I attended a safety course the other day, and the instructor made reference to a razor, gesturing to one of the women present and saying something along the lines of, “You know, like one of the little pink disposable razors she uses.”
I found the line jarring - not because there was anything illicit implied or intended, but because, by its very nature, that sort of thing seems to be me to be private. Yes, everyone knows that women use these, and it’s normal for public conversation in an age when far more intimate things are discussed on network television – both entertainment and news - and in children’s films… but, still, I found it uncomfortable to have someone make public reference to them.
It’s not about any pornographic innuendo; I’ll give you a different case to illustrate what I mean.
A few years back I served as mashgiach for a catered event. At one point during the kitchen preparation, the head of the operation left for an errand. Immediately after his car pulled out of the lot, two things happened: One, the employees stopped most of their work. And second, they started talking about him in ways that just struck me as nasty. They weren’t complaining about any particular behavior or event, they were just making fun of him.
It is, of course, the way people talk. But I find it repellent.
Many of my formative social years were spent in a beit midrash atmosphere where that kind of talk, whether prurient or derogatory, is frowned upon, and that shaped my sensitivities for life.
I’m not claiming purity for the beit midrash environment; I am quite aware that not everyone who learns is clean of mouth. I knew people then, and I know people today, who wear the mantle of Torah but still speak negatively about others, or tell off-color jokes.
But in my time in Yeshivat Kerem b’Yavneh and Yeshiva University I was fortunate to be surrounded by friends who were, for the most part, careful with their speech. If you spoke inappropriately, their expression – a look at the floor, a grimace – told you so. And so our society enforced the idea of guarding our speech, and lines like that one about the razor, or speech behind someone’s back, still gives me a shudder.
I never was particularly protected from the world around me, and I certainly am not sheltered today. I have, to a certain extent, become de-sensitized to a lot of things. But that has not changed.
I hope I am not coming across as sanctimonious or self-righteous – that is not my intent, and I am in no position of righteousness to judge others - but I thank Gd, as well as the friends of my yeshiva days, that I have not lost that shudder.