Feminism | Posted by Shira and Dina on 02/1/2010

Coming of Age

Source: Rachel Papo, “Hanging Out on the Weekend.” 2005.

Source: Rachel Papo, “Hanging Out on the Weekend.” 2005.

I have always thought the Jewish coming of age ritual for a girl was a Bat Mitzvah, the grasp of the Torah in ceremoniously manicured hands a rite of passage. Rachel Papo’s photographs show me that the coming of age for Jewish women in another hemisphere is the army, the positioning of a weapon in expecting hands a passage to a nationality that overrides patriarchal assumptions of femininity.

The United States military continues to be dominated by men. Masculinity continues to be conflated with violence and weaponry with notoriously phallic connotations. Maybe because of their minority status (women make up 20 percent of the US armed forces) and maybe because of the rampant macho-ism army institutions promote, one in three female soldiers will experience sexual assault while serving in the military, compared to one in six women in the civilian world. Women in the military are a shock to the system here, but what happens in a country that has always used women in the armed forces and that has one of the strongest armies in the world?

Well, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, today women represent a third of all soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces, and can be deployed in 90 percent of all positions within the IDF. Men serve a compulsory three years in the army, and women serve shorter terms, usually around two years, depending on their roles. However, most women do not serve in combat: during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, around 1,500 women served in combat jobs, approximately 2.5 percent of female conscripts. And according to a 2008 military survey, one of seven female soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces report that they have been victims of sexual harassment or assault.

So how different is the Israeli Army and its compulsory service different from the American army, in terms of women? Not just in terms of assault, for which the numbers do seem less grim, but also in terms of what they feel their roles should be. One difference is that women must serve, so that women’s army service is not considered an anomaly. But what makes women not want to serve in combat units? The age-old idea that women’s lives should be protected by men so that they can raise children?

From my personal experience with friends and family in the Israeli army, many men, from as young as 13 or 14, plan and train for getting into elite combat units in the army. Since army service comes before college, many Israelis, mainly boys, spend their high school days planning their future in the army in the same way that Americans study for the SATs. And from what I’ve seen, combat units mean glory to boys: no one wants to be a “jobnick,” someone who sits in an office and files paperwork, to such an extent that the word “jobnick” can be used as a derogatory term. But with girls most of this does not seem to apply—many girls that I know hope to become jobnicks, knowing that they will be able to stay close to home and stay out of the trenches. The statistics show that if women want, they can and do serve in combat units, but Israeli culture still seems to be saying that women shouldn’t want to. Can joining the army really be considered a coming of age for women, when for many women it is just perceived as a duty?

Photo Source: Rachel Papo, “Hanging Out on the Weekend.” 2005.

Shira and Dina have their own blog about progressing Jewish feminism: From the Rib?

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  • Alex Catgirl @ at 1:03 pm, February 1st, 2010

    Why is the fbomb providing a venue for WAR CRIMINAL advocates to espouse their views?

    There are women murders, rapists, embezzlers, gang bangers,etc. too! They are just not good role models to promoting gender equality with.

    You girls have been lied to, just as the Nazi youth were, just as the backwater bumpkins that serve as America’s cannon fodder in it’s illegal wars of aggression in Iraq, Pakistan, and who knows where else.

    The truth can be found here

    Look at the pre-1947 maps, the WW2 allies gave away what did not belong to them, and the world has been suffering ever since because of their stupidity.

    If you girls want to be stupid, wishing to be “Heros” instead of “jobnicks”, don’t come crying to us , the rest of the world, when your limbs have been blown off, your cities are burning,and your families lie dead. *YOU* brought that on yourselves for perpetuating historical wrongs.

    Speaking for myself,… and 100s of millions of other people who have zero empathy for apartheid -like states based on colonialism, we will not lift a finger to help you as you are not respectable in any way, shape or form.

    I’ll give you an example of who was respectable. Back in the 1960s, when the US was fighting unjust wars in SE Asia,thousands upon thousands of young men (the US didn’t conscript females) said NO.

    They burned their draft cards and in many cases fled the country as they wanted no part in unjust wars for national honour/glory.

    Replicate that model, and we will help you.

  • Women with Guns « from the rib? @ at 5:48 pm, February 1st, 2010

    […] Read the full post on the Fbomb , where Shira and I discuss Rachel Papo’s awesome photography and women’s roles in the Israeli Defense Forces and the American army. Check it out! […]

  • Victoria H @ at 4:31 pm, February 3rd, 2010

    I am having a hard time understanding the above poster. Is Alex angry that women might want to serve in combat positions (s/he wishes dismemberment on those that would so wish)? Is Alex angry about the history of the Israeli/Palestinian debate (which was no part of this post)? Is Alex angry about the Vietnam war (in which Alex surely did not participate)? Is Alex angry at war in general (an understandable but still tangential debate)?

    Re: The original Topic

    While being aware that the Israelis required military service I did not know of the difference in required service lengths. Perhaps this has some bearing on the choice of combat roles? If one is only expected to serve for two years then the choice of a combat role would seem strange (always a “grunt”, to use an American term, and never a leader). I do not know if the additional year would really put anyone desiring combat into a position of leadership but it could be food for thought.

    In the American coast guard I can attest that those desiring to progress through the ranks the fastest choose positions that do not require combat but, rather, support positions. Perhaps this is a bid by the Israeli women to advance quicker in rank.

    **Again I would make sure to affirm that none of these theories is anything more than conjecture. Food for thought.**

  • Women in the Military, Take Two « from the rib? @ at 8:29 pm, February 16th, 2010

    […] in the IDF to women’s service in the US army. Sound familiar? (If not, see Shira and my post on the issue at The […]

  • Preeti @ Heart and Mind @ at 5:03 pm, November 15th, 2010

    make liked your post, it really added a great view point on the actual matter. Thanks.

  • Yvone Zheng @ at 12:07 am, January 19th, 2011

    It can be argued that news organizations like CNN and others could not have existed successfully during the era of film technology. As it happened, CNN began its news transmissions in 1980, just as ENG was starting to come into its own.

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