Friday, April 04, 2014

"Other girls" and "exception Jews"

So I was thinking some more about the "other girls" meme. Specifically of a parallel I'd thought of earlier but not known quite how to articulate. The Daria-esque nerdy intellectual girl who imagines all other girls to be surgically-enhanced bleach blondes and, in doing so, expresses a kind of general misogyny thinks she's the exception. (See also: the women who simply can't have female friends. Also: the "basic bitch."*) Well! This already exists for Jews, and has for some time. Hannah Arendt wrote about "exception Jews," who, if I remember correctly, imagined that they weren't like other Jews, that anti-Semitism wasn't about Jews like them, who actively shared whichever anti-Jewish sentiments, who were, in a sense, self-hating, but their issue was, they didn't see themselves as the thing they hated. But then Nazis, and lo and behold, it didn't matter what sort of Jew you were, you counted.

This still kind of exists for Jews, if less so, simply because the things that used to make Jews feel exception-ish ("exceptional" seems the wrong word) no longer would make Jews exceptional. Are you intermarried? Secular? Critical of Israel? Celebrate Christmas? Had a BLT on Yom Kippur? Congratulations - you're just like everybody else, or not everyone, but enough other Jews that you aren't alone. You may still feel a bit of an "exception" if you show up unsuspecting at one of those parties where it turns out everybody's Jewish and knows one another from Jewish activities (and it will only get that much more awkward if someone at the party remarks on how great it is that 'everyone here is Jewish,' and you've brought your spouse), but you can always... not go to those parties.

There was a time, not so long ago, when it was possible to hold forth in a self-deprecating "exception" manner about whichever violation of Jewish tradition, when you could call yourself a "bad Jew" by which you meant to express that you were less Jewish - less provincial, more individual - than the rest, but maybe that day has passed? Or maybe not - Jews who are thoroughly involved in Jewish life will have a whole bunch of other, similar Jews around them. Whereas Jews who are not... there may be many of us, but we're less likely to spend our time in a large, only-Jewish group, so we could still think we were exceptions, if we were so inclined. I'm not.

But gender also plays into this - the 'heh, I'm a bad Jew' approach is something I have trouble picturing coming from a woman. I do have some ideas why, but am not planning a second dissertation to figure it out.

*If you spent any part of yesterday driving through suburban New Jersey in a gray hoodie and a ponytail, singing out loud when your favorite top-40 (is it still called that?) song came on the radio, this video may hit too close to home.

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