September 29th, 6 p.m. I’m in the Middle East, Israel, Jerusalem. A few hours earlier I was sweating in a tank top, shorts and flip flops in 33 degree Celsius heat out on the streets. Only four hours later, the asphalt is still exuding its heat, the air is still heavy, uncharacteristic of Jerusalem nights, which are usually breezy even in the height of summer. But the streets are pitch-dark. I am walking the streets of Nachlaot, a neighborhood home to a strange mix of ultra-orthodox, orthodox and moderately religious Jews who have been living there for ages along with young secular students renting over-priced shabby apartments with high ceilings. Its 6 p.m, I am hot in my long jeans, and the streets are pitch-dark. The street lamps have apparently stopped working in the specific alleys through which I have been cutting for years now, on my way to the market or to my parents’ house. The orthodox Jews do not use electricity on the Sabbath, so they would not call the municipality’s hotline. The secular students are probably away for the weekend and the electricity problem seems to be affecting different alleys at random.
Through the dark I walk, listening to music on my phone, using its light as a guide. Through the darkness of the streets figures emerge into my field of vision – tall, dark, hat-wearing men. They are the orthodox Jews. A smaller figure, man or woman I cannot tell yet, but as the figure approaches, I am relieved; a young woman, around my age. Hurrying like me, trying to find her way in the dark. Although I walked these alleys for years the darkness makes me feel insecure. My phone and its light are a double-edged light saber: on the one hand it provides me with some light, on the other it makes me a potential target for harassment from people who believe it is their task to enforce god’s will on Sabbath. My body is tense as I walk, trying hard to figure out which of the blurry people approaching me or appearing beside me are potential threats. Will these young men yell at me for bringing electricity into their neighborhood? It is warm, and walking fast with a beating heart makes my cardigan feel so much warmer. I don’t want to take it off, though. It provides an extra layer of defense. See, I am not dressed provocatively at all! Long pants, long sleeves, no eye contact: I have learned that this should keep me safe.
The oddity here, though, is not the heat, which is a common sign of the approaching autumn in these parts. It is not the fear I feel, which is quite common among women in these parts. The oddity is the dark. Winter is a while away. We are not in chilly London or northern Denmark. We are in the Middle East, and the sun is not supposed to set at 5:45 p.m in these parts. But it has, because of a brilliant man-made manipulation entitled “winter clock”, the end of Daylight Saving. By the manipulation of setting the clock one hour back, day time has been shortened one hour. This move in Israel is politically associated with the Orthodox parties who are interested in ending Daylight Saving a week or so before Yom Kippur – a day of fast and perhaps the holiest of Jewish holidays – for the convenience of the people fasting and getting up early for prayers. I will not discuss the merits of this as a “religious” decision or whether fasting should be made easier by policies which effect the economy and people’s daily lives and safety, but I would like to offer a gender perspective on this issue.
A dear friend taught me that everything is gender-related, since gender is a major line along which our society is divided. Ending Daylight Saving early is bad for women. A street which only an hour ago was safe for me is now intimidating, adding to my general anxiety and making the public sphere even less accessible and safe for women. I am aware that the “stranger jumping behind you in a dark alley” type assault is the exception and not the rule of sexual assaults. Data from sexual assault victims help center indicate that most sexual assault happens between people who know each other: friends, relatives, colleagues, bosses etc’. But I cannot help but feel the dark streets are less safe for me than streets bathed in the natural sun light this area has been blessed with. Ending Daylight Saving early contributes to my feeling of insecurity – which was not too strong to begin with.
The blog is returning. I am not in China anymore, but still doing my secret research about China which is not so secret anymore. I have decided to dedicate this blog to feminism and my musings and occasional insights about it. I know what you’re thinking, who needs another feminist blog? We needs it, I tell you. Until I can feel like taking off a cardigan in the Middle Eastern summer does not make me provocative, we needs it.