Israeli Women Took to the Street. But Where Were All the Men?

The pair of teens sailing on their scooters among the women streaming into Rabin Square for the main event of the day of protest against violence toward women probably couldn’t believe their good luck. I guess they hadn’t been following the news and they found themselves in the middle of the women’s protest: more and more women flowing down Ibn Gabirol Street. Besides satisfaction, their smiles indicated a sort of embarrassment. They were suddenly a minority, darting among packs of girls with megaphones and signs.

The taxi driver I rode with to the square, who didn’t believe the demonstration would draw more than 50 women, said that protests like this don’t do any good and that violence against women is an Arab thing. 

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“Why aren’t there more men here,” I asked a male activist from a socialist organization who was passing out fliers. “The oppression of women is the greatest oppression in human culture, I really don’t understand why more men didn’t come,” he said.

I think I got a better answer from a passerby who found himself among the crowd, and not to his benefit. He thought he heard one of the speakers use the term “spiritual violence” and he started shouting that he doesn’t understand what that means. I was reminded of a man who burst into one of the demonstrations that morning, written on his shirtless back: “I’m not a murderer.” That protester, like the passerby, are like rough arrows springing from some primeval male subconscious. They bypass the fine words and the obvious condemnation of the murders.

When women’s protests become truly unpleasant — when women fight not only for their right to not be murdered, but also for a real slice of control and leadership — will we see more men who consider women’s protests an assault on them, an existential assault?  Will men really agree to give up their ancient privileges, to which, out of habit and superiority, they are simply, utterly blind?

No offense to the noble men who did come to the demonstration, but it was impossible to ignore either the decisive female majority, or their type. Except for the bagel hawker — the sign of a successful protest is when there’s profit to be made — and a protester who came dressed as a Muslim clergyman and also spoke Arabic (who said: “no to violence and control of women”) most of the men there were typical left-wing protesters.

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The women who were there were also mostly the obvious suspects known from liberal demonstrations, some of the few rays of light lately: Jewish, well-heeled and well-groomed women, apparently from Tel Aviv or the center of the country. Truly weak women don’t have the time, the strength or the breath to protest their situation. They have to survive.

Still, we shouldn’t discount the achievements of this impressive protest, which began as the initiative of three young women who went with their heart and still managed to force the distress of women onto the Israeli agenda (which always finds reasons to postpone it). This was not the critical and syrupy masses of the LGBT protest or the “Druze protest” against the nation-state law, and we’ve already mentioned the small number of men, but the square was full.

And it was full of the energy of power, of success and of achievement. And because this was a women’s protest, the energy thermometer was different. There was no uncontrollable excitement or confrontational passion to burn the house down. You could feel a kind of slightly sad but powerful quiet. Like a quiet motor that refuses to declare itself working with an ostentatious roar. The quiet of a woman at work.