsider… I’m just articulating how it seems to me.

    4. And it makes me think of other neighborhoods in the world that I’ve lived in. Neighborhoods where, because of my cis female body, it’s not cool to wear pants. Or where open toed shoes on ladies is not considered the norm, or even okay. And I have lived in these places for significant lengths of time. And when I lived there… I conformed to the dress codes that were expected of me. And that felt right. And less invasive. I’m not totally sure how this applies in this case, but it’s coming up for me.

    5. And I also think of my neighborhood, in the States. It’s a pretty poor neighborhood. Except recently, these (mostly white) 20 and 30 somethings are moving in… and they sound like what a “hipster” sounds like in the above article. And they have their ideas about what’s cool artistically and musically and life-style-y, which is fine. But not everyone in the neighborhood agrees with them, for various reasons. And they are having an impact on the neighborhood… and impact about which there is no conversation, and even less responsibility-taking. In my neighborhood, the major impact is rents going up. I wonder what the Satmars would say about the impacts of a changing neighborhood on their culture. I wonder where responsibility(ies) lie – not fault, I’m asking about responsibility, it’s different.

    6. I think another issue I’m feeling is that while this is a conversation about feminism and also something particular that’s happening in a neighborhood in NYC, it doesn’t feel like there’s always an attempt to know ones neighbor… I mean, even in the comments, I thought I read “Hassids” instead of “Hasidim”, and something implying a Satmar leader is a Zionist, which would be really unlikely… I mean, if we don’t understand even minimally the culture of those who feel like their culture is being violated, its hard for me to see how any kind of conversation can be real…

    7. And that makes me uncomfortable because, I could be totally wrong about this, but… it strikes me that in addition to being somewhat isolationist, the Satmar community is historically marginalized, and that they still seem marginalized in some ways… I guess, they aren’t a group I would comfortably ascribe privilege to, as an outsider…

    8. I don’t hear any voices of Satmar women as to how this whole thing is impacting them…

    9. I guess, and I’m going to shut up after that, it just seems problematic to me when a group of people, “hipsters” I guess I’ll call them for lack of a better word, come into a neighborhood in a way that offends long time residents of a distinct cultural group, and then insist that their way of life has a right to be in the middle of someone elses way of life and that that someone else is just going to have to deal. And I’m not even sure I want to go into this can of worms, but in my neighborhood at least most of the “hipster”-esque people have white privilege, and, well… I’m not sure the Satmars do, or if they do, it seems like it operates in a different way.

    10. I kind of hate the word “hipster”. It makes me feel like I’m talking about a stereotype, not a person or group of real people.

    So that’s enough inarticulate rambling. I don’t have any conclusions. At the end of the day, I think women should be able to bike in whatever kinda clothes in freaking public streets. But the tenor that I get off this debate sometimes strikes me as problematic, and I wanted to try to parse some of that out.

    • April 14, 2010 at 3:21 pm

      I get it that as women, our bodies aren’t bad, and that the idea that they should be “hidden” is problematic in a lot of ways. But, in some of the comments and in parts of the article, I also get this sense from the (for lack of better words) “hipster side” that our beliefs about women, about “modesty” or dress codes or whatever, are right, and the Satmars are going to have to deal.

      Well, to be perfectly honest, I do think that my views on female modesty are “right,” and that they are more right than the Satmar view. That’s why they are my views. And while I do recognize and respect why certain traditions, including modesty, are embraced and clung to in many communities, I nonetheless find those views problematic, as a general rule. I also find it problematic that, for example, Satmar women aren’t allowed to drive cars. But you know, that’s not really my issue here. If people, as part of whatever tradition, want to do things that I myself do not agree with, go for it. I will even loudly stand up for your right to do those things! Because something I believe in just as much as “the female body is not shameful” is the idea that civil liberties and religious freedom matter. The reality here is that we are talking about a community that lives in the United States, in New York City. We do have laws protecting expression and public participation, so yes, as harsh as this sounds, the Satmars are going to have to deal. And they usually do deal! Pretty well, actually. I mean, it’s not like Satmar people never leave their houses, you know? I find it a little condescending, honestly, this idea that we should shield the eyes a certain group of people who live in the middle of Brooklyn and walk around all the time and drive their buses and cars down city streets and whatever else. Yes, the Satmars are pretty separatist — they don’t ride the subways, for example, and they avoid interacting outside of the community where possible. But they still live in NY.

      2. And then it seems like I hear this implication that these are public streets, and that this neighborhood isn’t just a Satmar neighborhood, it’s whoevers neighborhood, and so we should be able to live our lives as we please.

      3. I feel uncomfortable because, I guess, even tho it’s NYC, even tho its not legally “the Satmars neighborhood” or whatever… it sure does seem as an outsider like it’s been the neighborhood where they’ve lived, with their culture, for a really long time. In some ways, it does seem like it’s their neighborhood. In other ways no, but in some ways… yeah. Please understand that I’m an outsider… I’m just articulating how it seems to me.

      …but they are public streets. And it hasn’t been just a Satmar neighborhood forever and ever, and it’s not an exclusively Satmar neighborhood now. We’re talking about 60-ish year that Satmars have lived in Williamsburg. And Latin@ populations, too, have lived in Williamsburg for a long time (and there’s a long history of clashes there, too). I’m not trying to downplay the gentrification issues at all — those are really serious issues. But again, that does not give any group the right to refuse to let another move through public space.

