The Oppression of Narrow Roles

Reading a post about Hilary Clinton at The Debate Link got me thinking. It’s especially true what Schraub says about Clinton having to adopt what seems to be a hawkish standpoint specifically because she’s female:

Certainly, the “man card” form of identity politics is nothing new in American elections, but there’s a reason that Clinton is not the one challenging it, just as there’s a reason Nixon was the one to go to China and not LBJ. I’d love to push political deliberation beyond the current “who can down more shots at the bar” standard, but Clinton can’t press the issue too much because she’s a woman — she’s ultimately the target that these patriarchal norms are designed to suppress.

Essentially, this places women in a double-bind: Being seen as too “feminine” makes them somehow seem weak, or ineffectual, while seeming too “masculine” gets them derided for trying too hard to be one of the guys. The current power structure forces women into a role where they must publicly deny their inherent femininity and then punishes them for it.

There is a parallel here for Jews, too. Historically, in Christian Europe, Jews were forbidden from occupations seen to be the providence of the Christian majority. Given that usury and moneylending were forbidden to Christians, this became the only avenue for Jews to succeed and thrive, and so they did.

But, much like women adopting, by necessity, a more aggressive tone in the professional world to thrive and survive, the hammer came down on them for it the moment there was trouble. The kingdom would fall on hard times and the blame would be cast on the only people able to be bankers – the Jews. Thus the public image Jews as bankers and economic calamities began – force the people into this narrow role, and then punish them for it.

Similarly, in some quarters, this is where the stereotype of Jews and their affinity for the legal profession comes into play – its true that the community’s emphasis on Torah and Talmud learning probably would prepare someone for entry into that kind of world since it’s similar to the legal system of the Western world, with its original rulings and precedents and so on, but as Naim Kattan wrote in Farewell, Babylon, at least in Baghdad, it was the only profession available to Jews by the (in that case) government of Iraqis.

And, as I referenced in my last post, this turns dangerous even when we allow it in other seemingly benign ways, like the caliber and quality of the supposed friends of Israel – we set ourselves up to be punished for seeming too utterly callous to the unfortunate collateral of Israel’s increasingly indefensible actions, when my impression is that such is quite far from the truth.


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