The Politics of Crazy Israeli Women

The Israeli political system needs to be shaken up, and history shows that obnoxious females are just the ones to do it.

AP

I can’t get enough of those women who tirelessly, and with total disregard for the expressions of skepticism and amazement they elicit, protest and warn against sexual harassment; those who continuously point out injustices and examples of racism; those who during these repulsive days of election broadcasts, each more sexist and racist than the next, don't let things pass quietly; those who repeatedly denounce commercials that scorn women; those who peruse textbooks to reveal hidden chauvinism and prejudice, and those who take to the streets to demonstrate, even when they are only joined by a handful of other women and almost nobody notices.

The suffragettes – who fought for and won the now self-evidently just women’s right to vote – were in their day considered crazy, "unfeminine" nuisances. Every revolutionary, male or female, is seen as a nudnik. But in the end, those who condemn and mock them enjoy the fruits of their struggle as much as anyone.

Every woman who votes in elections, gets a higher education or enjoys some degree of financial independence is indebted to the crazy women who came before then. And thanks to today's crazies, maybe our daughters and our daughter’s daughters will suffer less than we do from prejudice, harassment, belittling and dismissal.

So give us more of those strange women who don't toe the line, who don't care what society expects of them and who at the same time fight to change society’s expectations for the sake of other women.

Thank you, dear crazies. You're the greatest. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing.

And since we’re talking about the suffragettes, let me make a plea to all those women who don’t plan to vote. Remember the women who worked with such determination so that we would have the right to cast our ballots. Some were even imprisoned or endured horrors like being force fed to end their hunger strikes.

Even if you subscribe to ideas like voting is an act of collaboration with the system, which I’m not downplaying at all – go out and vote anyway, if only in their honor. Do it also because if you don’t, it’s as though you voted for the fascist extreme right, which is growing in stronger by the day.

Martinis, tapas and women’s rights

My friends and I were totally secular girls, but we often went to the religious women's beach in the summer to sunbathe without being harassed. Female-only events are a custom more ancient than my own ancient youth. Countless such gatherings have been held in kitchens alone over the eons.

A modern version of this phenomenon is the women’s evening. As commonly happens in the West, the event has become a commercial trend. Zoe Williams recently reported in the Guardian that in London there are more and more clubs for women only – and not necessarily for lesbians. She also notes that Canadian rugby player KC Gates soon plans to open a restaurant just for women in Manhattan’s chic Soho neighborhood.

But why go as far as London or New York when there’s the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva? On Sunday, the Ben Gurion University of the Negev Student Union held a dance party for women only, in cooperation with the campus feminist group "Bat Gurion" (a play on the name of the university, since "bat" means “girl” or “daughter,” whereas "ben" means boy or son). The initiative spurred quite a few arguments on campus, says Tom Yogev, 24, the Student Union coordinator of gender equality and a female student studying politics and gender. Some people wondered aloud what purpose such a party serves and whether it might not actually set back women’s rights, but raising these questions was one of the event’s objectives, Yogev says.

The party was attended by a diverse group of women – secular and religious, straight and lesbian, students and locals – many of whom don’t usually attend school events, says Yogev. She describes the atmosphere as pleasant and liberated.

If student parties aren’t your scene and you insist on heading overseas, Grace Belgravia is one of the new women-only establishments in central London. Men are barred from entering, except as guests on certain evenings and even then "only if they behave," Williams writes in The Guardian. If you prefer your feminism American-style, she suggests “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria’s Las Vegas restaurant, Beso.

Single-sex clubs are a longstanding English tradition, but not of course for women. Rather, the country has a proud history of blatantly patriarchal institutions.

"Men's clubs were out-of-the-spotlight places, where men could get together, play cards, drink and eat to their hearts' content, talk about business and the things men talk about," says Williams.

Today such places are considered dinosaurs. But women have embraced gender separation, and without ultra-Orthodox Jews even demanding it.

There are a variety of explanations for this trend, including that women want the freedom to engage in typically masculine entertainment and to form social ties, both personal and professional.

But Williams complains, "A lot of it, dispiritingly, is about healthy eating. I know – years and years of fighting over equality, contraception, work, pay, smashing the patriarchy, and we are still eating raw food for pleasure and having spa treatments. It makes no sense, but it’s pointless to dwell."
It turns out that one of the characteristics of these places, aside from the absence of men, is small plates. In Grace Belgravia, for example, when you choose a main course from the menu you can order a "little," a "little more," or a "lot," writes Williams: "It is taken as given across the piece that a main-sized main course is too much for women. I don't really accept this principle. But don't let me and my mansize appetite get in the way of all this appealing zest for business."

The boy’s club of Israeli politics

While women may be getting their own clubs, they certainly aren’t getting their own political parties. And as American civil right pioneer Susan B. Anthony said, “"There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers”

Labor is one of four parties competing in this election that are headed by women. But only four or five women are high enough on Labor’s list to have realistic chances of getting elected – compared to three times as many men. This is not particularly impressive. In factor, Labor ranks just fourth among the parties on the Israel Women’s Lobby and National Women’s Register’s gender equality index.

Women aren’t the only social group that is underrepresented in Israeli politics. Ironically, Labor has more Mizrahi Jewish candidates than Likud. If the polls are correct and Labor only wins 16 Knesset seats, the party won’t have a single Israeli Arab Knesset member and none of its candidates are openly gay.

Meretz is the only party with a gay man on its party list, and no one has a Lesbian candidate. Shlomo Mula, who sits in eighth place on the Hatnua party’s list, is the only Ethiopian candidate in any party with a realistic chance of being elected.

While there are many reasons to be nauseated by this election campaign and by Israeli politics in general, the lack of black candidates is somehow particularly horrifying; perhaps because it so clearly illustrates Israel’s fundamental racism. Here’s hoping the crazies shake things up.