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«Suicide and murder are considered two facets of the same coin: they originate in anger. Whereas suicide is the result of turning one's anger against ...»

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Female victimization as a default strategy of those who are too powerless to kill their own oppressors is also presented in "Hessed" [Benevolence], by Savion Lybrecht (1989).True, the heroine would rather kill her husband for jailing her because she would not accept his marriage to another woman, and would rather kill her son because he is about to murder her daughter for refusing to marry an old man to whom she had been promised. Nevertheless, she finally takes action against her-"self." The choice, or rather lack of choice, is made explicit: "Were she free and her feet light, had she a knife in her hand, she would follow them down the mountain slope, stick the knife in their backs, pull it out and stick it [in] again, until they lay dead in front of her. Then she would hurl them down the abyss with her foot, avoid their faces and know: Her husband. Her son, Hibrahim."ll In the end, however, in place of such a liberating act, she acts against her own kind: out of mercy, she drowns her granddaughter, her son's daughter. In her view, this is an act of benevolence-she is liberating the woman/baby from her unavoidable future plight, from an everlasting male oppression. At the same Feminist Awareness and Narrative Change 83 time, however, she kills a child of her own blood-an act akin to suicide.

Suicide seems the default solution for the miseries of female characters even during the 1990s. In Ofra Ofer's (1990) Dibur Akif [Indirect Speech], the wife of a violent male photographer kills herself when she finds out that, while he completely ignores her, he shoots pornographic pictures of young women. His model is also on the verge of suicide because she has become so dependent on his attention, and has lost all contact with reality.

A similar pattern is found in Daya Henig (Bernstein, 1992). A mother and a daughter of a sexually abusive husband/father seem to have no other alternative but suicide. They fail to cooperate against the violent male.

The mother, however, directs her aggression against her lover who, like her husband, is involved in turning her into a drug addict (see also Rattok, 1994:313).

Two very recent stories by young women writers still entertain the suicide option. They both deal with a child who is sexually abused by her ~ father, and both depict a suicidal heroine. One is "Targil be'Demyon Mudrach [A Guided-Imagination Exercise] by Lilach Soredet12 (1995),in which the writer finds some comfort in sharing her own plight with her readers.

The other is "Buba Smartuta" [Ragged Doll] by Irit Kaufman (1995),13in

which the sexually abused child sees no other alternative but kill herself":

I started climbing up the tile fence which separated me from the sea. It seemed to ask me and the doll to join it in order to have rest and shelter among its waves.

My feet got wounded and bled, but it did not hurt, because I climbed up and up there to the sky. Dad held my feet which were calored red, and pulled them powerfully down to the pit. I managed to reach to the top of the fence and then I forcefully threw Ragged Doll to the sea... Ragged Doll landed on the ground...

The neighbors congregated in a circle around the body. Nobody ever told them that one ragged doll could bleed that much, so much red blood... 14 At the background of this vast array of suicidal heroines and traditional male-oriented narratives prevalent in the Israeli female protest literature, an examination of few counter examples is in order. An outstanding exception is the poem "Tefillin" [The Phylacteries], by Yona Wallach (1983).According to Rattok (Forthcoming), this poem protests the abuse of women through pornography. It depicts a pornographic drama in which a woman is cruelly tortured by a man in order to sexually gratify male audiences. A surprising turn, however, is taken by the woman, who retaliates, using the Tefillin (a religious object), the rope by which she was tortured, to strangle the abuser.

Another is "Nechash ha'Kesef" [The Golden Snake], by the Palestinian author Hanan Michaili Ashrawee (1990), mentioned earlier, which is about the process of liberation of a Palestinian woman from both the shackles of a patriarchal family and from the oppression of Israeli rule. The stone she uses to break open the bracelet that physically and symbolically chains her to her male-oriented tradition is also the stone she throws at the IsraRachel Giora eH soldiers, with the intent, or at least the desire, to kill.

