Neri Livneh - Avi Ofer - February 17, 2012
Illustration by Avi Ofer
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Evidence has been piling up lately that I am a “strong woman.” One bit of proof came when I read about a discussion in which I’d been asked to take part, which was set to “feature the participation of strong women like journalist Neri Livneh.” And that was after I had been invited to a special screening, sponsored by the woman’s magazine La’isha, of the movie about Margaret Thatcher, “The Iron Lady.” Orna Nenner, one of the nicest and most talented ‏(and attractive‏) women in the media, and the editor of La’isha, explained in her welcoming remarks that this movie was selected because Thatcher was a strong woman, and the magazine she heads encourages women to be strong and to go out to work. Which is true. Although, even now that it is still filled with beauty tips and practical advice on how to manage spouse and home, it also has a clearly feminist tone.

But just what is the term “strong woman” supposed to mean? The invitees included journalists, producers, a well-known singer, publicists, past beauty queens, beauty pageant hopefuls and three members of the cast of the Israeli version of “Real Housewives.” To judge by this list, strong women are those who work hard and earn two-thirds of what a man in the same field makes. Or they are women who work hard and earn a lot of money. Or their strength is demonstrated by their having found a man’s broad shoulder upon which to collapse.

For that matter, by the way, I was quite surprised when, completely by chance, I − physically − ran into the billionaire Meshulam Riklis, who as usual was draped in a white silk scarf. Face-to-face, he turned out to be better looking than he appears on television. And despite the force of our encounter, Riklis appeared to emerge from it physically unscathed.
I thought the film about Thatcher would finally help me see what the phrase “strong woman” really means. However, I must say that although it certainly proved that Meryl Streep manages to look and sound just like Margaret Thatcher, this was a totally unnecessary film whose only achievement, in my view, is that it made me loathe Thatcher even more than I loathed her to begin with. To judge solely by Thatcher’s example, a “strong woman” is an aggressive, stubborn, emotionless, conservative person who, on top of all that, also dresses horribly.

The movie also illuminates the fact that in order for Thatcher to become a strong woman, she was compelled, or chose, to adopt male behavior patterns, like our own Golda Meir. And like Golda, Thatcher did not surround herself with women. Shulamit Aloni said back then that Golda had it in for her because she couldn’t stand the fact that Aloni had nice legs. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it’s a good story.

Various studies comparing male management styles to female management styles have found that for a female management style to take hold, the administration of her organization must be at least 35 percent female. Otherwise, even if a woman heads the system, the behavior patterns will continue to be male. It’s important to remember this in light of the fact that in the next election, three political parties may be headed by women. Pleased as I am, as a woman, to see that Shelly Yachimovich is heading Labor and a woman (Zahava Gal-On) is finally heading Meretz, this gender thing may still turn out to be utterly unimportant. Like it was in the case of Tzipi Livni, when the joy of her election was soon replaced by double disillusionment − first because she disappointed as the head of a party and the opposition. On contact with the reality here, she seemed to fade away like an ancient fresco suddenly exposed to light. And secondly, because the source of so much disappointment was a woman.

But back to Margaret Thatcher. Upon hearing about my disappointment with the UK film, the British Embassy tried to make up for it by inviting me to the festive event marking the opening of this week’s British Film Festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. And this is the time to state, loud and clear, just how infuriating I find that new building to be. If Frank Lloyd Wright talked about matching the building to its manner of use, it seems that the architect in this case was guided by precisely the opposite vision.

Everyone understands that a Cinematheque is supposed to be a comfortable, pleasant and inviting place. But the architect must have said to himself, No, let’s pull a fast one on all those people who want to sit in the lobby and drink their coffee, and let’s see just how many standing people, holding cups of hot coffee, we can cram into a space that is smaller than the average living room in Savyon.

At every one of the four premieres I attended, I found myself fleeing to the street to escape the stifling atmosphere of the overcrowded lobby. The one advantage to the overcrowding is that it helps to hide somewhat the ugliness of the building. It looks to me like a cross between a bus station – let’s say the Port Authority – and a down-market version of the Pompidou Center in Paris. And since this is a miniature model we’re talking about, instead of enlarging the lobby, the architect chose to create “the illusion of space” by means of covering the rear wall with mirrors. They say he wanted to cover the walls of the screening rooms with mirrors too, but fortunately someone explained to him that the reflections would make it impossible to watch a movie in a hall like that. So instead of mirrors, he covered the walls with all sorts of strange red elements, paved the pathways to the cinemas and bathrooms in a red carpet covered with inscriptions, and decorated the stairs with red stripes.

And who was the genius who thought it was a great idea to put the screening halls underground, so that you have to access them either by a not-very-big elevator, or by a curving staircase, which makes exiting the place after the movie quite a prolonged experience?

The film that opened the British Film Festival, a new version of “Wuthering Heights,” combines all the boredom of a nature film that missed the mark with black nighttime shots. It was actually perfectly suited to the building in which it was presented. Plenty of folks fled halfway through. But not me. Because that would have been awkward. But mostly because I am a strong woman.