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Enough with stereotypes

I’ve heard Jews – women and men – defend their casual use and perpetuation of Jewish stereotypes, sometimes on the basis of their own painful personal experiences with actual people – smothering Jewish mothers, materialistic “J.A.P.s,” etc.

But the problem is that these stereotypes don’t end up hurting the (at least apparently) powerful women these defenders are thinking of, whichever formidable balabuste or socially aggressive ‘mean girl,’ they have in mind. At best, they may end up hurting the speakers themselves, as Alana Newhouse and Miriam Stone explore in a 2005 issue of Lilith.

Worse, they end up hurting the weak and vulnerable.  In 1982, another Jewish husband, Steven Steinberg actually successfully defended himself against the charge of murdering his wife by depicting her as a “Jewish American Princess” whose spending habits somehow caused him to murder her in his sleep.

The stereotypes that we continue to deploy against each other protect abusers and exploiters, providing a ready-made distortion field that traps their victims, and the rest of us, into tropes that have little to do with reality.

That’s mean, destructive, intellectually dishonest, and very sad.  I don’t know that we’ll ever know whether Sam Friedlander’s violence was the result of a tragic mental break or the culmination of a pattern of brutality. But trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t help anybody. If we can rather be reminded to be kinder with each other and more open to the nuanced and complex truths of each other’s lives, that would be better.