On the role of female socialist revolutionaries in the struggle against gender discrimination in the education system (in Israel)
Rotem Elisha, December 2014, http://www.the-isleague.com/women-29-12-2014/
Hello everyone, my name is Rotem Elisha, I am a high school student from Ramla – Israel. At the beginning of 2014 I initiated a struggle by opening a Facebook page titled “No More Silence – Fight for Freedom and Equality”. The idea for this came up as I was confronted with the discriminatory rule in my school which prohibits female but not male students from wearing short pants and skirts. The excuse that was given to me by the school management was that school girls should dress in a “decent” manner. If girls should be allowed to show off their legs at school, they further explained, it might prevent boys from concentrating fully on studying and cause sexual harassment.
Unsurprisingly, upon opening the page it became clear that the scopes of this phenomenon are much wider and that school managements, principles, female and male teachers all over the counter are imposing dress-codes which are discriminatory and humiliating towards young women, and some are enforcing those dress-codes through humiliating means such as measuring the length of pants and skirts worn by female students, preventing them from entering class for dress-code vilation, etc.
Discriminatory dress-codes and such “decency” laws, especially when coupled with such infuriating rationalizations are in fact encouraging and legitimizing victim blaming, sexism, promotion and reinforcement of rape culture which is rampant in the Israeli education system and society in general. Rather than teaching young men to refrain from sexually harassing women, so called educators seem to prefer teaching us women how to prevent men from sexually harassing us. I would like to believe, and in fact quite sure, that most male and female teachers mean well. I also would like to believe that many of the boys who sexually harass and even sexually assault women do it out of ignorance of the severity of it. Moreover, it seems to me that many of the girls being harassed and assaulted are unaware of the fact that such behavior is illegitimate or are under the impression that such would always be the fate of women in a social and cultural reality which cannot be changed.
Because of this, in addition to the technical demand we raised to immediately abolish all discriminatory dress codes in the education system, we also demand from the Ministry of Education to fund a well-structured curriculum around gender issues and sexual education. We would like young men and women to learn about the difference between healthy sexual relations and sexual abuse, exploitation and rape from a reliable source rather than sexist pornography, advertising, entertainment and fashion magazines.
In this article I would like not to focus too much on the technical details of our struggle but to look at the “No More Silence” campaign from a socialist outlook and the way I see my role as well as my comrades as female socialist revolutionaries in it.
Not Feminists – Socialists!
Automatically, our struggle is expected to be labeled in the media as well as public discourse as “feminist” and will attract women of all ages which define themselves as such. Socialists are not deterred by this but on the contrary – we should welcome it. As socialist revolutionaries we must use this opportunity to counterpoise the popular feminist notion, that having more women in positions of power will bring about a more equality and justice to our society, with the reality in which we live in and prove to our feminist allies how mistaken this very notion is. In reality, the very system which is overwhelmingly operated and managed by women in positions of power, i.e. the education system, positions itself as a chief partner in the crime of promoting a worldview that degrades women and depicts their bodies as something to be kept covered and hidden from the uncontrollably lustful men.
Against this perception we will put forward our socialist perception which supports the liberation of humanity as a whole from all forms of oppression – class inequality, economic inequality, racism, male chauvinism, nationalism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. Only a society free from all forms of oppression would enable women to have their appropriate share of central social positions, without any need to put anyone, regardless of gender, in a position of hierarchy or power over others.
Empowering the struggling oppressed instead of weakening them
We live in a capitalist class society that divides humanity into superior people and inferior people. We must raise awareness among oppressed women, who took upon themselves to be part of this struggle against gender discrimination, to the fact that as long as classes exist, exploitation, discrimination and oppression of women would also exist. In no class society in the past were women considered equal to men, and such will be the case with the present one. We must refrain from creating illusions which would cause disappointment and demoralization later. We must tell the simple truth that the struggle will be long and tedious and its results, impressive as they may be, will be but temporary and limited. We must spread the message that only a struggle for a socialist, democratic, classless society would bring about liberation and equality for women. We will continue to do so not only in words but also in deeds.
We organized this struggle democratically “from below”. I.e. the young women participate in collective decision making, initiating new ideas, organizing and putting plans into action on the local and national level of the struggle. The young women will become more aware to their own abilities, personal and collective power when they organize and act systematically to fulfill their goals.
This stands in sharp contrast to the usual way social struggles are conducted in this country: a group of dedicated social activists assume the leadership of the struggle and makes all the decisions in small closed fora. They decide everything from slogans to the location and timing of the demonstrations, etc. etc. These decisions are then being dropped down upon the other participants with the expectation of full cooperation and obedience. Such tradition has two major flaws that cause demoralization instead of empowerment:
It reinforces a culture of struggle that the oppressed should trust dedicated small groupings of social activists to act and remove for them all the forms of injustice and oppression which exists in society instead of organizing and acting collectively by and for themselves.
