The last thing Israel needs is American-style feminism.
But Israel does
need – desperately – what American feminism should have become: a “civic
feminism” that emphasizes equality of responsibility and participation along
with equality of opportunity and rights.
A feminism that says to the men,
“We’re all in this together.”
A feminism that says to the women, “Nobody
who tells you that you’re weak or incapable is your friend. And everybody who
tells you that society must lessen your life to accord with their interpretation
of divine writ, is your enemy.”
Ironically, one place Israel can look to
develop this civic feminism is the US military’s experience with servicewomen in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since 9/11, over a quarter-million American women
have gone to war as volunteer professionals, and their performance has far
outstripped expectation and law.
While US servicewomen have flown combat
aircraft and served on warships for nearly two decades now, and have finally
begun to serve on submarines, they are still legally barred from choosing
virtually all specialties in the infantry, artillery, armor and special
operations fields, or even formally serving with those units.
not stopped the US Army and Marine Corps from using servicewomen extensively in
infantry and special operations: the services claim they are not violating laws
against using women as combat soldiers because those women are merely
“attached,” not “assigned” to those units.
Of course, because they are
barred from infantry and special operations career fields, their training is
often substandard compared to the men they are working with. Despite that, they
have won decorations and awards for their performance in combat and proven that
the military’s physical fitness standards for women bear little relationship to
their actual capacity for strength, stamina and aggression.
The result is
a database of women’s performance in combat and near-combat conditions, unique
in human history, that validates none of the prophecies of disaster so gleefully
put forth by opponents of women’s equality under arms before 9/11. The reaction
by the institutional leadership of the military, particularly the Army and the
Marine Corps, was to plan to continue to use women in combat while refusing to
advocate that they serve like men, as individuals, unrestricted by their sex.
However, congressional pressure has encouraged the military to take a second
look at the issue.
One result is that the Marine Corps has announced that
it is soliciting female students for its Infantry Officer Basic Course while
trying to produce gender-neutral physical fitness standards for combat tasks. The
assignment of successful female graduates into actual infantry units is not yet
contemplated, because that will require congressional notification.
this is the first time the senior leadership of the Marine Corps has not been
forced – kicking and screaming – into doing the right thing by their female
This is because the American military experience in Iraq and
Afghanistan has proven that equality works. And the people who have made it work
are very often young men and women at the battalion level and below, who have
grown up with very different ideas about men and women than their senior
leadership. One of those ideas is that psychologically healthy, self-respecting
men and women want more from each other than sex... and because, across all of
life, relationships of equality work better, and cost far less, than
relationships of domination and submission.
So the American experience is
relevant to Israel, as both an unequivocal record of accomplishment and a caveat
against letting cultural prejudices trump military realities and political
This is not the place for an extended analysis of the Israeli
Nor is it to condemn, wholesale, the haredim (ultra-
Orthodox). But it is to suggest that the demands placed upon religious male
soldiers by certain leaders of the haredi communities, that they refuse to take
orders from women or learn from women instructors and the rest, is, in effect,
to tell the men to scorn their comrades who, unlike the vast majority of
haredim, share the burden with them. And when male soldiers heed these demands,
even out of sincere religious beliefs, they degrade the women soldiers with whom
they share the burden of defending this nation.
Moreover, the US
experience shows that it is not women’s equality under arms, but their
inequality, that reduces a military’s operational ability. Whenever the US
military has treated servicewomen as human and professional equals, it has
gained combat power. When hasn’t, it has created a class of troops that are
stigmatized as untrustworthy and unreliable by the good men, and acceptable prey
for the bad men.
Israel is endangered. Women have at least as great a
stake in the survival of this Jewish nation and Western civilization – and the
right and responsibility to contribute to both – as men do. Israel could do
worse that to learn from America’s success.
The writer is an American
olah hadasha. Her first book, Women in the Line of Fire: What You Should Know
about Women in the Military (Seal Press, 2006), advocated the equality under
arms of American servicewomen; it has since been awarded a Va’adat Omanim.