Gender’s gotten weird (even weirder than usual) in this war. Miriam Schler, Executive Director of the Tel Aviv Sexual Assault Crisis Center, joins us to make sense of it.
This is a segment from The “Women & Other Living Things” Edition.
And now it is time for our first discussion.
So, Miriam, Miriam Herschlag, I guess given that everything is gendered, it’s no surprise that this war is too, yet it somehow surprises me.
What is the story?
Last Saturday night, tens of thousands of people, I would guess, showed up for the annual march marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
This time, the demonstration had an especially national message to the international community, demanding that global feminist organizations speak out against the monstrous violence women suffered on October 7th at the hands of the Hamas fighters, and the violence against the hostages, women, men, and kids still being held in Gaza.
The march against the deafening silence of global organizations like UN Women, which calls itself the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and empowerment of women, which refused to condemn the rape and murder of Israeli women by Hamas terrorists on October 7th.
Miriam, who was an organizer of the march, wrote a crushing essay about all this in the Times of Israel called “The Obscene Betrayal of Israelis Who Survived and Didn’t Survive Rape.
” She wrote, “Over this past month, I heard again and again the view that as Israeli women, the victims somehow brought this on themselves, that they deserve to be violated.
I’ve even heard others call rape a valid tool that can be used on the path to freedom.
” Graffiti went up on the terminal of the main train station in Tel Aviv, reading, “On October 7th, you chose anti-Semitism over feminism.
” Intersectional feminism died on October 7th.
When a picture of the graffiti was posted to Facebook, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow School of Critical Studies named Ophira Gamliel wrote that this was “bullying victimhood.
” Since women in Gaza have died in greater numbers than Israeli women, “You are all feeling hurt that the women’s organizations do not put you first.
” The deafening silence of international organizations when it comes to the use of rape as a weapon of war and a weapon of terror against Israeli women is only one way that so much of what we have seen and lived through since October 7th is, as the tenured sorts put it, “gendered.
” Another way has been the prominence of gender in the way we think and talk about the hostages, and importantly, in the terms and conditions our representatives negotiated for the release of some of the hostages.
The deal that was struck called for the release of up to 100 of the 240 captives, that number comprising all of the 30-odd children and 60-odd women.
If the agreement is carried out in full, no males over the age of 18 will be released.
Some of the 60-odd women are mothers of children being released, though no fathers of children are included in the deal.
Some of the women are older and some suffer from chronic illnesses that require care.
The release of older men, who also require care, was not negotiated.
Another way gender has been part of this national trauma is that dozens and dozens of the soldiers murdered and dozens more of the hostages are women whose job in the army was to “observe” the border with Gaza and provide early warning if and when Gazan militants approach or breach the border.
They’re called “tatspaniyot,” or observers, and their job involves monitoring screens that relay images from security cameras on the border fence, data from a bunch of different sorts of sensors, and audio picked up from Gazan radio communications.
So many tatspaniyot were killed and captured on October 7th because they were stationed on bases very close to the border and they are not rigorously trained for combat, which until the 7th no one thought they would ever face.
Since October 7th we have learned that tatspaniyot for months ahead of the attack warned their higher-ups that they were seeing signs that Hamas was planning a major attack on the kibbutzim, moshavim, towns, and army bases surrounding Gaza.
But these warnings were ignored in part because they conflicted with the information gathered by the more prestigious, more testosterone-ish intelligence unit 8200, Shwona Matayim, and partly perhaps because they came from young women doing the low-level grunt work of actually monitoring what was going on in Gaza on the ground.
Basically the commanders of the tatspaniyot told them not to worry their pretty little heads over what they thought they saw, essentially mansplaining them to death.
Another way in which our national trauma has been gendered is that all the leaders we have seen since October 7th have been men.
Our war cabinet has three standing members, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Galant, and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, all men, and two observers, former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, also men.
The other major figure in plotting out the war is of course the present IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi.
He’s also a guy.
For all these reasons, it feels a little like gender-wise we’ve taken a hard turn back to the 1980s or maybe even to the 19th century.
One way in which this generalization is obviously untrue is in the fact that there are many more female combat soldiers in the field now, including female tank units operating in and around Gaza, female pilots flying over Gaza, and female infantry soldiers.
But that feels a little like an exception that proves the rule.
So Miriam, is it just me or is this war, in addition to all the other ways that it is a tragedy and a horror show, a terrible moment for all women?
If so, how do you explain it?
Unfortunately, I think it is a terrible moment for all women, and I think it’s not only are we having the reactionary effect of, I mean, on so many levels of this gender divide, but even the little victories and the achievements of sisterhood and things that we had that were actually kind of inspiring about solidarity among women, that’s also been, we’ve been facing a huge betrayal on that front too.
