Thursday, February 11, 2010

Modesty at work

Some days ago, I finished reading a book that talked about various aspects of modesty, and how we can all improve in this area. It was written by an Israeli Orthodox rabbi.

In particular, some valuable advice was offered on how men and women should conduct themselves in places of work with both male and female employees – no touching, even casual, no conversation outside the boundaries of business, being careful not to remain alone with a member of the opposite sex even for a short while.

All these precautions might sound excessive, but the truth is, men and women are wired to be attracted to each other, and when they are cooped up together for many hours a day, the spark just might go off some time, wrecking havoc in people's lives. Countless families had been ruined because of affairs in the work place.  

However, the author glossed over the most important aspect of the problem: the presence of both men and women at work in the first place.

I know I risk sounding radical, but I truly believe one must be blind to not be aware of the dangers in free intermingling of men and women. The problem is exacerbated when men and women stay overnight in close proximity, such as in college dorms or in the army. Every year, there are stories about how high rank officials in the Israeli army were caught in affairs with young female soldiers who were assigned to be their secretaries. We are talking about girls of about 18-20 years of age. Many of their commanders are married, and the resulting tragedy casts a shadow on the entire lives of these young women.

As careful as we are, as certain as we might be that our own family life is beyond such risks, awkward situations can and do happen. It's not just about blatantly immodest dress and behavior; perhaps even more dangerous is the intimacy and friendship that develops when sitting next to each other for a long time every day. I truly believe most people have the best interests in heart, and most affairs begin innocently, until one day they are not innocent anymore.

True, we are supposed to resist temptation should we be tested, but there is a barrier of avoiding temptation in the first place. Ignoring this barrier, I believe, is rooted in pride and excessive security in one's own resistance. You never know how slippery a situation can get, and how quickly.

Back when the majority of women were homemakers, the problem of morals in the work place did not exist to such extent. I don't believe in radical artificial isolation of men from women (separate sidewalks, obligatory separation in buses, as can be seen in some areas of Israel), but when most people in a woman's surroundings are other women and she only sometimes has random polite contact with men, much of the problem is solved. 

PS: I'm in the process of incorporating some ads into my sidebar, and I hope you will bear with me while I work it out. To tell the truth, I prefer seeing ad-free blogs and I kept my own blog ad-free for a long time, but at the current situation, if I might earn a bit from ads I can't pass it up. I hope you don't mind too much. Thanks for your patience! 


Anonymous said...

I agree completely. I work in a male dominated office and found a male coworker was getting too friendly for my tastes. God is faithful, and seeing my distress, made it possible for me to move to an enclosed office, where I don't have any close male neighbors.

For privacy reasons, I've marked this post Anonymous. I don't want someone in my organization to see this, put two and two together, and start a rumor.

Sarah Brodsky said...

What is the title of the book you were reading?

Stam House said...

thanks for this post! Yes their is a problem when both gender are getting to be to "close to" each other .

Temptation is real, men are tempted by what they see and Women by what they hear.

I agree that a women place is in her home and the husband working as the provider should not have to deal with temptation while he is away from home.

Emily said...

Hi! I have been following your blog for a few months now and I love reading about your life in Israel and enjoy reading what you think on many matters (I haven't read everything on your blog at this point in time). You are a blessing~

Anonymous said...

I appreciate you broaching this topic. I have felt the same way for quite awhile. I don't appreciate women working side by side with my husband. I would prefer to have him working in a male only office.

Inca said...

"Back when the majority of women were homemakers, the problem of morals in the work place did not exist to such extent"

I recall those days well and all secretaries (and typists and stenos) were female...and the bosses and co-workers were usually male. And the secretary of those days functionned as a much more personal assistant. And, in fact, there was a lot 'going on'. The difference was that in 'those' days the sensitivity of the press and general public was such that these things were not so well known.

There is a slackening of morality in all areas today.

I do agree that in chareidi circles one should be careful 'on the job' between males and females. I am fortunate in that I work in a place that is very sensitive to this issue. One of the things that struck me when I began working here was that no male will address a female by her first name. At first this struck me as slightly odd...but it is a very fitting reminder, a reminder to keep a formal distance and in the case of a married woman, to call her by her husband's last name strengthens the reminder. Nice idea, huh? Actually, it is a halacha that a man call a married woman by her husbands name when he addresses her.

