Horror of the female

Prepare to be gut-wrenched.

Elana Sztokman was just in the US for a ten day book tour for the publication of her book, The War on Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalism and the Women Fighting for Freedom. Then she got on the plane for the 11 hour trip back to Israel.

The plane took off 20 minutes late because an ultra-Orthodox man was negotiating with passengers so as not to have to sit next to a woman—me—on the 11-hour flight.

I asked myself if this was karma or poetic justice. After all, I had just spoken to hundreds of people about exactly these issues, and the way women are made to feel like second class citizens as a result. Part of me wanted to smile and hand out copies of my book. But I sat there silently for a long time, watching all this happen, witnessing all these men around me talking about me, mostly in Yiddish, but also in Hebrew and English, without looking directly at me. I sat there, torn between my desire not to make a scene and my feeling that If I don’t articulate, right here and now, how all this affects women, how this affects me, who will?

Because what is this shit? It’s this:

That’s what it is. It’s not anything else. It’s not holy or spiritual or sanctified. It’s othering, it’s disgust, it’s get away from me, it’s don’t come near me, it’s you’re a contaminant.

After listening to them for a long time Sztokman decided to point that out.

I said, “Imagine if instead of men and women, we were talking about Jews and non-Jews. Imagine how you would feel if a bunch of non-Jews were standing around saying that they can’t sit next to you because you’re a Jew, that they are willing to sit anywhere but next to you, because their religion won’t allow it, because you are impure or different, or whatever. how would you feel? How would you ever get over that insult?” I could feel my voice rising. After all these years of writing about this, after this whole tour where I went around listening to people and sharing ideas, I just couldn’t stay silent in the face of this humiliation.

But Mr Ultra-Orthodox and all the other men said she didn’t understand and turned their backs on her. (She doesn’t say if there were any women around, or if so how they reacted.)

I sat down, put on my seatbelt, looked out the window and suddenly started to cry.

At one point I said to the men, whose backs were turned to me, “I sat here for half an hour just absorbing the insult.” That’s what everyone expected me to do. That’s what women are accustomed to doing. We give all kinds of reasons—we say we don’t mind, we like sitting in the back of the bus, we don’t want to “be like men,” this is what God wants, we don’t want to make a fuss, we like their lives. So we absorb the insult. We pretend everything is great. Maybe in some ways it is. Maybe we generally or genuinely love our lives. Maybe we are afraid of losing something if we fight for change. Maybe we are afraid of our own power. so we smile and go about our lives and pretend that this doesn’t happen.

If there is one thing that I would like to change in the world, it is this: I would like women to respect themselves enough to say no to all this. I want women to allow themselves to feel the impact of the silencing. I want women to be honest with themselves and to look at their lives and the places where they are powerless or oppressed, and to acknowledge that. Better yet, I want women to say no, I will not be silent or servile. I will not continue to absorb the insult as if this is all OK. I want women to say that they deserve better. I want women to believe that they deserve better.

So do I. Every day, every hour.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    And the even sadder part is that these ultra-Orthodox Jews are the main force turning Israel more and more hard-line religious because they are breeding like rabbits. I only hope a large cohort of their children and grandchildren will realize how ridiculous and inhuman their parents’ beliefs are.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    If i ever fly to Israel, I think I will pack a small bag of pork rinds in my bag. If I ever see someone use their Judaism as an excuse to be a sexist jerk, I could invite them to sit by me, wait until we are in the air, and then breathe pork-rind fumes on them for 11 hours.

  3. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    I honestly believe that this kind of discrimination should be illigal or at the very least, not catered for. Dont want to sit next to a woman on public transport? Sucks to be you then, because your seat won’t be changed.

  4. johnthedrunkard says

    We’ve just had a news report about 11 hours of hell on an El Al flight. All caused by Haredi nuts.

    How did these idiots act when they lived in states that didn’t try to accommodate to them? What would happen on Air France or Aeroflot if they tried to pull such a stunt?

    These idiots consider themselves ‘Jews’ and exploit that to feed off the Israeli state. They do no work, refuse military service, many of their leaders explicitly reject the legitimacy of Israel, they obstruct public transportation, harass school children, breed ‘quiverfull’ size families and subsist on state welfare.

