The request of the religious women law students at the Hebrew University to dance behind a partition during the graduation gala, is not that absurd if we take into account the long and established connection between women who dance and the men who are there to watch them.
In many cultures throughout the generations women have been dancing for the enjoyment of men. Even in our part of the world, in the conservative Middle East, belly dance has been traditionally performed for men. Thus it is not surprising that the religious law students feel that the only way for them to avoid being watched by men is to hide behind the partition.
Dancing is not the only activity that could make women feel self-conscious when there are men around,
it is a well-known secret that many women are not comfortable eating with men, even if they are their partners. For the purpose of this post I read an article that quoted a survey of more than 5000 women that found that More than 60 per cent of women in relationships do not feel comfortable eating in front of their partner.
Women often get together for the purpose of sharing a meal together with their friends. I am not sure whether it is because some men tend to comment on what women put on the plates, the amount they eat, or that they feel more relaxed around women and they can really eat what they want. Actually I don’t need the survey, I have seen it often enough with my own friends.
But, what most women truly dislike, especially as they get older, is to walk around in their swimming suits around men. This topic is not sufficiently discussed much in public, but I heard my female friends say that they haven’t been to the beach in ages, or that they no longer go to the pool. I know from experience what they mean as being in my swimming suit makes me feel really uncomfortable
So for my 60th birthday, I invited 60 of my good women friends to a swim party at a nearby thermal pool. Almost all the guests agreed to take their clothes off and get into the water in their swimming suits. It was a wonderful experience that would not have happened if men had been around.
I feel that instead of convincing women, who refuse to dance, eat or swim around men, that they should make an effort in the name of the Feminist cause, it is much wiser to support them and respect their wish to enjoy those simple pleasures in the company of other women.
I don’t like the idea of a physical partition in the middle of the public space at the Law school gala, but I believe in a metaphorical partition. The religious women who requested a partition would not dance without one. It is their right to have their own space, a safe place, where they can have music and the privacy to dance freely and happily. Perhaps they would even be trendsetters and other women will be brave enough to join their dance.