Jodi said...

Thank you for saying what few people have the nerve to say, Anna. Well said!

WesternWoodburner said...

This is so true.

Heather M said...

I do think you are right. If women weren't pressured to work then many of the affairs wouldn't happen.

As for the ads it is a matter of personal opinion and you should do whatever you need to do.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes- I agree! The Bible tells us to flee from temptation.

However, from my point of view (as a young woman) I see many of my friends purposely putting themselves in these positions in hope of a potential husband. I was shocked at first when one close friend signed herself up to be in the military, but not so much anymore. Some of us are just staring spinsterhood in the face (or so we think) and tend to act desperately.

As for married women, I don't know why they would want to be in the workforce in the first place. If I were lucky enough to be married, an office cubicle is the last place I would want to be, away from my babies and pushing papers all day.

So yes, although unmarried men and women should not work in close proximity, the sad reality is that many people meet their spouses in those situations. At least, that is my understanding of the matter.

Rebecca said...

I think having ads on your blog is a great idea and I hope that you and your dear family will profit from it. Few blogs are ad-free these days anyway. I promise to click often to hopefully help drive up your income!

Take care.

Amber said...

Hmm. I'll agree that men and women do cheat on their spouses, and this can happen in the workplace. But isn't segregating the workplace just sweeping things under the carpet? It seems to me like people will find a way to cheat on their partner if they want to, regardless if it's at work or outside the home.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you are radical at all. I think this makes sense. Families are ruined by adultery. It happens everyday. My mother met her lover at work. She had an affair, and at twelve years old I was faced with having to say goodbye to my dad and live with a new father figure. It was horrible. He was abusive and still is. If my mother had stayed home, I feel that I would still have had my family intact, and my mother and my sisters would not have suffered abuse for over twenty years.

From my own experience, before I quit my job as an engineer ( a male-dominated field), there were many many men flirting with me. I found myself struggling with not responding in kind to these advances. It became difficult to focus on work. I am so glad that I quit. I feel that if I didn't, my children may have had to face the same horrible ramifications of divorce and a mother who committed an affair as well.

Yes, we should all try to stand firm against temptation, but why provoke it? Why make it too easy to cross the line? We are human after all, and our flesh is weak.

I am so glad to be home. My husband and I no longer argue, and I am devoted to him.

Thanks for your blog.

Mrs. R said...

My Dearest Anna,
I hadn't responded to any of your previous posts about the necessity of your having to return to the work force and all. I have been a working-outside-the-home mother and know what a difficult thing that is!

First, I want you and your husband to know that I am praying he will find lucrative work... soon! I know you believe your place (when at all possible) is at home with your little one and the little ones to come! May they be many!!

I have read your blog (all the way from the beginning!!) and not once did I detect a note of UN-sympathy towards the plight of mothers in the work force. Yet you courageously stand for the truth that mothers belong at home, taking care of the home front and raising any children they may be blessed with. And though we both know that your current situation is not the ideal, I believe that this situation, allowed by a Sovereign God, will give you an additional measure of empathy for the working mother. It's the "been there, done that, bought the t-shirt" reality that you will be able to speak from now, not just knowing the truth but having to live the non-ideal for a time (may it be SHORT!).

I for one am SO GLAD that you are putting ads on your blog!! It was going to be one of my suggestions as a way for you to make a little money, but I never posted it. I also thought the idea (posted by someone else who's name I cannot now not remember) of you possibly doing translation work was an excellent one. Your fluency with the English language is outstanding. I am assuming it is NOT your first language and possibly not even your second...?

The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.
~Mrs. R

Jo said...

I find this difficult to agree with - I work in a team full of males (there is only 2 females) - being an occupation than attracts males. I have never been attracted to the males I work with and have never been treated in any way but in a respectful way. In fact of all the men I have worked with all have been kind and pleasant (and happily married). We chat at morning and afternoon tea, the conversations are diverse but never sexist or rude and there is no bad language of any sort. I dress with modesty and I have never had a male colleague look at me in the wrong way.

