Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Women and Children - Thoughts on Innocence

You may have seen the status updates on facebook. Although it depends on who your friends are I guess. At the moment they look like this:

In 17 days 919 Palestinians killed by Israel including 284 children & 100 women, 4260 injured. Donate your status: http://apps.facebook.com/supportgaza.
The purpose of this post is not to draw attention to those numbers, although that's a worthy goal. Instead I want to unpack what else the update is saying. Which may seem self-indulgent when those tallies are going up as a type, but I will get to a point, I think.

Why are women counted separately?

Maybe that's a disengenuous question, because I think I already know the answer. It's not just because women are the marked category, the other, although that's true too. Listing women separately in the death tally serves a rhetorical purpose, mentioning women is a preemptive argument of innocence.

Because (rhetorically) women are not Hamas, because women do not resist. Because women, and children, are a unit of innocence and inactivity.

Those 100 women (more by the time I publish this) each had a story - each had lots of stories. To reduce those women's lives to a proof of innocence is to deny their agency.
There are many different ways women live and die in Gaza.

I understand why the makers of the 'Stop Israeli War Crimes' facebook application decided to structure their information around reinforcing the idea of innocence. - It's almost as if arguing that some Gazans are innocent (as opposed to deserving collective punishment for having elected Hamas) has become a radical position.

But I think it's foolish to base the defence of Gaza on the idea of innocence. Once, when writing about abusive relationships I said:
If anyone who fights back is in a 'mutually abusive relationship, then the only way you are entitled to support is if you don't fight back. But if you react to the abuse, physically defend yourself, act jealous or fucked up by what's happened to you, then you don't deserve support, and people around can wash their hands and walk away from what they term a mutually abusive relationship.

As a feminist, as a human being, it is my duty and my desire, to support the powerless against the powerful, and to not wash my hands of women who fight back.
To focus on the innocence of those killed is to take the position that it is less bad if those killed are not innocent in some way. Which is to imply that the only people from Gaza deserving of our solidarity and support are those who do not fight back.

That is not my position. I do not ask or expect people to stand still and silent in the face of starvation, murder, and mass imprisonment in order to get my support(I am aware that at this point I am supposed to disclaim that I don't support Hamas, I will not do so).

Maybe I am asking a facebook status to do too much. But I think those of us whose political analysis is more complicated than 'women and children first', and who do not need to see innocence to offer solidarity, should make our politics clear. Because to do otherwise is to reinforce the idea that those who fight back against oppression need and deserve our solidarity less than those who sit still.

1 comment:

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/04/gender-south-africa-helen-suzman

    Thought you might be interested in this :)