- Democracy and Feminism: Gender, Citizenship and Human Rights by Sylvie Fogiel-Bijaoui
The choice of Frida Kahlo to look you straight in the eye from the front cover of Sylvie Fogiel-Bijaoui’s latest book, Democracy and Feminism: Gender, Citizenship and Human Rights, is telling: Although she strongly self-identified with the Mexican culture in which she grew up, Kahlo had a cosmopolitan side to her, including possibly Jewish ancestry, and she has been adopted internationally as a symbol of feminism. So, too, Fogiel-Bijaoui examines the intricate and complex relations between feminism and democracy both locally and internationally, along parameters both historical and contemporary.
Fogiel-Bijaoui is founder and currently chair of the MA program in Family Studies at the College of Management, Rishon Letzion. Democracy and Feminism was written as a textbook for a course by the same title, offered by the Open University as part of an MA in interdisciplinary Democracy Studies. This encourages me to hope that the book, written in a clear, accessible Hebrew, will be widely read—at least by students who take the course. Though the Israeli feminist movement has been active for decades now, it is far from being broadly supported in Israeli society. In many local circles, “feminist” remains a term with which one would rather not associate, one that connotes man-hating stereotypes. This book might help break down those stereotypes.
The book opens with two foundational quotations. The first is section 2 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789): “The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.” The second is by feminist political theorist Carole Pateman: “For feminists, democracy has never existed; women have never been and still are not admitted as full and equal members and citizens in any country known as a ‘democracy’” (Pateman, The Disorder of Women: Democracy, Feminism, and Political Theory , p. 210; interestingly, in the Hebrew translation, the quotation marks around the word “democracy” have been removed). Fogiel-Bijaoui sets out to explore the gap between these two statements. [End Page 156]
Specifically, the text begins with the “common sense” understanding of the concept of feminism as inseparable from democratic-liberal thought, generally defined as mandating “rule of the people, by the people and for the people” within a given community, as well as the assurance of minority rights according to the universal principle of equality. So, too, feminism seeks to uphold the human rights and civil rights of all women and as such corresponds with democratic ideals.
However, a broad view of the apparently obvious connection between democracy and feminism, in terms of both time (history) and place, reveals that in reality, this connection has not emerged in a clear, logical or simple manner. Indeed, the very declaration of democracy in the West toward the end of the eighteenth century was made on the basis of a ground-breaking social contract that called for granting equal rights to all—white, property-owning men. The corollary was that women, among others, were denied the most basic of civil rights.
In order to understand better the complexity of the connections between democracy and feminism, Fogiel-Bijaoui employs the liberal-democratic concept of “citizenship,” which furnishes the title of Part One of the book (“The Road to Liberal-Democratic Citizenship”). Citizenship, by nature, is an institution which at once includes and excludes: On the one hand, it establishes belonging (and hence entitlement within) a particular community; on the other, it defines those not entitled to belong. Accordingly, citizenship has been both lauded as the prime model for extending the recognition of human rights to additional groups and decried as a prime tool for depriving many individuals and groups, including women, of those same rights.
Ultimately, then, the feminist suffrage campaigns that took place in countries around the world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, deftly described by Fogiel-Bijaoui in the book...