Why voluntary segregation is not like Rosa Parks.

Some background: Ultra-Orthodox Israelis are pushing bus lines to institute gender segregation, so that men won’t have to look at women when riding with them. (This is a pretty common perversion of Jewish law; the separation of the sexes often translates into keeping women silent and out of sight. For example, women are prohibited from singing out loud at the holiest site in Judaism.) But, see, it’s not sexist – it’s empowering:

It also has sparked a row over who may lay claim to the legacy of Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist who famously refused to obey an Alabama bus driver’s order to give her seat to a white passenger. Opponents of segregation say the mantle is theirs. But enthusiasts for segregation have begun to argue that by making their way to the back of the bus, they are actually Parks’s heirs.

“I see Haredi women who sit at the back as being the Israeli Rosa Parks,” said writer Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, one of the leading proponents of segregation. “We see it as a stand against the deterioration of standards in the public arena, and view the chance to sit at the back without men gazing at us as a form of empowerment.”

Watch, as I defeat this faulty logic in but two sentences! Fighting against segregation means that you’re in favor of personal freedom, which is what Rosa Parks wanted. Fighting for segregation means that you’re against personal freedom, which is the opposite of what Rosa Parks wanted.

If you’re trying to limit women’s freedom of movement and self-determination, YOU ARE NOT THE NEXT ROSA PARKS.

See also the Bintel Blog’s take on the matter.

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4 Responses

  1. [...] Why voluntary segregation is not like Rosa Parks. « Modern Mitzvot "Watch, as I defeat this faulty logic in but two sentences! Fighting against segregation means that you’re in favor of personal freedom, which is what Rosa Parks wanted. Fighting for segregation means that you’re against personal freedom, which is the opposite of what Rosa Parks wanted." (tags: judaism religion civilrights segregation) [...]

  2. I think that by telling the women who are proponents of separation from men in public spaces that they are not acting in their own best interests, you — and not they — are acting in violation of personal freedom because you are ignoring their agency.

    From what I understand (as a gentile), these women are just trying to create a safe space for themselves on the bus. I can relate to this desire, as I often seek out safe spaces for myself as a genderqueer, and if there were a curtained-off area for queers on New York city buses, I would certainly sit in it!

    Ideally, the possibility to choose whether or not you want to enter such a space would exist, and the Haredi women could decide to sit in the front of the bus, in mixed company, or in the back, where they may feel more comfortable. The option of having the male gaze off your back for the duration of your bus ride sure sounds empowering to me.

  3. Caroline, the women in question aren’t trying to keep the option open for themselves – that option isn’t under attack. They’re trying to take options away from all other women. In other words, they’re infringing on personal freedom by trying to prevent any woman from choosing where she sits on a bus.

  4. Why cant they see they have no options? They don’t even want any, and they cant tell the men to sit in the back and keep thier eyes down when addressing a woman. That cant be fun, having fewer claims to personal freedom and autonomy?

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