      9. I guess, and I’m going to shut up after that, it just seems problematic to me when a group of people, “hipsters” I guess I’ll call them for lack of a better word, come into a neighborhood in a way that offends long time residents of a distinct cultural group, and then insist that their way of life has a right to be in the middle of someone elses way of life and that that someone else is just going to have to deal.

      I totally get that, I really do. And I hate to be all, “But this is America!,” but this is America. And we do have laws about how much one person’s religious beliefs can be used to discriminate against others. And those laws are good things! And yes, there are multiple layers of oppression and privilege at work here, but I don’t think that our civil libertarian values should go out the window just because the people doing the really problematic thing are members of a religious minority.

      • April 14, 2010 at 3:36 pm

        3. I feel uncomfortable because, I guess, even tho it’s NYC, even tho its not legally “the Satmars neighborhood” or whatever… it sure does seem as an outsider like it’s been the neighborhood where they’ve lived, with their culture, for a really long time. In some ways, it does seem like it’s their neighborhood. In other ways no, but in some ways… yeah. Please understand that I’m an outsider… I’m just articulating how it seems to me.

        I’ll just add, to this, that yes the situation is totally different when it’s a disempowered group whose neighborhood is being infringed upon, but I do think we have to be careful when we talk about “our” neighborhoods or “their” neighborhood. I mean, before “hipsters” were coming into the neighborhood, it was Latinos, and there was real friction between the two communities — and there was a good deal of housing discrimination, for example. In a lot of other Brooklyn neighborhoods, the post-WWII residents were Italian or Irish immigrants, and they had serious friction with black people moving in — so much so that a whole lot of those residents moved to New Jersey or Long Island to “escape.” And Williamsburg is a large neighborhood, of which the Satmar area is only one part.

        Also, as an aside, the question of who is privileged here and who is not is, as usual, not black and white. The Satmar community in Williamsburg has a lot of political clout.

        Again, not to downplay the worries about gentrification. I do understand the worry that your neighborhood is being taken over by other people; I think the Satmars have some legitimate concerns. But, right now, NY is on a gentrification upswing. A few decades ago it was the opposite, and so-called “white flight” was a huge issue. And Williamsburg has long history of many different groups of people making their homes there. My point, I guess, is that the “this is an X neighborhood” is kind of a dangerous path to go down.

  48. Sheelzebub
    April 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    women can ride their bikes all they want, as long as they cover themselves while riding through the Hasidic neighborhood? Or is that too much to ask from either side?

    I’m sorry, but no. That’s asking a lot of women–what, we have to bring a change of clothes (that men do not have to do) in order to protect the sensibilities of the more outspoken members of a small sect of Judaism? No. Just, no.

    First of all, as has been pointed out above, women pay taxes like everyone else. We are citizens and have every right to use public streets, sidewalks, and bike lanes. We should not have to adhere to special dress codes (that MEN do not have to adhere to). That’s discriminatory and it places an extra burden on women.

    It’s more accurate to say that it objects to the public viewing of the unclothed female form.

    Except the women riding bikes aren’t unclothed. They are wearing the same kinds of clothes as male bicyclists, and yet they’re the only ones catching hell for it. And no, it’s not anywhere near okay to make everyone adhere to your personal or religious values.

    I definitely understand the frustration with the misogyny that is present within certain facets of Judaism. But I’m not sure it’s something that those outside the religion should attempt to change.

    No one here is trying to change this sect of Hasidism–they would simply like to use the bike path and the public areas that are open to, well, everyone. And by everyone, I mean men and women, people of all faiths, all colors, all sexual orientations, etc. It’s public space. It’s no skin off my nose what they believe or how they choose to conduct themselves. But trying to foist these values and codes on other people–or people who do not believe/do not agree with these religious codes–is simply not reasonable.

  49. Ruchama
    April 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    “Would it be possible for the “hipsters” and the Hasidim to come to an agreement: women can ride their bikes all they want, as long as they cover themselves while riding through the Hasidic neighborhood? Or is that too much to ask from either side?”

    I don’t think that’s really the best solution. To begin with, adding or subtracting layers while bike riding can be a pain. Also, I think it is too much to ask of people who are using the public street as a way to get from one place to another, when neither their origin nor their destination has anything to do with the Hasidic neighborhood. For myself, I would never go to a Hasidic synagogue without being dressed according to their modesty rules, and I would consider it polite to at least wear something reasonably modest when visiting a Hasidic person’s house. Even for businesses like kosher restaurants or bookstores that sell religious books, I try to not wear tank tops or shorts. It just seems polite, both to the business owners and to other customers — I don’t want to put someone in the position of violating a religious rule just by being in a store or restaurant which was specifically set up to help them adhere to those rules. But a public street seems different. The streets are meant for everyone.

  50. Sheelzebub
    April 14, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Also, I want to point out what Jill mentioned–the street in question is a major thoroughfare–so women who might be say, biking to work from another neighborhood, and just passing through this neighborhood, would be affected. It’s just not okay to put extra burdens on them WRT dressing extra special or whatever. I’m no fan of some of these hipsters–I think they’re being pretty douchey–but at the end of the day, I think it’s grossly unfair to hold women to a different/higher standard of modesty. Fine if you do that in your private life, but don’t expect people who aren’t part of your culture or in-group to follow suit.

