From the Editor
by Susan Weidman Schneider
For Jewish girls on a varsity junior high team at a Long Island high school, ugly stereotypes surfaced this Fall during a field hockey match. Their opponents from another school pushed them around, calling them “dirty Jews” and “JAPs.” The administrators at the school with a majority of Jewish students cancelled the rest of the season’s matches, telling the press that they couldn’t protect their students from further abuses, since the staff at the second school neither condemned their students’ actions appropriately, nor disciplined the offenders.
Why should I have been surprised when I read about this incident? I was already outraged by a New York Times article on the woman who, after 23 years of living in hiding, confessed to killing a Boston police officer during a 1970 bank robbery linked to efforts to stop the war in Vietnam. News coverage sought to explain the woman’s bizarre acts, but one of the explanations in the Times was bizarre itself reminding me of the pernicious ‘JAP-bashing” that LILITH described in a cover story six years ago. The Times associated Katherine Ann Power’s crime with her exposure to what the Times called, in a subhead, “All Those Little Rich Girls” at Brandeis University.
Here is a portion of the letter I sent to the Times: In reporting on Katherine Ann Power’s confession of her role as bank robber and accomplice in a murder, your reporter suggests that Power, a former high school “homemaker” award-winner, was driven to politically motivated crime because she felt out of place at Brandeis, where she was a student in the late 60’s. Power’s therapist is quoted as saying that “The nuns at Marycrest [high school in Denver] gave Ms. Power a sense of duty. Then she goes off to Brandeis and there are all these little rich girls in matching outfits and she doesn’t belong.'”
Where does this fantasy come from? I find such a reconstruction of reality offensive for several reasons. Brandeis in thel960’s (where I received my B.A. in 1965) had political activism, academic excellence, and precious few women (or men) in matching outfits.
Add to this sartorial inaccuracy the trivialization and condescension of the adjective “little,” the distortion of “rich” and the disparaging “girls,” and therapist Linda Carroll presents a narrative which, far from explaining the behaviors of Katherine Ann Power, diminishes women in general and reinforces a pernicious stereotype.
Let us be quite frank here. Brandeis is a non-sectarian university founded by Jews and supported largely with Jewish funds, and it has always had a high proportion of Jewish students. It doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination (nor is it paranoia) to infer from these comments “little rich Jewish girls.”
One of the most persistent forms of stereotyping is to link Jews with money. In contemporary life, Jewish women have become lightning rods for this bigotry, particularly via the “J.A.P.” stereotype. Carroll’s obnoxious phrase fits right in. Power’s therapist—and your reporter—have reduced to absurdity a complex time, a serious crime and a troubled woman through the use of unanalyzed stereotypes.
A continuing paradox of anti-Semitism is that Jews are blamed both for being the radicals and for being the defenders of the status quo, the Communists and the capitalists, the revolutionaries and the reactionaries, Brandeis becomes the crucible for Power’s transformation into a bank-robbing radical, and simultaneously the locus for her not belonging because of “all those little rich girls.”