The latest trend in excluding women: exclude men, too!
How far will Egged need to go in order to avoid accusations of discrimination?
You could see this brilliant solution coming a mile away - if you’re not allowed to get rid of pictures of women on buses exclusively, get rid of pictures of men too.
If everyone is discriminated against, then there’s no discrimination, right?
To some, it may look like a good way out of a complicated situation. The public bus company, Egged, wants to carry passengers in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, to serve a large and profitable market. But when the buses have crossed Jerusalem and moved through these neighborhoods carrying advertisements with faces and bodies of women, they have at times been vandalized and defaced, becoming the target of violence that endangers passengers and drivers.
So the company has done what it can to keep advertising with women off of Jerusalem buses so that they can operate safely. But over the past year, increased awareness of the issue of the exclusion of women from the public sphere has made this impossible. Feeling the pressure, the state weighed in, ordering the bus company not to discriminate against women.
This brings us to Egged’s super-clever new policy: from now on, there will be no "human images" on Jerusalem buses. No men, no women, nor children of either gender. Ron Retner, a spokesperson for Egged, said, “The need for a new arrangement arose from the real and pertinent danger to which the public and bus drivers in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods are exposed, as well as our desire not to violate a Supreme Court decision against discrimination.”
My question is: then what? Advertisers are going to have to get creative. Ads with only print, no pictures? How boring. And if there are pictures, Egged will have to be more specific regarding what constitutes the image of a human being. Obviously photographs of people will be off-limits. But what about drawings? Cartoons? If even the primitive figure of the now infamous Salit, the blue lady on the bag of salt, has become controversial, those would probably be off-limits too.
So, presumably, pictures of animals and inanimate objects will be kosher. But can’t they be gender-specific and provocative as well? It’s not too difficult to humanize animals and assign them genders. What about Minnie Mouse? Is she too female? Will only animals of indefinable gender be acceptable?
If this all sounds like we’ve descended into the realm of the absurd, it’s because we have. The Egged policy of universal discrimination is not particularly original. It’s been used before, most recently earlier this year in Kfar Sava as a "compromise," when religious youth groups objected to women singing solo at a city-wide event. Rabbi Uri Ayalon, who heads the movement to keep Jerusalem pluralistic, calls this the oldest trick in the book - getting rid of men in order to get rid of women.
Egged has articulated its desire to get out of this mess - and says if it wasn’t locked into an agreement with an advertising company for the next year, it would stop running ads on Jerusalem buses completely, and as soon as the contract is out, that’s what it intends to do - get out of the billboard business. No human images, no animal or object images, no text. Nothing.
Trend or not, I don’t see a possible solution in this vein on the horizon for the latest battle in the “War on the Exclusion of Women,” which hit today’s headlines. Today we learn that an Orthodox women’s organization has launched a class action suit against Kol Berama, the country's most popular Haredi radio station, saying its programs discriminate because they don’t interview women. It’s hard to imagine anyone tuning in to listen to a radio program that banned the voices of both men and women. Talk about dead air…