  51. Cha-Cha
    April 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    “[T]he street in question is a major thoroughfare–so women who might be say, biking to work from another neighborhood, and just passing through this neighborhood, would be affected… Fine if you do that in your private life, but don’t expect people who aren’t part of your culture or in-group to follow suit.”

    Agree with this. I should probably also disclose that I’m a community organizer, so I think point #11 in “list of things that make me kinda uncomfortable about this whole deal and how it’s being talked about” would be: feeling like the way this is going, regardless of outcome, is going to further polarize a community rather than bringing people closer together. Neither do I think ladies dressing according to a certain standard is the way to do that, but… it just doesn’t seem like this is going towards a great end.

  52. Tom Foolery
    April 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Good to see we’re still pretending that a book written about cultural mores thousands of years old is still considered a semi-reasonable way to order one’s life. Why, exactly, should we pay any attention to how the Talmud and the Torah say city neighborhoods should be run?

  53. April 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    You know what? You don’t want to see the scary, scary kneecaps of teh wimmins? Look the other way.

    They’ll still have to live with the awful, terrible memory of having beheld those kneecaps in the first place. “What has been seen, cannot be unseen”.

  54. Bagelsan
    April 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I’m really not seeing the “antisemitism” here at all. The objection seems to be not to Jewish men so much as to men who like to control and punish women and use religion as something to hide behind when the non-misogynists around them say “fuck that noise.”

    The “tax money” remark gave me pause –money as motivation for Jews? Fer reals?– but the hipsters themselves aren’t doing anything problematic in my book, just refusing to kowtow to some old dudes with God complexes (whichever patriarchal religion they use to validate these complexes.)

  55. William
    April 14, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I’m really not seeing the “antisemitism” here at all.

    And thats really the core here for me. This entire discussion has been framed as having to do with Satmars and hipsters, with Jewish neighborhoods, with a clash of cultures, with the young versus the old, etc. That isn’t whats happening here. What we’re seeing is a bunch of conservative old men with clout using their power in order to force women to conform with their values. Every other part of the discussion is obfuscation.

  56. April 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Would it be possible for the “hipsters” and the Hasidim to come to an agreement: women can ride their bikes all they want, as long as they cover themselves while riding through the Hasidic neighborhood? Or is that too much to ask from either side?

    Well, who would make this agreement? Satmar men on one side, and who on the other side? Hipster boys in ironic facial hair? White hipsters, male and female? Who’s a “hipster,” really, and how valid would any such agreement be on anyone else who wasn’t represented at this summit?

    Plus, what Sheelzebub said.

    I also want to point something out that maybe hasn’t been clear here: the annoying-hipster stuff about the topless ride started well *after* Bloomberg bought the Satmars’ vote by using City funds to remove the City bike lane from the public street because the Satmars consider non-Satmar women to be a bunch of Jezebels. So in the grand scheme of things, the topless bike ride and any associated whining really isn’t that big a deal. The *real* villain here is the City, and specifically Michael Bloomberg, at whose instigation and for whose benefit this was done.

    There’s also another issue, which wasn’t really touched on in the post, which is parking. The bike lane runs right through where the Satmars have traditionally double-parked along Bedford, and there have been many instances even when the lane was up that there were vehicles parked in it.

  57. April 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    When this was discussed at Metafilter, one woman who bikes through the area shared her experiences:

    “[S]ome Hasidim have often aggressively endangered my well-being when I biked through their hood. Men approached me at stoplights and asked, “How much?”, and took me a few encounters to realize they were asking how much I’d charge for sex. This is less an inquiry into my rates as much as a way to let me know that in their neighborhood, where I’m wearing a skirt and a t-shirt, I look like a whore. Men have walked in front of me in bike lanes, deliberately cutting me off in heavy traffic to the point where I had to swerve off the lane and into the road to avoid hitting them. Vans veer into the lane, cars swerve inches away from my leg, and pretty much no one respects my right to pedal forward at a four-way stop. It’s a huge fucking pain that explains part of the rising tensions between hipsters and Hasidim–yeah, you think I look like a whore on wheels and I’m surely a sign of changing times, but is it really worth heckling me and imperiling my safety when I bike down your street?”

    Fuck these guys.

  58. April 14, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Katie wrote:
    The correct plural is “Hasidim,” not “Hasids.”

    And the correct term for “Jews” is “Yehudim”, the Arabs are really “Al-‘Arab”, and Japanese should be referred to as “Nihonjin”. Good luck getting most English speakers to go along.

  59. April 14, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    “Good to see we’re still pretending that a book written about cultural mores thousands of years old is still considered a semi-reasonable way to order one’s life.”

    I found this incredibly offensive, and realized why this conversation has made me very uncomfortable.

    I don’t think that the Hasidim are in the right here. I have reason to be annoyed with Ultra-Orthodox Jews on a fairly regular basis, probably more than most people posting here. I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic to want a bike lane through the Hasidic neighborhood. It’s a totally reasonable request for bikers. I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic to repaint the line or continue to use those streets. And the men who are harassing female bikers? Fuck them. They’re clearly terrible people. But there HAS been an undercurrent of anti-Semitism, in a lot of the commentary of this issue, and that makes me very unhappy.

    There’s a lot to critique in Judaism when it comes to women and feminism. But can people please keep some context and perspective here when critiquing a marginalized religious group? Especially one that has many vocal feminist voices? Thanks.

