When we think about the word woman, we often think of the human female. That is the biological term for the word woman. However, the concept of “woman” is much more than the term “female”, because woman can be so many things at once. A women can be our mother, best friend, sister, commander, teacher and so much more. When we think about the word “Jew” or “Jewish”, we usually think of someone belonging to the Jewish religion. However, the term is so much more than just the religion. Judaism is culture, politics, traditions, economics and more.
When we connect the words “Jewish” and “woman” there are so many interchanging possibilities. A Jewish woman can be the caring and loving grandmother who gives us chocolate and candies when our parents are out. Jewish woman is the strong, independent and intellectual leader, who rights the wrongs in our society. Jewish woman is the shy poet who taught us to explore and express the beauty of emotions with words and colors.
Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Judith and Esther were all biblical women who were queens, prophets and leaders that had tremendous attributions to the Jewish culture and religion.
Nevertheless, not all descriptions are positive. Jewish woman can also refer to a smothering, fat mother who controls her adult children and doesn’t let them be independent. A Jewish woman can also be the beautiful horned princes who can get everything money can buy. Jewish woman can also be the woman with the ugly, crooked nose and frizzy hair. Or the opinionated woman who doesn’t have a sense of humor, annoying everyone with her feminist beliefs.
All of these descriptions are misogyny, antisemitic modern stereotypes which Jewish women have to bare all the time. These stereotypes came to life because the antisemitic language representation of women is different than a man’s representation. A man’s antisemitic representation is less about his appearance or sexuality, and more about his personality and economic status. There is no reference to the man’s gender.
Unlike Jewish men, Jewish women bare two types of oppression: antisemitic and misogyny. There is hateful reference to the woman’s personality, appearance, culture, gender norms and sexuality.
This article will discuss the duel representation of the Jewish women, provide theoretical background for the misogynic antisemitism and suggest some ideas for dealing with the Jewish woman’s representation.
Antisemitism as social construction-the imagined Jew
Before we discuss the representation of the Jewish woman we need to understand the social background of antisemitism in modern times from a sociological perspective.
Even though the holocaust is a fading memory and we live in an era of (mostly) liberal democracy and multicultural reality, antisemitism still exists all over the world. Much of this hate is the constant demonization of the Jewish character.
The demonized myths are being told in Islamic countries, Europe and Asia, enabling these anti-Jewish messages to go viral on social media. Norman smiths (1997) argues that the origin of modern antisemitism is caused by social construction of a racist modern society.
This hatred is spread for various reasons. For example, in Europe there is a common belief that the Jewish people murdered Jesus Christ, and therefore the punishment for his murder was the holocaust. Familiar myths are told all around the world. These myths are far from reality, even though large groups of people believe they are true. This is the modern antisemitic problem.
Also ancient economic myths are still thriving. Many people still believe Jewish people have a conspiracy to take over the world. They believe the Jewish people have many influences, and that the world is ruled by an economy ruled and controlled by Jews.
All of these myths originated, as Norman Smith claims, by social construction. Furthermore, he says, there is an antisemitic belief in the social science that the Jewish people should change their “Jewish way of acting” if they wish to abolish antisemitism. In other words Jews are to blame for their hatred. The only problem with this theory is that Jewish identity is not a way of behaving. It’s more than religion, culture and language. Being Jewish is an existence and cannot be changed, so even if the Jewish people changed the way they acted, there would still be antisemitism. For example, in WWII Judaism was defined as a race and not a religion or a culture – German speaking men and women of Jewish origin, who lived as Christians in Berlin and Hamburg, were treated the same way as pious, Yidish speaking and sidelock yielding Jews from the shtetl.
There is another sociological explanation told by Norman Smyth explaining antisemitism. According to this narrative, Jewish people choose to be non-conformists and are always different. This non conformism brought the hatred upon them. This theory is purely antisemitic and victim blaming, placing all the responsibility and racism solely on the victim.
Some of the justifications for these theories relate to what’s perceived as “a Jewish attitude”: egoism, vulgar, highly sexual and loud. According to this, Jewish character contributes to Jewish hatred, so when Jews stop “behaving” like Jews there won’t be any justification for antisemitism, simple as that. The Jewish people need stop acting like Jewish people and intervene in non-Jewish societies. This is the rational thing to do if we wish to stop antisemitism.
However, as claimed by Norman Smiths, this sociological rationalization contributes towards antisemitism instead of fighting it. Sociology need to discuss antisemitism from a different perspective. It should attributed as Jude-phobia and not blame the “the Jewish way of acting”. Antisemitism is demonization and originates in social construction.
