Friday, June 10, 2011

"[A]n irresistible combination of sexiness, intelligence, ambition, and a deep capacity for love"

Withywindle has requested that this Jeffrey Goldberg post get the WWPD treatment. The relevant passage, Goldberg's response to Weiner's having repeated the cliché about Jewish women and oral sex, below:

On the issue of Weiner and Jewish women. my intuition, plus knowledge of his dating pattern, plus the fact that he married a non-Jew, plus the aforementioned pathetic text, suggest to me that this putz has some problems here. I'm not going near the question of what Jewish women do or don't do in bed, but suffice it to say that Jewish women are terribly, and contradictorily, stereotyped by society, and, often, by Jewish men themselves. Either they're dark, hot-blooded sluts (a common Wasps fantasy, by the way -- some of my best friends are Wasps with Jewish women-fixations) or they are, as Weiner would have it, the frozen chosen. The truth, of course, is that all women are different, but I've noticed a couple of things over the years: 1) A great number of Jewish women possess an irresistible combination of sexiness, intelligence, ambition, and a deep capacity for love; and 2) Many Jewish men, the less manly-men, in particular, are intimidated by these superstar Jewish women. It's hard to say that Weiner didn't go for a strong woman (a woman from another desert-based religion, by the way), but his text suggests a kind of caricaturing I find a little bit disgusting.
There's a lot to unpack here, and unpack I shall.

-Given Weiner's age and background, it's not surprising that, in the context of already-offensive-and-taboo-by-its-very-existence correspondance, the stereotype about Jewish women not giving oral sex would have been at-the-ready. It doesn't seem, from what Goldberg excerpted, at least, that Weiner meant anything particular by it, that he himself really believes that stereotype, that it has impacted his choice of wife, or that we have tapped into something profound in Weiner's unconscious. It's precisely the kind of dumb and un-PC crack I could imagine a man of that demographic making in a real-life conversation, thinking it's somehow OK because the woman in question is Jewish. We don't need WWPD to point out that Weiner was putting far too much online. The issue is, it's not a remark that tells us anything other than, these are the kinds of off-color jokes this guy grew up with.

-Given that Jews make up a tiny percentage of the population, and that Weiner's not a religious Jew, that he ended up marrying a non-Jewish woman in no way suggests the man - for all his issues - has issues with Jewish women. It's not clear how much Goldberg could possibly know about a 46-year-old's entire dating history, but even if Weiner's never has a Jewish girlfriend, this shouldn't be interpreted to mean he's been actively avoiding them. (Maybe they've been avoiding him!)

-Oh, on that parenthetical's note... The assumption that a Jew's marrying out is a Grand Statement about that Jew's negative feelings re: Jews of the opposite sex is virtually never applied to Jewish women. The assumption is inevitably, re: Jewish men, that they have this automatic pool of Jewish women just dying to marry them, whereas Jewish women who marry out are assumed to be just making the best it after having spent ages 18-35 waiting in vain for Jewish Prince Charming to accept their advances. I don't see Goldberg's post as challenging that; if anything, it's perpetuated.

-Goldberg claims that "often" it is "Jewish men themselves" who stereotype Jewish women. Make that virtually always. Not that all Jewish men stereotype Jewish women. Rather, that non-Jews are not really part of this discourse, so of those who stereotype Jewish women, 99.99% are Jewish men. Non-Jews may have notions about Jews, by which they typically mean Jewish men, but are not losing sleep over the question of the "JAP." The exoticized Jewish woman was once a thing, but has not made it into contemporary American popular culture. While it's true that some non-Jewish men (such as Goldberg's WASP friends) have this inclination, the vast majority are not thinking either way about a woman's Jewishness, whereas far more Jewish men are, whatever it is they choose to make of it. Serious anti-Semites aside, few non-Jews are assessing the Jewishness of everyone they meet, whereas many Jews are doing just that.

-Goldberg is not furthering the discussion by adding, "A great number of Jewish women possess an irresistible combination of sexiness, intelligence, ambition, and a deep capacity for love." How seemingly positive, seemingly innocuous, but... Why would we think Jewish women would be any more... any of these things than any other women?

