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A Jewish Feminine Mystique?

A Jewish Feminine Mystique?: Jewish Women in Postwar America

HASIA R. DINER
SHIRA KOHN
RACHEL KRANSON
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 284
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhwwr
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  • Book Info
    A Jewish Feminine Mystique?
    Book Description:

    InThe 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 fictionalMarjorie Morningstar, leading scholars explore the wide canvas upon which American Jewish women made their mark after the Second World War.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5030-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    HASIA R. DINER, SHIRA KOHN and RACHEL KRANSON

    In her classic 1963 manifestoThe 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.”¹ 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...

  5. 1 “Some of Us Were There before Betty”: JEWISH WOMEN AND POLITICAL ACTIVISM IN POSTWAR MIAMI
    (pp. 13-30)
    RAYMOND A. MOHL

    In the early 1960s, Betty Friedan’sThe Feminine Mystiqueargued that postwar American culture promoted a repressive form of domesticity that trapped middle-class women in the home, subordinated them to the demands of marriage and family, and denied them the opportunity for personal or career fulfillment. Friedan articulated the unspoken concerns of millions of American women, who endured what she called “the problem that had no name.” The book has been credited with initiating the modern feminist movement. Recent historical scholarship, however, has suggested that Freidan overstated her case and that not all American women experienced the postwar era domesticity...

  6. 2 The Polishness of Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s Postwar Jewish Cold War
    (pp. 31-47)
    NANCY SINKOFF

    Lucy S. Dawidowicz (1915–1990), the American Jewish historian known for her work on East European Jewry and its destruction, was a fierce political animal in the postwar years. Her interests included the history of Jewish politics and the role of the leaders of the formal Jewish community as stewards of Jewish communal life. Late in life, while working on a history of American Jews, she wrote to historian Robert Dallek: “For some years now I’ve been engaged in research for a broad-gauged history of Jews in America. Politics is one of the many aspects of Jewish life I want...

  7. 3 “Our Defense against Despair”: THE PROGRESSIVE POLITICS OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN AFTER WORLD WAR II
    (pp. 48-64)
    KATHLEEN A. LAUGHLIN

    In a reflective mood at the conclusion of her 1954 report to the national board of directors, Elsie Elfenbein, executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), placed the organization in the context of the perils of the atomic age. Referring with alarm to a test of the H-bomb, which “scattered particles of death to far corners,” she proclaimed that the NCJW’s program of social action was “our defense against despair.”¹ After the horror of World War II and the escalating global tensions in its aftermath, the NCJW made an unprecedented commitment to mainstream politics. The triumph of...

  8. 4 “It’s Good Americanism to Join Hadassah”: SELLING HADASSAH IN THE POSTWAR ERA
    (pp. 65-86)
    REBECCA BOIM WOLF

    With the creation of the State of Israel and its subsequent victory over the Arab armies of the surrounding countries in 1949, the future of the Jewish home seemed secure. Lacking the urgency of the 1930s and 1940s, the 1950s presented Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, with a dilemma it had not faced since the 1920s: it had to struggle with the issue of how to attract new members. The 1950s and 1960s seemed to represent years of limited growth for the organization. Hadassah reported only slight gains in membership, going from 270,000 in 1950 to 295,000 in...

  9. 5 “A Lady Sometimes Blows the Shofar”: WOMEN’S RELIGIOUS EQUALITY IN THE POSTWAR RECONSTRUCTIONIST MOVEMENT
    (pp. 87-104)
    DEBORAH WAXMAN

    In 1922, Judith Kaplan, daughter of Reconstructionist ideologue Mordecai Kaplan, became the first girl to celebrate a bat mitzvah at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ), the flagship synagogue of Reconstructionist Judaism. Although the creation of a solo coming-of-age ceremony for a girl introduced into Jewish religious life a degree of unprecedented gender parity, the content of Judith Kaplan’s ceremony differed from a boy’s bar mitzvah, and her postceremony status as an adult female remained distinctly more limited than her male counterparts’. In 1945, a full generation later, the adolescent girls of the SAJ initiated a campaign for...

  10. 6 Beyond the Myths of Mobility and Altruism: JEWISH IMMIGRANT PROFESSIONALS AND JEWISH SOCIAL WELFARE AGENCIES IN NEW YORK CITY, 1948–1954
    (pp. 105-125)
    REBECCA KOBRIN

    On a cold December morning in 1950, Dr. K., an Austrian-trained dentist, single mother, and Holocaust survivor exploded in frustration to her case aide, a Ms. Hibble at the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA), proclaiming:

    The four years in concentration camps and the four years after the war in the starving Germany did not bring me tuberculosis. But five months maintenance in NYANA gave me tuberculosis! I am in despair. I have a young child. I know only one thing: Something has to be done so that I should get well because I must study for my exam...

