In Defense of Cow Heads and Slut Parades

Tsafi Saar
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Tsafi Saar

A few recent protests have inspired a kind of “counter protest”: Animal-rights activists who put severed cow heads in public fountains in Tel Aviv were criticized for what was described as a brutal, disgusting act and feminists who held a “slut parade” against sexual violence were deemed over-zealous and insulting to the image of women.

These counter-protesters are not necessarily sworn carnivores or chauvinist pigs; they sometimes come from the original protest camp. They too want to protest – but politely, or in a way they consider more sophisticated. Some of them believe that reasonable protests are more effective in attaining one's goal. Others are afraid of the abrasiveness.

But abrasiveness is an important part of protest – it is even essential. Will animal rights activists with mere signs protesting against the suffering of animals in the food industry actually affect anyone? How many passersby will even slow down to see such a tranquil protest? Will delicate women who say how wrong it is for men to attack them lead to any real change? Going further afield and back in time: If Rosa Parks would have told the white people that demanded she not sit in the front of the bus that what they were doing was extremely not nice, would she have gone down in history as a symbol of the fight against racism? Or was it her impolite insistence on not getting up from the whites-only seat that created change?

Restraint and politeness are considered fine traits. But might they not be overrated? Are they not recipes for preservation of the status quo, even if the status quo is damaging, insulting and discriminatory? Does moderation not serve those in control to preserve that control? Not infrequently, sedate protest movements even serve the government by allowing it to demonstrate its tolerance of multiple voices and embrace of freedom of expression. These movements sometimes leave the government free to advance its own interests at the expense of everyone else.

What's really shocking: a few severed heads in the town square or the mass exploitation of animals? The all-too-prevalent violence of men against women and against gays and lesbians that is part of our social order, or the frequent, derogatory use of the word “slut”?

But we’ve all been educated to be good boys and girls, especially girls. The PR of politeness has done its work, and so in our political life we accept a “center” without character, taste or odor. The last of the ideologues in Likud have recently disappeared – Benny Begin and his colleagues. In Labor, the head of the party avoided a commitment to an agenda of the left, or any agenda at all. The great victor in this election was the foggy symbol of the center.

When this is the way things look in the corridors of power, determined extra-parliamentary action is especially necessary through civil action that is uncompromising and committed.

Beyond the goals that activists are fighting for, it is encouraging that there are people who care enough to protest, to want change, to act. In a society in which most people are struggling to make a living, or, at the other end of the spectrum, preoccupied by where to spend their next vacation abroad, hope is in those activists who don't hesitate to sully the town square or shock the old, pseudo-decent order with a little abrasiveness.

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