Most recently, two playwrights and a novelist seem to digress from the suicidal narrative plot. Daniela Carmi's (1995)play Arten (after the name of a sedative for the treatment of symptoms in mental patients caused by medication) portrays two female characters who were abused by a husband and a father. They plan to kill their male therapist, whose treatment represents male dominance and violence. Nava Zuckerman's (1995) play, "Dead Hours," portrays a female character who has killed her battering husband. While in jail, she tells her life story to another woman who has been misused by her male lover and, because of whom, she has been falsely accused and imprisoned. Both female characters support each other and find strength in their friendship. Finally, a recent novel by Rivka Keren (Tita and Satan) portrays a female heroine who kills her abusive boss and lover whom, she learns, is also her deserting father.IS The findings here which attest that Israeli women writers have not developed a narrative of their own are corroborated by other findings by Ariel and Giora (Ariel, 1986, 1988;Ariel and Giora, 1992a,b, Forthcoming), who show that, across the board, Israeli women writers from the 1930s into the 1980shave not developed a style of their own, mimicking, for instance, the patterns used by male writers to introduce their female characters to the text. This is true even of the early writings during the 1930s-1940s,which actually exhibited a more explicit protest than later writings. Likewise, women script writers portray powerless female characters in film scripts, hardly allowing them to adopt women's point of view in speech (Ariel and Giora, 1992b). Only "proclaimed" feminist writers (writing in Noga during the 1990s;see note 15 below) have adopted a divergent strategy, portraying.• female characters from a woman's perspective (Ariel and Giora, 1992b, Forthcoming).

How can this be explained? Why does the country which boasts of egalitarian social norms yield such repressed heroines and hardly any narrative change? The question actually provides its own answer to this seeming paradox. Israel is in fact a nonegalitarian society which has propagated the myth of equality between the sexes (and other minorities, of course). Because we have all been brought up on this false belief, supported by the facts that, after all, "we had Golda [a woman prime minister], and women serve in the military," the possibility that our society is discriminating, unjust, and oppressive was, and still is, doubted by many. Probably one of the most oppressive societies in which women have the least chance of equality is the kibbutz-the alleged paradigm of the Israeli socialist and egalitarian society (for a similar view, see Fogiel-Bejaoui, 1991, 1992). When myth masks facts, a revolt is much less probable compared to a situation in which evil is more apparent. It is only recently that women in Israel have developed a feminist awareness (see also Ariel and Giora, 1992a,b, ForthFeminist Awareness and Narrative Change 85 coming, Giora, 1996).But this has not yet affected their narratives. Thus, in the absence of feminist consciousness, the stories we Israeli women go on telling ourselves are only an adaptation and reflection of mainstream male ideologies and images.


I would like to sum up by citing Simon and Sharma (1979):

Typically, women's participation in violent criminal acts has arisen from the frustrations, the subservience, and the degradation that have characterized the traditional female role. Case histories of women who kill reveal one pattern that dominates all others. When women can no longer contain their frustrations and their anger, they express themselves by doing away with the cause of their con-dition, which most often is a man, sometimes a child, or an unborn child. But as women's educational and employment opportunities expand, their subjection..

to traditional roles decrease (as witnessed by the presence of more liberalized divorce laws and greater opportunities for legal abortion), their feelings of being victimized and exploited cease to be directed at a particular individual (or individuals), and their motivation to kill becomes muted (pp. 398-399).

If this prognosis is correct, then, when women are fully emancipated, the literature will probably contain many female characters who can relate to men from an equal standpoint, or not relate to men at all. When women are no longer an oppressed group, their art will probably reflect their power, and their anger may also be directed at more general targets.

In the meantime, however, we are witnessing "a gradual but accelerating social revolution in which women are closing many gaps, social and criminal" (Adler, 1975: 30), as well as gaps that are literary and psychological.

This trend is reflected in the current feminist literature, which no longer complies with nonfeminist (male) oppressive norms by portraying weak, self-destructive women. The women who control contemporary imagination are powerful in that they recognize their needs and ambitions and act accordingly.