-Or, for that matter: "Many Jewish men, the less manly-men, in particular, are intimidated by these superstar Jewish women." I don't know where to begin with this one, really. I would have thought that we as a society were past the point of insulting men by questioning their masculinity - so what if a guy's more on the feminine side? But if we're just going to go with Goldberg's notion, wouldn't a more-feminine man go well with a more-masculine woman, which, if you read between the lines of Goldberg's strong-Jewish-woman argument, is what he's getting at? Or is his point that Jewish men who lack virility (gosh, where does this leave the fact that DSK's wife-by-his-side is Jewish?) need to go for ultra-feminine women in order to feel masculine, so for such men, lady-Jews are out? Either way, this mix of manly=good, Jewish women=masculine is... ick, along the same ick lines as equivalent patronizing discussions about "strong" black women who are simply too much for black men.

It also fails the official WWPD anecdata test. In my experience, there is indeed a sort of Jewish man who makes a point of not dating Jewish women, one without any real parallel among Jewish women, and one that makes up only a small percentage of Jewish men dating or marrying out. What differentiates these from the majority of hetero Jewish men - who are either with non-Jewish women for non-neurotic reasons or with Jewish women - is that they've gotten wrapped up in the cultural expectations of what they should go for. It's not so much that these men have rejected hordes of Jewish lady-friends, but rather that when they find themselves with non-Jewish women - the likely result of living in a majority-non-Jewish society - they articulate this in a way that retroactively ascribes meaning to it, that makes it sexy. Since, "Dirty Dancing" aside, there's no trope (in our society) about it being extra-erotic for a Jewish woman to be with a non-Jewish man, Jewish women, even neurotic ones, tend not to do this.

This sub-subset of Jewish men - the ones who not only date/marry non-Jewish women, but who also make a big thing of it, have in common either that they were raised to feel like marrying out was the end of the world (something that doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with having been raised religious), or that they've been exposed to the Roth-Allen monster at an impressionable age, and/or just generally identify with (the comedy of) an earlier era, one in which "shiksa" had some kind of cultural significance. I would not say these men are any more or less "manly" than any others. Whatever they are, they're a dying breed.

I suppose, though, that what rubbed me the wrong way about Goldberg's well-meaning post was both that it amounts to the author congratulating himself for having married a Jewish woman, and how it does so. Just as some Jews who marry out describe this retroactively as a choice that was all about open-mindedness rejecting the confines of Judaism, some who marry in present this as some kind of destiny, as though they would never ever ever in a million years have considered marrying out. When - and I don't claim to know anything about Goldberg's dating history - often enough, those who make this claim dated in and out alike, and merely happened to find the right person "in." People - Jews and not, on this topic and on others - like to justify their life choices. In this particular context, it's especially irritating. Assuming we have choice in the matter, we marry who we want to marry, not to make declarations of universalist tolerance or particularist loyalties.

So that's the that. The "why" is, doing so implies that for a Jewish man to marry in is to make some kind of sacrifice for the greater good, or to have come to the conclusion, rationally, that Jewish women gosh darn it are sexy, no matter what anyone says to the contrary. It's like when my Birthright trip organizer announced, to the guys, that Jewish girls are beautiful. It reinforces the notion that we all come at the topic thinking that Jewish women are repulsive. Basically, by attempting to pathologize out-marriage - rather low, one might think, on Weiner's list of sins - Goldberg ends up supporting the ideas he's ostensibly out to challenge.

6 comments:

Withywindle said...

Huh. Hadn't expected you'd take exception to the post. Nothing intelligent to add; thanks for the long & thoughtful response.

David Schraub said...

Is it really the case that non-Jewish men don't also stereotype Jewish women? I think the UWisconsin "Coastie" song would be an example of this occurring, and I don't think the JAP stereotype is completely dormant amongst non-Jews in the US.

Phoebe said...

Withywindle,

Yeah, aside from agreeing with Goldberg that Weiner said something offensive about Jewish women (the least of the man's problems) and that Jewish women can be viable marriage partners (seems so!), I didn't find much to nod at there.

