Intense engagement: Young women in Israel forging feminist subjectivities

Amalia Sa'ar, Sigal Gooldin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article on young feminist activists in Israel explores the formation of feminist subjectivities using in-depth interviews and focus groups. Findings reveal identifications with, alongside re-articulations of, existing feminist norms and values, exposing a productive tension between "the personal" and "the political". Beside decisive motivation to act for social change, women use the movement as a supportive setting for identity work. This entails a fair amount of emotional boundary maintenance to mitigate out-group hostility to feminism, and in-group expectations to toe the collective line. The article outlines issues that preoccupy young activists and puts them in a broader context of Israeli feminism and of local cultural expectations regarding the management of forbidden emotions. We argue that the process of boundary maintenance that is implied in the activists' standpoints and experiences has a paradoxical effect of reinforcing feminism's attachment to the cultural surroundings that the movement is initially set to oppose.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-188
Number of pages10
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A snapshot of the state of the movement in the new millennium reveals a handful of grassroots feminist centers, mostly in the big cities, and numerous ad hoc reading and support groups all over Israel. Besides hotlines and shelters for victims of domestic violence and rape crisis centers, which are by now heavily funded by the state, feminist NGOs operate a diverse array of projects. A partial list includes a coalition against sex trafficking, sexual education for girls, defending women's reproductive health, promoting lesbian feminist politics, various economic empowerment schemes and support programs for low-income women, or gender mainstreaming of conflict management and political negotiations. Last but not least, there are several very active feminist groupings within the peace movement (see, e.g., Abdo & Lentin, 2002; Herzog, 1999 ), notably Women in Black ( Helman & Rapoport, 1997; Sasson-Levy & Rapoport, 2003 ) and New Profile, which operate under the umbrella of the Coalition of Women for Just Peace. By and large, activities and groupings tend to be separate for Jewish and Arab women, although feminists from the two national groups also form ad hoc or permanent coalitions, and occasionally Jewish-dominated groups attempt to incorporate Arab women, as is the case in Isha L-Isha (‘woman to woman’), which is represented in our research. The structure of grassroots feminism among Israeli Palestinians and the issues they address tend to be similar to those of Israeli Jews, yet the funds available to them are significantly smaller. 2 2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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