    Israel’s experiment: a secular state with a ‘homeland’ element defined by religious identity, is being crushed by these parasites.

  5. MyaR says

    When I first saw this story, it reminded of a former place of employment. The lead software engineer was Orthodox, and sort of my boss. It was a startup, smallish, and had a big open work space. There were two restrooms, one men, one women. There were, however, more men than women, so we said it was fine if the men used the women’s restroom if it was open.

    However, we then started having problems with a few of the men (including the Orthodox ‘boss’**) using the women’s restroom exclusively, because it was cleaner than the men’s room*. So we’d get up to go to the restroom and have to wait, even though the men’s room was open. One of the other women came up with a genius solution — we just put a box of tampons on the counter. Never had the problem again.

    *Got a problem with there being some men who are messing up (epically messing up, it was pretty digusting) the bathroom? Don’t ask the men to be more considerate, just start inconveniencing the women.

    **He’d also theatrically flatten himself against the wall with his arms out if he were passing a woman in a tight-ish space, so he wouldn’t accidentally brush up against any part of her clothing. Yeah, he was fun to work with.

  6. says

    Don’t want to sit next to a woman? Buy three seats for your flight. If it’s that important to your soul – if it really is – that’s a cheap price to pay. If you don’t want to pay it you’re just being a jerk.

  7. says

    MyaR: It sounds like that problem could also have been sidestepped by simply declaring both toilets open to all – my suspicion being that if the men knew they were going to be judged on their mess by the women, they might have been less messy.

  8. MyaR says

    David Hart — nope. Made no difference. We actually proposed that initially, out of a sense of fairness: there were about 20 men and less than 10 women. Then we experienced their bathroom, and their failure to improve the condition of their bathroom. And it’s not like we banned men from using the women’s restroom, and the non-phobic ones continued to use it, including two guys who used it exclusively because they detested the messiness of the men’s room. They were just considerate about it.

  9. Katydid says

    @Mya; did your boss go into business for himself? About 6 years ago, my company brought in a sub-contractor. Before he started, there was a meeting to tell the women that because this man was an Orthodox Jew, he would not shake hands with us. Okay, fine…who shakes hands with a co-worker they see every single day anyway?

    Then he started, and our seating arrangements had to be changed because he couldn’t tolerate sitting in an area near any of the women. Then, in meetings, the women had to wait for him to seat himself and arrange ourselves as far away from him as we could because his special, special self couldn’t tolerate being in a meeting with women. Oh, and it would be better if we women (all software engineers) didn’t speak up in meetings, because it made him uncomfortable, you see.

    Then our “snack table” came under attack; we had a long-standing tradition in our office of bringing in snacks on Fridays–usually some form of baked goods. Suddenly, the women had to stand back and wait for him to serve himself because he couldn’t touch food if a woman had been near it.

    It went on and on–this kind of behavior wouldn’t have been tolerated by any random misogynist, but because this guy could cry RELIGION, suddenly it was perfectly acceptable to (expletive deleted) all over the rights of the women forced to work with this guy.

  10. Scr... Archivist says

    Elana Sztokman:

    After all, I had just spoken to hundreds of people about exactly these issues, and the way women are made to feel like second class citizens as a result.

    Rebecca Watson:

    …don’t invite me back to your hotel room, right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

    It’s good that these women are speaking out, publicly and to large audiences. I only wish that the people who most need to hear and heed their messages would actually listen to them.

  11. MyaR says

    Katydid — that is ten times worse than anything I experienced. And what the hell was wrong with your company to allow that? I’d be baking non-kosher, delicious treats — “oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize this isn’t kosher, and with you being so religious…” Actually, I’d be telling my company it had to stop. If there was resistance, I would seriously consider suing. And I’d definitely be job hunting.

    And no, he’s at another startup, and way more successful than he deserves. There’s a lot of them out there.

  12. Katydid says

    @mya; we did retaliate–there’s a whole post about it. Bottom line; I lost my job for calling out the b.s.

  13. MyaR says

    Katydid, sad, and unfortunately, what happens too often. And it’s generally not feasible to sue, which is why the companies continue to side with the louder tantrum-thrower, because they ARE more likely to sue. And because too many men refuse to recognize how women in that type of situation are actually being treated.


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