The Orthodox magazine Mishpacha appears to have reversed its previous policy against publishing images of women — at least on its social media channels.
In an email to subscribers last week, the magazine announced that it had begun to ramp up its social media presence. Breaking with precedent, the email included a picture of three prominent Orthodox women, including New York City judge Ruchie Freier.
The move, however, appears to apply only to the publication’s social media channels and not its website or printed publication itself — perhaps out of a distinction surrounding hosting immodest images on its site, or disseminating them into subscribers’ homes.
Mishpacha and many other Orthodox publications had policies of not publishing images of women in the name of modesty, either by using Photoshop or by simply refusing to use photos that show women’s faces.
One newspaper, for example, airbrushed Hillary Rodham Clinton out of the famous photo from the White House Situation Room during the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. Mishpacha in particular came under heavy criticism earlier this year for altering an archival photo from the Holocaust to pixelate the face of a female survivor.
Orthodox women started a campaign last year called #FrumWomenHaveFaces, using the Yiddish word for “observant,” to shine light on the issue, which they say is a sexist practice with no basis in Torah that minimizes the importance of women.
“This time the movement is from within the readership, within the target audience of the publications that exclude pictures of women,” one leader of the movement told the New York Jewish Week last year. “And I think that’s why we have potential to make change happen.”
Mishpacha opened a Twitter account on April 22 and began posting to its existent-but-empty Facebook page on that same day. Images of women started appearing the following day on those channels next to links to its articles. First two little girls studying in relation to a parenting article. Then an elderly woman for an article on aging. And then, on April 30, its first photos of observant women: Tali Goldberg, who had written an autobiographical essay about her journey to observant Judaism and overcoming depression, and then the trio of women that included Freier.
That same day, Mishpacha’s Twitter account shared an image of the cartoon strip “Calvin and Hobbes” where the character noted, “These are interesting times.” Mishpacha added the hashtag #NoKidding.
While the images of women are appearing on Mishpacha’s social media, it does not appear that they have made their way into Mishpacha’s website itself, let alone its print issue. The image accompanying Goldberg’s article on Mishpacha.com is not the photo of her face used on Facebook and Twitter, but rather a stock image of a woman’s hands.
The same was true of later articles that featured women on social media: The most recent one as of publication, about 10 Israeli teens (nine of them girls) who died in a flash flood, featured the victims’ headshots on social media but a photo of the disaster scene on its website.
And in its online list of columnists, most male authors have headshots while female authors are depicted with drawings related to their subject matter, like stethoscopes for health.
Mishpacha did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday. The magazine and its contributors have been coy about the transition, not officially acknowledging the change in its policy on using images of women on social media. The publication did write in a Facebook comment under the Goldberg article, “Thank you for all the wonderful feedback on this article and our new Facebook and Twitter presence, and a big thank you to Tali Goldberg for sharing her extraordinary story. It’s a privilege.”
Readers themselves appear to be pleased with the new direction.
“Refreshing to see my gender [female] reflected on your FB page. May we go to print!” one commenter wrote on Facebook.
“Put pictures like this in your print edition and I will welcome it into my home,” another added.
The magazine has flirted both with expanding its online presence and with reassessing its image policies since at least 2014. That year, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, an editor was told to “drop everything” and travel to Israel for an urgent meeting about an online edition. “I arrived and they changed their minds,” editor Eytan Kobre said. “Nothing happened.”
The following year, another Mishpacha editor, Shoshana Friedman, admitted that the magazine’s no-female-image policy was challenging to her as a woman.
“Every now and then, I get a letter from a reader who asks, ‘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’….For these women I don’t have a good answer,” she told CJR.
Mishpacha appeared to take a minor step toward ending its female-image prohibition in 2016, when the cover of its presidential election issue featured blue silhouettes of Clinton and Donald Trump.