Why, some are asking, has the left—known for its consistently outspoken stance about violence against women (she types, suppressing the lol, and not because the right is any better), been so silent about the brutal rapes of Israeli women and girls by Hamas on Oct. 7?
I should say that I am one of those who has found this jarring. Not surprising (I’m getting to why) but unnerving, absolutely. After hearing about how problematic it is when a celebrity is in an age-gap relationship with a younger but still adult woman, about how much of a violence it is when a man asks a woman out at a restaurant, without having been properly introduced, there is indeed something startling about actual gory rape in its least ambiguous form getting the short shrift from, for example, some Canadian politicians, and even “the director of the University of Alberta’s Sexual Assault Centre.” The same part of society that managed tremendous outrage over gender-based microaggressions hasn’t seemed all that bothered by the macro variety.
Why, then, am I not surprised? In no particular order, the theories floating around my mind. Maybe there’s nothing to any of them, but here they are:
1. Oct. 7 was 10,000 years ago, as far as some on the left are concerned. (Note: it was just last month.) It literally doesn’t matter to such individuals what happened that day, in light of Israel’s military response. No information about the brutality is of interest, because to them it is ancient, irrelevant history, a drop in the overall bucket of Bad.
That said, I wouldn’t put too much credit to this theory, as it is now occurring to me that I first learned about Oct. 7 from someone posting to social media about how there’d been rapes and no one cared because of where they’d happened and to whom. It’s not as if there was an outpouring of concern and then Israel attacked Gaza, leading the focus to shift.
2. #MeToo itself was 20,000 years ago, as far as social justice activism is concerned. Yes, I’m sure there are still 19-year-olds out there posting about age-gap relationships being war crimes. (Someone is posting about everything at any given time, after all.) But prioritizing women’s and girls’ safety is so 2018. By 2021, everyone who’d been gathering lists of “shitty” men and whatnot had to shift gears and start assembling similar lists, but of oblivious white women, “Karens,” girlbosses, bourgeois feminists.
Unless a specific form of sexual violence can fall into a different frame that progressives are still allowed to care about (violence against trans women, say), then it is simply not the issue of the moment. Indeed, to bring it up at all is right-wing-coded and therefore suspect. A woman with safety concerns, assuming she is understood by progressives as in some way privileged—and Jews, well!—is merely exhibiting weaponized fragility. Some even hold the galaxy-brain belief that it is inherently racist to say that men in Hamas committed rape.
3. Some people hold racist, patronizing views of Arabs. Basically, they see them as incapable of distinguishing good from evil or of acting as anything other than uncontrolled id.
4. Jewish women are often stereotyped as sexually undesirable. Some of this stereotyping has come from the works of Jewish men (Woody Allen, Philip Roth, the “shiksappeal” Seinfeld…), though not all (I assume you all remember the 1995 film The Brothers McMullen as well as I do, and the Susan plotline specifically). It’s a whole thing. The Jewish woman is a loud brash pushy mothah, a schlumpy brunette sidekick, a princess who wouldn’t engage in any activities that might mess up her hair.
The cliché is not as old as time—indeed, in 19th century France, Jewish women were stereotyped as sensual and spectacular-looking—but seems to have originated, per the late, great historian Paula Hyman, in a channelling of antisemitic tropes about Jewish men onto Jewish women. Point being, I think a lot of people, whether they realize it or not, saw reports of Jewish women and girls being raped and it just didn’t compute.
5. A lot of people really do just hate Jews. And they fall into that ‘it didn’t happen but I’m so glad it happened’ pattern when bad things happen to Jews. Not to be boring, but it might be antisemitism.
Why, some might ask, is a woman named Maree Campbell posting about how a young female hostage clearly enjoyed herself, nudge nudge? The answer may be, in part, that the poster is not in fact a woman named Maree, but a man using her as an avatar—I have not done an independent investigation but it seems possible. In any case, whoever is actually doing the typing, it’s of a piece with a very-now form of vileness.
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The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected], not to mention @phoebebovy on Bluesky, and @bovymaltz on the website formerly known as Twitter. She also holds forth on The CJN’s weekly podcast Bonjour Chai.