Thank goodness for Vice, purveyor of useful information. After all, if it weren’t for their recent publication of Mayan Toledano’s photographs of Israeli women in the IDF, we’d have absolutely no idea that a woman continuing to be, well, a woman while in the army was actually an act of protest.
Toledano is an Israeli-born, New York-based artist. As Mayaan Goldman wrote for Vice in the outlet’s first feature on Toledano’s photos this past March, when the artist started photographing women in the IDF, “she was looking to redeem a small piece of her teenage girlhood during which she served as a soldier herself and was stripped of all cultural ‘feminine’ symbols.” (This is Vice paraphrasing Toledano, whose own voice isn’t included.)
In this most recent piece, an unattributed blurb explains that Toledano’s photos showcase “female Israeli soldiers whose girlishness and teenage boredom act as a subtle but undeniable form of protest.”
Forgive us, but isn’t that saying that if a teenage girl acts like a teenage girl while she’s in the army, she’s engaged in an act of subterfuge? Why wouldn’t the same analysis apply to teenage boys, or, for a matter of fact, any type of human? That’s not to say that Toledano’s concerns about the erasure of identity in the army aren’t important or valid; they absolutely are.
By treating the photographed women as if their continued woman-ness is a radical act, Vice fetishizes the significance of their work; it doesn’t matter that she’s defending her country, it matters that she looks gorgeous while she’s doing it. The publication’s framing of the photograph also distracts from the issue of how soldiers deal with the onslaught of psychological destabilization that can be brought on by service, and it treats female individuality as an issue of physical appearance, nothing more.
Consider, on top of all that, that this is the second time Vice has published Toledano’s photos from this series in six months, with no change in their commentary on the images. There’s only one reason to do so: the first time, the article was hot. If that’s true, and Vice is using Toledano’s photographs for clicks, well, what was that about fetishization?
Women in the IDF are already subject to rampant stereotyping and sexual harassment. Treating them as pretty creatures doing a tough job does them no favors. Treating them as humans trying, in deep and various ways, to maintain their humanity under intense pressure? Now that could be useful.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s summer culture fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TalyaZax