I think there’s like a few different angles to it.
On one hand, as feminists and as people that are working in these fields, I feel like a lot of us have felt really, really, really betrayed by the notion of sisterhood, by our sisters all over the world and feminist movements and human rights organizations that have, one of two things, either denied things that are going on and saying that rape didn’t happen, sexual assault didn’t happen, these things didn’t happen, or that they happened, they did happen, and they’re justified because of the occupation or because we brought it among ourselves or because of the way that Israel has treated the Palestinians.
So on both levels, that’s been a really, really, really difficult experience because all the things that we worked for in the feminist movement and all these people that are working with rape and working with these issues, it’s just been outrageous to understand that actually there are people that are saying that all of a sudden there’s an excuse for rape.
There’s never an excuse for rape.
There’s never an excuse for sexual assault.
These conditionals, there’s yes, but, this thing has just been like, what?
To have the director of the Rape Crisis Center in Canada doubt the veracity of stories of rape victims, that’s just something that’s been a huge slap in the face and everything we achieved in the #MeToo movement has just been set back so, so, so, so dramatically and that’s just been extremely difficult for all of us.
Miriam, how do you explain it?
I mean, I understand all the denialism from just, you know, average people who are not really activists on that front, but I am also, just like everybody else, I was really taken aback to see professionals, whether it’s the UN Commission or that officer from Canada that you just mentioned, people who dedicated their lives to promoting women’s rights and are just doing the exact opposite of what they were programmed to do.
Any idea, you know, knowing them, knowing that community, having communicated with them in the past, do you have any theory?
I can tell you though, it’s just as far as we’re concerned, we’re shocked.
There’s nothing that we could ever expect because we all know that no matter what happens, definitely around the issue of sexual assault, there’s going to be some sort of solidarity around that issue and it’s just shocking to us that somebody like Susan Saritan can stand up and talk about, can actually admit the fact that these things happened on October 7th, but it’s because of the occupation.
How can anyone possibly justify rape?
It’s just absolutely inconceivable.
There’s no way for us to understand it at all.
It’s just the identity politics have just gone so bonkers that people are just either refusing, either denying and saying that didn’t happen and it’s Israelis that are making it up or that it’s Israelis that murdered their own people or that all these ideologies and all these guidelines and all these things, we believe that, we believe in just stop at the Israeli border and that’s just something that’s extremely devastating.
It’s a rude awakening because what the fuck, I’m sorry for my language, but I mean there’s nothing.
I mean basically my explanation is what the fuck because there’s no other way that I can really, really describe or understand it because it’s something that the UN Women’s Commission, that’s their entire, their entire residential, their entire reason to exist is to be there to protect women and to protect women’s rights and they refuse to take an act of lawlessness.
They refuse to realize it.
They refuse to consider it.
They don’t talk to any of the women organizations.
It’s beyond comprehension.
It’s just beyond comprehension.
So that’s been a huge major disappointment in this whole thing.
I mean I can’t, it’s been a, it’s my, my heart is broken basically.
I come to this with really low expectations of the global left.
So for me that’s, it’s not, I mean it’s shocking exactly in the level that you say because how do these people make sense of it themselves, the clear contradiction between one thing they believe and what they now are displaying that they believe as well.
But for me the more interesting question or pressing or upsetting question has to do with stuff that’s going on here in Israel.
So other Miriam, like how do you explain that?
How do you, yes Miriam Hirschlag, I’m looking at you.
You are, it’s true.
How do you?
She’s the other Miriam.
I’m not, I’m just.
Yeah, we’re not used to being two Miriams on the set.
Tall Miriam and normal size Miriam.
Miriam, Miriam Mentor.
Miriam was my, my Madracha.
She’s my mentor.
We can call her MM.
We’ll always have to tell you who that is.
How do you understand this?
To me it really does, like you said, feel like somehow like a sliding back to the 1980s or to the 19th century in some important way.
How do you?
I think it’s much more complicated than that, you know, and I don’t think that, I did sort of say that those, parenthetically women soldiers are there, but actually the tank corps women was a global breakthrough in terms of how women are viewed in the military.
And I think that that’s, I don’t see that going back into the box.
I don’t see those women, those girls, you know, going back into anything other than their tanks where they went through and rescued and killed and even adopted some, some very, very, what I would consider to have been male language where they actually said, yeah, it was great.
They were like, yeah, we killed them.
And you know, you could hear in the interview that they, they wanted to hear, they were expecting to hear them say, yeah, like it was kind of awful to have to kill these people.
And they were like, no, it was fantastic.
It was really fun shooting them all.
And it was, you know, kind of horrifying to hear, but on the other hand, oh, that’s like the, that is the way soldiers are trained.
