Sisterhood Blog

If Jewish Women Were Scandalous as Men

By Hinda Mandell

  • Print
  • Share Share
AFP via Getty Images
Dominique Strauss-Kahn on French TV September 18, 2011.

What if Jewish women behaved as badly as their XY chromosomal counterparts?

What if we were to flip the genders of Eliot Spitzer, Bernie Madoff, Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn so that it was a Jewish woman who paid for sex, who swindled billions, who sent nudie pics via Twitter and who assaulted a hotel worker?

Oh, sister.

This gender-swapping exercise reveals norms embedded in society. It shows the extent to which we – as the public – may be disgusted or frustrated with the way powerful men behave. But it also lays bare an assumption that powerful men are more prone to act aggressively than powerful women. We know that “boys will be boys.”

But there’s no saying that “girls will be girls.” That void alone says something about the way we, as a culture, think about male behavior.

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn recently appeared on French TV for his first post-scandal interview, he acknowledged his “moral fault” for engaging in a sex act with a hotel employee. It marked yet another example of a man publicly groveling post-misdeed. They’re always so sorry – after the fact.

But there have been scores of lusty and aggressive men before DSK. And scores more will follow.

So what if this coterie of scandal-stricken Jewish men were in fact Jewish women? What type of cultural conversation would ensue?

The fact is that it’s nearly impossible to imagine – because we don’t have a script we can reference. We all know that there has never been a major U.S. scandal with a woman at the center of the events – as the transgressor. (Let alone a Jewish woman.) I am not going to play psychologist here and speculate why the most recent mega scandals have involved Jewish men.

But I will say that a national scandal with a Jewish woman at the helm would disrupt two cultural perceptions.

The first perception is based in Jewish culture.

As the “Eishet Chayil,” the Jewish woman is valorized as the pivotal homemaker and glue of the Jewish people.

For a Jewish woman, therefore, to act in a scandalous manner would upset her construction as a “woman of valor.” Instead, she’d be known as a “woman of failure.” And the pushback against this hypothetical Jewish woman would be particularly harsh, since she would have put her sexual desires – for instance – before the needs of her children. After all, what type of Jewish mother is so lustful that she would knowingly risk the stability of a family she has so “valorously” built?

A scandalized Jewish woman would also disrupt a secular stereotype – that we are high maintenance and more interested in shopping than sex.

So imagine the cultural conversation that would take place if a mature Jewish woman was cast as an object of desire – or as a seductress – on the national stage. Now that would be a new cultural plot twist. But I’m not advocating for such tawdry circumstances.

Sure, Jewish women have played the role of mistress in national sex scandals before. Monica Lewinsky, Chandra Levy and Rachel Uchitel are a few examples. But they’ve never been the ones with power in the lead up to the scandal. Those roles went to Bill Clinton, Gary Condit and Tiger Woods, for instance.

Power and its seedy underbelly is at the heart of scandal. So if Jewish women don’t hold as many positions of power as their male counterparts then they may not be as likely to be caught in scandal. But it’s not as if Jewish women are totally absent from the power table. After all, Jill Abramson is the new editor of the Grey Lady and Irene Rosenfeld is the CEO of Kraft Foods.

Not to mention the two Jewish senators and eight U.S. Representatives who serve our country.

So powerbrokers who are both female and Jewish are out there. They’ve either managed to remain below the radar or they aren’t engaging in scandal-worthy activity.

Only time will reveal the contours of public opinion if – and when – news breaks of the scandalous sort for Jewish women. Either way, Jewish women have a long way to go to catch up to the scandalous activities of the male variety.

But this might be one time where it’s better to lag behind men.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Irene Rosenfeld, Jill Abramson, Eliot Spitzer, DSK, Bill Clinton, Bernard Madoff, Anthony Weiner

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.