Israeli Women: as Woman-y as the Rest of Us

by on April 21, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Men are always befuddled by women, right? Well, last week, I felt their pain. I spent a good deal of my time in Israel meeting with female entrepreneurs and bloggers to get a sense of how gender roles were different from Silicon Valley, where frankly, I?m often the only woman in the room.

A key difference: Women are required to serve in the Israeli army along with men. That’s right, the prettiest, girliest, most flirty girls I saw on the trip had all spent two years in khakis carrying machine guns. In fact,
Israeli blogger Orli Yakuel used to fold parachutes in the army. She
and her troupe got to jump out of planes as a “bonus.” They frequently
went before the men, because they were less scared, and well, no Israeli
men wanted to be shown up by a bunch of girls. Wow. I mean, we like to
say “girl power!” in the U.S. when we change a tire. But that is

But the army hardly made these women macho or masculine. Interestingly Liat Vardi?who is co-founding Blogla, a portal for women with Maya Miller?said
serving in the army helped her discover her femininity. They learned
there are many areas where women are just better than men, like

As the girls talked, I was getting very excited, imagining a country of
bad-ass women who have none of our hang-ups in the U.S. You know, lower
pay, being considered a “bitch” if you?re successful in business,
always being judged by what you wear. Imagine a guy trying to bully you if he knew you used to run around with a machine gun jumping out of a planes? So much of gender roles boil down to confidence. I went to a fantastic all girls school for 13 years and I credit it for a belief that I could do whatever I wanted. But if I’d been in the army? Forget it. I’d be 90% more bad-ass, at least. Boo me on stage? Pssshh. Big deal! I’m a commando! Watch yourself, coder!

Well, it?s not quite that rosy. Apparently there are just hang-ups that come
with the gender no matter how well you can hit a target with an uzi.
For one, both Liat and Orli confess to being horrible at
negotiating when it comes to their own salaries. How is that possible? (For what it’s worth: Kara Swisher’s advice is to pretend you are a lesbian while you negotiate. That actually works.)

Perhaps the fact that it’s required– hence not a novelty– to be in the military as a woman in Israel means it doesn’t have the same cultural impact it would in the U.S.? (Please, weigh in in the comments, Israelis!) Still, I think overall, Israeli women have a leg up on us. They’re just tougher. How could they not be? I am totally rooting for them to prove it.

Of course, there?s the other endemic girl quality we all share: boy-craziness. Liat blushed showing us her engagement ring and gushing about her talented chef of a fiance who keeps her and Maya in high quality organic meals as they scrape by on startup wages. (Blogla is looking for angel investment, btw, something there is not enough of in Israel.) Indeed, the girl traveling geeks all agreed there was plenty to be boy crazy about. None of the
girls on our delegation, whether married or single, gay or straight,
could help but notice Israeli geeks are just better looking than the
ones you see in the Valley (Sorry guys! It?s empirically true. You could chart it if you wanted to and I know how you all LOVE analytics!) I asked Orli about it. “Forget the geek
part, Israeli men are just better looking,” she said. I wouldn’t go that far. She did admit there was one cute Valley geek, but I won’t embarrass her by saying who….