And that’s, you know, when they had a mission and they, they feel very, very, what they did was very vindicated and their commander had only great words to say for them.
And I think that they will go down as a true, truly as a symbol, but the women and children thing, as you know, we talked about that really, I think has become something that’s, that does bring us back.
Even if I, I certainly understand the part about the children, but, and many of them are with their mothers.
So they, they want to, they have a principle now to keep the families together, but you know, those fathers are there, including by the way, children who came back, whose mother is no longer alive.
She was murdered and the father is there.
So they’re children without their, their orphaned.
And, and, and that could have been included in the deal.
But one of the problems with that deal is that we don’t have control over how the other side sees it.
So who knows if they had said, let’s bring out, bring home the grandfathers, whether the, that would have even had a chance, you know, in the hell that is Hamas, who know that those grandfathers may be old and frail, but they are also former soldiers.
I don’t, I don’t want to rain on the parade, but I think that even, you know, I think that even the success or the achievements, wherever anybody looks at it with the women tank, for fighting in October 7th, that was a, that was a breakthrough that happened that they were given the opportunity.
I mean, it’s insane to talk like this, but to show that they’re actually, that they’re able to fight, but there are really strong sort of forces in Israeli society still today where people say, you can’t put that back in the box.
I don’t know.
It all depends on who’s going to be in control and what kind of control.
And I would like to think that we’re past that, but I’m not, I’m not, I’m not clear on that.
And I think that what you talked about with the Tzpatiniot and with the, the, the, we, you know, we also mentioned the fact that there’s a Modin, an intelligence officer who gave out a report of exactly.
She laid out the scenario.
She laid out the scenario exactly.
I mean, almost detailed by play by play, and she was also completely ignored as well.
And then there’s lots of the Tzpatiniot feel like they weren’t taken seriously, that they were calling out and, and, and, and holding up a red flag for a really, really long time.
And a lot of them do feel like they were, they looked at it as like this, you know, this little girl that doesn’t really just, you know, shut up and just like do what you’re supposed to do.
Just, just, uh, give us the details and let’s move on.
I think it’s so important that you say that they can slide back.
And I think, especially in the context of the economic situation we’re going to face now and for a very, very long time, there’s going to be a tremendous challenge to deal with people who are in economic distress.
And you can already see it that, you know, say like mothers who had to stay home generally was mother, single mothers who had to stay home with children, aren’t being compensated in the emergency aid package because, you know, they don’t fit the salaried workers along with, you know, along with other people who are left out of, out in the cold, like, uh, you know, shift workers and, and, and, but they, it, it’s, um, given that women start out economically disadvantaged, um, in our society, it’s going to harm, harm them.
So I think that right there is just very tactless impact that it’ll have on women.
Let’s face it.
It’s also, unfortunately, a political question and it’s all a question of what the coalition is going to look like, how much of these, uh, uh, outdated patriarchal, uh, forces are going to be part of the government.
You know, we’d like to think that, I mean, some of us, I definitely would like to think that we’re going to see a different government, but, uh, but in general, a lot of the stuff that was holding back in the army or holding back other gender equality or progression was definitely of those, those forces.
See, I think that it’s more, I think that it’s, I think that it’s more obdurate.
I think basically that it’s, that it’s a more fiendish problem, um, and more depressing than even that makes it out to be, because you’re suggesting that we have this government that’s made of, um, of the, the Likud, okay, whatever that, the ideology of that thing is, plus these religious parties, which are very, you know, retrograde about women’s issues, especially maybe ultra-Orthodox parties.
And, and I understand that.
I don’t think that you’re wrong about that at all, but I think that one of the things we’re seeing now is at this particular moment and since October 7th is the, the, uh, the kind of radical re-assurgence of this old Zionist culture.
This has been a lot of what the last year has been about, the nine months before October 7th were, were about, and the, the, the protests, um, against the reform of the judiciary were led by people who I think valorize the army in a way, in, in like, in a really dramatic way.
Achim Laneshek, um, is a, is a group that of soldiers who said that by virtue of being soldiers, they have particular insight into what the judiciary should look like and maybe they do.
And they were also very, very crucial in the civilian response to October 7th when the government really didn’t seem to know how to react or what to do.
And they were quite wonderful in, in many ways.
But I think that, that culture too, that old Zionist culture is sexist in a different way that we’re really seeing now.
That’s the women and children first, they’re, they’re women and children first.
And they’re also, they’re also like the army is more or less the way that it should be, which is to say that the sexism of the army is like, you know, is something that we should, that, that we, that we pine for, that we hope, we wish that all the country was more like the army.
And I think that we’re seeing the problem of both groups.
It’s actually, it’s really ironic that you say that because I just had a discussion with yesterday with somebody who’s a radical feminist and actually was, considered herself to be attracted to women until recently.
