I'm currently reading a book entitled : The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt. Although I think it was given as a joke, it's actually a really cool collection of writings by Jewish women about guilt many of us feel because of our upbringing/community (e.g. not calling your mother, supplying grandchildren, or academic perfection). While I could write a blog about most of them, the last few pieces touched on something I've been thinking a lot about lately: how the world (including the Jewish world) sees Jewish women.
Let's start by laying out the stereotypes. Jewish women are pushy, gossipy, manipulative, overly dominant in their relationships. They worry about everything, are overprotective and overbearing, always prepare an overabundance of food, and have mastered the art of guilting. Let's not forget those observantly orthodox are backward and submissive caretakers, while those who have largely assimilated in American society have earned the title of Jewish American Princesses (JAPs). Have I covered all the bases?
What really gets me is that Jews are often the biggest critics. To be clear, I think it's healthy that every group of people look internally for flaws to try to fix. Yet when the critiques become so prominent as to eclipse any of the positives, that becomes detrimental to us as individuals. The closest comparison I can make is to African Americans during the slave trade and afterward, having been told so many times they were less intelligent, unable to succeed on their own, that some began to believe it themselves (ala Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye).
Not to mention that by harping on the negatives in mixed company, it can perpetuate these stereotypes in non-Jewish circles which may not have the context with which to interpret them. But that's a discussion for another time.
While I do not feel the need to defend the JAP stereotype, I do want to address the strong-willed dominant woman one. As with most ethnic groups throughout history, women have traditionally focused inward, often the ones responsible for taking care of and protecting the family. So when anything or anyone threatened the family unit, it has often been the women who noticed and spoke up first (or who were the only ones around while the men were off fighting).
In particular with Jewish history, the main lesson after the Holocaust was Never Again. And by this, I mean never again are we to ignore the warning signs, to take discrimination and write it off, unwilling and unable to see the violent tides of the future. Never again are we to march like sheep to our deaths. Yes, it's been a while since the 1940s, but the scars are still present, and have definitely influenced the way we raise our children. Couple that to the fact that Jews tend to be fairly progressive when it comes to gender equality, and you have a couple generations of Jewish American women taught to follow their dreams, speak up for what they believe in, and fight to protect their family. This is something we should be proud of, not apologizing for.