Did Jewish women surpass Betty Friedan’s ‘Mystique’?

Source: JWeekly, 12-23-10

Despite Betty Friedan’s widely accepted characterization of postwar American women as subservient housewives, many Jewish women did not fit that mold, says Rachel Kranson, co-editor of the recently released “A Jewish Feminine Mystique?”

Jewish women benefited from their involvement in Jewish life, said Kranson, taking on important roles in religious institutions and political organizations and seizing the opportunity “to be leaders and make a public impact when American culture didn’t offer them many of these opportunities.”

AfriedanSome became social and political activists through organizations such as Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women, and some turned their attention to religion.

For example, she said, women in the Reconstructionist movement petitioned for aliyahs before the second wave of the feminist movement had even begun.

“Friedan herself drew on her connection with the Jewish Labor Movement,” said Kranson, adding that “Jewish involvement opened up (a new) world for Jewish women. It was one way in which they negotiated the constraints of 1950s America.”

Kranson, a doctoral candidate in New York University’s joint Ph.D. program in history and Hebrew and Judaic studies, said she and fellow doctoral student Shira Kohn were attending a seminar on American Jews in the decades after World War II and “were frustrated that none of the books dealt with gender.”

The mother of two — who grew up in Fair Lawn, N.J., and holds a master’s degree in Jewish women’s studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary — decided, together with Kohn and Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at NYU, to set about filling that gap.

The first thing the women did was organize a conference at NYU to bring together scholars in women’s history and Jewish history to share their research and thoughts. Pleased with the material that was presented, the three women concluded that the presentations would work as a printed volume.

Their new book examines how Jewish women sought opportunities and created images that defied the stereotypes and prescriptive ideology of Friedan’s “feminine mystique.” Its 12 essays focus both on ordinary Jewish women and prominent figures such Judy Holliday, Jennie Grossinger, and Herman Wouk’s fictional Marjorie Morningstar….READ MORE

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