I work in a place with tight workplace rules regarding harassment and bullying - and everyone know that the Code of Conduct outlines how to treat "all people" eg respecting others.

I find it odd that the rabbi states the "no conversation" idea - I have had many conversations with my male team members and have never felt threatened or tempered in any way. We talk about cooking, our children, travel, politics etc.... (rarely sport).

Be careful not to paint all men as out to "get women" as most are not like this at all. Women need to be strong and should not have to hide from men (half the population) - as that would be a terrible thing to happen. My Christian faith has never told me to hide from the world or to segregate myself from males, but to act in a modest manner and resist temptation.

Anonymous said...

My Mom shared with me when I was grown that in the 60's when she was a stay home Mom she decided to take an outside job in order to be able to buy my Dad a Christmas gift from her own money. Within 2 weeks she struck up a fun friendship with her male co worker they got along well and it was all very innocent. In another week she found herself having lunch with this handsome funny co worker and they actually discussed their marriages , his not so happy and my Mom felt sympathetic towards him.My Mom was very in love with my Dad they had a great marriage and yet she said she realized what a slippery slope she was on that day, she said it made the blood in her veins run cold when she realized she was making excuses in her mind why this was really just an innocent friendship why it was really okay to have lunch with a man and discuss private affairs. That day she quit her job without 2 weeks notice she said even one more day would have been dangerous. I have worked with men all my life and have seen this thing happen a lot,I am so grateful my Mom was able to see this and stop before it was to late, and that she told me about it . How many times I have heard other working women puff up and say their husbands aren't going to tell them who they can be friends with! That it is emotional abuse when husbands question their friendships with other men, going to lunch or phone calls or whatever. When I hear a woman talk that way I figure she is either in an affair already or ignorant of the path she is on.It is playing with fire no matter how they protest that They are of course so strong morally that nothing like that could happen to them.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that the office is a prime place for romance to develop, and precaution should be exercised, I'm not sure things were that much better a generation or two ago.
As someone above mentioned, there were always secretaries, assistants, etc....probably more than today, actually. And it was abolutely acceptable - even expected- to choose one's secretary based on how pretty she was.
Nurses always worked side by side with doctors. Etc, etc.
I just think people turned more of a blind eye once. It wasn't such a big deal if a man had a fling with his young, single secretary, as long as he didn't leave his wife for her. Today, married women are also part of the equation, and the double standard still exists, making office romances more scandolous than in the past.
Plus, of course, today many of these romances go beyond the office.

Smoochagator said...

You may be radical, but you make a very good point!

Anonymous said...

I agree with this 100%! I'll be posting anonymously as well. Awhile back we had a gentleman start in our office (or office is very much female dominated) At the time I was a supervisor, working closely with this man to train him on the things we do in our office. We did talk a lot about non-office things, which like you said was innocent enough but then things started to different. We never crossed any physical boundaries, but I knew my heart had crossed them all. I talked to my supervisors, explained that I was no longer comfortable working 1 on 1 with him and I didn't train him anymore. I prayed so much, asking for strength and for "those" feelings to go away. My prayers were answered - this guy was transferred out of the department. I did eventually come clean with my husband, he was hurt but he instantly forgave me and we promised each other that we would lean on each other when our marriage is tested.
Your post is very true. I've recently stepped down from my supervisor position, it require too much work on my part and I became exhausted more easily - high stress. :)
Great post!!

Pendragon said...

Any degree of sex segregation in the workplace would be a disaster for working women. Men are still mostly in charge, so segregation would limit women's chances of advancement. I would not have advanced within my law firm if I had not had a chance to work closely with the senior men in the firm or if I had not had close relationships with male lawyers outside the firm who referred clients to me. Frankly, I think my right to do my work and earn the best living that I can for my family takes precedence over the fear that someone somewhere might commit adultery. (To be clear, it is not clear to me from the last sentence in Anna's post whether she is advocating segregation or not.)