It makes it easy for capitalists and those who serve their interests in politics and media to neutralize the leadership and weaken the struggle. They can do this either through arrests, legal persecution and sometimes even murder of activists, or through different forms of bribery such as job positions or even guaranteed seats in parliament. Anything could be expected from the enemies of equality, freedom and justice in the effort to create a conflict of interests between the leadership and the rank-and-file of any given struggle. When leadership and rank-and-file are organized democratically every leader could be replaced, immediately if needed. When leadership and rank-and-file are organized democratically herd mentality and blind obedience are replaced by critical thinking and debate that empower all who participate.
However, I don’t want you to wrongly assume that social struggles could be conducted “without leadership”. In the existing circumstances it would naïve to think so. All over history social struggle produce leaders automatically. Our role as socialist revolutionaries is to make sure that said leadership would serve the interests of the oppressed and not the other way around.
And above all this, as socialists we dream about living in a society which allows all to participate in collective decision making on all aspects of life – production, education, health, etc. If we won’t be able to organize democratic struggles from below, nobody would believe us that humanity as a whole could be organized this way.
This is the reason why we try our best to run the “No More Silence” campaign democratically from below. For instance, last week’s demonstration held at the heart of Tel Aviv, was planned collectively on an open Facebook discussion group. The date and time of the demonstration, the formulation of the invitation, the slogans as well as the signs and banners – all were collectively and democratically decided. This tactic proved itself as hundreds of young men and women as well as male and female teachers came to demonstrate together in what became an emotionally invigorating and empowering political action.
Put the most oppressed at the spearhead of the struggle
Another important role we have as socialist revolutionaries is to empower the most oppressed strata of our society by encouraging them to join the front-line of the struggle. In other words, to bring forward social elements that have nothing to lose but their chains. Traditionally, social struggles in this country are led by the educated elite located in central geographic areas receiving privileges that it is willing to maintain. The personal, social and political interests of such a leadership cannot always coexist with the interests of most who suffer from oppression. As a result, as time goes by, the leadership and rank-and-file go through a process of alienation from one another, thus even the most well-intentioned leadership might find itself isolated and the struggle it led vaporizes.
Our role is to expose the ways in which gender oppression is dialectically linked to social and class oppression. The more we have girls from the economic, social and geographical periphery involved in central positions of leadership in this struggle, the more self-confidence and revolutionary consciousness they will accumulate, which in turn could be used to organized the struggle against all the other numerous forms of oppression they face in their everyday lives.
Last Friday this theory proved itself sound as youths arrived to the demonstration in numbers far exceeding my expectations from areas of the country such as Beersheba, Dimona, Ramla, Hadera, Qiryat Ata and others. We must have done something right.
“No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.”
(Friedrich Engels, June 1874)
Socialist revolutionaries must raise awareness to the fact that in this region, the “security situation”, or in other words the violent national oppression of the Palestinian people, stands in the center of public agenda and at the top priority of the ruling class. As a result, the Ministry of Education extends valuable resources and great efforts to convince and encourage young men and women to join the army and play an active role in this oppression. Much like gender oppression, all is done under the pretext of “values” and “morality”.
In fact, the ruling class connected to the political system and the media at its service are all sacrificing our real, concrete, day-to-day security in favor of the fake “security” which is more than anything a euphemism for protecting the interests of an oppressor nation against the anger and frustration of the oppressed nation. What are the bloody results of this policy?! We must openly ask who is more responsible for acts of assault, murder, rape against women – the rockets of the Palestinian resistance or the Israeli men, most of whom suffer themselves from daily oppression and neglect in all walks of life from education to health and welfare.
The capitalists and those who serve their interests in the parliament, the media and the government know well how to exploit racism and nationalist hatred to break down and vaporize social struggles. Our struggle received much media attention which it really deserved. However, should the next racist and chauvinist right-wing MP have decided to provoke the Palestinians into a 3rd Intifada, you can bet that much fewer people would have even found out that our struggle actually existed. We must therefore say without fear and without shame, that for the sake of our day-to-day, real, concrete security as women, we must act and lead the struggle to liberate the entire land from racist discrimination and national oppression, for a mass social revolution led by the workers and the poor, that will establish a free and just society – i.e. socialist and democratic from the river to the sea. Until that day comes – our social struggles would continue to rise only in the short periods of time left to us between one military operation to the next.
Dear girls, you are not alone! Join “No More Silence – Fight for Freedom and Equality”, join the revolution of social justice! In our last demonstration a slogan was raised that touched my heart more than all of the others: Women are Not Transparent – They Make Revolutions!