The objectification of women in Palestinian resistance is, like all other forms of objectification, demeaning, disrespectful, and most importantly: in disregard of the true essence of Palestinian resistance.
There has never been gender equality so well defined as there was when Palestinian resistance was founded upon increasing British and Zionist colonialism, which began more than 8 decades back. Palestinian women and men fought valiantly side by side, without being subjected to misogynic retorts by society. Yet years later, when capitalism and NGO investment in an illusion of a Palestinian state destroyed the golden relation both genders lived by, the integral role of Palestinian women in resistance that was recorded up until the first Intifada in 1987 had drastically died down.
The apathy that has gripped Palestine from the 1993 dreaded failure of the Oslo accords is, however slowly, and however insufficient, lessening. For the first time since, protests against the Zionist occupation and PA suppression have been taking place and have had women in the frontlines, always. It is not the case if, to “balance the roles”, the men throw rocks at Israeli military jeeps and soldiers and the women chant in objection to occupation and to energize the men, for many times I have seen the glorious act of Palestinian women throwing rocks, and men have often led the chants. It is only a matter of choice. In resistance, there is no specific role defined for each gender. (Of course, this is not practiced everywhere; the village of Kafr alDeek used to hold weekly demonstrations against the occupation, but due to chauvinism that has risen to effect all aspects of society including resistance in this village specifically, no women were present at the demos. This may be one of the reasons the protests in this village ended a few months after they began without having much impact on the Israeli occupation.)
Where am I getting with this? Well, simply: the reactions to Palestinian women taking part in confrontations with Israeli occupation forces have not been exactly welcoming by all due to the lingering presence of patriarchy. Most importantly, the idea of women taking part in protests has not always been interpreted correctly. That is what I will focus on.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of objectifying women in resistance, and it may even be done unconsciously. Not only is this disrespecting the cause, but it also emphasizes the reason women stand up for themselves. Fawning over Palestinian women as pictures of them are caught in mid-protest disgraces the Palestinian cause into a show; a display of the seemingly beautiful people that fight. It does not bring the cause itself into light.
You may or may not have heard of the photo exhibition Nesa’iyeh. In its advertisement, it states “The evolving situation on the ground presented Milstein [photographer] with an opportunity to attempt to honestly and fairly create a unique visual record of the new reality and emerging paradigm being created by revolutionary Palestinian women.”
I have not been to the exhibition but I have seen Milstein’s photography. He is one photographer of many that offends the Palestinian cause as he focuses on the faces and expressions of “female Palestinian Gandhis” instead of what they resist for. Glorifying humans by capturing their evident facial strength and beauty with a click of a lens is photographic skill- when it is done to one half of the Palestinian struggle, the women, it is objectification; this offensive practice completely disregards the struggle that Palestinians, particularly the women, have been living in and sacrificing for.
This is one example of the exteriorization of the Palestinian cause. Another common one is the exaggerated hype on the subject of the kuffiyeh- the traditional checkered scarf that was acclaimed to be a national symbol of Palestinian resistance since the fighting against British colonialism (it is not called “Fateh’s scarf” or “Arafat’s scarf” as it was worn long before Fateh came into existence but that is besides the point for now.)
Along with its symbolic purpose, I personally wear the kuffiyeh at demos to cover my face and identity (from the loving parents as well as from the IOF). It is simply insulting to wear a kuffiyeh for the sole reason of emphasizing one’s kohl-lined eyes. Of course, we are not to blame the women who applied kohl and/or mascara (or simply have beautiful eyes) for the photographs taken of them as they are in mid protest dodging plastic coated metal bullets and fighting the suffocation of the tear gas, kuffiyehs covering everything but their eyes. The photographers that intentionally focus on a woman’s exterior during such an event are to be held responsible, and those who endorse and romanticize it as acts of power and resistance are to be educated (sadly, many are Palestinians). Simply put, captivation of a person’s beauty is not Palestinian resistance, but a materialization of Palestinians and their cause.
Notice the difference between each picture. One is a clear objectification. The other actually brings the purpose of resistance to show.
To externalize Palestinian women is to externalize a vital part of Palestinian resistance. Instead of romanticizing her, the least that could be done to a Palestinian woman, the fundamental anchor for Palestinians, who sold her gold to afford a new rifle for her husband, dug drenches in an attempt to thwart Zionist advancement into their villages, birthed martyrs, spends year after year yearning for her imprisoned children, siblings, spouse, whose revolutionary voice rings higher than all others, is, to rightfully give her esteem-not for herself, but for her resistance in the name of a free Palestine. This may only be done by nullifying objectification, and when all Palestinian women regain their essential stand in resistance.
Written by: Deema Alsaafin