  11. 7 Negotiating New Terrain: EGYPTIAN WOMEN AT HOME IN AMERICA
    (pp. 126-143)
    AUDREY NASAR

    “When I came here [Brooklyn], it was so hard,” recalled Denise Z. of her immigration from Egypt to the United States in 1962. “I used to have two maids in the house [in Egypt]. When I came, first do the dishes, or go take care of the kids, or clean the house, or go wash, it was really hard…. You don’t know what to do first.”¹ Like many other female Jewish immigrants from Egypt during the postwar years, Denise Z. found domestic chores a cause of particular anxiety as she adjusted to American life. Like these other migrants, she had...

  12. 8 The Bad Girls of Jewish Comedy: GENDER, CLASS, ASSIMILATION, AND WHITENESS IN POSTWAR AMERICA
    (pp. 144-159)
    GIOVANNA P. DEL NEGRO

    In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the bawdy humor of Belle Barth, Pearl Williams, and Patsy Abbott, a trio of working-class Jewish stand-up comics, enjoyed enormous popularity in the United States. Today largely forgotten or dismissed, they released bestselling LPs known at the time as “party records,” which, though intended for respectable, middle-class consumers, were often sold under the counter and banned from radio airplay. With their earthy, old-world sensibility and strategic use of Yiddish, these middle-aged performers railed against societal mores that told them to be quiet, well behaved, and sexually passive. During the period in which these...

  13. 9 Judy Holliday’s Urban Working-Girl Characters in 1950s Hollywood Film
    (pp. 160-176)
    JUDITH SMITH

    A Jewish-created urban and cosmopolitan working-girl feminism persisted in the 1950s as a cultural alternative to the suburban, domestic consumerism soon eloquently critiqued by Betty Friedan inThe Feminine Mystique. The film persona of Jewish, Academy Award–winning actress Judy Holliday embodied this working-girl feminism. Audiences viewed her portrayals of popular-front working-girl heroines in three films, all written by the Jewish writer and director Garson Kanin (sometimes in association with his wife, the actress Ruth Gordon) and directed by the Jewish director George Cukor in the early 1950s:Born Yesterday(1950),The Marrying Kind(1952), andIt Should Happen to...

  14. 10 The “Gentle Jewish Mother” Who Owned a Luxury Resort: THE PUBLIC IMAGE OF JENNIE GROSSINGER, 1954–1972
    (pp. 177-193)
    RACHEL KRANSON

    After Jennie Grossinger’s death in 1972, theNew York Timescharacterized her as “the gentle Jewish mother who transformed a modest Catskills family hotel into a luxurious resort.” This description echoed the maternal and ethnic imagery that had propelled the hotelier to national fame during the decades after World War II.¹ Throughout her career as the co-owner and spokesperson of Grossinger’s Hotel and Country Club, Jennie Grossinger presented herself both as a nurturing mother figure and as the grateful beneficiary of the Jewish immigrant dream. The American public enthusiastically embraced this persona, and Grossinger became a national celebrity whose fame...

  15. 11 Reading Marjorie Morningstar in the Age of the Feminine Mystique and After
    (pp. 194-209)
    BARBARA SICHERMAN

    Herman Wouk’sMarjorie Morningstarappeared, to great fanfare, in September 1955: Book-of-the-Month Club selection,Reader’s DigestCondensed Book, aTimecover story, and an initial print run of 100,000. At over 190,000 copies, it was the best-selling novel of the year and went on to sell more than 1.7 million copies in the next decade; a popular 1958 movie version starred Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly.¹ Wouk’s previous novel,The Caine Mutiny(1951), had won a Pulitzer Prize and racked up the largest U.S. sales sinceGone With the Wind, but the popularity of a story with a young Jewish...

  16. 12 “We Were Ready to Turn the World Upside Down”: RADICAL FEMINISM AND JEWISH WOMEN
    (pp. 210-234)
    JOYCE ANTLER

    One of the most significant outcomes of the postwar feminine mystique was the rebellion against it. Second-wave feminism, the seeds of which were planted in the “mystique” decade of the 1950s, blossomed in the 1960s and early 1970s, forever changing the landscape of family life, social relationships, and individual consciousness. Many young women who grew up in the postwar years, struggling with the period’s ambivalent, gendered messages, would have agreed with women’s liberation pioneer Amy Kesselman that “feminism saved my life.”¹ The women’s movement that grew out of and in response to postwar domesticity is widely acknowledged to have been...

  17. 13 Jewish Women Remaking American Feminism/Women Remaking American Judaism: REFLECTIONS ON THE LIFE OF BETTY FRIEDAN
    (pp. 235-256)
    DANIEL HOROWITZ

    This essay begins with the life of Betty Friedan and moves out to explore a series of issues central to the ways historians think about the history of Jewish women in the United States since 1945. I concentrate on four key topics that both illuminate Friedan’s life and connect her life to larger concerns animating this volume. First, to what extent did the “feminine mystique,” to use the phrase Friedan connected to motherhood, generations, and careers, shape her own life and the lives of Jewish American women? Second, how do we understand suburbanization as a force that influenced Friedan’s life...

  18. Biographies of Contributors
    (pp. 257-258)
  19. Index
    (pp. 259-269)