Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, recently made a remark against women and children that is nothing if not objectionable. At a press conference organised in the event of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (the irony), Netanyahu said that women and children were "animals with rights." The comment, apparently meant to impart a sense of the rights women hold, was later clarified by the PM's office as having been taken out of context. Now notwithstanding context, such a statement to me, as a woman, appears to directly condescend instead of uplift my gender.
Before people come at me with daggers of science, it's imminent to mention that I'm well aware that humankind is but an animal species. So what's wrong with Netanyahu's statement? Isn't it the absolute factual truth? Perhaps here is where some context would best work. The full measure of Netanyahu's comment was this: "Women aren’t animals that you can beat, and today, we say you don’t hit animals either... We rightly have compassion for animals. Well, women are animals, children are animals – with rights." Tell me with a straight face this indicates a reaffirmation of scientific belief and not an attempt at evoking pity for women by wholly dehumanising them?
Netanyahu at event marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: “A woman isn't an animal you can beat, & nowadays we say don’t hit animals. We have compassion for animals, women are animals, children are animals, with rights.” pic.twitter.com/jwfLH6aYqU— Noga Tarnopolsky (@NTarnopolsky) November 23, 2020
Why Netanyahu's Use Of "Animals" Was Condescending
You, me, Netanyahu - we're all animals. Walking, talking, thinking animals. But that is not where the offence in this case lies. The issue here is that Netanyahu - a world leader - believes the only way to ensure the safety of women and children is through a weak appeal that likens them to animals. Going by the context, Netanyahu clearly did not mean "animals" as equal beings, but as organisms lower down on the hierarchy, that humans have only now learnt to treat with compassion. Referring to the inferior status animals are still at, compared to humans ("higher" animals), is how Netanyahu feels an appeal for women's rights must be made.
Does it not indicate a huge crisis of empathy and intellect, that a state leader is requesting an end to violence against women and children by invoking reactions one feels towards an injured animal? Should violent crimes be curbed by inducing compassion rather than an able understanding of gender equality?
If pity or sympathy is the motivating factor behind stopping gender and child violence, then it automatically establishes the perpetrator as the superior decision-maker; the one at whose mercy are women and children; the one who is entitled to make the choice in a violent situation.
Equal Rights Don't Survive On Compassion
Compassion is what is shown when a friend's mother passes away. Or when a sibling talks about how s/he feels mentally unsettled. Compassion is sensitivity towards someone who is, at that moment, more vulnerable than you are. And however significant compassion is to humanity, it does not build the foundation for equal rights. Equal opportunity for women - in work, travel, safety, education - shouldn't be born out of charitable emotion. It is a privilege afforded to each of us by birth as humans in the modern world.
Recently, Israel was named the best country in the world for women entrepreneurs, according to a study by Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs. The study even lauded the country's "gender-specific support mechanisms." Does Netanyahu think women in his country have got this far in the reclamation of their rights as empowered individuals upon the mercy of people's "compassion"? Or that the women of Israel are entitled to a respectful, non-violent life only by virtue of being "animals with rights"?
Netanyahu's comment doesn't just condescend but also limits the extent of the rights women are seeking today. Sure, gender equality demands a change in people's outlooks and perspectives. But at the same time, this change must not be marketed as appeasement. It is what we deserve as equal citizens of a free world.
Views expressed are the author's own.