David,

Are you sure that song isn't by Jewish guys from the Midwest? I was aware of the coastal-vs.-in-state divide at the major public universities in that region, but it does surprise me that "coastal" would be so thoroughly defined as Jewish. The best way to make sense of that (and I'll admit to having watched some but not all of it, so I'm assuming no surprises at the end) is that it's a mix of exoticization of not merely Jews but NY-area ones (which is not so surprising from Midwestern non-Jews, in my experience) and, as you say, the JAP stereotype.

Which, in my meandering way, has gotten to the essence of your point: non-Jews do sometimes make reference to the "JAP." It has been known to happen. The example of this that comes to mind is "The Brothers McMullan," where an Irish-American man is with (engaged to?) a physically eh Jewish woman whose "daddy" will pay for everything and get him a job, but who nobly (from the perspective of the movie) opts instead for a working-class Irish-American woman from the old neighborhood. A "JAP" if there ever was one, and from a definitively non-Jewish perspective.

What I've always made of this is, it's an example of a cliché born within the Jewish community, popularized in entertainment by American Jewish men, that has seeped, slightly, into the general population. Millions have no doubt seen the "shiksappeal" episode of "Seinfeld," among them many men who grew up without knowing a single Jew, men who could not possibly find it uniquely erotic that a woman was from a Methodist home. The predicament of the man expected to marry a Jewish woman, who associates Jewish women with both responsibility and his own mother, is fairly particular to Jewish men. Without the added association of Jewish women with Default Future Wife, I don't think the "JAP" stereotype really holds. That, and Jewish women open to dating non-Jewish men are by definition failures as "JAPs," because the "JAP's" principle concern is landing a high-earning Jewish husband. Anyway, long story and far-too-long comment short, it's not that the stereotype never gets picked up by non-Jews, but that for the most part, non-Jews are not terribly interested in whether a potential date is or is not ethnically Jewish. It just doesn't figure into the question of a woman's desirability or lack thereof.

(Only example I can think of - Cuddy and House. He makes cracks about her being Jewish, the way he makes un-PC remarks about everyone, but there's never any question of her being a "JAP," or of her Jewishness as having a relationship to her appeal as a woman.)

Phoebe said...

Also!

It's important not to forget the times a man will make a "JAP" remark, <a href="http://whatwouldphoebedo.blogspot.com/2010/08/in-which-im-old-bagel-stick-in-mud.html>and then be all</a>, 'it's OK, I'm Jewish.' And it's like, no, not OK, because it's a slur against Jewish <i>women</i>. Non-Jewish men are more likely to lump "JAP" in with racist things they're not allowed to say re: members of groups they're not a part of.

PG said...

The assumption that a Jew's marrying out is a Grand Statement about that Jew's negative feelings re: Jews of the opposite sex is virtually never applied to Jewish women. The assumption is inevitably, re: Jewish men, that they have this automatic pool of Jewish women just dying to marry them, whereas Jewish women who marry out are assumed to be just making the best it after having spent ages 18-35 waiting in vain for Jewish Prince Charming to accept their advances.

I find this especially interesting because I was just reading what's apparently the umpteenth post at Sepia Mutiny (a popular South Asian diaspora blog) where the comments devolved into "And that's why brown women shouldn't marry out." It's particularly apt because the post in question was about Huma Abedin, and the commenters apparently believe that her situation is just what's gonna happen when you marry a white dude because of your brown-woman slave-mentality.

Phoebe said...

PG,

That is interesting. I don't think there's a parallel for Jewish women, though. I mean, Jewish women, like Jewish men, are advised that marrying out opens up the possibility that, in the course of an argument, one's spouse will suddenly call you a "dirty Jew" or whatever. But there's just about no sense in the culture today that a Jewish woman dating or marrying out is inherently sexually charged, in either direction. There's no "shiksa" - while there are indeed still some white-bread men who think of Jewish women as exotic, this is not a trope in pop culture, there are no recent movies or TV shows it references. It's certainly not assumed that a Jewish woman was tempted away from Jewish men by a man who was just that naturally blond.