Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Jewish women

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.


matt said...

i'm pretty sure we've talked about this before, but you don't even entertain the idea that there could be downsides to such assertiveness and that it isn't always necessary or appropriate. it took me many years after leaving my parents' house to realize that you don't have to prove you're right all the time. sometimes it's just not worth the fight. my overbearing jewish mother doesn't get that. and brought up under such a regime, i still struggle to understand where the line is. hell, this post is probably an argument not worth taking up in the big picture.

obviously not all jewish women fit the overbearing, guilt-inducing stereotype, but you assert that you should all blindly stand proud of this "strength" rather than be even slightly introspective. that is exactly what propagates the image that jewish women think that they have no flaws and that everyone else is out to get them for doing the right thing.

Simmy said...

Well said, Amanda. One might add the Jewish woman's need for dominance as a means to overcompensate for the . . . . . huuummmm maybe I should not go there.
~The Queen of Guilt

moshe said...

I don't think the men of our society are ready for assertive, bold, powerful women. Even though striving for that seems like an idealistic goal, I still think that gender roles are too deeply implanted in most of society's subconscious, and that's why such women may receive less approval.

Bela Naomi said...

I just saw this blog, and I have that book! My mom gave it to me a couple years ago when I was giving her a hard time about guilting me about EVERYTHING. I still have not read it. Maybe I should.