The Schizophrenic Reality of Israeli Women: A Cinematic Perspective, 2014

This chapter offers a perspective on the status of Israeli women in 2014. Rather than present the standard review of women’s rights in the public and private spheres, the extent of their sexual victimization and their status in politics, the workplace and academia, the chapter explores Israeli women’s contemporary cinema and follows the themes and critiques raised by it. This way I introduce you, simultaneously, to Israeli women’s realities, as experienced and critically portrayed by Israeli
women filmmakers, as well as to women’s cinema in contemporary (2014) Israel. Finally, I offer a theoretical feminist perspective on Israeli gender construction that may frame the movies’ portrayal and critique of Israeli women’s lives.

“Women’s movies” were never a significant constituent of Israel’s movie industry; at least not until 2014. In the course of this year, audiences were introduced to six new Israeli feature movies written and/or directed by women, focusing on Israeli women’s lives and expressing powerful feminist critique: Six Acts, Zero Motivation, She Is Coming Home, That Lovely Girl, Self Made and Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem. Four of the six enjoyed very high public visibility as well as critical acclaim. Written in 2014, this chapter presents and discusses five of these movies, offering a conceptual framework that may illuminate and enhance their social critique.

Any non-Israeli watching these six feminine-feminist movies would likely suppose that they reflect two distinct societies. One (depicted in That Lovely Girl, Six Acts, Zero Motivation, She Is Coming Home and Self Made) is a 21st-century liberal society, in which women enjoy formal equality and liberty and struggle with Israeli versions of gender predicaments typical of contemporary Western societies (sexual abuse; insidious employment discrimination, such as sophisticated glass ceiling; persisting patriarchal gender stereotypes; and, in Self Made, the double burden of being a woman and a member of a conservative Muslim minority in a liberal Western state). The other society (depicted in Gett) is one that adheres to bluntly traditional, patriarchal norms, interpreted and upheld by explicitly conservative, all-male, religious institutions. For an innocent onlooker, it is hard to grasp that the women portrayed in all six movies are members of a single society; that the two seemingly distinct social realities not merely exist in Israel, but both apply to the very same Israeli women. For most Israelis, this extreme duality is so obvious that it is completely transparent; they cannot imagine a different socio-legal reality.

This inconceivable duality and the schizophrenic existential condition it imposes on Israeli women is, in my mind, Israel’s greatest gender predicament. Through Israel’s 2014 women’s movies this chapter presents this conundrum, pointing to the underlying national-religious socio-cultural structure that upholds it. I rely on the six mentioned movies to illustrate my argument and reinforce it. I begin by
addressing the specific gender concerns that each of the movies portrays and calls attention to, and continue to discuss the deep rift presented by the aggregate, between the liberal and the patriarchal aspects of Israeli society; the free and the subordinated aspects of Israeli women’s existential condition.

This paper was completed in November 2014.