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Do Jewish Women Put Out? Auslander Listicle Is Frustratingly Man-centric

In the (British) Jewish Chronicle, American novelist Shalom Auslander offers, tongue firmly in cheek as the odd expression goes, “The 10 classic types of Jew, and how to decide which one you are.” The list is intended “to help both Nazis and Jews hone their accusations a bit more pointedly.” I like things like this so I clicked.

A humor piece with that premise dares the reader to be outraged at, say, the seeming (but not really, clearly) equation of uptight Jewish critics with, well, Nazis. My… outrage? uptight Jewish criticism? lies elsewhere.

This being Sisterhood, you may have already guessed: Gender! The list is, as Auslander notes, almost all dudes: “The choices are entirely personal, mostly male (as am I, mostly) and I’m certain there are others.”

Lists are subjective. And I can well see that getting online hate from neo-Nazis and fellow Jews, for the very same article (been there, and it is unnerving!), may not put you in the mindset of thinking about how it goes for people who are dealing with what you are and then some. This is my roundabout way of saying that there are better targets for one’s feminist outrage than Auslander. And I may take him up on his implicit suggestion that readers make lists of their own.

That said: This isn’t just about the musings of one Jewish writer who just happens to be a guy. In our society, The Jew, unless otherwise specified, is a man. A straight, white-looking Ashkenazi man. While feminists, Jewish and otherwise, gather to discuss how to be optimally intersectional, a wider world persists in which it’s not only ignored that those who are women and Jews face specific obstacles, but that it’s possible to be, at one and the same time, Jewish and a woman. That’s why there are so many more pop culture clichés of Jewish men than Jewish women! And yet: There are plenty where women are concerned.

In any case, Auslander’s list is mostly about straight Jewish men, with one nod to the existence of their gay counterparts. It’s only when he arrives at Type 7 that we get a female type. Except it’s not a type. It’s all of Jewish womanhood distilled into one category. Biblical heroines, Amy Winehouse, and a nebbish-ette character from “Annie Hall” get lumped — admiringly? patronizingly? — in a category called “Bad-ass Jewish Girls.” It’s less about Jewish women, girls, what have you, than a self-deprecating item about Jewish masculinity. We have just gotten through meeting Type 6, the “Good Jewish Boy,” who gets this damning (and, I must say, hilarious) tag line: “When he desires women, it is because they keep a kosher kitchen.”

It’s Type 5 where things hover in that ambiguous middle ground where the contemporary way of discussing things suggests a word like “offensive” is called for, but “stale” might be more accurate. Remember those Philip Roth protagonists and their mix of sexual entitlement and insecurity? We’re in that realm. (A photo of Roth illustrates that entry.) It’s this passage, from that item, that jumped out:

“I was surprised when I left the Jewish community that the non-Jewish friends I made were so interested in meeting Jewish girls. I assumed it had to do with money.

“No, no,” I was told with a wink. “Jewish girls f***, man. Everyone knows that.”

I didn’t want to tell them that hadn’t been my experience — quite the opposite, in fact — but I was just relieved it wasn’t the money thing [.]”

It is 2017, and I say that with all the contradictory implications. (Modernity, yes, but also the new anti-Semitism and the new misogyny.) Is now the moment for Jewish men to reiterate that they don’t see why non-Jewish men would possibly find Jewish women attractive, except if they imagined they’d be rich? (As clichés go, that one is very… late 19th century.) Is now an optimal time to revisit debates about whether Jewish women are easy or frigid? (That one’s at least got a mid-20th-century vibe.)

There’s a form of (male) Jewish liberation that rests on demeaning Jewish women, and that’s the tradition that, I’d assume unknowingly, Auslander’s flirting with. Not indulging entirely — there are, let us not forget, the Bad-ass Girls – but 2017 seems a fine moment to chuck that trope for good.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at [email protected]. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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