buy term papers essays writing a good thesis statement for an essay online writing sites for students hurricane katrina research paper book report ideas for highschool students write my term paper for me

Jewish Women/Jewish Men Detoxifying Our Relationships

Interview with Esther Perel

LILITH

Why are so many Jewish women and Jewish men turned off to each other? Why is it that so many Jewish women describe Jewish men as definitely not sexy, Jewish men describe Jewish women as not good in bed… ? Why do so many Jewish singles say that they would marry a Jew but they don’t want to date Jews?

PEREL

Jewish men and Jewish women hold a number of stereotypes about each other that makes it harder to relate to each other. As we look at these stereotypes, we see how they are cultivated inside the group, that most of them work as in-group stereotypes, even if they have been taken from stereotypes projected onto Jews from the majority culture. These stereotypes exacerbate bate—and sometimes cripple—the relations between Jewish men women, married or not married.

LILITH

Let’s start with some of the stereotypes Jewish women and men have of each other.

PEREL

If you look at the general pool of stereotypes about Jewish women, you will see: very good mothers, caring people, strong sense of family. But you will also see; pushy, domineering, materialistic, bitchy, demanding, intrusive, manipulating through guilt, particularly in the sexual realm.

There exists the stereotype of the Jewish woman who is used to being catered to and taken care of; she’s seen as too dependent, wanting to be pampered. On the other hand, she’s also too assertive, and Jewish men also see her as sexually unattractive and more sexually inhibited. And there’s also the “Jewish mother” stereotype: self-sacrificing, smothering, protective.

LILITH

What are some of the stereotypes of Jewish men?

PEREL

When I ask participants in my groups, the characteristics they associate with Jewish men are: caring, good providers, stable in their jobs, non-violent, non-alcoholic, strong intellectual ability, thin, but—mothers’ boys, lawyers from New Jersey or Long Island, unathletic, nerdish, physically unattractive. Jewish women find Jewish men are “living too much in their heads,” and are emotionally absent. There is also a stereotype of a Jewish man who has been groomed for success and provided for and has had life made very easy so that he could then go and study or go out and not have to deal with a whole host of responsibilities; there’s a certain element of infantalization and an expectation when entering marriage that they’ll be taken care of.

LILITH

Why are these images and stereotypes so overwhelmingly negative—and why especially so in the sexual arena?

PEREL

I often hear from Jewish women in my groups that they struggle to have positive feelings about their Jewishness and their sexuality when bringing these two together … an ambivalence. Sexuality and Jewishness are two parts of their identity which often stand in conflict with one another. Jewish men often feel this, too.

LILITH

Are we saying that the images Jewish women and Jewish men have of themselves (not just of one another) are not sexual?

PEREL

Yes, many do not associate Jewishness with a positive sexual quality. There’s a repertoire of sexual language that is missing in how they describe themselves. Jewish men rarely employ the attributes of masculine, sexual, hotblooded, and virile in describing themselves. When Jewish women describe themselves or other women, their descriptions, too, are lacking in sexual attributes about themselves.

LILITH

What don’t you hear from Jewish women that you might expect?

PEREL

I would expect to hear, from a woman describing herself: sensual, seductive, desirable, attractive, or something related to her female identity. The sexual part is somehow missing in the way people describe and define themselves, and sex is often a particularly toxic issue with Jewish couples.

LILITH

Why is it missing?

PEREL

I don’t know the one reason why it’s missing, but one approach is to explore the larger religious and historical contexts as well as the family history, its environment and its messages about sexuality. Often the Jewish family is described as a desexualized environment. There is a lot of anxiety and ambivalence about the subject in the home. When sex is not manifest in one’s parents’ relationship, and when intimacy and sex between the parents are maneuvers for control rather than affection, then it is harder to identify one’s own self as sexual. Also, there is a certain reserve in traditional Jewish families around sex.

LILITH

Do you think that Jewish parents are more fearful about sex, seeing it as an intrusion of the big, bad, non-Jewish outside world?

PEREL

Well, look, any community that’s closed has this idea about respectability. The Jewish community is often a closed community, and in such a community, people’s sexual freedom will be affected. You have to go out to be free. And when we talk about family environment, what we often hear about is a split between the marriage object and the sex object, which is illustrated in the sentence: “Have sex with non-Jewish girls, but marry a Jewish one.”