I also strongly disagree with the notion that is prideful or inaccurate to believe one is impervious to an affair. I have worked closely with male colleagues throughout my career. Several of these men are dear friends with whom I have lunch, chit chat on the phone, exchange funny emails. I also have similar relationships with many women. (These friendly relationships, by the way, are extremely important professionally. There are often times when you need a recommendation, an introduction or some other professional favor. It helps to have people whom you can feel comfortable calling and asking for help.) But as much as I cherish my male friends, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would never in a billion years cheat on my husbnad. There are certain clearly marked lines in life that you simply do not cross. (And again, I don't think I should be punished as a working women because some people choose not to control themselves.)

Do workplace affairs happen? Sure. But I doubt they happen with the frequency that some homemakers may imagine. Everyone is working too hard to have time or energy for trysts and deception!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs. Anna T,

I have been following your blog for a little while now, and have enjoyed reading your insights on home and family. You have given me a greater appreciation for the role of a stay at home wife and mother. I always knew it was hard work, but I never knew it could be a joy as well.

Your pictures and posts about Israel have shown me a country with warm poeople and beautiful landscapes, not something we see from tne news headlines here in the United States.

Your last few posts,have given me cause to want ask some questions and perhaps offer some respectful disagreement.

It seems from your post "modesty in the workplace" you are saying that problems of sexual harrasment would be eliminated if women did not work outside the home. Is this what you are advocating?

Do you make a distinction between a job and a career?

While I admire your dedication to home life, you do not seem to account for women who ENJOY what they do out side the home. For example my mother is an entomologist (a person who studies insects), and a professor. One of her greatest joys is sharing her knowledge of insects with her students. (Yes, she shared this love with her two daughters while rasing them by herself)

I understand you are frustrated with your current situation, my prayers have been with you and your husband, I know what is like to work in a job you do not care for. I would gladly stay at home,but finances do not permit the move just yet(hopefully soon:)).

I am grateful to live in a country where a woman CAN be an engineer, or scientist or writer, or artist or doctor or what ever. I am grateful that the opportunties for women who by choice or need, work outside the home are no longer limited to low paying, menial tasks made more so by the blatent sexism of past generations.

Sorry for the long post but I have been wanting to respond to you for a while.

I really like your blog and you are a source of inspiration to me.

Mrs. W.

Pendragon said...

More thoughts:

I should also mention that my husband has really close female friends from work. His best friend in our profession is a woman. I love the fact that my husband gets along so well with women. It is hard for me to even imagine seeing this as a bad thing, when it seems to me like a really good thing.

This leads me to another thought. I actually think that the close rubbing of shoulders between the sexes in the workplace is a fantastic thing for our society and women in particular -- and not just on a professional level. You see, if women and men are separated, they become mysterious to each other. I am convinced that the old saying is wrong -- familiarity does not breed contempt, mystery breeds contempt. It is easy to dehumanize people that you don't have much contact with. The consequences of this are worse for women because men have traditionally had more power. Separation of the sexes makes it easier for men to believe that women are goofy, irrational, hysterical, conniving, nasty creatures, i.e. that we are not human. But when we work side by side on the same tasks, men get used to seeing women dealing with the same things they deal with and going through the same struggles. This leads to greater empathy between the sexes -- and greater respect.

When I compare the respect I enjoy as a woman in 2010 with the lack of respect my mother had to endure as a woman in 1975, I am convinced a great part of that is the greater familiarity of the sexes with each other today.

Undersharing said...

I'm a liberal feminist and affairs in the workplace bother me immensely. Just five minutes ago, I watched a married guy leave with a woman who he is well-known to be involved with.

I don't like having to deal with these situations. When you have to consider whether something you're saying is gossip, or very carefully crafting the things you say to avoid gossip about the elephant in the room, there's a problem. I'm thinking about statements like " went to a trade show with last week"- it seems regular and innocent to say but the web of lies is just so thick that you may say something that starts a war. It opens the company up to harassment lawsuits and the level of drama is unnecessary.

I do think it's unethical in almost every situation to have a relationship with someone you work with. Even if it is two single people, what happens when they break up?

Anonymous said...