  60. rebekah
    April 14, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    @laura,
    women should not have to cover themselves for another person EVER!!!! Women too are human beings (shocking) and therefore their rights trump that of the hasidim of not seeing women with less clothing on than they would like. I don’t care what neighborhood it is. That is a PUBLIC roadway, which means that the hipsters pay for it too, and therefore the hasidim need to stop pushing their religious views on others.

  61. April 14, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Shoshie @ 66: I’ve heard that sentiment expressed far more often towards Christian fundamentalists than towards Jewish ones. I don’t think it’s anti-semitic, so much as anti-religion.

  62. April 14, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Having finally gottena round to reading teh linked article, I’ve decided I feel exactly as much sympathy for the Satmars (or anyone else decrying “gentrification”) as I do towards those white suburbanites who claimed “Black people moving into our neighborhoods will ruin our property values/the unique character of our community!”. That is to say, not much.

  63. Sky
    April 14, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Religious fundamentalists are scum no matter what religion they belong to, and this is just another symptom of it.

    • April 14, 2010 at 10:17 pm

      Oh Sky, if only life were that simple…

      I don’t agree with religious fundamentalists, but they are not universally “scum.” Come on now, we are all capable of more intelligent and nuanced argument than that.

  64. FashionablyEvil
    April 14, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    3. I feel uncomfortable because, I guess, even tho it’s NYC, even tho its not legally “the Satmars neighborhood” or whatever… it sure does seem as an outsider like it’s been the neighborhood where they’ve lived, with their culture, for a really long time. In some ways, it does seem like it’s their neighborhood. In other ways no, but in some ways… yeah.

    But we’re talking about a bike lane on a major thoroughfare through a neighborhood that happens to include some ultra orthodox Jews in a (the) major American city. I’m just having a hard time seeing how they get to dictate who uses that road and how.

  65. April 14, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Mike Crichton- I get pretty peeved when people paint all religious folks with the same brush. We’re not all right wing evangelizing/superfrumster types! I try to live according to the Torah and Talmud and think that’s at least a “semi-reasonable” way to live.

    Second, most of the comments that have squicked me out have specifically targeted Jews, not religious people in general. It’s not good to make generalizations about any people, and maybe I’m just sensitized to this right now because it was just Passover and Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Commemoration Day), but it hurts to see crap like that.

  66. Tom Foolery
    April 14, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    I found this incredibly offensive, and realized why this conversation has made me very uncomfortable.

    I don’t think that the Hasidim are in the right here. I have reason to be annoyed with Ultra-Orthodox Jews on a fairly regular basis, probably more than most people posting here. I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic to want a bike lane through the Hasidic neighborhood. It’s a totally reasonable request for bikers. I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic to repaint the line or continue to use those streets. And the men who are harassing female bikers? Fuck them. They’re clearly terrible people. But there HAS been an undercurrent of anti-Semitism, in a lot of the commentary of this issue, and that makes me very unhappy.

    Feel free to see anti-Semitism to my objection to the fact that a millennias-old book whose only claim to moral authority is that some people think it was authored by god — the same god who actively encourages slavery, inequity, and genocide — still has an effect on contemporary governance. But if we have a goal of a progressive society, laws governing people’s personal behavior need to have a better justification than “my god says so.”

  67. FashionablyEvil
    April 14, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    In doing some additional poking around on the interwebs, it has come to my attention that some people may consider “ultra orthodox” to be a pejorative term. I have not heard it used as such and did not intend it as such, but apologize if anyone is offended by my usage.

  68. William
    April 14, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    I don’t agree with religious fundamentalists, but they are not universally “scum.” Come on now, we are all capable of more intelligent and nuanced argument than that.

    I’m not sure I’d use the same language as Sky, but a big part of me shares their sentiment. Yes, there are a lot of interesting cultural nuances that surround the case and are important to understand and think about, but there is also the manifest content of this story. A group of politically powerful people have sought to use their influence to control the behavior of others, specifically women, so that it more closely conforms to the demands of their god. It might not be the same degree of oppression as say, banning homosexuality, sex toys, or abortion, but it is on the same line.

    • April 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm

      Why the assumption that all religious fundamentalists are men? Or politically powerful?

      Look: I am the LAST person to stand up for religious fundamentalism. I believe it is bad, no matter what its stripe, as a general rule. But the bleeding-heart liberal in me also believes that most people do the best that they can given their circumstances, and that some people who are religious fundamentalists are genuinely well-meaning, in their own weird way, even though I don’t understand it. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t wrong, and we can certainly debate their ideas (and I think we will probably win, as the arc of history has shown). But having wrong ideas and being a bad, malicious, scummy person are two different things. They often overlap, but not always.

    • April 14, 2010 at 11:10 pm

      Sorry, WIlliam, re-reading I see that you meant the politically powerful/gender comments to be about this specific situation.

  69. April 14, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Tom Foolery-

    There is a huge gaping difference between “I don’t think this book which I don’t believe in should dictate how I live my life just because other people believe it.” and “Living according to this book is stupid and wrong and a bad way to live.” You said the latter. Which is offensive to me, a religious person who cares not how you live your life, as long as it doesn’t affect me.

    But you know what? I’m incredibly tired of being told that I’m not wanted in liberal spaces because of my beliefs. So this is the last bit I’m going to post on this topic.

