Not Only the ultra-Orthodox Discriminate Against Women in Israel

What everyone nowadays is calling exclusion of women by is nothing less than misogyny and gynophobia, sexism that's deeply rooted.

Before anything else, let's get rid of the term "exclusion." We haven't heard such a clean and shiny euphemism since we began describing terror attacks with the linguistic pearl "price tag." What everyone nowadays is calling exclusion of women by is nothing less than misogyny and gynophobia, sexism that's deeply rooted.

And this sexism, this widely practiced and multilayered discrimination, is not the purview of the ultra-Orthodox alone, even if the secular would like to think so. Indeed, we should be calling for a demonstration in Beit Shemesh "to save little Na'ama," the eight-year-old girl whom Haredi pedophiles have chosen to be provoked by (and if there is a God, he must be pretty embarrassed by these actions being performed in his name ). And the blatant discrimination against women in Haredi society is without a doubt a phenomenon that is worth battling, even as we admire the brave women within that society who are daring to do so.

Exclusion of women - Michal Patel - 24122011
Michal Patel

But it's so easy to condemn and be horrified by "those benighted Haredim" and at the same time nonchalantly ignore the sexual violence that is the lot of women of all stripes, secular and religious; the wage gaps between men and women; the fact that most of the poor are women, and many other social phenomena that prove the depth of the problem - of which sending women to the back of the bus is only one manifestation, as blunt and disgusting as it is.

How nice and comfortable it is for politicians, who have frustrated proposal after proposal to reduce discrimination against women, to cry out now and join the choir decrying "exclusion."

Among the many responses we've heard recently on the trend of banishing women from the public sphere and the protest against it are those who have reminded us that discrimination against Arabs doesn't raise the same kind of protest. There are those who claim that this whole hullabaloo was merely a distraction from the real problem: the exploitation of most Israelis by the government and its favorites, the tycoons.

Most Israelis, both male and female, are indeed extorted by the tycoons and by government policies. Arab citizens, both male and female, have indeed been discriminated against in the most shocking and outrageous manner for many years now. But all this needn't prevent or reduce the importance of the protest against what is going on today. The attitude of "we have bigger problems to worry about," has always served society's ruling classes to silence protests. The classic example is, of course: Why are you fighting for women's rights when Israel is fighting for its existence? Aside from this attitude being a way to block social change, it is also deeply mistaken, because all the various oppressions - of women and of Arabs; of homosexuals and of contract workers; of the disabled and the poor; of the migrant workers and the elderly - are all connected to each other.

But let's get back to exclusion. On the one hand, it's hard not to notice that in general, women in the Haredi community are dealing with more serious suppression than that exerted on secular women (even if it's a bit more complex and depends on their socioeconomic status, ethnic origins and more ). On the other hand, we could also ask whether the fact that their oppression is so obvious, while the oppression of secular women is more subtle, doesn't turn the tables. After all, those Haredim, primitives that they are, spit on little girls. They are, of course, much different from us, the progressive and enlightened, who hold major conferences without a single woman speaker (or at most one, as a fig leaf ), and who are so proud of our academia, where some 86 percent of the senior professors are men - and these are just two of an infinite number of examples.

For there to be any truly serious change, the men are going to have to waive some of the privileges they've been enjoying for so many years that they don't even see them. And certain types of women - in Israel, mainly the wealthy Ashkenazi Jewish ones - will also have to give up some of their privileges for the benefit of women of other classes.

All this indeed deviates from the exclusion discussion so widespread now (until it, too gets excluded by the next public brouhaha ), but one can hope that this discussion will contribute to some thought and action in this direction.