Sexual Harassment of Left-Wing Protestors in the West Bank

I was dissapointed to read recently that left-wing Israeli protestors have been sexually harrassed by Palestinians at joint Israeli-Palestinian protests. I was even more dissapointed to read that not only did the male Israeli left-wing establishment largely ignore these women’s experiences, but actually, there have been one or two instances of harrasment by Israeli left-wing protestors as well.

I am going to ignore for a moment, the way that these instances of harrassment form but one more obstacle in the creation of joint Israeli-Palestinian social space and real interactions, that are a major component of peace-building. I am going to delay discussing the wilfull ignorance of the male left-wing establishment (interesting how sexual harassment of males never comes up in the article) and move on to the sexual harrasment perpetrated by left-wing Israeli men: Unfortunately, some individuals with progressive political views, do not institute those values in their personal lives. There are even self-proclaimed feminist males who mistreat – or even sexually abuse – women, as shown by the lef-wing activist’s assertion that the Israeli protestor who abused her did in fact, self-identify as a feminist, which is part of why she trusted him. This discrepancy exists for a many reasons, but I will outline just a few:

1.  Humans are capable of living with cognitive dissonance. Thus, I, an avowed feminist, may lay aside my feminism in my personal life to watch a certain movie, or make an objectifying joke. (I actually once judged a man by the size of his girlfriend’s breasts, while sitting in a coffee-shop.) So too, a man may hold feminist ideals in the abstract, but not apply those ideals to his personal interactions in his own life. The man may not even be aware of the discrepancy between his views and his actions, since our human brains are hard-wired to make us unaware of the cognitive dissonances that are a part of daily human existence. Because our society’s standard for the treatment of women is pretty abysmal, the man may subconsciously have absorbed society’s sandard, or percieve his actions as “normal”, not differing from the way other people in his life treat women. Yes, this discrepancy between abstract value and real-world action may extend to the point where a man can sexually harrass a woman while claiming to be a feminist. Of course, all of the above can also apply to a woman who holds feminist views.

2. Many men and women have different definitions of harrasment, and many feminists and non-feminists have different definitions of harrassment. Many male feminists and female feminists also have different definitions of harrassment. This can lead to two different situations: 1. A person may be harrassed without realizing they are being harrassed 2. A person may harrass without realizing they are harrassing. This largely has to do with society’s rape paradigm: Active lack of consent is the measure for what constitutes harrasment, when instead, the standard should be that anything that has a lack of active consent constitutes harrasment. Thus, if a woman pushes a guy off once, then gives up and kind of limply lets him have his way, because she feels there is no way out – it is useless to scream or physically resist – is that harrasment? You’d be surprised by how many men (and women) would say no – she gave in. But surely to the victim it would feel like harrasment. So here you have a female victim, and a male perpetrator who might not realize he is a perpetrator, because society told him it was ok to go for the second try, and that if she didn’t actively resist, she must have secretly wanted it.  The example I am giving might be a bit extreme, but I believe the point I am illustrating is true: Different definitions of harrasment lead to much confusion among both victims and perpetrators, and means that a man might harrass a women without defining it as such – meaning to him, it need not conflict with his feminist views.

3. Because male feminists are often ostracized by society, and specifically by women, sometimes, some male feminisits may develop a complex web of self-perceptions and power-and-gender-related psychological issues, that in the case mentioned in the article, the man chose to work out through the sexual power act of harrasment. Many feminist males find it hard to get laid, and have a need to “prove” that they can, and also, to prove they are powerful, in the face of being constantly surrounded by strong feminist women who assert their power by refusing the male’s sexual advances. I know this is a terrible thing to say: I do not think being a male feminist makes you more prone to harrasing women – it probably makes you much, much, less prone. But I think there are some male feminists that do develop these issues, though most do not choose to work them out by harrasing. Of course, there are men who develop psychological issues that lead them to harrass in the non-feminist male population as well – and probably in larger numbers. I do not think men who develop these issues develop them because they are feminists, but rather, because of the way society maltreats male feminists. This is especially true because some straight female feminists still cling to the un-feminist strong man fetish, and then castigate the feminist men in their lives both for not being feminist enough, and for being too sensitive or not “strong” enough, and refuse to sleep with them. If male feminists can’t even expect to get cunt from female feminists, (because female non-feminists are definitely out of the question), where will they get it from? Are we, the straight female feminists, forcing to men to choose between feminist celibacy and chauvinist sex – if so, aren’t we partially to blame for the lack of men on our side?

Please understand: I am not trying to justify this man’s actions: Horniness and psychological issues are not excuses for harrasment. If you have those, work them out in the therapist’s office, not in a woman’s (or a man’s) body. I do not believe psychological issues in general, are excuses for atrocities, like rape or murder (I am not talking about an illness, like skizophrenia, etc., which might be a different story). As humans, we have been given the gifts of freedom of choice and self-control, even if those gifts that are often hard (and painful) to exercise.

Now that I’ve engaged in my fair share of women-hating for the day, I will move on to man-hating: Namely, the male left-wing establishment’s wilfull ignorance on the issue, claiming that the cause of fighting the Occupation, through joint Israeli-Palestinian protests, is more important than women’s experiences of sexual harrasment. Basically, these men are saying: The rights of the Palestinian population are more important than the rights of the Israeli left-wing women population, so we will ignore the pain of our female compatriots in order to fight for a higher cause. This argument is not new – actually, the human rights establishment, and the left-wing establishment in Israel, have a history of putting human rights before women’s rights. This is because, human rights and women’s rights are seen as separate categories: Thus, one’s values as a humanist can trump one’s values as a feminist. There is only one problem with this logic: WOMEN ARE HUMANS TOO! Thus, actually, women’s rights ARE HUMAN RIGHTS. The pervasiveness of the two as separate categories in Western culture and the human rights establishment shows how Simone de Beauvoir was right: The word “human” in Western culture has traditionally meant – and still continues to mean – the male human, not the female one.  This explains why “human rights” do not include “women’s rights” – human rights are extended only to those who fall under the traditional Western definition of human. “Women’s rights” are a separate and inferior category – even though, if we think of the rights usually termed as women’s rights, they affect men as well: Men can be victims of sexual harrasment, and rape can tear apart  a society: Not only can it help spread STDs, but it also often wreaks damage on a family’s emotional life. This is why rape is such an effective weapon of war and genocide. Family planning, too, though often framed as a women’s right, actually affects all the members of a family – including the men.

So dear left-wing Israeli male establishment: Prioritizing Palestinians’ human rights over Israeli women’s human rights doesn’t make you humanists – it just makes you racists, sexists, or both. If you truly believe in equality, you must listen to these women’s experiences and do something about it. If you don’t do so, please don’t expect the world to take you seriously.

Dear left-wing women: Should we support a male-left wing establishment if it doesn’t stand for the values of equality and humanity that we are fighting for, that are precisely the reason we oppose the Occupation? I don’t think so, but the choice is yours to make. Whatever you decide, I remain united with you in a bond of female sisterhood.

Dear reader: Please know that I have been biased in writing this article, for I have indeed been harrassed by an (American, left-wing) male feminist.

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