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Immodest Smurfery

Smurfette has been removed from Smurfs: The Lost Village movie posters in Israel’s Bnei Brak neighborhood

Marjorie Ingall
March 29, 2017
(The Smurfs / Facebook)The SmurfsSmurfs: The Lost Village
(The Smurfs / Facebook)(The Smurfs / Facebook)The SmurfsSmurfs: The Lost Village

The only female smurf, Smurfette, was removed from movie posters in ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, this week. According to The Times of Israel, the city has a law preventing advertising with women’s images that “might incite the feelings of the city’s residents.” Hence the expunging of Smurfette from Smurfs: The Lost Village (opening April 7 in the USA). In the Haredi world, Smurfette’s promotional duties will be handled by dude Smurfs Brainy, Clumsy, and Hefty. Elsewhere in Israel, Smurfette shall stand with her blue brethren.

Smurfette has illustrious company in erasure! We all remember Tablet’s Million Merkel March, a visual response to the digital excising of Angela Merkel in ultra-Orthodox newspapers from the 2015 march in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. One editor, Binyamin Lipkin of HaMevaser, told Israel’s Channel 10 that eliminating Merkel was the right choice for his readership. He said, “True, a picture of Angela Merkel should not ruin the child, but if I draw a line, I have to put it there from the bottom all the way to the top.” He added that the motivation was to show respect for the victims of the terrorists. “Including a picture of a woman into something so sacred, as far as we are concerned–it can desecrate the memory of the martyrs, and not the other way around.”

Hillary Clinton has long posed a problem for ultra-Orthodox media. They often show her husband or her house in Chappaqua when discussing her. But sometimes her image is hard to avoid. In 2011, the Brooklyn newspaper Di Tzeitung eradicated her from a photo of the White House situation room during the assassination of Osama bin Laden. (Stephen Colbert stated, “I’m with the Hasids on this one. There is nothing more sexually suggestive than a woman killing a terrorist.”) Back in August, the upstate New York Haredi newspaper Yated Ne’eman made news by publishing its very first photo of Hillary–well, a smidgen of her. It showed her hand, waving, at a Florida campaign rally. The rest of her body and her face were blocked by a podium.

Just last month, IKEA in Israel made news when it created a new catalog aimed at the ultra-Orthodox community, featuring only men and boys. The unintended result of this home-store fantasy world is to make it appear that Haredi men are raising their boy children in wholesome polyamorous same-sex relationships. On a more serious note, pondering the many images of men doing childcare and managing a home made a Ynet commenter note, “Perhaps it will inspire some men to help more around the house.”

Images of women are viewed as seductive because of a commentary on the Torah forbidding mistakel, staring at things that could cause evil thoughts. (Hearing a women’s singing voice can also be problematic.) Since seductiveness is in the eye of the beholder, and since determining whether a woman’s garb and demeanor conform to the rules of tznius (modesty) can be a challenge, ultra-Orthodox media may find it easier to avoid all pictures of women. American ultra-Orthodox publications have followed the lead of Israeli ultra-Orthodox newspapers, in which avoiding images of women is standard operating procedure. So it makes sense that marketers of surfy animated movies and fine flat-pack Swedish furniture trying to appeal to a given community would create campaigns that conform to that community’s strictures. Even if the females being erased are blue and non-human.

“Purity and modesty are natural to women, not public exposure,” said the female publisher of the newspaper Hamodia, Ruth Lichtenstein, in an 2015 interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. “It is unfortunate that modern times deny women this precious quality and instead turn them into objects.” The decision not to publish photos of women (Hamodia does run caricatures and editorial cartoons depicting women) is grounded in “respect for women’s rights for privacy and modesty.” Shoshana Friedman, the editor of the weekly family publication Mishpacha, is aware of the irony of doing her job while not showing women doing their jobs. She told CJR she periodically hears from readers who say, “Why don’t you run pictures of women? I want my daughter to have role models in life. I want her to see that women can achieve great things.” Her regretful response: “For these women I don’t have a good answer.”

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

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