From the Desk of the Head Editor
Written by Tal Tamir, Head Editor of the Hebrew book.
The phrase “Editor’s desk” sends me back to a far away childhood, while today the phrase should probably be adapted to the computer age: “Editor’s desktop”. The actual desk on which most of the books / essays were written has become a virtual one. Today my “desktop” (and my mind) includes all of the work and the workload, and these are far less visible.
My intention is to use this stage to raise a few ideas, thoughts about working on the book from different viewpoints. For the benefit of readers who don’t know what this is all about I will say that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be Head editor of Women and Their Bodies’ book. The association was founded 5 years ago, and I am one of its founders and therefore participated in this fascinating journey from its very beginning. About 300 women have volunteered and are committed to help our project, a spirit that does not cease to amaze me. It seems that this book is not just a private “bug” of ours, but that we all relate to the issues it deals with in a very deep place, and I am happy to know that we provide many women with a space to explore their questions, share their opinions, and find questions and answers.
The American book, like the Israeli one, stems from feministic views. Regrettably, many women and men in the Israeli society fear the word Feminism, although they would probably agree with the mutual goal of most feminist branches: an egalitarian society in which women and men will be able to fulfill their potential regardless of their sex and gender. The book is based on a feminist idea by nature, “the private is public”. This means that difficulties, feelings and dilemmas we have about ourselves and our bodies are not only private, but are issues concerning women in general (and many times reflect social phenomena of the society’s balance of power). This perception is combined with more feminist ideas: multiplicity of voices and viewpoints, lack of hierarchy and mutual work of women and for women.
And from theory to practice, the feminist view is expressed in the book in a number of levels. The first is the chapter structure: in each chapter you will find a combination of various fields of knowledge; thus formal practical information from women professionals came together with the knowledge of individual women – based on their experiences – or a list of focused information was combined with an interview segment or a gray passage. Another level is the writing process itself; many times a writing group felt as if they were in a support group or as if they were raising awareness to a certain issue. Another issue I wish to elaborate on is the language of the book.
The rules of language guide us how to put words together, but they do not just “objectively” organize and set the correct order and structure of the language signs. Firstly because nothing in our world is objective; and secondly, since language is not just grammar and rules, but also a means of communication. Therefore language reflects and expresses power structures in society, and thus our way of thinking and our mind’s boundaries. Our decisions about which words to use stem from the belief in speech acts, according to which our everyday practice and actions are meaningful components in structuring our world, in structuring ourselves no less than our intentions and thoughts.
Language is a product of many years of use, adaptation and assimilation and it reflects common perceptions, while we want to use it as a tool for constructing reality. For instance, we considered the use of some words in the book: the book was written in Hebrew and much of it deals with language, not only regarding translation dilemmas and accessibility to various populations, but also regarding to our Israeli cultural signs that have been burnt into the language. For example, should we use the Hebrew word for husband (literally meaning: “owner”, and also implying the act of sexual intercourse), or how should we call what is between our legs: pussy, vagina, vulva?
In Hebrew is it customary to talk in the male plural form when speaking to an audience (even when there is a majority of women), a feature revealing the genderization of the Hebrew language, a genderization which is not random. The book, as mentioned, is a book from women and for women and therefore we chose to write it in the female plural form. The use of this form does not stem from the calculation of the ratio between female and male readers, but from other reasons: e.g. if a woman is bothered by her addiction and reads the relevant chapter we do not want her to encounter the imperative form, because of its hidden condescending character and because tomorrow (go forbid) it can be me or you reading it. The use of the “us” form is intended to emphasize the similarities between women and add to the lack of judgment and to the voice multiplicity that we wanted to encourage throughout the book.
One last feministic word for today… “The private is public” can also be read “the public is private”. In other words, how does all of this affect me personally? The real revolution this book has created in my life pertains to unanswered questions. We have brought together inside the book many “answers” and they are mostly regarding the “how”, information we need to know during different times in our life: How to discontinue a pregnancy when it is needed? How to recognize a violent spouse? Following this, as someone who has been dealing with gender and sexuality for many years, I might be expected to have conclusive answers regarding other questions as well: How does a feministic intimate relationship look like? How can we deal with overweight?
I cannot deny, I can be a pretty decisive woman, however in spite of that the contribution of this book to my life is in raising questions about the apparently obvious, and less in finding the answers.