Israel’s Message to Women: Be Fruitful and Multiply – and Get Lost

Noa Osterreicher
Noa Osterreicher
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A young mother is breastfeeding her newborn child in the hospital
A young mother is breastfeeding her newborn child in the hospitalCredit: Lolostock / Shutterstock
Noa Osterreicher
Noa Osterreicher

Wow, does Israel love kids. As much as it loves kids, that’s how much it hates women. Kids are the sweet red part of the watermelon, women are the rind – something necessary for a while, to be discarded when you get to the real thing.

To continue with these summertime metaphors, women here enjoy a brief time in the sun during which all are free to drum on their rounded bellies and listen solemnly to the emerging sounds. Is it ripe? Tasty? Is it worth the effort, or on to the next watermelon?

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In fact, procreation is the top priority of the mainstream media (edging out even “random celebrity finds religion.”) Magazines, news sites, TV broadcasts – wherever you set foot you’ll find an item stuck to your shoe about an actress/singer/model/reality-show-reject “ready for motherhood,” “talking about the emotional birth,” or “with the baby she had with her ex.” Four kids? That’s so 2019 as a status symbol. Five is the new Tesla.

The problem is, this kiddie craze insists on taking place in defiant detachment from who and what enables its existence: the female body and its works. You know, that thing that happens once a month, give or take, from around age 12 to 55, without which there are no kids (subject to the march of science as of this printing).

Last month, for instance, there was an outcry about a billboard in Tel Aviv advertising absorbent underwear for periods. With the actual word and everything. You could hear the gasps. Periods? We’re eating here! We’re driving! What are you Lilith-spawn women trying to do, kill us?

A pregnant woman at a protest, her belly reads 'she deserves better'Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Most of us are already resigned to the commercials for tampons and sanitary pads and the way they’ve branded our bodies as something dark and smelly that must be constantly purified and perfumed. Words like bleeding, vagina, uterus, egg – it has all been whitewashed into “a fresh feeling” and “perfect softness with a gentle scent,” as if we were goose-down duvets gone stale in the attic.

Sometimes some copywriter wakes up and throws in words like “powerful protection and advanced technology” so we don’t feel left out. On the one hand, you can argue that toilet paper is also advertised with fluffy puppies, not close-ups of you know what. On the other, unlike the female reproductive system, Israel doesn't have a culture of worshiping the function and output of our digestive systems.

The artificial separation between women and the benefit society wishes to gain from their bodies shows in the indifference to the advertising by the Efrat anti-abortion organization. We’ve seen investigative reports in recent years on the way this group pressures pregnant women in distress, promising financial support.

Efrat’s ads have been plastered on every other bus for 20 years: “Abortion, hard to live with” – as if any woman would choose that trauma just because she feels like staying a nice jeans size. A quick two-day protest was enough for the Egged bus company to remove advertising by Breaking the Silence, but this invasion by Efrat into our lives seems ordained by fate.

Don’t worry, the vile sign with the word “period” has been removed as well. As Jewish women in Israel, we can get pregnant, but not get into the details. In other words: Be fruitful and multiply – and get lost.

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