Feminism is an ideology with the goal of promoting equity across sex and genders. The connection between feminism and non-militarism is not obvious, but these are our central values in New Profile: we oppose militarism and promote feminism. The status of the military in Israel is related to the way society perceives men as opposed to women. In parallel to criticizing militarism, we hope to create an equal society, in which women gain more freedom, power, and influence. There is a long history of feminist women organizations who were acting for promoting peace and opposing war in different places in the world. New Profile’s criticism of Israeli society is inspired by them.
Due to the influence of militarism, Israeli society worships the character of the fighter, who is historically and statistically male. The relation between masculinity and militarism creates a whole line of characteristics, which society sees as “typical” for men and “vital” for the military and war situations: physical strength, aggression, courage, self discipline, rationality, and self control. On the other hand, characteristics such as physical weakness, tenderness, softness, fear, sensitivity and identification with the other are usually attached to femininity and perceived as an obstacle for efficient military functioning. The military positions themselves are rated according to their level of perceived masculinity: combat fighters are considered more masculine, and therefore enjoy higher status, whereas a “jobnik”– a soldier with a non-combat job is considered less masucline and of a lower status. Fighters gain special honour because their position is linked with physical effort and comes with a risk of being killed for the state. Risking one’s life is a perceived sign of masculinity, commitment, and loyalty–which the Israeli mainstream adores.
What is the place of women in this story–in a state which obligates military service also from them? There are so-called feminist positions which promote the integration of women in “male systems,” such as the military, but we don’t share such positions. Even if women take a more significant role in the military, its aggressive characteristics won’t change. We believe there should be a change in the first place in the world view which assumes that military service in general is preferential, and we challenge the idea that becoming a combative masculine figure is something which women should aspire to. One of our main claims is that it is problematic that life in Israel is so connected to the military–a violent, hierarchical, limiting, and rigid institution, which at the end of the day deals with, and perpetuates, war, and oppression. In a critical view, one can see the military also as a central force which contributes to male domination in society, while marginalising women. These are men who man the vast majority of combat positions, while the attitude to women conscription is different. Their military service is shorter, many women are exempt from it, and even though a considerable percentage of women in the military have “important” positions, their military service is perceived by many as secondary, marginal, and negligible. Since the military is considered as a stepping stone for senior positions in civil life, avoiding “significant” participation in service can hurt the status of a woman (or a man) also in civil life. Beyond that–an understanding of military affairs is considered critical to the political realm in Israel, a perception which necessitates a severe and infuriating exclusion of those who are not men from powerful positions. For us in New Profile, the equitable status of women in society should not depend upon integration in the military system, but should instead rely on change in the central status of the military and on the improvement of the situation in other institutions at the military’s expense: the education system, the welfare system, the health system, and more.
Traditionally and in a global context, the military perception divides society into two opposed genders: protecting men who are willing to fight, and protected women, who cannot fight and are not fit for it. This gendered division of roles is not based on any facts, but rather on the way society understands femininity and masculinity. At the same time, for years, the Israeli military has been presenting itself as an advanced and progressive institution due to the so-called opportunities it gives women, and these days it also presents itself this way with regards to the LGBTQ+ community. This is the claim, despite the long-time discrimination and day-to-day culture of contempt and ridicule towards queer peoples in service. A supposed acceptance of women and LGBTQ+ people into the Israeli military plays a role in its attempt to present itself as a liberal institution, with western and democratic values of openness and equality. But the truth is this is only lip service: women and LGBTQ+ people often suffer exclusion in the military due to their sexuality or gender identity, while the centrality of these issues in military propaganda serves to hide the violence the military uses against such people and its attempts to divert attention from it.
Men are also hurt by militarism. In a militaristic culture, men are seen as potential combat soldiers, who deal with fighting and actions which risk their lives and the lives of others. This is the normative view placed upon men in a militaristic society. The military associated masculinity with violence, and expects men to be able to act violently as a casual thing. It is important to remember that those reaching combat positions are very young. Many of them deal with acts of oppression–including detentions (also of children), breaking into family homes in the middle of the night, and policing and applying force towards civilians. Carrying arms gives them a strong feeling of power. At the same time, they are also victims of violence on different levels. All this bears, of course, consequences on their psychological situation, since both risking one’s life and hurting another person has an inherently deep influence on a person. Men who don’t hold a combat role are affected by a perception of masculinity which is shaped by a war culture–masculinity which sees sensitivity as weakness and expects a man to ignore feelings of distress and illness. Our feminism hopes to also free men from these ideas. Combat-masculinity is an ideal which hurts all of those who do not meet its standards, and even hurts those who do. The glorification of violence remains a significant obstacle to the possibility of peacemaking, and even serves as an incentive to continue war and violence.
New Profile was established as a women-led movement, by two study groups of women who focused on the occupation and its influence on society from a critical-feminist and feminine point of view. Among the founder-activists were mothers who wanted to oppose the militaristic education that their children met in schools and defy the expectation that they would cooperate with their children’s enlistment. Out of an understanding of feminism as a movement striving for equity in general, the management rules of the association were shaped to be non-heirarchical: decision making is done in teams and assemblies, in consensus, transparently, and via open conversation. In doing so, we were inspired by activist, feminist, radical movements around the world. Our movement has been going through many changes since, but at its core, retains the aspiration to be managed equally, to offer support, and to provide a feminist space to learn and to express ones self on matters related to the violent patriarchal space we live in–both on the political and personal-emotional levels. But mainly, to act against militarism–because someone has to do it.
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