Women raped. Women whose children have been abducted and “disappeared” by a fascist regime. The two major features in this issue of LILITH focus on these subjects. Both teach us that accommodation is the wrong strategy for combatting individual or group terrorization—and that successful resistance requires collective and communal support.
Phyllis Chesler, in LILITH #2, described rape as “terrorism against the female body politic.” Sociologist Pauline Bart’s research (page 8) leads her to conclude that Jewish women are particularly vulnerable to rape. She tells LILITH that one reason for this is that we have been socialized to respond with what has been a historical Jewish strategy under oppression: accommodation (“you give a little here and you take a little there and you survive”). This strategy, Bart shows, has proved counterproductive in rape avoidance. What does work is active resistance. Understanding that society as a whole fosters a feeling of physical helplessness in women, and encourages men to view women as objects, Bart considers how the Jewish community can alter these attitudes and teach women to resist rape more effectively.
In Argentina, the “accommodations” of its Jewish community (and, with few exceptions, world Jewry) to the junta’s terror had tragic results: the abduction and murder of “thought criminals” by the security forces continued unabated, and failed to free the “disappeared” or end the disappearances. It was only collective resistance—initiated by the courageous Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—that brought an end to the regime and its reign of terror (1976-1983). By risking their lives to demand that the junta disclose the fate of their abducted children, the Madres, one of whom is profiled in this issue (p. 17), became the midwives of the larger resistance to the junta, and were directly responsible for the renewal of democracy in Argentina.
The lesson here for Jewish feminists—both from Bart’s work on rape resistance and from Renee Epelbaum’s struggle—is the importance of collective resistance. At a time when so many American women have been led to believe that collective action by women is unnecessary, embarrassing or ineffective, we must remind ourselves that mutual support and collective action express the highest ideals of both Judaism and feminism. Judaism teaches that “kol Yisrnel arevim zeh I’zeh”—all Jews are responsible for one another—and feminism has taught us that our personal struggles are ultimately political, and that only when they are addressed collectively will our own lives and the world change.
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