Our Bodies, Our Militaristic Selves


Why the military needs to deal more directly with the differences of the female body

by Rebecca Honig Friedman

Below is a 2007 blog post from Jewess; permission to reprint from Rebecca Honig Friedman.

With recent talk about fully integrating the Israeli military, the article in the issue of the Israeli journal “Studies in Law, Gender and Feminism” is particularly relevant. The article, by Dr. Yofi Tiroshof the College of Management, looks at the role that the female body plays in Israeli court discussions and decisions about women’s equality in the military. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz discusses the article at length, relating the author’s main argument:

… According to the article, legislation and rulings show there are reservations about dealing with the female body in the context of women’s equality in the army, “but at the same time, the review reveals the failure of the law to avoid dealing with the female body,” she writes.

“Contrary to the intention of legislators and judges to avoid dealing directly with the female body when dealing with equality between the sexes, the law is rife with assumptions as to the characteristics, functions and abilities of the female body. Since these assumptions remain inexplicit, they are not clarified and the law perpetuates traditional perceptions of the female body.”

The article concludes that the female body appears in legal texts on women in combat roles in two ways: “Either the female body is the sexual body that gives birth, the body that is the object of exploitation by stronger men in the army, the body that must be kept modest not to tempt and defile virtuous men, or it is ‘the body in drag,’ that tries to resemble the male body in order to be considered professional, a fighter, and authoritative and to be integrated into new roles in the army.”

Her conclusion is that dealing with the female body should not be avoided since it “no longer serves the thinking about equality between the sexes. Without dealing directly and profoundly with the abilities, appearance and functions of the female body, it will remain an unexamined category and assumptions about it will be perpetuated without intelligent discussion.”

Oh, our bodies, constantly getting in the way of the feminist fight for equality. But the solution, as Tirosh argues, is to acknowledge the real differences and then, as she cites Israeli Justice Dalia Dorner as arguing, to bring about equality between the sexes by allowing women access to combat units, but establishing different models of action for them within those units.

This is the same model that is being pushed in civilian workplaces—acknowledging and accommodating needs that may be particular to women (time off for childbirth, for example)—without punishing women in the long-run for having those needs. A task made more equitable when men are given access to the same kinds of accommodations (paternity leave, for example) when they need or want them.

About the Author

author_r_friedmanRebecca Honig Friedman
Rebecca Honig Friedman is the senior writer for the Jewess blog (Jewess.canonist.com), as well as the manager of original programming at The Jewish Channel (tjctv.com).

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