  70. Cha-Cha
    April 15, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Shoshie: “I don’t think that the Hasidim are in the right here. I have reason to be annoyed with Ultra-Orthodox Jews on a fairly regular basis, probably more than most people posting here. I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic to want a bike lane through the Hasidic neighborhood. It’s a totally reasonable request for bikers. I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic to repaint the line or continue to use those streets. And the men who are harassing female bikers? Fuck them. They’re clearly terrible people. But there HAS been an undercurrent of anti-Semitism, in a lot of the commentary of this issue, and that makes me very unhappy.”

    Yeah, this is more articulate than I was.

    I’m a reform Jew. I don’t experience having a ton in common with Satmars… besides us both being Jewish. But some of the commentary has made me “squicky”, as I think Shoshie puts it… and puts me in a position of not being able to 100% get behind a feminist agenda here because of an undercurrent of anti-Semitism which I am kinda sensitive to.

    Also, Jill… I hear you that privilege in this situation is not a black and white issue. I hear you that the Satmars have considerable political clout. When you’re a member of a group that’s historically marginalized, not to mention victimized by genocide, political clout can be something that seems like a good idea to acquire. This is not me saying that the Satmars are in the right here… but it is me saying that political clout may not necessarily correlate directly to privilege. Sometimes its more like a safety net, or a desperately acquired tool, and lots of times, if it weren’t for your groups votes, its a safety net that your group wouldn’t have.

    I urge people to remember that in the middle of this are Jewish feminists, who challenge patriarchal structures from within Judaism all the time. Probably there are even some cranky ladies in the Satmar community, but we are not really hearing from them… I wonder how we could better connect to those voices. Probably we are not going to connect with them by denigrating the Torah tho… it strikes me that the Torah probably factors as pretty important in the lives of Satmar women, some of whom might also be feminists.

    Lastly. I do not agree with the way that women are viewed / treated within the Satmar community… and I mean that in that, I personally would not want to live / be treated in that way. However. Rightfully or wrongfully, when a group of people has a history of another group trying to wipe them from the face of the earth, I imagine that some peoples / communities response might be a seriously increased knee-jerk “defend the culture from outsiders or change” attitude. This kind of response often falls disproportionately on women. This is not my way… or my family’s way… and I’m not arguing that it’s right or wrong, but I do understand it.

    And why bother to understand? It’s pointless to understand if we think living together is impossible… in that case, by all means, proceed with nude bike rides and whatever else will antagonize the Satmar community into… what? Leaving or whatever they decide to do? Or, one could just leave oneself, I guess.

    But, I can only say that my experience is that opening conversations can go an incredibly long way. Maybe I’m wrong… maybe it’s impossible here… but I have been part of dealing with some pretty impossible looking situations, and the first step was successfully opening dialogue, and the first step there was increased understanding, not agreement, and taking full responsibility for how the conversation left people (this increased our power greatly… I really think that with responsibility comes power). I’m not saying no one has tried dialogue – it just sounds like it hasn’t been successful.

    I guess this is me going a little beyond the issue. I mean, to me, it sounds right to re-paint the bike lanes, these being public streets as many folks here have pointed out.

    But after the bike lanes have been repainted, and whatever else, there is the matter of living in a community with one another.

    And it’s that piece about which I remain concerned.

  71. April 15, 2010 at 7:53 am

    “And why bother to understand? It’s pointless to understand if we think living together is impossible… in that case, by all means, proceed with nude bike rides and whatever else will antagonize the Satmar community into… what? Leaving or whatever they decide to do? Or, one could just leave oneself, I guess.”

    This is profoundly anti-female, as are all the comments that put forth a “hey why don’t you try to be nice to the Satmar community before YOU keep attacking THEM,” idea. It’s a public fucking road. Female people were/are using it on bikes the same as males. The antagonism came FROM the Satmar community, towards female bikers, for biking on a main, public thoroughfare.

    But you’re right, all of you who propose this – female bikers (or maybe their more level-headed-because-it’s-not-directly-involving-their-bodies! male co-bikers?) should try to be understanding and bring some fucking pies to a community summit with people who HATE them.

    Male supremacist religions, practices, political actions, and street harassment are hateful against female people. Female people have a right not to do anything but reject such hatred as unacceptable. If Judaism, or Christianity, or Islam, and/or any other religion is NOT male supremacist and thus female-hating, then those who practice it/them as such are the anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-Muslim ones, not the female people who say “hi, no fucking thank you,” when affected by the male supremacy/female-hatred being expressed/enacted towards them.

  72. La BellaDonna
    April 15, 2010 at 8:38 am

    They’ll still have to live with the awful, terrible memory of having beheld those kneecaps in the first place. “What has been seen, cannot be unseen”

    “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.”

  73. preying mantis
    April 15, 2010 at 9:46 am

    “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.”

    I don’t know that that’s really an applicable teaching, here. Though yes, it would be quite an effective method of avoiding sin or temptation believed to accrue beginning with the sight of something.

  74. April 15, 2010 at 10:34 am

    “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.”

    Wrong book, these are Jews we’re talking about here. _I_ was quoting LOLcats.

  75. La BellaDonna
    April 15, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Heh, Lolcats frequently offers a better option, IMO; I was just throwing in some Ancient Advice Read In A Book. Puts the onus on the sinners – who, in this case, are NOT the women bikers, who were not in violation of the laws of their country.

