Seventeen years ago, when I was 21, I registered as a university student. I returned with my course schedule and showed it to a work colleague. He was an older translator with a perfect command of Romance languages, a fascinating conversationalist with a considerable range of learning and knowledge (and of course a confirmed leftist). When I told him I’d decided to take a few courses in gender studies he snorted in contempt. It’s a waste of your time, he said, go study something worthwhile.
I recalled this episode after reading about the intention of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to cancel gender studies in his country. Orbán, an ally of Benjamin Netanyahu and possibly a model of inspiration for the demolition of democracy, is the ugly face of Europe these days. He combines a host of ultranationalist and anti-democratic qualities – from repulsive incitement against migrants to a dirty war against human rights groups.
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The zealots of modesty, segregation and exclusion in Israel have a similar set of values. These fanatics are the rabbis, spiritual leaders and mentors who intimidate women while preventing them from exercising options; they use all kinds of justifications, always resulting in oppression and confinement.
In plain words, it’s no surprise that anyone who hates women and wants to restrict them also hates Arabs, black people, members of the LGBT community, finding reasons to oppress and isolate them. It’s not surprising that the fascist Orbán wants to cancel gender studies, and it’s not surprising that in an Israel growing more ultranationalist and violent, male soldiers dare turn their backs on a female paratroop instructor. These are the same symptoms, the same bankruptcy.
But Orbán and MK Bezalel Smotrich are too easy a target. They are blunt and direct, they don’t attempt any poses. Maybe it’s unjust to mention them in the same breath as others, but if we look closely, and that was the reason I mentioned my translator friend, we’ll see that the gap between them and their liberal opponents is smaller than one may think.
This is because in 2018, even among the most progressive liberal and enlightened circles, there are important forums where only a pitiful minority of women is present at best, serving as ornaments. In 2018 the greatest liberals, ones who declare their support for the advancement of women, don’t note that in these forums, for example on boards of directors, they sit like a club of lords from a previous century. Absent are the people who happen to make up half the population.
These scenarios don’t seem strange to these liberals in the least. This doesn’t appear to them barbaric, reminiscent of buses where white people sat in the front and black people in the back.
Even today, the greatest liberals snort in contempt like my translator friend at the sight of pesky feminists who courageously fight against tremendous odds – overt and covert – trying to eradicate painful phenomena such as sexual harassment and to achieve more basic aims such as increasing the representation of women in influential positions. Men, and some women, tar and feather these feminists, attributing to them malicious intent. Or they just treat them as a nuisance.
Even today many men and women deny that girls don’t grow up like boys do, that their ambitions and freedom are stifled. They deny that girls are afraid to speak up or express opinions, and that they’re afraid of being perceived as unpleasant, unless they’re lucky enough to be born to exceptional parents who help them build backbone.
History teaches us that no ruler, be he tyrannical and ugly or liberal and handsome, shares power willingly. History teaches that there are no pleasant revolutions. History shows that if types like Orbán move toward one pole, it’s time to run as hard as we can toward the opposite one.
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