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Fighting to Become Americans: Assimilation and the Trouble between Jewish Women and Jewish Men 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807036334
ISBN-10: 0807036331
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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

Where do Jewish gender stereotypes, such as the JAP and the Jewish mother, come from, and why are they so persistent? Prell explains in this astute study. These and similar stereotypes, Prell theorizes, are a projection onto Jewish women by Jewish men, expressing their anxiety about assimilating into American culture, an anxiety that she claims is renewed in every generation despite Jews apparent success at becoming Americans. In particular, mens anxiety about attaining and remaining in the middle class becomes expressed through stereotypes of women who are excessive and voraciouswhether, as in the case of the Jewish mother, emotionally all-consuming, or in the case of the JAP or her predecessor, the Young Jewish Woman in Search of Marriage, materially all-consuming. Drawing heavily on the Yiddish newspapers around the turn of the century, she paints a portrait of the first such stereotype, the Ghetto Girl, the young immigrant woman who was supporting herself and her family by her labor, and whose efforts at dressing fashionably were invariably scoffed at as tasteless and vulgar expressions of acquisitiveness. Prell devotes less energy to discussing womens stereotypes of Jewish men (e.g., as cheap dates or spoiled princes); clearly, in her analysis, it is women who have borne the brunt of the burden. In this way, the larger societys anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as the representation of excessive consumption and productivity in a society centered on consumption and productivity, were internalized by Jews and turned into ammunition in internecine gender wars. Prell (American Studies/Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis), whose Prayer and Community: The Havurah in American Judaism, won a National Jewish Book Award, unfortunately couches her gutsy and imaginative theory in dry, academic prose, but she convincingly engages a range of complex issues about how men and women, Jews and gen tiles, perceive one another. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Gutsy and imaginative . . . convincingly engages a range of complex issues about how men and women, Jews and gentiles, perceive one another. --Kirkus Reviews

"While Jews and feminists have over the years repeatedly debated whether the JAP is 'real' or not, Prell's research breaks new ground because she examines the class anxieties underlying the image. . . . [Fighting to Become Americans] will challenge any reader's preconceptions about who is and is not an American and why." --Laura Brahm, The Women's Review of Books

"Well-written and lively." --Jewish World

"A definitive and fascinating history of the complex relationships between Jewish men and women in the twentieth century." --George Cohen, Booklist

"[S]hows how the stereotypes we accept and create about ourselves mirror our anxieties in American society. . . . [Prell's] analyses are telling and original." --Ruth F. Brin, St. Paul Pioneer Press
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (March 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807036331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807036334
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,804,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This is a clear and careful look at a complicated subject : the interwoven issues of twentieth-century American Jews' class and gender anxieties - and the complex relationships and adjustments (within and outside of the group) that have emerged from these tensions. Riv-Ellen Prell is a committed academic and her passionate interest in her subject is obvious. In addition she is a clear thinker and terrific at conveying complex ideas without being the least bit reductive.
There's an historic and political framework for Dr. Prell's topics, among them: the damage done to Jewish men and women by stereotyping both from within and without (additional American ethnic groups might take note); historic sources of class prejudice within the group; the resentment of (Jewish) newcomers and attempts to restrict immigration; changes in the workplace and in workplace participation; changes in expectations and practices - regarding romantic love, courtship, and marriage; the rearing of children; urban and suburban life; class and intra-religious aspirations; Jewish humor in the '50's; popular culture's reinforcement of intermarriage; changes in religious practice. Chapter Six is a detailed and smart deconstruction of the Jewish American Princess stereotype.
There is a terrific attention to detail throughout - and that is part of what makes this book so satisfying. Clothing colors, the specifics of living situations, food, ads and media, and most effective: a "typical" - self-revealing and moving - adolescent diary of Lois Greene, an 'ordinary' American teenager born in 1932, who gave her wonderful diary to the American Jewish Historical Society in 1988. It's in good hands, here.
Films are brought into this interesting discussion, to good effect.
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Format: Hardcover
This fascinating book plots the evolution of gender stereotypes among Jews in 20th century American life. Reading this book, I learned that the stereotypes I grew up with, such as the Jewish American Prince and Princess, have a long lineage, dating back to the Swell and the Ghetto Girl in the 1920's. As Riv-Ellen Prell demonstrates, these stereotypes tell us as much about how American Jews struggled with their Jewish identities as they do about male-female relationships and expectations. The book is full of interesting examples, and analuses drawn from the popular press, from literature, movies and art. Reading it will make anyone (male or female, Jewish or not) think about how their own identity is constructed, and how many unexamined stereotypes they carry around in their minds. I recommend it highly!!
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Format: Paperback
I always thought that the problems Jewish men and Jewish women had with each other were unique to our time. Not so! Prell examines the Jewish press of the early 20th century to show that Jewish men and Jewish women have (mis)understood each other ever since the 19th century mass migration to America. Women generally want good providers, and Jews are no exceptions. I would have devoted a bit more space to the problems caused by prosperity--for example, that as American Jews become more prosperous, women raise their economic standards and less successful Jewish males effectively drop out of the marriage market, thus spurring intermarriage. But well done on what it does cover.
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Format: Paperback
This eye-opening book takes a historical look at relationships between Jewish men and women -- long the source of jokes and stereotypes. Prell's innovative use of popular culture, diaries, fashion, films, novels and letters reveals the pressures and strains Jews felt as they struggled against stereotypes from the outside, as well as gender and generational tensions within the community. Her thoughtful analysis of the origins and meanings of gender stereotypes -- from the Ghetto Girl and the Jewish Mother to the Jewish American Princess -- provides an important corrective to the many myths that permeate American attitudes, among Jews as well as non-Jews. This is a highly engaging, lively book. A truly great read.
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