November 22, 2011
Opinion: Where have all the women gone?
A recent Jerusalem bus ad promoting organ donation through the National Transplant Center (ADI) perfectly summarizes the battle over the public sphere in Jerusalem.
The ad campaign asks Jerusalemites to sign an ADI donor card, yet it would seem that women are not invited to join the initiative. Apparently, they have not donated organs and do not need transplants. They are simply not there.
We’ve already seen the doctored images of super-model Bar Refaeli and the Transport Ministry ads for the Jerusalem Light Rail where only men and boys (with a completely secular “look”) take the train, but the fallacious ADI ad placed on busses throughout the capital is a new red line.
This is an incomprehensible gap. Donating organs begins, first and foremost, with our most human facet: We are all — women and men, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs, babies and senior citizens — ephemeral and vulnerable.
Signing an organ donor card is admitting that we fear what tomorrow will bring. Maybe I’ll need a liver? Maybe one of my loved ones will suffer from heart failure?
And for one moment, there is the wish to prevent our loved ones from enduring the difficult dilemma of having to decide whether to donate our organs without our expressed consent should we pass away unexpectedly.
Organ donation is the uppermost expression of mutual responsibility that offers hope. Having an ADI card in your wallet expresses a wide scope of human partnership, showing our capability as people to do good things.
But the ad on Jerusalem busses undermines that worthy perception. It indicates that not everyone is equal, not everyone is taking part in the noble act in the same way — for example, women.
Removing images of women from the public sphere is, in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox elements in society, a protection of their modesty.
As is fitting for a feminist religious woman like myself, I can understand that need. I have often been riled by the humiliating display of women on billboards. But does this mean there are only two options: either humiliate women or erase them?
These two extremes share much more than the Charedim would like to admit. The ADI ad is a perfect example of a humane, egalitarian and respectful presentation of women. Are there really people who see sexual innuendo in such images?!
My question is: Where will it end; what is the red line? Will it be with busses where women sit in the back respectfully, or maybe with enclosed and separated sidewalks, and silencing female soldiers at IDF ceremonies — and what about women serving in administrative roles in the rabbinical courts, and so on?
I am well aware of the distinction and differences between the above examples, that there are complexities; and yet, they all stem from the same outlook and interests devised among the ultra-Orthodox communities.
My anger is also related to the methods used by Charedi society — the combination of violence and hidden campaigns, behind closed doors, with unmistakable results.
It is worth noting that the ADI campaign is possible because, without many people even noticing, the city’s public transportation system has bowed before Charedi demands, and its busses are towing the line — no matter how innocent women holding ADI cards would look in the pictures.
The lack of open dialogue on the boundaries of the Charedi community and its demands on the public, which is creating accepted facts, has led to anger that should be channeled to public pressure.
Charedi society and its leaders must be forced to take part in an open, incisive public debate that will bring about an understanding: What is our common space? How do we want it to look? And after a great deal of anger, mark boundaries that we can accept together.
Until such a debate is initiated, we must not keep silent. We must not allow these norms to spread to the heart of the city, a city that must never again have a wall dividing it.