Talking Back: Images of Jewish Women in American Popular Culture
edited by Joyce Antler
Brandeis University Press, $21.95
Yiddishe Momma. JAP. Jewish Big Mouth. Long Suffering Mother. These are just some of the images of Jewish women that have pervaded American popular culture. The essays in Talking Back, written mainly by professors in women’s studies, history, literature, and Jewish studies, explore the representation of Jewish women in texts ranging through Passover haggadot, immigrant diaries and present-day pop culture.
The anthology’s chronological arrangement limns the changing nature of identity for Jewish women in America. As mapped by Gail Twersky Reimer, Sylvia Barack Fishman, Joan Jacobs Brumberg and others, the generational conflicts of immigrant fiction evolved into questions of assimilation and interfaith relations. In the 1970s, these bowed to the war of the sexes, when, according to an essay by Riv- Ellen Prell, the typical Jewish woman depicted by Jewish female writers is a comic loser, looking for love while trying to shed her “grotesque” body.
Discussing cultural representations, the essayists are able to explore not just the images themselves, but also the people who provide them: Herman Wouk and Philip Roth, along with Jewish women writers who can offer more complex and lively female characters. Historian June Sochen reveals how convention- breaking Jewish women entertainers— from Fannie Brice and Sophie Tucker to Joan Rivers and Bette Midler—could challenge many stereotypical images of Jewish women (for example. Tucker as the sexy Red Hot Momma).
Talking Back explores the many ways in which Jewish-American women relate to sex, marriage, parents, identity, work, class, humor, stories, friendships and dreams. Even if the cultural representations (read, stereotypes) of Jewish women have not typically been complex and diverse, the picture painted by this anthology is.