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Now You See Them, Now You Don’t

| May 25, 2011

title
"Der Tzitung" woman-less version of the Situation Room photograph.

Israeli journalist Merav Michaeli explains why a Brooklyn newspaper recently removed Hillary Clinton from a famous photograph: another case of Photoshop in service to the patriarchy.

It used to be magic, now it's only Photoshop: Hasidic newspapers erased Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason (director for counterterrorism in the Obama Administration) from the iconic photograph of the situation room during the Bin-Laden hit. It's nothing personal. Under the excuse of fostering sexual restraint (the Hasidic newspaper also claimed multiculturalism freedom as a further justification for the erasure), religious authorities are laboring to create a women-free world: a pure surrounding for the angelical Jew or Muslim man. For that purpose, women are made to cover themselves completely (even Christian nuns are required to cover their heads totally, unlike priests), their movement is strictly controlled, they are banned from entering certain places, segregated and silenced. Sometimes even the mention of their name is absent from an invitation to a family event.

In the real world, with actual women, this fantasy of a women-free environment is coming up against a growing difficulty—after all, in secular states segregation is unacceptable; even in Israel the fight against segregation is attaining success and in the Muslim world the feminist fight is growing with diligence; also there are some things for which women are still needed. In the meantime, this fantasy can come true in the world of images. And indeed: woman will not be shown in Jewish Orthodox areas and newspapers in Israel. No matter if it is a model, an actress or the head of Opposition Tzipi Livni, whose face was missing from the billboards of her campaign for prime minister. Even the photograph of a mother who was killed with her family in the settlement Itamar two month ago was missing from the report in an Orthodox newspaper. The exact same goes for religious Muslim newspapers and in representation in public sphere.

Having to survive within secular societies, this elimination of women and their representation is a tool to differentiate holy from earthy—us from them. Everything in a religious community is regulated, everything is either Kosher (ours) or non-Kosher (theirs). How does one make a newspaper, a secular object by definition, into a kosher one that is ours? Take out the women. All women, no exceptions, and there you are: a safe kosher newspaper.

For the record: there is no basis in the Torah or in the Koran for not showing women; it is all interpretations on top of interpretations. Clearly, the fundamental purpose for which the so-called religious argumentation is recruited is the achieving and maintaining of the patriarchic hierarchy, that which is in the core of all three main religions. From bottom to top—woman, man and the main man: God. In fact, Patriarchy is their religion.

But leaving it all on the religious is far too easy and irrelevant. Patriarchy may be the actual religion, but it is also still the dominating ideology and practice just as much in the Secular, Liberal western world. A fresh demonstration related to this case is given by the liberal Stephen Colbert when he criticized the Hasidic newspaper for erasing Hillary Clinton from the photograph, and while doing so insinuated that the hilarious part is suggesting that women like Hillary Clinton or Margaret Thatcher can be considered sexually attractive.

And indeed, since it is all about male sexual urges, Photoshop is the perfect nutshell for the whole story. Photoshop is used regularly to manipulate women's bodies: lengthen legs, narrow waists, slim hips, enlarge breasts, push up cheek bones. Photoshop is used in a way that regards women as sex objects and makes sure they are made into such, according to the latest standard designed by men to fulfill their fantasy. Since it is all about the male fantasy, why should the Secular, Liberal male fantasy be more legitimate than the Orthodox male fantasy? Why should it be allowed that Photoshop execute one male fantasy but not the other? Essentially, the secular manipulation and the religious one are the same one, only with someone else holding the brush, leading to an outcome that looks differently but does the same: it rips off a woman from the autonomy of her body, from her own voice and her independent existence as a free human being in this world. And the Secular, Liberal brush is far more sophisticated and effective.

[Image 2:  The photograph, pre-Photoshop.]

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