Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Read the Press…

Monica Lewinsky has been the object of plenty of less-than-charitable attention. Now the co-editor of New Voices, a national monthly publication of the Jewish Students Press Association, has added his own. Sam Apple’s “Reflections on Monica’s Bat-Mitzvah,” published in the paper’s March issue, explores her opposing impulses of passivity and aggressiveness with the full range of stereotypes that have for decades plagued Jewish women.

In his satirical account, Apple invokes “your typically tacky Beverly Hills bat mitzvah.” He writes, “(I’ll never forget the image of Monica flying around the sanctuary with the Torah cradled in her arm, lasers shooting out the open arc below.) But even amidst this shameful display, there were signs that the young woman chanting the She’ma from the synagogue’s rafters was only just beginning to embarrass the Jewish community.”

In this bit of fantasy, Lewinsky concludes her d’var Torah “with the moral that it is a mitzvah for a Jewish girl to perform oral sex on the President of the United States. . . . ‘As an American and a Jew, I feel it is my duty to earn my presidential knee-pads,’ the fiery young Monica bellowed from the bimah. ‘What better way . . . to show the world the strength of the Jewish community than to literally have the president’s nuts in my fist.'”

Apple imagines the fictitious Lewinsky thanking her aunt for teaching her to “be assertive and to eat well,” and her grandmother for teaching her “to believe in my ability to touch people.” The crudeness that follows from these reference leaves nothing to be imagined. And just why has she hatched such a plan? “Because it will be good for the Jews.”

Apple told LILITH that the piece, which came out well before the Starr Report, was a satire on the chauvinistic assumptions the media was making about Lewinsky. “I would never write or publish anything I believed was misogynistic,” Apple said. “I wanted to satirize the media’s presentation of Lewinsky as a meek, naive intern. Everyone was assuming that she was a victim, and I wanted people to stop and ask why it is so easy for them to assume that the female is the victim. Perhaps she was the one with the power in the relationship.”

In an October 6 essay headlined “Princess Monica: Why the Starr Report and the Tripp Tapes Make Jewish Women Cringe,” Salon magazine writer Lori Leibovich looks at why, despite her own revulsion at the term, she feels compelled to call Monica Lewinsky a JAP. It’s predictable stuff, what with the “remarkably bouncy and shiny hair,” with her “lunching at the Ritz-Carlton” and demanding prestigious jobs. “Taken together, the external, superficial signs of her princessdom—she is affluent, well-coiffed, zaftig and spends a lot of time on the phone—and her cunning, manipulative streak . . . may well tarnish the image of Jewish women everywhere.”

Leibovich’s own search for the silver lining in this situation concludes under a pretty dark cloud: that Lewinsky “finally defies one tenacious JAP stereotype—that of the frigid lover. Monica was downright provocative, teasing the president with a peek at her thong underwear, grabbing his crotch in a meet-and-greet line, going down on him on demand. Perhaps this will be Lewinsky’s great contribution to Jewish womankind, the emancipation of her sisters from their perceived state as neurotic prudes.” We hate to sound ungrateful, but. . .

“An Open Letter to Girls and Women” appeared in the September 18 Jerusalem section of the Jerusalem Post, blaming some women’s clothing styles for violence against others. “Are you sure,” asked the letter writer, “you want to continue exciting men so that they rape and sexually abuse babies, young children (girls and boys) and older women?

“You are sending a lot of abused people to turn to the support groups for those who have been raped and/or sexually abused—and it’s getting worse. The numbers are growing steadily.

“Is this really what you want to carry on your conscience?

“I hope that the next time you hear of a rape or sexual abuse of innocent people, your conscience will wake you up enough to dress you decently for the next day’s outing.
                                                                                              —Chaya Rochel Schwartz.”

The section’s editor, Ruthie Blum, said the letter was not written in response to any specific article, and she declined to say what prompted her to run it. She also said the paper had received “much angry response,” some of which has been published in the newspaper.

Was Jesus God’s gift to women? You might think so after reading John Updike’s review of Cullen Murphey’s The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own in the September 14 issue of The New Yorker. Citing an essay in the anthology by Leonard Swidler, he writes, “Again and again his [Jesus’] preaching and actions dismiss the taboos of a sexist and xenophobic Judaism. . . . Christianity, though not exempt from sexism, offered women spiritual equality and importance.”

Updike, in the same review, in a magazine noted for its scrupulous copy-editing, misspelled the names of two women scholars. They were Brandeis professor Bernadette Brootten, not Brooten; and Assyriologist and Sumerologist Tikva Frymer-Kensky, whose first name, meaning “hope,” was turned into the meaningless Tivka.