Content note: abusive relationships, harassment, rape, stalking
Category Archives: Social Justice
In my last post (which, as usual, was too long ago!), I wrote about how the best fiction and discussions about marginalised groups are created by people in that group. Then I saw Fill the Void, which I think is a really good example of the kind of art from viewpoints we don’t often hear from, that should get out there more. Unlike 12 Years a Slave, it isn’t even distanced from its characters’ lives by history. Rama Burshtein’s debut feature Fill the Void is set in a contemporary world I knew nothing about – the Orthodox Hassidic community, where there’s a huge social focus on arranged marriages.
The film begins with its eighteen-year-old heroine Shira and her aunt spying on a potential match in the supermarket, and the theme of marriage – meeting prospective husbands, attending weddings, arrangements falling through – dominates almost every conversation, as the characters follow it with an intense interested designed to, perhaps, fill the existential void referred to in the title. This film fails the Bechdel Test, but on purpose – the female characters talk to each other about men and matrimony because it’s such an important part of the story and their lives. As an outsider, I can’t judge how accurately this film represents the community, but it feels authentic and I found it an eye-opening insight.
Shira seeks advice on her first meeting with her prospective husband from her pregnant sister, Esther. But Esther soon collapses at a family gathering, and is taken to hospital where she dies in childbirth. Her family and her husband Yochay mourn her loss and care for her newborn son, but soon the question arises of whether Yochay should remarry. Desperate to stay in contact with her grandchild, Shira’s mother suggests that she should become her brother-in-law’s second wife.
One of my seminar groups is made up of around ten female and three male students. This week we were discussing Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which evolved into a discussion about how far gender equality has been achieved in general. One of the male students pointed out that, in an English Literature undergraduate course at any rate, there are more women than men, and another man replied that he’d noticed that the few men in every seminar still speak for at least half of the class discussion. At that point I wanted to contribute ‘That’s because women are socialised to not express opinions’ but before I could speak, the third man in the room said “Perhaps women find it harder to express their opinions?” These three men began to form a tight and confident circle, their arguments flying back and forth with no breaks where anyone else could speak, as they discussed feminism in front of twelve (counting the professor and teaching assistant) women who weren’t included at all. We still have a long way to go before men and women are equal, they concluded. Women don’t speak up so much in seminars because they’re socialised not to trust their own ideas, not to speak up, not to argue with others, they lamented. It’s terribly sexist that women’s voices aren’t heard enough, at university or elsewhere, and something really should be done, these three men, speaking in front of twelve silent women, decided.
There was possibly some irony in that situation which went undetected.