I seldom use this space to cry "anti-Semitism" or to rail at the misogynist patriarchy, but every once in a while, the Jewish feminist in me uses her guest posting privileges.
Over the past week or so, my Jewish circles online and off have been buzzing about two things. Most recently, this video ("The Coastie Song," via DCC at Jewschool) from the University of Wisconsin that is an ode to (or perhaps a condemnation of) the East Coast Jewish honeys who are blowing Daddy's money. But even before that came this Details magazine article by Christopher Noxon, celebrating "The Rise of the Hot Jewish Girl" - with its subtitle of "Why American Men Are Lusting After Women of the Tribe," hailed by many as a long-overdue paean to Jewish girls, or women.
After a few mentions of Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, and Mila Kunis, the focus is revealed to be Jewish women in pornography. As feminist site Jezebel noted, "It's a pretext for a package of "JILFS" (guess) that include photos of and interviews with starlets whose appeal hasn't historically hinged on their rabbinical status." Are these two pieces of popular culture evidence for the appeal of Jewish women, or are they insults masked as compliments? Are they anti-Jewish, or anti-women, or neither?
It's not that the "Coasties" song itself is so bad - I mean, these guys didn't invent the term (although they did put a beat to defining it) - and with or without "Coasties," the JAP stereotype (as much as all stereotypes) is still alive and well. As a friend just pointed out in an IM chat, women getting offended by this video is kind of like him getting offended by a portrayal of the ludicrous men on "Jersey Shore" (which I'm not sure about, but I get what he's saying).
I'm pretty sure that this stereotype has skipped me - I've neither the money nor the inclination to spend $500 (or even $15) on sunglasses or wear Uggs (although I admit, I am from the East Coast and occasionally drink Starbucks). But as a single Jewish woman, I still suffer the fallout from stereotypes. After years of writing about relationships between Jewish men and women, I believe that anything that paints Jewish women in general as superficial damages the reputation of all Jewish women, and empowers others to use this stereotype as fact in conversations and in cultural products. (Despite it's clever riff on "Gold Digger," this is why I'm not a fan of the "Gelt Digger" t-shirts.)
People who may not know many Jewish women and who form their opinions of things based on popular culture may see this kind of video in a vacuum and determine that the behavior depicted is typical, or may read the Details article and think all Jewish women are porn stars. But even people who should know better and who deal with Jews many times a day use these tropes to justify bad dating behavior. I think there's a reason that on JDaters Anonymous, my most-commented-on post of the last two years is "Driving the Jewish Men Away," offered originally in jest, but leading to some bitter conversation on why Jewish women may or may not be at fault for the lack of available, willing Jewish men.
In the Details article, I learned that Jewish women are only seen as hot when they shatter the otherness/expectations/limitations of their Jewishness, through looking, behaving or sounding not-particularly-Jewish but while otherwise conforming to contemporary standards of attractiveness. Heterosexual men are attracted to conventionally hot women - although we could unpack how conventional attractiveness is constructed, this is not really a news story. As for Jews in porn, a population that I doubt reads this blog, they are working in an industry that by its definition casts all its actors as sex objects - so that men (gentiles or Jews) who enjoy watching women in porn also enjoy watching Jewish women in porn is, again, not a surprise.
Jezebel blasted writer Noxon for his Details piece; I don't know Noxon personally, but I do know, as a writer, that you can't always assume the piece - or even the headline - is the writer. But what I think is interesting is that Noxon has his own experience with Jewish women, most notably his wife - "Weeds" creator Jenji Kohan - which we can only hope/assume inspires a positive image of Jewish women. So we can assume (or at least, I'm assuming) that Noxon's perspective is not an inherently anti-Jewish or misogynistic one.
While I was on Noxon's site, I read about his last book, "Rejuvenile" - an examination of how people (mostly men) are holding onto childlike behaviors and putting off adulthood (in this clip reel from his site, he talks about how he met and eventually proposed to Kohan - on the kickball field), and how this presents an opportunity for marketers. But my question is, how is this desire to look, feel, act and be younger, this maintaining the grip on a more adolescent attitude, impacting relationships in terms of both shaping attraction and commitment?
Standards of beauty and which traits are considered attractive in women in a particular era are a product of that era's social norms, expectations and culture. What's interesting to me is what plays out in popular culture - although Jewish men don't have to look a certain way to be seen as desirable as long as they display other traits (intelligence and/or humor, primarily) that are considered attractive, the language around attractive Jewish women seems to require us to see their primary worth as attractiveness first and as an afterthought add, "and you'd never believe she's Jewish!" This leads me to wonder about other assumptions about men and women in general, that women are more emotionally attuned and therefore attracted to inner substance and potential, while men are more visual, concerned with status and are attracted to appearance. And is all of this a concession to the overall emphasis on staying younger longer?
I lack the formal sociologist's training or feminist educational background to do anything but conjecture. Besides, I wouldn't want to make any generalizations - that could lead to dangerous stereotyping, accusations of misogyny and misandry, and, in a worst case scenario, to more YouTube videos. And no one needs that.