Obsessive Segregation Is About Misogyny — Not Modesty

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I knew I would regret it as soon as I started typing, but I did it anyway. As much as I try to avoid getting into virtual arguments in talkback-land, this week I found myself unable to restrain myself. The language, it seems to me, is at the root of the problem, and that’s where the fight needs to take place.

At issue is the latest chapter in the saga of ultra-Orthodox pressure to send women to the back of the bus. Last week, a 60-year-old woman, perhaps inspired by Rosa Parks, sat down in the front and refused to move. When an 18-year old male yeshiva student tried to force her to move by yelling, cursing and threatening her, she eventually responded by showering him with pepper spray.

I kind of wish she hadn’t done that.

Maybe this is my Barnard education speaking, where I, like most every other political science major at Columbia University, had Professor Dennis Dalton’s “Introduction to Political Theory” course indelibly etched in my consciousness, where non-violence was espoused as the Goddess of Democracy. Or maybe it’s because I deeply believe that the act of one person hurting another human being is at the root of evil (see Nel Noddings, “Women and Evil,” a must-read for anyone interested in these issues). Or maybe because I know, in practical terms, that the woman’s act does not advance the cause of fighting gender segregation.

Nevertheless, despite these sentiments, I completely defend the woman’s right to do what she did (sorry, Professor Dalton). Moreover, I believe the story raises critical points about dynamics of violence — especially gender-based violence — in our society that are worth exploring.

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Elana Sztokman is a regular contributor to The Sisterhood, which crossposts weekly with Jewesses with Attitude.

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