Anna, thank you for revealing the truths that many do not like to face. When you wrote about the military situations and the close-quarters living, it spoke to me. My own mother ended her marriage with my loyal, loving father because she had an affair with another Airman when she went "TDY" (temporary duty assignment) to South America for several weeks when I was 13. She eventually married that man, but then divorced him to develop her relationship with her superior officer, with whom she worked 40+ hours per week in close quarters. She is really a good, nice person, but these situations cloud her judgement. Also, a good friend of mine, who is also in the Air Force (I am in the U.S. by the way) and she and her husband are both officers, recently was told by her husband that he cheated on her with another officer lady while he was on "TDY" and his reason was, "he was drunk and she happened to be roomed right next door to him." By the way, he is the son of preacher and was raised, and still considers himself to be, an extremely devote Christian.
So, although many may disagree with your post, it still does not mean that it is not undeniably true. I have recently escaped my office job (yes!!) where I could tell one man was beginning to form too close of an attachment to me, although I speak of my devotion to my husband in every other sentence that leaves my mouth. I think he finds it an odd challenge, though...
Anyway, we think that we are safe, but we are not. It is a false sense of security, and when one feels that false sense of security, that is when most crimes occur.
(I usually allow my identity in my comments to you, but since I posted some sensitive information, I'll remain Anonymous on this one. Sorry for being a coward!)

Mrs. Parunak said...

Great post! You are so right. Thank you for taking a stand for the truth.

And I also think it was very wise to put ads in your sidebar. It actually goes right along with your message since it's a way for you to earn a little extra money from home.

Jenny said...

I left a comment several months ago in regards to a post in which you talked about your husband and stated: "I didn't really fall in love with him until after we were married, and when it happened, it was based on things like mutual commitment, support, trust and respect." But it was never seen, or posted, I guess.
This just has me extremely confused, as I thought in no way one should get married unless one was completely sure that they were in love and ready to commit for their entire lives. I would hate to marry someone I wasn't sure I was in love with and then never actually fall in love during the marriage. Wouldn't I be full of regret? Not to be graphic, but I don't think I would be able to have relations with someone that I wasn't in love with; marriage vows are not an automatic cure for that, right? If I was married, and I didn't fully love the person, relations would not be possible for me. I would just appreciate your advice on the topic. I would think at this stage in my life, it would be much less of a sin to have relations with someone I was completely in love (even unmarried) with rather than to marry someone I wasn't in love with, and then relations would be ok, because they are sanctioned by G_d? Maybe I am lost? Thank you Anna.

MarkyMark said...


As you and others have said, there's no substitute for running AWAY from temptation-none! I won't go into details, but I learned this the hard way. I fooled around with a married woman when I was younger.

Why? Because I was alone with her, that's why. Had I not put myself in that situation, I wouldn't have been tempted; if I hadn't been tempted, I wouldn't have done something that I regret to this day. I know that God forgives us of our sins, but the fact of the matter is that I did something wrong, and nothing can change that. Had I known about the Bible's injunction to flee temptation and OBEYED it, I wouldn't have this profound regret today. The best way to avoid temptation is to stay away from it. You're not radical; you're simply smart beyond your years...


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post! Thanks for the time you take on your blog; I've enjoyed it for a long time. About this post I very personally can understand this! My husband worked in an office & with women. I trusted him & he is true, but sometimes I'd shake my head thinking "they get to see him/spend more time with him than I do!" (before he worked in the office, we farmed together). Well, God certainly understood the tender feelings in my heart; he blessed my husband with a new job & his office is in our basement. Sometimes he has to travel, but we have lunch together every day & he's there for me. God knew what I needed & also our marriage has improved! God is so wise & kind.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Jenny, I suggest you contact me by email, as discussing what you brought up is off topic for this thread.

Stephanie said...

My mother had an affair - I have never thought of her being around the man with whom she had the affair in the first place as the problem ... my father is not a demonstrative man and can be insulting. They were in a rut and my mother felt alone and isolated and upset that she had married so young and never completed college and blah blah. Anyway, point is, my father discovered the affair and things were really bad for awhile. But the affair did force them to acknowledge what had been lacking in their relationship and to deal with it, and finally, their marriage is a happy one.

So much more complicated than just 'they never should have been around one another so much in the first place.' There was something missing in their relationship pre-affair.