    If you see sin somewhere, go elsewhere. And if the bikers are being attacked, they have every right to defend themselves. I’d be tempted to let the police know that the men in that area were attempting to solicit for prostitution – which, as far as I know, is NOT currently legal in NY.

  76. Cha-Cha
    April 15, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Yeah, I didn’t say they didn’t have the right to defend themselves. In fact, I said, several times, pretty explicitly, that I think the Satmars are pretty wrong about how they’re treating bikers, particularly female bikers.

    • April 15, 2010 at 11:33 am

      Also, Jill… I hear you that privilege in this situation is not a black and white issue. I hear you that the Satmars have considerable political clout. When you’re a member of a group that’s historically marginalized, not to mention victimized by genocide, political clout can be something that seems like a good idea to acquire. This is not me saying that the Satmars are in the right here… but it is me saying that political clout may not necessarily correlate directly to privilege. Sometimes its more like a safety net, or a desperately acquired tool, and lots of times, if it weren’t for your groups votes, its a safety net that your group wouldn’t have.

      I agree. But the thing with concepts like “privilege” is that they’re helpful to a point in understanding the way that things are structured, but a lot of the conversation around them tends to be a little… simplistic. Like, this group Has Privilege and this group Does Not Have Privilege. Political clout doesn’t necessarily correlate to privilege, but it is a factor. The Satmars are marginalized in some ways and privileged in others. Their political clout does allow them to extend their religious views onto the greater community, in a way that most other groups in NYC are unable to do. That is a privilege, even if that clout was earned out of historical necessity, you know?

      But after the bike lanes have been repainted, and whatever else, there is the matter of living in a community with one another.

      Yeah, that’s an important point, and part of what I was trying to get to in the post. The reason this bike lane is such an issue is because of the history of problems in Williamsburg, between all kinds of groups. After the bike lane drama ends, those issues will continue; but how both groups address the issue at hand will influence how everyone can live in the community for a long time going forward.

  77. bekabot
    April 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    “Some bikers started acting like jerks — suggesting topless bike-rides, for example (a knee-jerk reaction that I can understand, to a point, but which seems kind of purposely antagonizing and not particularly productive in this particular circumstance).”

    Well, shoot, who’s acting like a jerk? Aren’t the Satmars also acting like jerks?

    I live in a part of the country where the culture is basically body-shy and where the standard of personal presentation is modest and diffident. The body-shyness and diffidence are both very real. It’s also (as fate would have it) a part of the country in which the naked bike ride is a public institution. That’s real too. Somehow the standard in the one direction doesn’t interfere with the standard in the other. Why is that?

    I don’t buy the idea that you can have decency, or you can have liberty, but you can’t have both. It is possible to strike a cultural balance under which you can have both; parts of the world exist in which the people have done that. I have a certain amount of sympathy for the Hasidim in Williamsburg, but it is they, not their opponents, who refuse to do the cultural work which would enable them to co-exist with people who aren’t like them. (And, as has been pointed out, if you expect not to have to do that in a place like NYC, you’re setting the bar mighty darned high.)

    I’ll go out on a limb and say that when you’ve gotten to the point at which you regard a chick on a bike as your attacker, something is wrong with your culture. I’ll go out on another limb and say that if you have a problem with a woman in a skirt, maybe it’s about time you were confronted a woman wearing a thick layer of body paint, full stop, and had to make your peace with that. In a manner of speaking, you’ve got it coming.

    Because, let’s face it, people who confuse female visibility with female aggressiveness don’t embrace their confusion in innocence. They do it because it limits women’s options, and they know it. The Satmar contention is not that they themselves are content to be modest. It is, rather, that everybody else has to remain modest (their definition of “modest”) so as not to offend them. Maybe an actual challenge to the self-containment of groups like this would induce them to locate their modesty in themselves, instead of in their surroundings.

    • April 15, 2010 at 3:08 pm

      I live in a part of the country where the culture is basically body-shy and where the standard of personal presentation is modest and diffident. The body-shyness and diffidence are both very real. It’s also (as fate would have it) a part of the country in which the naked bike ride is a public institution. That’s real too. Somehow the standard in the one direction doesn’t interfere with the standard in the other. Why is that?

      Well, this is an aside, but I grew up in the same part of the country you’re referencing and I honestly am not sure what you’re talking about. Seattle is more liberal than New York! The public naked bike ride exists because Seattle is basically full of hippies and socialists. And I say that with all kinds of love. Comparing Fremont to Hasidic Williamsburg is… not even a comparison.

      But that’s not the point, anyway. Look, if bicycles want to have a topless or naked or whatever bike ride, god bless ’em — I’ll stand up for their legal right to so. My problem is with planning a topless bike ride as a form of advocacy for a bike lane that is being challenged by a religious minority. Again, I understand the knee-jerk response is to be like, “You know what, fuck you. If you can’t deal with girls on bikes in skirts, let’s see how you deal with girls on bikes without shirts.” I get it, I really do! But strategically, I don’t think it’s particularly smart. I think it makes the bikers look juvenile, honestly, and purposely confrontational. As others have pointed out, this is a neighborhood that has a long history of problems, and where there are going to be clashes going forward. It seems to me that the bikers here could set a good example by trying to be reasonable, good neighbors — go about their business like normal, and emphasize that that’s all they want to do. Make the people who are pushing their religion onto the public streets the ones who look unreasonable. Because a bunch of topless women riding by is not going to challenge the Satmars’ self-containment or make them locate the modesty in themselves. It’s just going to antagonize them.

