For years, the Hasidic Jews in part of Brooklyn have complained that the new bike lanes in their neighborhood are a major issue, " because of "women passing through here in that dress code. They were very upset about this and some community board meetings have been tense and filled with shouting. This community has also complained about billboards for "Sex and the City." And advertisements on buses. The standards of decency that apply in secular culture are not strong enough to keep their community from being constantly bombarded by images that they find inappropriate.
For some people, it would be tempting to just make fun of the Hasids and ride around in bathing suits and bikini tops in their neighborhood (which isn't totally "theirs" anyway, lot of people live there besides just Hasidic Jews.) Their request that people follow their dress code when passing through the neighborhood is, of course, absurd. I think most people would agree about that. Many people if you read comments about this story are deeply indignant about this aspect of the story. Some so much so that they went out on deliberately provocative "scanty clothes rides" They saw it as a freedom of expression issue, much like the participants in "draw Muhammad day." Needless to say, it only caused the conflict to escalate.
In response many Hasids became passive aggressive about the bike lanes, parking their cars in them, standing in them to block bikers. They also put pressure in the city. As a result the bike lanes were removed in 2009. If hipsters were not angered before, they were now. There were more nasty comments on blogs and angry comments at board meetings.
Then, action! Hipsters came under the cover of night and repainted the bike lanes. And so the saga continues. At the root of the rift between the communities is not just concerns about the bike lane or pretty legs-- it is fear of the neighborhood changing and of gentrification, I think.
The bike community in NYC has been trying to do outreach, sharing bikes, getting Hasids on bikes. And they found that there are people already in the Hasidic community who care about biking, they became more vocal. Making a bridge. It turned out that some of the people who helped re-stripe the lanes were members of the Hasidic community too. Proving that not all issues are easy, back-and-white or one-sided.
I don't know if it will work or not... but, I want to contrast the hipsters who have managed to get members of the Hasidic community on their side and on bikes, with those who mocked "those funny religious people" and flaunted their social codes of modesty when this issue first broke out.
Lastly, I want to talk about privilege. I'm going to put this in a box becuase I think it is important:
If you, don't often find billboards "immodest" then: Congratulations! You are in the majority of people whose sense of modesty is inline with what our culture chooses to enforce.
So, try to keep in mind that these things are arbitrary. Think of how exposed you would feel if you lived in a place where fewer clothes were the norm, or how stifled you might feel if you had to cover up more. You could just as easily have been raised so you you would feel naked if your legs were exposed, or "stifled" if you couldn't feel the breeze between your legs. These things are learned and "our way" is not any better or worse than any other. When minority groups find themselves at odds with these norms, while it isn't often practical to accommodate their wishes, we can at least respect them and refrain from mockery or barbarically forcing people in to our idea of what is proper. To be explicit: we need not bike through Hasidic neighborhoods in bikinis, draw the prophet Muhammad over and over, put up a billboard with a lady in a skimpy dress across the street from the Mennonites, order women to strip out of hijab, say "Happy Easter" to a person you know damn well is an atheist who doesn't even like religion etc. etc. you get the idea. It's not hard.
We need to build bridges and mockery isn't a foundation for anything but escalating conflict.