Putting our bodies on the line for change
On Tuesday, three female American rabbinical students were detained at the Kotel for wearing prayer shawls. I probably would have read about it and then filed it away in my brain under “Things That as a Probably Secular American Jewish Feminist I Am Deeply Troubled By But Can’t Deal With Right Now,” had it not been for the fact that I know two of the women from my time working at the university where they were undergrads. Instead, I found myself thinking about gender, revolution and civil disobedience.
Recently I’ve been talking a lot of folks who are curious about Occupy Wall Street, and would like to be involved, but are unsure/afraid of getting arrested. I’ve told them about working groups, about attending General Assemblies, about other ways to be involved that are not about civil disobedience, but the truth does remain that much of the message of Occupy is about taking the streets, putting our bodies on the line for change, and the decision to get arrested remain fraught. Police around the country have made it clear that being associated with the Occupy movement is apparently enough to qualify someone for arrest (or being hit by a police van.) If you thought women were safe from this, you would be wrong.
We see this same trope with Women of the Wall-being a (certain kind of) woman at the Kotel makes one eligible for detainment and/or arrest. Again, it’s essential to put our bodies in the space in order to assert our rightful ownership to an allegedly public space, and again, women are fair game, targets, for abuse and harassment in ways that are specifically gendered and sexist. Whether the issue is wearing a talit or being present at a protest, the message is the same-if you step out of line, if you behave contrary to how we expect women to act, we will will make an example out of you. If you are humiliated, it’s your fault, you made us do this. (In case it were not already evident that we live in a rape culture.)
In relation to my presence at both Occupy and Women of the Wall, people have said to me, “What you’re doing is illegal. What do you expect?” The conclusion for me is always the same -I if you want to change the status quo and the system it’s based in, you have to push back. (Also, arresting someone does not give the police permission to assault, bully and exaggerate the charges against them.) This doesn’t always mean getting arrested (civil disobedience is something that not everyone can take part in); there is diversity in the tactics of disruption. What has to remain a tactic, no matter what, is the work of interrogating why it is that women on the streets, or in a prayer space, or even in pursuit of health care, is depicted as a threat to the stability and sensibility of a society.