And throughout this, the protest, she became really attracted to Achim L’Neshek and she started calling them Achim L’Neshek, which means brothers to kiss, brothers to kiss and not brothers in arms.
So she was in shock from herself that even her, this radical, butchy, lesbian feminist was all of a sudden, really, you know, pining and, and, and, and fantasizing about one of these Achim L’Neshek or Achim L’Neshek.
It was a conversion therapy.
It was a conversion therapy, exactly.
I think that one of the things that we’re seeing now is that a lot of this, this paradigm is being forced upon us because we’re trying to talk about, you know, on one hand we have this discourse of gender fluidity and it’s all, nobody’s anything.
We’re not heterosexual, we’re all on this, we’re all on this scale and we can move all these places and, and we can, you know, it’s not what’s a man, what’s a woman, it’s essential, it’s not, it’s biological, all these discussions that we’re having and all the things that we think are progress and all of a sudden now we have this, this terror organization that we’re dealing with that’s the absolute, you know, it couldn’t be even more patriarchal and more, you know, extreme as far as the gender division is concerned.
And when we see pictures of Azi, you don’t see any women, you don’t, you only see these men in these, in those, you know, with their weapons and with their masks and, and you have this whole hostage issue, who’s, who, who’s being decided, who’s actually deciding, who’s, who’s giving the agenda here and what do you do?
How do we actually, how do we have this discourse and how do we talk about it when these are the people who we’re up against also?
That’s also part of the, that’s also part of what’s setting up the content for this whole, setting up the framework for this whole discussion.
I’ve seen other expressions of female empowerment, if you will, regardless of what happened in the army, ignoring the Tzvitanyot and these wonderful tank corps.
As you say, it’s a very complicated issue, women’s inclusion in the army, whether it’s a feminist cause or not, but we’re not going to get there.
What I’ve, I’ve, I’ve seen elsewhere is other expressions such as, for example, the old kibbutznik ladies coming back from captivity with their heads, heads up and, you know, as if seemingly unfazed by the whole ordeal, even though they’re, you know, women, frail women in their 80s.
And also, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of them, a mother of two of the hostages who have been thankfully freed since.
Mayan Tzin, whose two daughters, Dafna and Ella, were taken into Gaza together with a father and a stepmother, and were freed earlier this week.
And Mayan was very active on, I’ve seen her on Twitter and in the media, very active in the campaign for the release.
And she did it with this, you know, sense of resilience and steadfastness that, you know, that, to me, seemed so motherly in the best possible way and really empowering for other women and, you know, stoked, you know, my feminism, and I’m sure that other people as well.
What’s your take on this sort of female empowerment we’ve seen?
I think, well, before that, just one second, I just want to say something about what Noss was talking about, the “Achim L’Neshek” and the legal reform.
I think that one of the things that we need to talk about is that the people who were leading that whole revolution were lots of strong women.
We had Shikva, Shikma, who’s one of, you know, she’s the symbol of the, of the resistance to this legal reform, as they call it.
Esther Hayut, the president of the Supreme Court, and Gali Meire Ba’ala, who was the, what is the formal?
Attorney General, who these people were, you know, a major, major, formed a major resistance and the safeguard for Israeli democracy.
So I think their place in history and discourse was really, really, really significant.
Just wanted to put that out there.
And about the mother thing and about the “Palmach Mikyot” and the people that established the kibbutz, it’s also a double-edged sword because on one hand, you know, you have these grandmothers coming back and living up to this ethos of, you know, we formed the kibbutz, we established, we have no emotion, we can live through anything.
We’re going to stand up to these “Palmach Mikyot” and inside, you know, who knows what’s going on there.
And there’s, you know, inside it’s bubbling and why do they have the need to put up this facade or not facade or what is actually happening?
What’s going on with their psyche and what is this ethos that we’re trying to, you know, going back to that, you know, the Zionist ethos of we’re going to, you know.
Yeah, the Stoics and all the critique that they had on their motherhood to begin with because these people aren’t attached to their kids to begin with because they all were in the children’s homes and they didn’t have to raise them because they were out in the fields plowing the land and making it, you know, green.
And so I think that a lot of this is just, it is really, really complex and really complicated and what’s our image of a mother and what’s our image of strength and why is that considered to be strong and somebody breaking down and crying is not, it’s less legitimate.
I’ve heard over this past month so many testimonies of people saying that, you know, look how strong they are and look how resilient they are and why is that, why is that in public opinion considered to be a sense of strength and that somebody breaking down and crying is considered to be a sense of weakness.
Just a question that I’m throwing out there.
Miriam, we will catch up with you again for our Patreon listeners in our Patreon discussion.
Thank you very much.