Feminism and Multicuituralism: Two Common Foundations for a Vision and a Practice of Transformative Social Activities and Education in Israel

By Reingold, Roni; Baratz, Lea | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Feminism and Multicuituralism: Two Common Foundations for a Vision and a Practice of Transformative Social Activities and Education in Israel


Reingold, Roni, Baratz, Lea, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

The last few years have witnessed the development of a new direction in theoretical feminist thinking which focuses on the quality of the link between feminism and multiculturalism. The discussion of the subject includes several main approaches. The premise of one of these approaches is that the two ideologies share many aspects, especially in their analysis of both social oppression in our world and the transformational goals motivating the two ideologies.

In the current paper we follow a radical-socialist definition of multiculturalism which the main aim of that ideology is endeavoring to empower discriminated minorities (whether ethnic, cultural, and racial minorities) and to eliminate gender discrimination. In addition we follow the radical and cultural definitions of feminism. In the base of those definitions we claim that there is a very strong bond between feminism and multiculturalism. This conclusion is very significant when discussing transformative education designed to advance weakened populations.

The current paper focuses on a demonstration of several cases of feminist and multicultural practices in the Israeli fields of social activities and education.

Keywords: radical-socialist multiculturalism, Transformative education, Israeli oriental Jewish and Arab feminists

Introduction

Israeli society comprises many different social, ethnic, religious and national groups living side by side; in other words, it may be defined as a multicultural society. However, since its inception about sixty years ago, the State of Israel has never had a multicultural ideology, that is to say that on the practical level the state authorities have never related positively and in a dignified manner to cultural heterogeneousness, not making any effort to encourage a dignified inter-group dialogue through education and other means (Reingold, 2007). Not only don't the authorities encourage an inter-group dialogue, but some of the cultural groups which construct the Israeli society are in favor of cultural isolationism. In some cases they use the rhetoric of the particularistic multicultural school of minds in order to justify their isolationism. Discussing the educational implementation of that cultural preference, some of the groups, such as the Orthodox Jewish population maintain a separate school system. Moreover, they object to any idea of introducing a core curriculum in their schools, and try to prevent "a potential impact of external cultures on their children" (Tamir, 1999, 89). Turning back from education to a feminist criticism of traditionalist cultural groups, we have to bear in mind that some parts of the Orthodox Jewish population and the Muslim society advocate non-egalitarian concepts, especially with regard to women's rights, in spite of the efforts of the state, which has attempted to modify some of the more extreme traditional practices of these communities by legislative means (e.g. polygamy among Muslims).

In this context there arises a need to discuss the link between multicultural ideology, desiring to allow cultural groups to preserve their traditions, and feminist ideology, aspiring to advance the idea of equality between the genders; the question is whether advocating multiculturalism would mean supporting the conservative approach of societies that hold women in a subservient status to that of men. Since the two ideologies are transformative, that is they both strive for a significant social change, it is imperative that in our analysis we examine the educational aspects of both of them as education is the main tool for promoting transformational ideologies.

In the last decade, the issue of the relationship between feminist theory and ideology, with their accompanying pedagogy, and multicultural educational approaches and ideologies has begun to gain momentum in the feminist discourse (For example: Gur-Zeev, 2005; Enslin, 2001; Ore, 2000). …

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