The powerful heroines, more prevalent in recent women's writings than before, affect not only the imagination of contemporary women, but also that of men. Women who no longer accept their oppression and kill in selfdefense have recently begun to appear in men's works as well, in emulation of feminist models; e.g., the films Sudden Impact (Clint Eastwood, 1983), Nuts (Martin Ritt, 1987), The Accused (Jonathan Kaplan, 1988), Mortal Thoughts (Alan Rudolph, 1991), Switch (Blake Edwards, 1991), and Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991). However, deadly female characters of the type portrayed in Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987), for instance, seem to indicate the emergence of a backlash. The new trend, as contended by Holmlund (1993),is to question the femininity of heroines who kill. The feminist movement, which has helped to stimulate the rise of the emanciRachel Giora pated woman in both women's and men's works of art, has also stimulated this backlash. But backlashes usually indicate an awareness that the previously powerless are approaching some kind of parity.


*This research has been supported by Devorah Netser Fund. Thanks are also due to research assistant Neri Lifshits, and to Mira Ariel, Eyal BenAri, Catherine Logan, Orly Lubin, Lily Rattok, Machmid Salach and Timothy White, who commented on an earlier version, and Menachem Amir, who has given me an insight into criminology.


1. For Menninger (1938: 25), suicide includes "the wish to kill and to be killed," in addition to which "the suicidal person also wishes to die."

2. For a similar approach, see Ostriker (1986), Koldony (1989), and MacDonald (1991).

3. Widom (1979) questions the assumption put forth by Adler (1975), among others, that female criminality may be a result of the feminist movement. Her findings suggest that female offenders hold more conservative and traditional views about women's roles than the control group. This, however, does not testify to the opposite. The liberation movement, which has allowed women to have more opportunities in every field, has not necessarily become their dominant and conscious ideology. It is a well-known fact that women in male roles tend to overstress their traditional femininity, since it is precisely their femininity which is socially questioned-a rather costly price for emancipation.

4. The debate concerning the liberation hypothesis concerns female crime in general.

Most of the research that challenges the liberation hypothesis argues that women's criminal acts have not changed. Despite the rise in female crime, the patterns are traditionally the same. Women's crime is not serious (Le., murderous). It involves shoplifting, theft, forgery, fraud, prostitution, and the like (see, e.g., Crites,..

1976; Bowker, 1978; Steffenmeier, 1980; Gora, 1982; Chesney-Lind, 1986).

Regarding killing, it should be noted first that killers are mostly male and their victims mostly female. However, when women kill men, their methods are much less cruel than those of their male counterparts. In a recent research of sexual murder, Cameron and Frazer (1987: 24) concluded that women who are involved in "sexual" murders behave entirely differently from male sexual killers. Males (the "true" sex-killers, according to their definition) attack generic objects (women and children mostly) and not particular persons. Women, on the other hand, kill specific men-those who have abused them. Furthermore, while men's motives involve sexual gratification, women who mutilate men's genitals are motivated by jealousy and vengeance. Above all, males' crimes are by far more cruel than women's (though this may have nothing to do with the latter's lack of desire to be cruel). In fact, Cameron and Frazer found no female sex killer.

5. The association between crime and powerfulness is also suggested by Box (1983), who challenges the truth of the traditional view that powerlessness causes crime.

Box maintains that the most serious crimes are committed by persons of power and privilege. Women, he argues, do not commit do-not commit the more serious and violent crimes because they are a powerless group.

6. This view of suicide agrees with Durkheim's (1897/1951), who related suicide to social status and social integration. He contended that the greater the social inteFeminist Awareness and Narrative Change gration (through such institutions as marriage and church), resulting in social solidarity, the less frequent the occurrence of suicide. Note, however, the criticism concerning the lack of relationship between theory and data (e.g., Gibbs and Martin, 1964; Maris, 1969; Halbwachs, 1971; Pope, 1976).

7. At that age, Black homicide reaches the same peak as Black suicide. This means that the Black society is divided between powerless and powerful consciousness.

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