In Conclusion, the constructional sociology tells us that the imaginary Jew is the symbolized enemy of western racist society, and never disappears from society’s mind. We need to fight antisemitism and never accept it as rational thought.
In understanding the social enemy construction theory, I would like to ask the gender question. If the imaginary Jew is the constructed enemy of racist ideology, what is the role of Jewish women in this social construction? Is the imaginary woman different than the imaginary man? I will answer this question in the next few paragraphs.
Racist Jewish stereotypes
As discussed, the Jewish people – historically speaking – were always a traveling nation, scattered and never having a country of their own. They were always the minority in European society. In addition to being a minority, Jews were considered different in religion and in culture. This variance created mystery around the Jewish people which often lead to suspicion, and eventually the creation of the many antisemitic stereotypes.
Antisemitic male stereotypes are usually about the connection between personality and economics. There is no reference to gendered rules, sexuality or appearance. For instance, “The collector” represents the greedy man who can’t be trusted. He’s a two-faced back stabber; a disloyal, material capitalist, looking only to consume his pleasure.
Antisemitic female stereotypes are combined with racism, sexism and misogyny. There is a reference to the Jewish women role in the general society, the Jewish culture, gendered rules, sexuality and appearance.
Here are some examples:
The Jewish mother – Old and fat, annoying, over bearing, over feeding, overprotective and tidy. Women who sacrifice their autonomy in alter of motherhood, not letting her grown up children be independent.
Jewish American Princess (JAP) – Young woman, late teens or early twenties, beautiful, thin, usually blonde, fair skinned, rich, spoiled, whiney, daddy’s girl, self-centered, neurotic and frigid.
Good Jewish girl- The opposite of the “JAP”. a nice girl, classy, believes in womanly ideologies, family wife, proud to be Jewish, curvy, brunette, frizzed hair, crooked nose, regular looking. Nasal talking. Educated but not intellectual.
As mentioned above, there is a big difference between the representation of the male Jew and female Jew. The Jewish women has to deal with dual and sometimes triple realities: The reality of Judaism, antisemitism and sexism. In the next part of the article I will discuss the phenomenology of the Jewish women created from these realities.
Jewish women phenomenology
Phenomenology is a philosophical term for the study of one’s consciousness as experienced from his point of view. Relying on the feminist theory, claiming the reality of women is experienced differently than man’s. As told by one of the most famous feminist theoreticians, the philosopher and writer Simone de behavior claims in her book, “the second sex” that the existence reality of women is different from the reality of men. Men are free from their bodies and gender and can create projects without the disruption of society. Women are imprisoned in their bodies and genders (modest feminine values, sexual inhibitions) society rules of womanhood, turning the women subjectivity to famine reality. Women are the significant other for the male. Therefore the experienced reality of women is different men’s reality. Women’s reality defined by body and gender (pregnancy, motherhood, sexual identity and more) and men’s reality is defined by rational thought and actions.
Based on feminist theory created by de Beauvoir, the cultural religion phenomenology of Jewish women is different from non-Jewish women and Jewish men. Jewish woman are Jewish and female, creating duel reality. Reality influenced by antisemitism, as Evelyn Torton claims in her article “the politics of Jewish invisibility”, (published in 1988) that anti-Semitism implemented in the Jewish woman’s body. The Jewish women turned to be the object of hatred.
The Jewish women phenomenology, as Torton claims, is defined by double misogyny, outward (anti-Semitism) and inward (sexism). Women who experience themselves as a “JAP” will become a JAP and proud to be one. The stereotype turned to be her identity. In addition to that, Jewish women feel uncomfortable in their Jewish identity hiding their Jewish selfhood (discrimination by men and culture).
The Jewish woman has always been the subject of the antisemitic discussion. Discussion on her body, her beauty, her personality and her sexuality. She was always blamed for the act of Jewish men, in her motherhood, in her opinion and her desire or lack of it. The Jewish women is an object of racist ideology.
The Jewish mother is blamed for her smothering motherhood. The JAP is blamed for her indulgence and sexuality. The good Jewish girl is blamed for her ugliness and dullness. There is no escape from the judgment no matter what she does. Something has to be done with the cultural construction of misogyny antisemitism.
The only solution is to educate for gender and cultural solidarity, to break the imaginary Jewish women and create a realistic version of her, not connected to the male gendered selfhood. She has to stop being his significant other and an object of racist hatred. Woman should be as De Beauvorian says, free of her body and her gender, being free subject to create her own projects, not as a Jew and not as a woman, but rather as a human being.
Written by: Mager Ynon