Women in Black: Challenging Israel's Gender and Socio-Political Orders

Helman, S., & Rapoport, T.

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Helman, S., & Rapoport, T. (1997). Women in black: Challenging Israel's gender and socio-political orders. The British Journal of Sociology, 48(4), 681–700.

gender , Israel , national discourse , peace protest movement , symbolic public events

The Israeli protest movement 'Women in Black' is studied by focusing on the movement's mode of protest, which is used as a prism through which to analyse the manner in which the structure, contents and goals of protest challenge the socio-political and gender orders. The article analyses the protest vigil of 'Women in Black' in Jerusalem, and characterizes it, following Handelman (1990), as a minimalist public event. After examining and analysing the sources of minimalism it was concluded that minimalism was the result of two social processes attendant at the formation of 'Women in Black' as a social movement: personal interpretation of the political field, and avoidance of ideological deliberation amongst the participants. The minimalism of the public event preserved the movement for six years and created a collective identity that emphasized the symbolic difference between those within the demonstration and those outside it. This difference was symbolized by a juxtaposition of opposites. The essence of opposites is analysed by means of 'thick description', i.e., by deciphering them in the context of Israeli society. The study concluded that the mode of protest of 'Women in Black' has created a symbolic space in which a new type of political woman is enacted. This identity challenges established socio-cultural categories Israel.

Main finding
The Women in Black protests challenged gender stereotypes and social norms, particularly in how they relate to women's marginal position in national conflict. Their presence in public space every Friday for six years established themselves as active political agents, underlying the male monopoly on social conflict and challenging traditional female roles. The negative, and sometimes violent, comments from drivers showcased the protesters' violation of traditional social roles and the discomfort felt by men who were shocked and offended by women disrupting public space and challenging the socio-political order.

Description of method used in the article
In order to analyze the way the Women in Black movement challenges the gender and socio-political order in Israel, the researchers conducted participant observations during the weekly protests, in-depth interviews with participants and spectators (n = 30), and mailed questionnaires to past and present participants (n = 219).

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