      Again: If this is what the bikers want to do, I will support their right to do it. I just think it’s foolish, and kind of jerky.

  78. April 15, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I’ll go out on another limb and say that if you have a problem with a woman in a skirt, maybe it’s about time you were confronted a woman wearing a thick layer of body paint, full stop, and had to make your peace with that.

    That sort of argument can be taken too far, though. “Oh, so they don’t wanna see gays holding hands? we’ll just have gay-sex right on the streets then, and see how they like that!”

  79. Alara Rogers
    April 15, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    “I’ll go out on another limb and say that if you have a problem with a woman in a skirt, maybe it’s about time you were confronted a woman wearing a thick layer of body paint, full stop, and had to make your peace with that.”

    That sort of argument can be taken too far, though. “Oh, so they don’t wanna see gays holding hands? we’ll just have gay-sex right on the streets then, and see how they like that!”

    Yeah, gotta agree with Mike. I don’t want to see naked people bike past my house. The difference between me and the Satmar is that I live in a large pluralistic country where the vast majority of people do not want to see naked people bike past their houses, where it takes special effort for a person to get naked and get on a bike, and where most of the naked bikers would themselves be fighting against their own *personal* culture stigma against nakedness.

    If the Satmar lived in a tiny commune in a remote part of New York State where essentially no one could get there without specifically going there, then their community standard that women should not be dressed “immodestly” could be respected without infringing on women’s rights. I would still *disagree* with that standard, but I would say that so long as the women in the community agree with the standard, I don’t have any standing to tell them they can’t do that. But if you want to live on a major thoroughfare in New York City… you have to accept the lowest common denominator of decency standards, and the lowest common denominator is the bikini. If the women biking past your house have their genitals and their nipples covered, YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SAY JACK ABOUT IT. It’s a public road and they have every right to practice their own chosen decency standard on a public road, down to the limit that is widely accepted in our culture.

    One can argue that we *should* accept nudity, but right now we don’t. Nudity is not an accepted public standard for decency anywhere in the US except specific nudist colonies. Bare breasts on women are accepted almost nowhere in the US except in the context of breastfeeding. So the US has a cultural standard that we expect men and women to conform to, and surprise surprise, it’s stricter for women. (Although in a sense that’s arguable; I suspect that naked women in public are much less likely to be arrested as sex offenders than men.) But it’s much lower than the Satmar standard, and they have no right to demand that people on the public roads conform to their higher, more restrictive standard. They don’t own the road.

    Now I don’t think that “not wanting to see a naked person on a bike” equals “not wanting to see a woman dressed for the weather on a bike”, and I’m not in favor of “they think they’re shocked *now*, let’s *really* shock them” tactics. But… seriously? You want to imperil bike riders of both sexes in order to force women to conform to a restrictive standard that only you think is a good idea, on the PUBLIC ROAD that they pay taxes on? Uh, no. Not on. Not on at all. I don’t think they need to be exposed to naked people on bikes, but I do think the bike lane needs to go back up and the Satmar need to be told in no uncertain terms that they do not own the road and are not allowed to dictate what kind of person is allowed to use it.

    And men who get in women’s faces on the bike line need to be arrested for harassment. Or for attempting to solicit prostitutes, if they are coming up to bike riders and asking them what they charge.

  80. April 15, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Hey, I’ve got an idea. The City should provide appropriate bike lanes, including on Bedford Avenue. Everybody should obey the applicable laws about clothing, which in NY does not even require women to cover breasts. And if some people try to assault or intimidate women who are complying with those laws for being in “their” neighborhood, they should be arrested and charged. My idea has and advantage of not requiring the agreement of any faction of the public, because it’s already the fucking law. All it requires is enforcement.

    Zuzu’s right. This is Mayor Mike’s craven creation. When Rudy was in charge, he threatened to shut down a museum for offending his cultural sensibilities, and I think we all agree that was wrong. Now Mike takes the wrong side in a dispute — a dispute between people who want to be in public, and people who want people in public to follow a special code that their religion imposes — because he needs the votes.

    If the community in question was a bunch of Christian extremists, we wouldn’t have any of this one-the-other-hand stuff.

    • April 15, 2010 at 4:34 pm

      Basically yes to everything that Thomas said.

  81. William
    April 15, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    That sort of argument can be taken too far, though. “Oh, so they don’t wanna see gays holding hands? we’ll just have gay-sex right on the streets then, and see how they like that!

    I’m not sure thats too far because the difference comes down to oppression. If I’m out with a group of people at a restaurant and I know one of them used to be an alcoholic then theres a good chance I’ll consider not ordering a beer in front of them (depending on the context). If I didn’t know, ordered a beer, and the person politely mentioned that it made them uncomfortable and explained why, then I likely wouldn’t order another beer. If instead the person became confrontational, called me a lush for ordering a beer in the first place, and demanded that I leave then I’d order a Manhattan, toast Pellonpekko, and strike up a conversation with any other like minded folks about the glories of alcohol.

