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By Hannah Sharron, a University of Birmingham student
It has been over one hundred years since women achieved full suffrage. The pay gap is shrinking, paternity leave is just as valid as maternity leave, and quite frankly, without women giving birth, humanity would cease to exist.
So why are some Ultra-Orthodox Jews erasing women?
Screenshots of Israeli newspaper HaMevaser’s coverage of the #JeSuisCharlie rally in Paris on Monday have been circulating online, with coverage from mainstream sites like BuzzFeed and The Telegraph as well as the Times of Israel. Why? Because the ultra-Orthodox publication has literally taken the women out of the picture.
I could continue by highlighting the discrepancies between the original photo and the edited version, but other news sites have done that already.
What I want to talk about – okay, rant about – is how positively livid I am. Infuriated, incensed, frustrated: take your pick. It is simply not feasible to pretend that women do not exist.
You don’t want to see women? Okay, walk down the street and cover your eyes. Maybe you’ll walk into a lamppost or maybe you’ll walk into the path of an oncoming vehicle, but hey, at least you didn’t accidentally spot a collarbone.
— Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) January 12, 2015
Of course, I do not wish that anyone would be hit by a car or even stub his or her toe on a lamppost. My point is simply that if a publication does not wish to print images of women, they can use their (mediocre) Photoshop skills to blur the women’s faces and bodies. I do not think this is necessarily ideal, but I believe it is the lesser of two evils. Because the alternative – removing women altogether – sends a totally unacceptable message.
By eradicating women from their newspaper, the editors of HaMevaser promote the message that women have no place in politics – or outside of the home at all. They suggest that women ought not to be in the newspapers, or present in society. They imply that no effort or achievement of women is worthy of media coverage.
Most painfully, I wonder how the wives and daughters of these news editors feel. Will they even be aware that women were present in the original photograph, or will they only be permitted to see the ‘filtered’ version? I cannot imagine how sidelined I would feel if my father sanctioned the excising of women in photographs. Perhaps there is a daughter who dreams of being a lawyer or politician, but in the ultra-Orthodox world, she cannot – because the ability to move in those circles is a male privilege.
This is not the first time that such a manipulation of images has occurred, either. Several years ago an American Yiddish newspaper* doctored an image marking a monumental historical event – the assassination of Osama Bin Laden – by removing Hillary Clinton. The iconic image, below, was manipulated to erase the US Secretary of State.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, I find this more preposterous than word can wield the matter. I do not know how to express my disbelief that people consider this acceptable. It is an inaccurate presentation of current events, but more than that it is simply ridiculous. Women exist! We hold positions of power! We have voices, and we use them to say things worth heeding!
Stop pretending we do not exist.
We simply cannot sideline women. Not only is it terrible for the self-esteem of ultra-Orthodox girls, who will rarely (if ever) see a woman in a position of power, but it is also a worrying first step towards a much more radical stance.
This is not the place to debate the polarisation of Israeli society; suffice to say here that with the so-called ‘Charedisation’ of certain areas in Israel, and the clashes between ultra-Orthodoxy and the State of Israel, I fear that if ultra-Orthodoxy becomes the dominant force in Israel, we will see a country that forces much more stringent rules upon women. I do not anticipate women being banned from driving, but I fear that women would no longer be permitted to appear in advertisements (in print, on the television and radio, on billboards); that women would no longer be permitted to present the news; that women would be relegated to the stockroom so that male customers do not have to be served by a woman on the tills.
Am I exaggerating the intensity of the situation? Perhaps the above scenario is not likely; time will tell. But in terms of how the eradication of women from a key historical photo will affect young women today, I am absolutely certain that this is not an overreaction.
Perhaps – I do not know, because I cannot pretend to understand the ultra-Orthodox understanding of sexuality – the newspaper’s editors may wish to shield men from seeing immodestly dressed women. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, are dressed modestly in long dark coats, appropriate for the winter weather. Perhaps the editors wish to avoid the issue of being attracted to a woman who is not their wife. But this candid shot is hardly pornographic; it is sombre and thought provoking, and it accurately represents a poignant moment in modern history.
My father quips that history is comprised of ‘his story’. The ultra-Orthodox need to recognize that history is not literally ‘his story’; it is in fact everyone’s story, and women are equally deserving of being a part of that history.
* Correction – Hamodia was initially named as the paper, which was corrected to an American Yiddish newspaper on 20 January