Ben Shitrit, Lihi. “Women, Freedom, and Agency in Religious Political Movements: Reflections from Women Activists in Shas and the Islamic Movement in Israel.” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 9.3 (2013): 81-107.
Women’s activism in conservative religious-political movements poses a
challenge to liberal feminism. Why do women participate in great numbers
in political organizations that seem to limit women’s freedom and
equality? My work with women activists in the Islamic Movement and the
Jewish ultra-Orthodox Shas Movement in Israel, both explicitly
patriarchal religious revivalist groups similar to other movements
across the Middle East, finds that these movements offer women powerful
liberatory narratives. This paper takes issue with recent arguments that
suggest that pious women experience agency in acts of submission rather
than in resistance and that the association of agency with emancipatory
desire and action is an expression of a patently Western tradition that
celebrates the fiction of the autonomous individual. I find that women
activists’ interpretations of agency in piety practices are highly
invested in the idea of the autonomous individual. The validity of
practices, according to activists, rests on the choice and consciousness
of the individual and on the rejection of submission to social norms.
Furthermore, when we take into account the various class and cultural
contexts of Middle Eastern women’s piety practices and activism, we find
that for many women religious movements offer real liberation from
oppressive socio-economic realities and limiting cultural norms.