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An Open Letter to Gil Ronen

Do you think that female concentration camps guards in the Nazi era, or female Hutu leaders in Rwanda, or the Sudan where genocide and what I call “gender cleansing” have been practiced and where women either participated, looked the other way, asked no questions, or stood to profit from the murders and torture—were not and are not “real” women? Prof.Phyllis Chesler  [caption id="attachment_13309" align="alignleft" width="136" caption="Phyllis Chesler"]Phyllis CheslerPhyllis Chesler[/caption] Dear Gil: Shalom. I read your piece. While I agree with the “commonsense” aspect of what you are saying, I must respectfully and expertly disagree with your conclusions. First, we no longer live in the stone age and today, with one click, or with only minimum strength and maximum brain power, either a man or a woman can set off a bomb or prevent a bomb from going off. Second, armies today, including the IDF, run on intelligence and computer savvy as much as on brawn and sheer brute force. Women and men both excel in technology, intelligence and counterintelligence. Third, women are not necessarily more compassionate or more tender than men are. Like men, women are capable of cowardice and courage, of aggressively defending the status quo or of challenging it with great risk to themselves. Women can be competitive, cruel, and very aggressive towardsother women and towards other women’s childrenif not towards their ownchildren. I wrote a major book about the way in which women, like men,have internalized sexist ideas and use slander, gossip, and shunning to socially and psychologically destroy another woman in ways that are“indirect,” not “direct”; female-female aggression does not mimic a male model of male-male aggression. The book is called“Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman.” Alas, like men, women are as close to the apes as to the angels. Do you think that female concentration camps guards in the Nazi era, or female Hutu leaders in Rwanda, or the Sudan where genocide and what I call “gender cleansing” have been practiced and where women either participated, looked the other way, asked no questions, or stood to profit from the murders and torture—were not and are not “real” women? Do you think that the Arab and Muslim women who are loudly calling for Israel’s death (G-d forbid!) and who are gladly veiling and assuming subordinate positions to Islamist party positions are not “real” women? Do you think that Palestinian female suicide bombers and terrorists are not “real” women? On the other hand, would you say that Golda Meir, Queen Elizabeth the First, Catherine the Great of Russia, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, and Margaret Thatcher are (or were) not “real” women? Or,that all the men who are sensitive, compassionate caregivers, to their children, families, clients, and patients, are not “real” men? Or that the thousands of women today who are, globally, prime ministers, presidents, vice presidents, members of Parliament, MKs, governors, mayors, and city council members are not “real” women? Yes, of course, there are anatomical, genetic, biological,and psychological differences between men and women. That should not mean that society should punitively discriminate against either gender or that women are meant to only have children and be caretakers within the home or that men deserve positions of authority in the outside world merely because, as a group ,they are physically stronger than women are as a group. (And, by the way, there are many within group exceptions to this group profile). Why this focus on brute, physical force being the justification for positions of public authority? No brute force is required for the task of Torah study. Jews especially treasure brain power. Women—Jewish women—have an overwhelming amount of this precious, prized commodity.. There are many women today who are exceptionally talented in this high value task. But, in addition, an Increasing number of women, both religious and non-religious, including modern Orthodox women, are not only religiously learned; they are also expert professionals in the modern world. They are bankers, stockbrokers, corporate executives, scientists, physicians, artists,lawyers, judges, spies, warriors and figures of authority in the public realm. I am not going to mention Deborah, the “woman of light,” as a lone example of a woman warrior to prove my point. As we are again going down to Egypt, (in Shmot), let me note that Jewish survival in that era was entirely due to the bravery—the willingness to risk death—the acts of civil disobedience, on the part of three women. Shifra and Puah, the midwives, (some say they were Miriam and Yocheved, others believe they were Egyptian women), and Pharoah’s own daughter, renamed Batya, who rescued and adopted Moses.
Prof. Phyllis Chesler: is the author of fifteen books, including Women and Madness (Doubleday, 1972), The Death of Feminism: What's Next in the Struggle for Women's Freedom (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and most recently, The New Anti-Semitism. She is the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology and the National Women's Health Network.

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