Open Zion

06.03.13

Israeli Soldiers' Racy Facebook Photos: Silly Or Subversive?

IDF soldiers have once again taken to social media to pose compromising photographs that have caused their commanders to squirm. This time, it’s a group of female soldiers, still in basic training, posting a picture of themselves scantily clad in combat gear, and another image broadcasting their bare bottoms to the world.

Over at Haaretz, my fellow blogger Allison Kaplan Sommer concludes that if they must engage in immature antics, she prefers her country’s teenagers lose their “dignity” rather than their “conscience.” She is referring to previous photos and videos showing IDF recruits dancing to pop music while on patrol, and channeling images of Palestinians through their rifle crosshairs.

Reading the wires this morning, my first thought was that stunts like these will only make it harder to convince the ultra-Orthodox to leave the values-based safety of their cloistered community to comply with the broad draft that the state is trying desperately to implement.

But on further reflection, there’s a lot to parse here regarding gender dynamics and the absurdity of war.

Women in Israel, as in most democracies, have long fought battles over gender equality. And while women comprise just over one third of IDF recruits, and a tiny percentage of combat soldiers, 88 percent of “all roles in the IDF are now open to women,” a decision spurred by a landmark ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court.

The late, celebrated Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai once wrote that, after “squat[ting] at the Holocaust Memorial” and “put[ting] on grave faces at the Wailing Wall,” tourists to Israel “weep over our sweet boys and lust after our tough girls.”

I do not inhabit the mind of a (straight) man, but from the many I know, I would think that Amichai is suggesting a powerful dynamic. Women wielding positions of force and strength exert a complex admixture of loving and loathing on the part of a patriarchal society. On one hand is the desire to keep women subservient, and on the other is an erotic pull towards experiencing, and ultimately confronting, female power.

All this leads me to ask whether these camera-posing IDF women are simply feeding the beast of objectification, or doing something much more subversive—namely, taking the age-old problem of objectification of women, appropriating it, and turning it on its head for all to see and examine? I’m thinking of the chocolate “pussy pops” that women’s groups on my university campus sometimes sell in the student union building, hoping to spur a dialogue about the ongoing issue of violence against women and female sexual objectification. When I showed up in my freshman seminar one morning, slowly and deliberately chomping on one, my students’ reactions alternated between giggles and bewilderment.

Ultimately, as reported, the women were disciplined by their commanders. What choice did they have? After all, one of the primary functions of military training is instilling the necessary discipline to create a potent and cohesive killing machine.

So perhaps these recruits were also, unconsciously perhaps, attempting to expose the social institution of war for the absurdity that it is. While the world feasted on the titillating image of perfectly rounded flesh riven by thong underwear, these soldiers were perhaps doing something quite different: mooning it all: the guns, the mortars, the sticks and the stones.