LILITH

But, obviously, there’s no equivalent message to Jewish girls….

PEREL

Now let me explain: one traditional image is that the Jewish woman has to be clean and pure when the man will be ready to come back Basically, the issue is how people link marriage With passion. Among Jews, marriage was always thought to be paramount, it is thought about in terms of family, children, being parents. “You are not complete until you are married.” And for many Jewish youth, the idea of Jewishness is so closely linked with family that marrying a Jew, in the context of creating a Jewish family, is okay, but dating Jews has little appeal. When they think of dating, sexuality, sensuality, intimacy, women and men—and not just Jewish parents, achievement and children or family values—then looking at the Jewish family does not give them many examples they would want to replicate. Yes, there is a kind of image of the Jewish family that is security, that is continuity, that is stability, that is tradition, but that does not necessarily include other aspects such as sexuality, discovering the other, exploring the differences and similarities, and experiencing one’s independence and individuality.

LILITH

Do you think that the issue of continuity and Jewish survival is much more focused for the Jewish people so that when they think of settling down and having a family there’s an aspect of “Well, I’ll put aside what I would perhaps be more attracted to—or just as attracted to—for the sake of my people”?

PEREL

A difference that certainly exists is that if one thinks of creating a Jewish family, one thinks of belonging and being able to feel part of a certain people and being able to be part of the continuity of that people. The Italian who creates an Italian family may think that continuing a certain tradition and a certain value and belief system in the family is important, but there is no survival of a people at stake that one would break—in terms of breaking a legacy—if one did not recreate this land of family.

I think, though, that that creates a problem when you put the entire focus on needing to marry Jewish because of the continuity and because of the tribal element that’s involved and which needs to be perpetuated. Because then, you create a split, because you say that the marriage is primarily there to fulfill that purpose. Here again we see the split between marriage and sex object. It is then that dating starts to take place on the “outside.”

LILITH

Are Jewish family patterns at odds with those of the majority culture in the U.S.?

PEREL

In a Jewish family, a major idea is the idea of interdependence, that what one does has implications for others. I would compare it to the WASPs, where the core of the stance of being is an “I,” geared toward autonomy, self-respect and self-individuation.

We keep saying that the Jewish family is a close family. A close family has mechanisms to make the family become close, like manipulation, like guilt, like control.

LILITH

Are there no positive ways of keeping the family close?

PEREL

Yes: caring and nurturing and family gatherings, religion and tradition, holidays and celebrations. But then we start to think of the negative sides, of the fact that the issue of separation and developing one’s sense of individuality is more difficult.

I think one can’t see the Jewish family as a closed system without then recognizing that a closed system often has overprotection as a mechanism for making this system closed, for making the family united. So when you talk about the caring and how positive it is, that people really care and that you can come home and that you really can belong in the family, the other side of it is that it is smothering and it feels like there is no free space for autonomy, and that any attempt for individuation and rebellion is seen as a betrayal of loyalty to the family.

A natural process that goes on in a family is that adolescents differentiate from their parents and as they are able to do that successfully, they separate from them to find out who they are and gain a sense of selfworth. And once that is done they can come back. The issue of separation is a more sensitive one in Jewish families. It can be related to the feeling of vulnerability, to fear of loss. Letting a child go becomes losing a person who is very close to one’s self.

LILITH

Do you think it is a yearning for individuation or for separation from that family closeness that causes Jewish men, particularly at adolescence but even at mid-life, to be so rejecting of Jewish women, of their wives, of their first marriages?

PEREL

I think that’s an issue for men in general. As for the nuances that make it Jewish, in some cases the emotional process of the family becomes fused with the cultural content, the Jewish piece. Feelings about Jewishness become confused with feelings about family, and that’s when you get statements like, “My mother is irrational, my mother is Jewish, therefore if I want to find a woman who is rational, she must not be Jewish.” So one needs to differentiate the negative emotional process in the family from the Jewish identity to enable the person to reconnect with his or her Jewishness and with other Jews intimately.

LILITH

You talked before about how Jewish family values and American family values were not consonant with each other. What about other American values, such as those relating to physical appearance? Do these influence the stereotypes Jews have of themselves and of each other?

