Jews and Gender: The Challenge to Hierarchy

By Jonathan Frankel | Go to book overview

Body-building, Character-building,
and Nation-building: Gender and
Military Service in Israel Eyal Ben-Ari and Edna Levy-Schreiber
(THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
(ROCHESTER, N. Y. )

This article examines the relationship between gender and the military in contemporary Israel. By “gender, ” we refer to a dominant system of meanings that a culture assigns to biological sex differences, thus influencing the way we interpret the world around us. In this system, human qualities are divided into hierarchically arranged sets of supposedly opposite (and mutually exclusive) categories of male and female: strong and weak, rational and emotional, or public and private. With regard to the “military, ” we focus on social and cultural phenomena related to the armed forces, war, and “national security. ” We begin with three theoretical formulations about the relationship between gender and the military in Israel in order to clarify our own position and show the ways in which we go beyond these other works.

Our starting point is Baruch Kimmerling's article on militarism in Israeli society, in which he contends that the military is a machoistic and male-oriented subculture. 1 According to him, the result of the military's centrality in Israel has been the marginalization of Jewish Israeli women throughout society, since they are essentially excluded from the nation's most important discourse, that concerning “national security. ” Kimmerling's formulation is important, but it fails to explore the particular means by which this marginality has been created and is maintained. This omission leads us to our first set of questions. What are the concrete social practices and institutional arrangements by which the cultural definitions uncovered by Kimmerling reproduce the gendered divide of inequality?

The second formulation is Nira Yuval-Davis'examination of the sexual division of labor found in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 2 Her scheme centers on the divergence found in the Israeli army—as in all armies—between “front” (combat) and “rear” (support). Yuval-Davis shows how military roles have developed in Israel into a sexual division of labor: the men at the front filling combat-related roles, while the

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