Bros Before Hos in the Mishna | Avi Garelick | The Hypocrite Reader

Avi Garelick

Bros Before Hos in the Mishna

“Do not talk too much with a woman.”
–Mishna, Ethics of the Fathers 1:5

But which woman? Possibilities include:

And what is the reason behind this injunction? Here are some I came up with:

I thought that was all. But then Eleanor sent me these:

And then I added some more:

Look, look at all the manifold varieties of misogynist disengagement! Of course, it isn’t clear how many of these are essentially misogynist, in that they couldn’t be explained in the broad terms of anxieties about sex, or even, if such a thing exists, generalized social anxiety. (cf. the Shouts and Murmurs called “Everything I Am Afraid Might Happen If I Ask New Acquaintances To Get Coffee.” This article is interesting precisely because it captures a construction of social life as an erotic sphere, as a site of unspoken desires, triumphs, and frustrations.) Nonetheless, it is one misogynist injunction which includes all of them. A versatile prohibition indeed.

While being one of the most flatly, and infamously, sexist statements in the rabbinic core, it is also, in its countless manifestations, the most prevalently followed.

Two ways to read the main injunction:

  1. Do not speak too much with a woman
    A woman is an object of temptation. Speaking with her, as well as doing anything otherwise permitted, could lead you further.
  2. Do not speak too much with a woman
    Speaking is itself the problem, and women are particularly tempting to speak to.

Or maybe we should say: Do not speak too much with a woman.

Because in every case here, it seems like the woman is defined through your desire for her, and that desire tends towards excess. Every time this prohibition is observed, it acts to curb or control the force of your desire.

And if this list teaches you anything, it is that this construction of the woman is hardly overcome, and has never been made equal. If anything it is only now more prevalent. The exclusion of unwieldy desires from social spaces persists.