Last week Ynet reported that the High Court of Justice is hearing a petition filed by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism against segregated buses – those where men sit at the front and women at the back. The petitioners demanded that a committee be set up in order to regularize the desired seating arrangement on such buses to the satisfaction of all passengers, and also make sure that every such bus route would also include regular buses with no segregation.
The type of petition submitted by the petitioners made the court understand that the very existence of segregation is a legitimate given situation that apparently does not require any discussion. One of the petitioners justified this in a private conversation when he said that a multicultural society must respect everyone’s lifestyle. In fact, there was not even a minimal effort to understand how segregation that creates an inferior status for women can be perceived as a cultural necessity that must be given consideration.
Even when the court was seemingly protecting women, after Judge Rubinstein said that “it is unthinkable that a driver will not allow a woman wearing pants to board the bus,” this in fact harmed women. His words imply that “pants are ok,” but what about other clothing? Is it thinkable that a driver will prevent a women dressed in a revealing shirt to board the bus? Here too there was no minimal effort to look into the question of whether a judge is allowed to determine the proper dress code for women, or whether it is even appropriate to talk about how women dress.
These facts arouse great fear in me that we have already been defeated, because a false and dangerous perception is overwhelming us and finding a dignified place in the holy of holies of Israeli democracy: The High Court of Justice.
This false perception views women as dangerous creatures because they are seductive, and it views men as weak and miserable creatures who become aroused in the face of any woman they meet. In the name of these insights, we see men (including supreme court judges) who allow themselves to express views on the female dress code, while there are others who just send the women to their “rightful place:” The back door, the ghetto at the back – using angry hand gestures, curse words, or even violence.
We cannot say that a woman who is minimally dressed is immodest and therefore conclude that she is or is not allowed to be present at certain places. A man or woman should be perceived as immodest if they make it clear, explicitly or implicitly, that they are available for sexual liaison. A woman can be completely covered, from head to toe, and at the same time make herself sexually available, while another woman may wear revealing clothing but make it clear that she is unavailable for sexual relations.
Segregation between the sexes is what creates eroticism within public space – the women become “seductive” and the men, Heaven forbid, become “seduced.” Therefore, we must put away the seductresses and hide them.
When the court takes this twisted world of insights for granted it undergoes dangerous transformation. Suddenly we hear about segregated post office outlets and about demands by national-religious rabbis to segregated male and female teachers’ lounges at schools.
Until the mid 1950s, buses in the southern United States were segregated and distinguished between blacks and whites. The white passengers sat at the front and the blacks would pay the driver, get off the bus, and board it again through the back door. In 1955, a black woman called Rosa Parks set in the white section and did not get up. When she was later asked why she did it, she answered: “I was tired.” This is how the movement that annulled race laws got underway and made segregation illegal.
Yet in 2008, the High Court of Justice may force the crime of segregation into Israeli society. The judges must regain their senses, stop themselves from falling into this trap, and explicitly rule that this segregation in and of itself is false, illegal, undemocratic, and very bad.