    There is never anything wrong with meeting oppression head on with ridicule and stridency. This isn’t a story about a group of sensitive people voicing an objection and being shouted down by the mean old hipsters. Its about a group of people making an unreasonable demand upon the liberty of others, based solely upon their interpretation of the rules of their god and aimed primarily at the bodies of an oppressed group, and then using their political power to enforce that demand. Fuck ’em, they deserve any shock they get short of vandalism or assault.

  82. bekabot
    April 15, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Alas. I wasn’t making a concrete recommendation about what should happen or even what might happen. I was only pointing out that what does happen in my neck of the woods does happen, exactly once a year on schedule, and that it happens without society collapsing and without a marked diminution in anybody’s morals or morale. Afterwards people go back to being their drab selves and to dressing accordingly. (Seattle may be more liberal than New York, but I bet that if ten or twelve inhabitants were to be selected off the streets of either city, and the degree of ostentation–the “i dare you to take your eyes off me” factor–of both groups were to be gauged, the New Yorkers would come out on top.)

    And needless to say, what happens at times of celebration or protest is not what happens on a day-to-day basis, nor should it be.

    What it comes down to, I suppose, is that I don’t think the Satmars are acting in good faith. This is not a charge I level at them alone; it’s a charge I’d be willing to level against most religious groups of their type (I leave out the Amish and the dwellers in compounds situated deep in the countryside for the same reasons Alara does). Ingrown, in other words, isolated without the self-honesty which goes with actual physical isolation*, puritanically severe because they take advantage of a system which relieves them of the necessity of performing any prohibited task.

    “Now let’s really shock them” was not quite my idea. My idea was more along the lines of: “It’s not so much that these guys are more shocked by the sight of clothed women or naked women. They’re shocked at the sight of women, that’s all, and that’s where, so far as they are concerned, the story ends.** The rest is all garnish and gravy. That being true, it is appropriate, in an Ultimate High Karmic Sense, that they be unquestionably presented, maybe just for once in a way, with the Fact they are trying to dodge.***

    Then maybe that whole implicit thing about how religious men (of a certain stripe) are for “good” women but against “bad” women and how they’re trying to protect female purity (mostly as an element in itself as little indebted to the physical presence of women as they can manage) will go poof, and about time too, and we can revert to talking about the issues of influence and power–about, to reduce the thing to its essence, “who has the right of way”, which are all these guys are genuinely interested in anyhow.

    (Take the word maybe out of the paragraph directly above and underline it three times.)

    *I believe, though I can’t prove, that the lineal shetl-dwelling ancestors of the present-day Satmars probably were probably better-integrated people than their descendants, if only because they had to negotiate a technically unsophisticated style of life.

    **They are, to put it differently, professionally shocked. Being shocked is part of their portfolio, part of their raison d’etre, as it is for Ralph Nader and Dr. Laura.

    ***Though I don’t claim to be right about this. I was writing a commentary on a blog post, not a manifesto.

  83. jemand
    April 15, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    I don’t really like rationalizations or reasons spending so much time trying to suss out the *reasons* these fundamentalists decide to target women, and then spend all time on STRATEGY talking about the women being targeted. Honestly, it reminds me about how the broader culture discusses rape, “dudebro wants to get laid” and “evopsych makes him!” and then when they talk STRATEGY for solution it is all about restricting female movement.

    I’m really not terribly a fan. Explaining the belligerent’s actions as something that aren’t going to change, spending energy finding out ‘justifications’ for such behaviors, and dumping all the work for the solution on the targeted individual by arguing the ‘perfect response’ isn’t really all that cool.

  84. Bagelsan
    April 16, 2010 at 2:24 am

    Hmm, I’m not trying to hate on the whole “starting a conversation” idea, but I’ll bet it’d be pretty short:

    Female bikers: “We want to be treated like humans with a right to public spaces.”

    Asshole old dudes: “Oooh, that’s not gonna work for us. You whores.”

    There are just things you can’t compromise on — like access to public spaces — no matter how much small judgmental groups of patriarchs kick their wee feetsies and hold their collective breaths.

    As for being offended that people don’t like your (or any) religion; cry moar, vast religious majority of the world population. I basically see all the 3 big monotheistic religions either as, at worst, straight-up unapologetically racist, misogynistic and violently oppressive crowd-control, or, at best, as failing attempts to sanitize something that has 1000s of years of history of being unapologetically racist, misogynistic and violently oppressive crowd-control. (The non-Abrahamic religions catch a break from me just ’cause I don’t know much about them.)

    Calling religion bullshit is offensive? D’you know what’s *actually* offensive? Telling people not to use condoms or they’ll go to hell. Or that women should be beaten for indecency. Bicycling, in contrast, while not my favorite activity, never resulted in the slaughter of millions of innocent people through wars, disease, fanaticism, etc.

    Refusing to couch a dislike of such oppressive systems in cute euphemisms and polite language is just being morally honest. And all the concern about nude bike rides is just a “tone” argument, too, in my book — don’t undermine your legal position, naturally, but since when do we want our activists to be demure ladies?

  85. Ze Ratfink
    April 18, 2010 at 3:39 am

    As noted by one commenter above, for many this was about parking, not modesty — note that the other bike lanes (on neighboring avenues, in the same neighborhood) were not targeted. Jill’s piece is thoughtful, but it takes as given that modesty was the primary concern. I’m not sure it was. Some further reading, from January: http://www.theawl.com/2010/01/the-spandex-report-with-erica-sackin-the-great-bedford-avenue-bike-lane-debate

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