Can I Wear This? Navigating The Bat Mitzvah Dress Code is a short film created by Ma’yan in collaboration with a group of NewYork City teen girls and their families. The film looks at the messages that girls get about what is “appropriate” dress for a batmitzvah. We created this discussion guide to help you engage with some of the issues the film raises, and more.You can use this guide to facilitate discussions with youth, parents or educators, in a group setting (such as a B’nai Mitzvah classor youth group) or at home with family. If you would like to bring in a trained Ma’yan staff or youthfacilitator to help with yourdiscussion, contact [email protected].
How to use this guide:
The questions in this guide address a range of issues that are raised in the film and more broadly in conversations about dresscodes and youth. You do not have to get through all of them and should feel free to choose questions most appropriate to yourgroup’s age, size, and goals.
We have also included some facilitation tips and suggestions throughout this discussion guide to help your group to get at thedeeper issues that shape our conversations about girls, bat mitzvah, and clothing.To help you create the most impactful conversation with your group, we encourage you to take a moment to plan before facilitatingyour conversation. Here are some questions that can help you plan a great session:
• What are your main goals? What do you want participants to leave knowing?
• Which questions will help you reach your goals?
• What is the tone you want to set and model during the conversation?
• Is this a group that naturally leaves space for everyone’s voice, or will you need to set some ground rules to insureeveryone’svoice is heard?
• The film and discussion questions raise a lot of issues around perceived standards and rules of appropriateness. In the contextof exploring experiences and beliefs, if someone says something that could be perceived as offensive orhurtful, how might youaddress it? (For support on this, contact Ma’yan for our training on “Evaded Issues”)
• Are there additional questions, perhaps specific to your community, which you’d like to add?
Questions for Discussion:
1. In the film, the interviewees mention unwritten rules that they think make up a “Bat Mitzvah Dress Code.” What are some of therules they mention? Do you agree? Are there other rules they didn’t say? Where did the rules come from? How are they enforced?This question can be asked in several ways. The goal is to get at the intersection of the life-cycleevent, gender and fashion. Hereare a couple of other ways to ask the question:
a. Let’s say an alien has just landed on earth, and the sole purpose for their visit is to learn about Bat Mitzvahs andfashion.How would you explain the Bat Mitzvah Dress Code to them? Why does it exist? Who does it affect? What are the rules?
b. How would you explain the Bat Mitzvah dress code to someone who has never attended a Bat Mitzvah before?
2. Is there anything fun about the Bat Mitzvah Dress Code? If you had a magic wand and could change three things about thedress code, what would they be?
This question can help youth feel empowered about the pride they feel in their clothing choices. It also lets them know that they have good ideas and can make change. If an older person is facilitating this conversation, it is especially important not to unintentionally give off the impression that this is another "Kids and their clothes these days" kind of discussion.
3. Is there a Bar Mitzvah dress code for boys? How it is similar or different?
This question is an opportunity to have the group take a peek at the bigger systems, like sexism—the way more rules get set upfor girls than boys. What does it mean if the group can’t come up with rules for boys? Can you help them notice a difference inthe rules or the messages the rules send about girls and boys bodies? What about youth who don’t identifystrongly with typicaldefinitions of male or femaleness? Encourage the group to really think about where these messages come from: families, school,media, religious institutions, or friends. If appropriate, introduce the term sexism and ask the group to define it.
4. People often talk about wanting to wear something that feels “comfortable.” What does it mean to be comfortable? How doeswhat you wear affect how comfortable you feel? Is it important to be comfortable at your Bar/Bat Mitzvah?Why/why not?
5. What does it mean to dress appropriately? Who decides what is appropriate and what is not? Is it different for synagogue thana party? For your own Bat Mitzvah vs. attending someone else’s?There are many conversations that could spark from this question. One possible direction is the way youth feel oppressed byadults and adult standards of appropriateness. It is good to give youth a chance to name this with their adult allies listening.
6. Are there dress codes in other parts of your life? Why do they exist? Do they feel more or less important than for B'nai Mitzvahs? How come? Is there overlap?
Remember that there are formal and informal dress codes. This could also be a place to explore formal dress codes in school,how they’re written about vs. how they’re talked about.
7. People often say that the Bar or Bat Mitzvah represents a child becoming a “Jewish man or woman.” What does it mean for ayouth to dress like an adult? Does becoming an adult change how youth and parents negotiate outfits?
A lot of adults have strong feelings that youth should not dress like adults. How do youth feel about it? What are the sources ofthe messages youth get about how to dress and how not to dress? You can also ask how different styles of dress make them feel.What does it mean if adult women are often being infantilized, being told to dress like young girls?
This is a great question for soliciting feelings and then helping the group to think about the bigger societal context. Is this connected to sexism? Ageism? What else? How does it connect to Jewish identity? This question and the one that follows both touch on similar issues of tracking female bodies, from childhood to adulthood, with the Bat Mitzvah marking an important intersection. For more on where some of these messages come from, check out Ma'yan's you-made film "Pretty Sexy Sassy: How Girls and the Media Consume One Another."
8. In the film, one of the girls says that kids can feel embarrassed when adults dress too provocatively or try to look younger than
they are. What do you think?
9. Some of the interviewees mention money. How do you think money and class background affect the code? Are there other factors - like race/ethnicity or geography - that have an impact?
This question presents a great opportunity to surface some of the hidden stories in the room. For example, there may be participants in the room who do not come from money and might otherwise feel isolated in the conversation. Youth with physical disabilities or eating disorders might also view this question with a different light. This question is an opportunity to life up some differences and how they connect to bigger systemic issues (like classism, racism, disability oppression).
10. Poets sometimes say they feel freer when they write within a poetic structure (with rules about rhyming and rhythm). Do youfeel more or less free with the structure of a dress code?
11. Check out what some of these designers and fashionistas have to say about clothes.
What do you think they mean? Do you agree or disagree? How does this relate to the movie and Bat Mitzvahs?
Note: You may discuss each of the quotes as a whole group or divide into small groups and then present back. In the discussion, if the group does not bring it up first, you could point out that a lot of these quotes are from men, and in fact many famous designers of women's clothes are men. Ask the participants, what do you think about the fact that a lot of these quotes are from men, and many famous designers of women's clothing are men?
“Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you.” —
“Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” — Rachel Zoe
“I have always believed that fashion was not only to make women more beautiful, but also to reassure them, give them
confidence.” — Yves Saint Laurent
“Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them.” — Marc Jacobs
“Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.” — Yves Saint Laurent
“The joy of dressing is an art.” — John Galliano
“Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way youdress and the way you live.” — Gianni Versace
“I don’t want a politician who’s thinking about fashion for even one millisecond. It’s the same as medical professionals. Theidea of a person in a Comme des Garcons humpback dress giving me a colonoscopy is just not groovy.” — SimonDoonan
“Fashion has to reflect who you are, what you feel at the moment, and where you’re going.” — Pharrell Williams
“I know what women look good in. I don’t think the rules ever change.” — Michael Kors
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the
way we live, what is happening. — Coco Chanel
12. The film includes interviews with 6 different Bat Mitzvah families. There are lots of differences between their stories, but theyalso have plenty in common. What were the things they had in common? Can you think of people who weren’t included in the filmwho might have had a different story to tell?
This is another opportunity for non-mainstream voices to be heard. Depending on the diversity within your group you mightneed to prompt them with additional questions. Do you think the story is different or the same for Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews?For girls living outside the U.S? For LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) Jews?
After your conversation, please take a moment to email [email protected] with an evaluation of the experience so that we canimprove.
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