A Jewish Feminine Mystique? Jewish Women in Postwar America

A Jewish Feminine Mystique? Jewish Women in Postwar America

A Jewish Feminine Mystique? Jewish Women in Postwar America

A Jewish Feminine Mystique? Jewish Women in Postwar America

Synopsis

In The Feminine Mystique, Jewish-raised Betty Friedan struck out against a postwar American culture that pressured women to play the role of subservient housewives. However, Friedan never acknowledged that many American women refused to retreat from public life during these years. Now, A Jewish Feminine Mystique? examines how Jewish women sought opportunities and created images that defied the stereotypes and prescriptive ideology of the "feminine mystique."

As workers with or without pay, social justice activists, community builders, entertainers, and businesswomen, most Jewish women championed responsibilities outside their homes. Jewishness played a role in shaping their choices, shattering Friedan's assumptions about how middle-class women lived in the postwar years. Focusing on ordinary Jewish women as well as prominent figures such as Judy Holliday, Jennie Grossinger, and Herman Wouk's fictional Marjorie Morningstar, leading scholars explore the wide canvas upon which American Jewish women made their mark after the Second World War.

Excerpt

Hasia R. diner shira kohn rachel kranson

In her classic 1963 manifesto The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan railed against a postwar American culture in which women “no longer left their homes, except to shop, chauffeur their children, or attend a social engagement with their husbands.” Although she herself grew up in a Jewish home that exerted a powerful impact on her development as an intellectual and an activist, Freidan’s portrait of domestic housewives collapsed the experiences of all American women living in this era, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or class, and presented the white, middle-class, Christian woman as the norm against which she issued her manifesto for change.

Friedan’s formulation has served as the departure point for most scholars of American women’s history in the postwar period, scholars who have, by and large, taken her analysis of the “problem that has no name” as an accurate depiction of the ways in which all, or at least most, women experienced the years from the end of World War ii through the 1950s and early 1960s. Where scholars have parted company with Friedan and her analysis, they have done so by exposing the racial and class bias of this now firmly fixed way of thinking about American women of the 1950s. These historians have, rightly, noted that many workingclass women did not have the luxury of enjoying, let alone hating, life in “comfortable concentration camps,” and that women of color often grappled with a different set of gender expectations. Their need to work to support themselves and the families who depended upon them, as well as distinct cultural traditions of work and communal activism, gave them a chance to live, and to be studied, outside the scope of the “mystique.”

This book broadens the parameters of the historical writing that takes to task the simple paradigm that in the postwar period American women retreated from the public sector into the private. We train our lens on American Jewish women, and ask how they negotiated postwar pressures to limit their lives to domestic and familial pursuits. Although Jews never constituted more than 4 to 5 percent of the general population, it should not detract from thinking about them as historical actors whose experiences in the postwar period can both shed light on the . . .

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