PEREL

Members of a minority group that is devalued often internalize the images that the majority culture holds about them. Children, in growing up, identify primarily with their parents and then, as the circle broadens, with others. If these objects of identification are devalued by the majority society, the minority child is confronted with having to internalize stereotypes, prejudices, and exclusions which are attributed to the group and which become part of their self-image.

Our idea of what is beautiful—for example, being blond—have been set as a standard by the majority culture. If we don’t fit that standard, then we are often left with a feeling that we are not as good. We can do all kinds of things to be more accepted, but the whole idea of doing things to be more accepted by the majority culture is that it presupposes that there is something in us which we think is less good, and so that starts to attack self-esteem. That’s when self-esteem and ethnic identity come together, because the issues of self-esteem are often attributed to being part of that group: “I am not pretty because I am Jewish”; “I am not desirable because I am Jewish”; “I am excluded because I am Jewish”; “if I weren’t Jewish, maybe these things would not happen to me.” I think what happens with oppressed minorities is that there is an acting out of the internalized oppression between the men and women inside the group, where they each become the oppressors of each other.

LILITH

How do Jewish women and Jewish men oppress each other?

PEREL

They each project the negative stereotypes onto the other so that they then don’t have to see it in themselves. The principle is a very simple one. If we see someone who reminds us too much of things in ourselves which we don’t like, one of the ways to avoid dealing with the fact that we have it in ourselves is to see it in the other person, and then to reject that other person.

LILITH

You talked of negative stereotypes from the outside being internalized, but what about positive stereotypes— the Jewish woman seen by the outside as dark and mysterious and attractive and all of that—certainly not asexual?

PEREL

You constantly ask yourself when you see the intermarriage situation: how come the same things which are causes for distancing and rejection inside a group become causes for attraction outside the group? My analysis is that the stereotypes that work inside the group don’t work cross-culturally: a Jewish man may not like a Jewish woman who has certain traits, but if he sees them in another woman, he will like them. The same Jewish woman who is seen as overbearing, overprotective, intrusive, castrating, and so forth, is seen by an outsider as often being very warm and very caring and very interesting and very involved, and therefore very desirable and very attractive.

LILITH

Why should Jewish men appreciate the assertiveness of non-Jewish women and just hate it in Jewish women?

PEREL

It doesn’t have the same emotional impact, that’s all I can say…. Stereotypes persist strongly inside the group because people know the stereotypes much more, so if a man sees a woman as having one part of the stereotype, he can very quickly attribute all the rest to her, in ways that somebody who knows her less may not do. So that if I am a Jewish man and I see you as very materialistic, I may immediately say that you’re a JAP and if I say you’re a JAP, I include in that 15 other attributes of a JAP which may have nothing to do with you.

LILITH

In a recent group, a Jewish man of about 40 said that he’d gone out with a Jewish woman who had complimented him on his shiny car, saying, “What a nice car.” When she got into the car and looked at the odometer, she said, “Oh, I guess it’s not that new.” He felt, he said, absolute revulsion and was embarrassed by the force of his own reactions adding, “I am sort of ashamed to tell the story; I thought what a total JAP she was; all she cared about was how new the car was.” He conceded that had this been a non- Jewish woman, he would have thought her remarks quite benign, that she was making comments about the car just to make conversation. But because she was Jewish, he immediately judged her to be materialistic.

PEREL

Stereotyping is a way to avoid dealing with the individual, because you attribute group traits to the individual and so you don’t have to really get to know the person. One of the main functions of stereotyping is that it maintains distance between people.

LILITH

How can you deal with a stereotype when it’s thrown at you?

PEREL

One of the things to do with stereotypes is to refute them when others put them on you. “You tell me I am a certain way; I tell you it’s not true.”

LILITH

Let’s take this scenario. He says, “Let’s go on a picnic this weekend in the country.” She ways, “Great, I’ll pack a picnic lunch.” He screams at her, “My God, you’re just like my Jewish mother, you’re always thinking about what we’re going to eat.” What does she say?

PEREL

I believe in these situations the best thing is to bring in humor to detoxify some of that stuff. I’d say, “You must like her very much.”

LILITH

Allegedly, American men and American culture have changed a little bit, at least in the last 10 or 15 years. So the qualities in Jewish men—that they are allegedly more sensitive, more expressive of their feelings than other men, are more involved in raising the children, less macho, less aggressive— should be on the ascendency.

