Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

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A woman’s place: Haredim society

Charles Fourier once astutely noted that “The degree of emancipation of woman is the natural measure of general emancipation.” That is, the degree of freedom women enjoy as their natural birthright serves as something of a yardstick for the overall measure of progress and emancipation in any given society.

And for once the spotlight is on the Middle East, but not where you may think (in fact, the country’s apologists make an art of trying to deflect attention away from it.) Here, finally, a story highlighting the plight of women in Haredi culture.

Brian Whittaker in the Guardian relates how a woman was beaten for sitting in the wrong seat on a sex segregated bus – and, as noted in the article header, “you might be surprised to learn who the culprits were.” He writes:

She used to get the bus every day on her way to early-morning prayers.

“Every two or three days, someone would tell me to sit in the back, sometimes politely and sometimes not,” she told the newspaper. That’s where “modesty” requires women to sit. One morning, though, it was worse. A man got on the bus and demanded her seat near the front, even though there were others available.

“I said, I’m not moving and he said, ‘I’m not asking you, I’m telling you’,” she recalled. “Then he spat in my face and at that point, I was in high adrenaline mode and called him a son-of-a-bitch, which I am not proud of. Then I spat back. At that point, he pushed me down and people on the bus were screaming that I was crazy.

“Four men surrounded me and slapped my face, punched me in the chest, pulled at my clothes, beat me, kicked me.” The other passengers, she says, told her she was stupid for not moving. “People blamed me for not knowing my place and not going to the back of the bus where I belong.”

According to one eyewitness, nobody helped her. “I tried to help, but someone was stopping me from getting up. My phone’s battery was dead, so I couldn’t call the police. I yelled for the bus driver to stop. He stopped once, but he didn’t do anything.”

An everyday story of fanatical Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia? No. Ultra-orthodox Haredis in Israel, actually. The full story is here.

The woman, Miriam Shear, is an American Israeli who currently lives in Canada. In the article we’re told the case is “under investigation” (now that’s a familiar refrain, but usually as it relates to war crimes). One commenter amongst the very long line of responses to the article quips: Welcome to Talmudistan. Indeed.

6 comments on “A woman’s place: Haredim society

  1. Graeme
    22 December, 2006

    I am going to guess that the US press doesn’t pick up on this. Or the rightwing blogs. If it happened in Iran, it would be all over the wingnuts blogs. gotta love double-standards.

  2. peoplesgeography
    22 December, 2006

    How true, Graeme. And the demonisation of Iran is on the upswing, with Blair making his laughable bellicose denunciations the other day claiming there is a new rift, a la Samuel P. Huntington. Persian culture and civilization could sure teach that poodle a thing or two. ;)

  3. Curt
    22 December, 2006

    Probably because I didn’t know what Haredic meant, that story really had me going for a minute. But I must say, it’s very interesting to see such hatred of freedom and egalitarianism coming from what are obliviously I mean: obviously the most enlightened quarters in our Universe.

    Great story.

  4. homeyra
    23 December, 2006

    It happens that I have knowledge of a similar situation in Iran. This summer a friend, Solmaz, who lives in Germany, came to Iran. She has almost the size and almost the style of Camila (my last post), she is very loud and very funny.
    She moved in Teheran using public transportations, and she wouldn’t bother to run to enter from the “right” door of a bus.
    About 50% of the time she ended up in the men section. Her much more discrete sister who was often with her always suggested her to move back to the women section, but Solmaz would shrug and instead had fun giving loud speeches complaining of the heat and the crammed women area, and would ask men directly if she was bothering them. Maybe it was her size but no one dared to complain :)
    She almost always made the whole bus laugh!
    I don’t pretend that everything is rosy! Of course not, but the above is a true story.

  5. peoplesgeography
    23 December, 2006

    Thanks Homie for the valuable look at Iran. Humour defuses tension so effectively in any situation and helps propitiate social change in all societies discriminating against various groups, especially women. I think all protagonists should be sent to laughter therapy :) I so enjoyed your post on Camila, what an outstanding character and remarkable psychotherapist working with traumatised children in South London this woman is. A big person with a big heart. We could do with more Camilas in the world.

  6. homeyra
    24 December, 2006

    Earlier I checked yahoo news about Iran, there was a link to an article from NYT published on Friday:
    Later I wanted to email it to a friend, and I couldn’t find it anymore in Yahoo news, which is odd, as usually if not on the first page, you can find previous titles in the archives.
    Instead there was this article without a link to the original text.
    Just thought that this might amuse you!

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This entry was posted on 22 December, 2006 by in Gender, Human Rights, Israel, Israel Watch, Judaism, Justice, Middle East, Political Economy.

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