(photo credit: Courtesy)
International Women’s Day has provided an opportunity to take stock of our
situation every year for the past 100 years. The first such day came as part of
what is now called the “first wave” of feminism in the early 20th century. The
focus then was primarily on the right to participate in the political process,
to vote and be elected, and to a lesser degree on reproduction
The “second wave” began in the 1960s, and hit this country in the
early 1970s, focusing at first on the issue of violence against women and
broadening to women’s rights in all areas – though particularly in matters of
marriage and divorce. The liberal stream of feminism was prominent in this
period, as many women concentrated on equal rights – anything a man can do a
woman can do, including political office and combat roles in the IDF.
the ’90s, a more differentiated view characterized a “third wave” in which it
was understood that the needs and interests of women are by no means uniform,
inasmuch as poorer women, women in minority populations, middle-class women and
many other “categories” differ from each other. But it was still argued that
mutuality might be found in the fact that no matter what the class, occupation
or situation, women’s experiences are different from those of men of the same
economic, social or political status. Thus, it was understood that “gender” is
socially constructed, and radical feminism – an approach that seeks not
numerical or technical equality but the adaptation of society to women’s
differentiated lives – became more prominent.
Still a “fourth wave” has
emerged (primarily but not only in academic circles) that goes beyond gender to
core questions of sexuality. This apparently linear development is misleading,
however, inasmuch as there were elements of each wave at every stage of the
SO WHERE has all this feminism gotten us? We can point
to a degree of progress here, no doubt. For example, there is an increased
awareness in society and institutions of the gender factor, particularly the
problem of violence against women, including trafficking and sexual
Moreover, our law books are replete with progressive
legislation, and greater absolute numbers of women may be found not only in the
workforce at large but in managerial or senior positions. The courts (petitioned
by feminist and human rights organizations) have reached several landmark
decisions to bring this about.
Yet, oddly, women are still talking about
the same problems – and possible solutions – that were raised decades
The reason is that not only are the absolute numbers still unequal,
but even the relative proportion of women to men in leadership or senior
positions is still drastically tilted to the male side. Women are still earning
only 70 percent of what men earn – despite the law of equal pay for equal work.
That is the second reason women seem to be marching in place: not only have our
progressive laws gone unimplemented, in many cases, such as the rights of
pregnant women or women returning to work after pregnancy, there has been
Thirdly, even awareness of gender differences seems to have
disappeared (if it was ever present) with regard to advertising, hiring,
salaries, work hours and the like. Further, despite the presence of the largest
number of women ever in the Knesset – 23 – initiatives in connection with
women’s issues are fewer, indeed far fewer, than 20 years ago, when female MKs,
as few as they were, saw themselves as representing all women.
Just as 30
years ago, women are still trying to decide where to concentrate their efforts:
education of girls, gender consciousness-raising in the schools, appeal to the
courts, political participation at the local or national level,
extraparliamentary action, “empowerment” training, etc.
Women still have
not been able to overcome the power of the religious establishment, nor the
centrality of the army, with its militarist norms and values in our
What we have not yet grasped is that society as we know it, with
its institutions and norms, was created by men for men, and is suited to men.
While women have won the right to enter most spheres of this society, we are the
ones who have to adapt – be it by maintaining family responsibilities while
working the hours set by men (including the short school day), employers’
expectations regarding pay and promotions or the male sense of entitlement, and
Indeed, one of the most significant court decisions with regard to
women’s rights was that of the Alice Miller case – not because it permitted
women to apply for pilot training, but because the court ruled that the IDF must
accommodate itself to the different needs of women. Unfortunately this
understanding of the principle of equality, namely making adjustments for
difference, has remained a relatively isolated matter.
Women are still
obliged to accommodate themselves to the rules and norms created by and for men
in virtually every area.
Only a basic change in this order of things –
indeed, a total adjustment of society – will fulfill the goals of the women’s
The writer is former head of the Department of Political
Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is currently professor of
Government at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.