PEREL

The ’60s brought values of softness and emotionality for men. These became positive qualities, which many Jewish men had, but which in the past had been seen as meek, passive, weak, and so forth, and now were defined by the dominant culture as being positive and desirable and making attraction stronger. And for the woman, suddenly it became good to be powerful and to be ambitious and to be a go-getter and so forth, which the Jewish women had in them, and which then could become a source of positiveness about who they are I think we probably are in a middle phase, a transitional period. Stereotypes persist far beyond, far after the reality.

LILITH

Do many Jewish women you talk to feel they are not getting what they want from Jewish men?

PEREL

You want someone who will validate you and recognize you for who you are. There is a very strong longing on the part of the women to be recognized by the men of their own group. But what happens when you feel you can only be valued as a person and validated for who you are with someone who does not know you and who won’t attribute all these traits and stereotypes to you?

There is the feeling that men from outside the group have a much stronger impact; they recognize Jewish women for being beautiful, attractive, sensitive, for being assertive. The same assertiveness that Jewish men dislike in Jewish women becomes a nice quality rather than a negative quality when it becomes recognized by a member of another group. If a non- Jew will see her assertiveness as being something very nice, then she is able to transform the negative connotation of assertiveness into a positive one. If she has negative feelings about herself as a sexual being, by going outside her group she can become valued if the member of the other group sees her positively. So looking outside the group allows one to escape negativity.

Another aspect is when you hear someone saying, “When I go out with a man I never tell him I’m Jewish. I don’t want him to stereotype me. I want to be seen for who I am.” As if “who I am” stands separate from the fact that “I am Jewish”—which is part of who I am. It’s as if one’s individuality is in conflict with one’s ethnic identity.

LILITH

Isn’t this a form of self-hatred?

PEREL

Yes. In self-hatred, one attributes the negative parts of oneself to being Jewish, and therefore the only way to free yourself is to dissociate yourself from one’s ethnicity by cutting off the Jewish part. Self-hatred is an extreme form of dealing with ambivalence, with the positive and negative thoughts and feelings about one’s ethnic identity; another is a feeling of superiority.

I think every generation has its outlet for how you can compensate for or restore the parts of yourself or the parts of your past or your culture or family that you dislike. If it had been in the ’50s, people may have gone and studied existentialism, or in the ’60s studied Eastern religions…. In the ’70s and ’80s, many Jewish men and women may deal with ambivalence by rejecting each other.

A lot of this relates to the lack of perceived and acknowledged diversity in the Jewish community and the need to find it on the outside.

LILITH

In terms of the individual psychodynamics, will it be easier for Jewish women and Jewish men to approach each other if we have a broader permissible range of what it means to be Jewish—to be Jewish and female, Jewish and male?

PEREL

If the group recognizes more diversity within it, it allows each person more individuality. With more diversity, if I become part of the group, I don’t necessarily become like everyone who is in the group. I can be part of it and still remain myself.

We need to have available many more mental Images of “the Jew.” If we feel comfortable enough, we don’t have to produce in our children the boy who is the parents’ nachas [satisfaction from achievement] machine or “the girl who is the dolled-up creature— comfortable enough to allow the diversity that exists anyway to flourish.

I think that we have much to gain by being able to accept diversity. I think diversity is related to maturity. The more we are able to live with people who are different within our own group and the more we’re able to recognize them in ways that are not condescending and defensive all the time, the richer we will be.

The other thing is that we have to bring a new content in what the Jewish piece is, which I find missing a lot of the time. The content of what it means for oneself to be a Jew has become empty and minimal, in my opinion.

People are not going to just gain a sense of pride in the here-and-now based on new images you’re going to provide to them; they’re going to gain a new sense of pride, or struggle with how they want to maintain their sense of Jewish identity by finding personal meanings to their Jewishness. I don’t think it has to be Jewish religious content only—it may be historical, it may be Zionistic, it may be cultural or literary—but there needs to be relevant content.

People need content to match their images; if not, images become hollow. With the stereotypes, you have a host of negative images that are being talked about by Jewish women and men and the reason people don’t defend against them—and a reason people don’t know how to go beyond them—is because they have not much Jewish content with which to shape alternatives.