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Jewish Women Strike Back: Tracing and Reclaiming Jewish Women in Film and Television

Tue, December 18, 10:15 to 11:45am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 3 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session

Abstract

This panel analyzes tropes about Jewish women in film and television across three time periods and regions. These tropes include the “Yiddishe mama,” the “Jewish American Princess,” and the belle juive/“beautiful Jewess,” among others. Each paper examines how these racialized, gendered, and sexualized tropes depict Jewish women in relation to broader social concerns like consumerism, Jewish assimilation, and women’s liberation. This analysis extends Jewish Studies by connecting historical representations of Jewish women with twentieth and twenty-first century images in popular culture. This analysis advances the project of Jewish Studies to understand modern Jewish identities and artistic contributions. It especially builds on the work of Riv-Ellen Prell, Paula Hyman, Ann Pellegrini, Daniel Boyarin, and Harley Erdman to promote attention to Jewish women’s representation, identity, and artistic production.

The panel will feature three papers, presented in chronological order of the cultural texts that they analyze. Laura Levitt, a leading scholar on American narratives of Jewish femininity, will then respond as discussant. This range of texts, time periods, and locations highlights the endurance of tropes about Jewish women in the vocabulary of Western visual culture. The first paper, presented by Lisa Silverman, analyzes H.K. Breslauer’s Die Stadt ohne Juden (“The City Without Jews”), which debuted in Austria in 1924. Silverman explains how the film reproduces stigmatizing stereotypes about Jewish women even while striving to oppose anti-Semitism. The second paper, presented by Riv-Ellen Prell, contrasts the 1969 film Goodbye, Columbus with the 2017 series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to analyze themes of post-war American Jewish womanhood and consumerism. The third paper, presented by Jonathan Branfman, explores Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s 2014 American comedy series Broad City. Branfman asserts that Broad City reclaims the racially ambiguous, sexually transgressive trope of the beautiful Jewess to challenge binary gender norms and misogynist stigmas.

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