Ph.D. Octopus

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Aly Raisman and Jewish Women’s Sweat

with 2 comments

by David

Aly Raisman

To follow up on Afrah’s excellent post on Gabby Douglas, I thought I would reflect a little bit on another American gymnast who won gold in London, Aly Raisman. The 18-year-old Raisman, an American Jew, proudly celebrated her heritage by performing her gold-medal winning floor routine to “Hava Nagilah.”

In winning the gold medal, Raisman also did her part in undermining certain stereotypes about Jewish women. Particularly in the post-WW2 period, two comic images of Jewish women emerged, both with a decidedly negative edge. The first was the overbearing Jewish mother, the second the Jewish American Princess, or JAP, personified in either the nagging wife or the spoiled daughter. These images were on display in American Jewish fiction, but they also caused real harm in gender relations between American Jewish men and women.

Ali MacGraw as Brenda Patimkin

In her 1996 essay “Why Jewish Princesses Don’t Sweat,” anthropologist Riv-Ellen Prell argues that the archetypical JAP is allergic to work. As an example, she points Brenda Patimkin, the leading lady of the 1959 Philip Roth novella Goodbye, ColumbusIn both the book and the 1969 movie, Patimkin (as portrayed by Ali MacGraw) is seen playing tennis. To Prell, the message is that JAPs can sweat, provided that the sweat is not productive, i.e. that it comes from exercise or a leisurely activity like tennis. The Jewish woman is thereby denigrated as unproductive, lazy, and spoiled.

Of course, this stereotype is far from true: Jewish women work, and certainly sweat while working. This is where Raisman comes in. Here we have a wonderful real-life example of a Jewish woman whose work is athletic, sweat-producing, and medal-winning. Mazel tov Aly!

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Written by David Weinfeld

August 8, 2012 at 19:31

Posted in gender, Jews, sports

2 Responses

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  1. Tennis or gymnastics? Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

    quinndiesel

    August 8, 2012 at 22:10

  2. Her accomplishment is significant I grant you. One could make the argument that this type of sweat is no different than the sweat of playing tennis. The type of sweat one can afford to produce as someone who is supported in their endeavors and does not have to make one’s own living. It’s still a step up from the JAP or the overbearing mother.

    quinndiesel

    August 8, 2012 at 22:16


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