Monday, January 24, 2011

Meanwhile, in Israel: Sex Segregation And Religion

News from Israel:
An Israeli activist who defied orthodox Jewish custom by leading a group of women in open prayer at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall has been told to expect years in prison for breaching the peace.
Anat Hoffman has been awaiting her fate since being arrested in August amid a worsening debate about her campaign to allow women to pray at Judaism's holiest site in the same way as men.
The police have now chosen to ask prosecutors to charge her with "disrupting a policeman performing his duties under dire circumstances", a crime that carries a mandatory prison sentence of up to three years.
Many in the country's rapidly growing ultra-orthodox community believe that a woman's role at the wall should be limited to silent worship. Women should not be allowed, they believe, to sing or read from the Torah.
Mrs Hoffman's case is a stark illustration of the growing power of religious groups in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem where the segregation of the sexes is becoming more common. She and her followers have been taunted and even assaulted by ultra-orthodox men at the Wailing Wall, part of the western wall of the Jewish Temple that was otherwise destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.
What do you think of that? Then there's this:
There are now more than 100 state bus routes, many of them in Jerusalem, that offer segregated services requiring women to sit at the back. Israel's High Court ruled yesterday that the practice could continue.
Many offices in the city also keep the sexes apart while a growing number of clinics require men and women to book appointments on different days.
It's a reverse Rosa Parks phenomenon!

It also sounds almost exactly like the arrangements extreme Islamists favor! An odd paradox, given the animosity between the two groups. But then all the Abrahamic religions, when taken literally and rigidly, imply the subjugation of women because that is what the nomadic tribes who wrote the holy books practiced.

I always get the blues when I remember how hard it is to fight for women's rights. These developments in Israel are a good example of that. The rights of the Ultra-Orthodox come first. The rights of women? What are those? Besides, women really are different so they should be glad to sit in the back of the bus. And if they aren't different enough then let's allow the Ultra-Orthodox not to educate their daughters and to brainwash them instead. So it goes, and so it goes in Afghanistan, too.

To end up on a more cheerful note, I once spent some time thinking about the sex segregation idea. What those religious fundamentalists support is not real sex segregation, because each woman is placed under the command of at least one man. The segregation is very incomplete and the power structures are not identical for men and women: The man with authority can enter into the women's sphere but women cannot enter into his sphere or the male-designated areas of the public sphere. Men can escape women, if they so wish, but women cannot escape the men who are designated as their owners.

A properly sex-segregated world would have women's countries and men's countries, both with their own power structures. The countries could trade in the usual kinds of commodities but they would also trade in sperm in one direction and boy babies in the other direction. Men would have little say over how the women's countries are run and women would have little say over how the men's countries are run. (Yes, I know this sounds like Sheri Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country.)

Somehow I don't think the fundamentalists would like real sex-segregation at all! If it existed, the fundamentalist men would be the first ones to launch a war and an occupation against the women's countries. So it's not sex-segregation they desire but the private ownership of women. Enforcing sex-segregation in the public sphere helps them towards that goal.