Why Heeb Sucks: The Swimsuit Edition

Okay, okay, maybe the title’s a bit harsh – I’ve only ever read one issue of Heeb. But their new marketing ploy – a pull-out calendar featuring “the six most beautiful Jewish women in the world” – does indeed suck.

My problem with a Jewish swimsuit calendar is the same as my problem with any swimsuit calendar: it presumes an entirely male audience (you could argue that it’s geared toward lesbians, too, but I don’t think the editors really thought about that) and reduces its female readers’ identities to objects to be enjoyed by that male audience. (I believe we feminists even have a word for that.) I don’t mind the enjoyment of others’ bodies in general – it’s just when a swimsuit calendar for a mixed-gender audience is completely female that we have a problem. Can you imagine the outcry if Heeb released a male swimsuit calendar? Or even a calendar with both men and women? “NO!” horrified heterosexual male readers would shriek. “GET IT AWAY! OBSCENE! UNCLEAN! I’M NOT GAY! WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS!? I’LL SUE! OH, LORD, HELP ME, I’M NOT GAAAAY!” Yet women are expected to accept it without question.

Has Heeb forgotten that it has female readers? Well, probably not. Did they decide that their female readers didn’t matter? Somehow, I doubt that, too. In a remarkable coincidence, KaeLyn has a new post up on Feministe about porn and feminism which touches on many of the same issues. In the thread, commenter shy points out that

So far, “feminist porn” seems to be about women reveling in the glory of their own bodies and sexuality. That’s great, and I’m glad they get off on it, and perhaps it’s inspiring to me in a “gee, I wish I was that comfortable with my own body” kind of way, but it’s not the same thing as being turned on. It’s more like “porn for feminist men” – along with “by women for women”, which still leaves me out.

As a mostly heterosexual woman, I feel that I have internalized the male gaze to the extent that now I am supposed to be (and sometimes am) turned on by naked women and expressions of female sexuality.

(Emphasis mine.)

That’s it. That’s exactly it. (I’m really glad I didn’t get around to blogging this until today.) Even heterosexual women are expected to be titillated solely by the male gaze. The concept of men as sexual objects – owners of bodies that can and should arouse – barely exists in popular consciousness. If heterosexual women want to experience sexuality, we’re forced to look at our own images and imagine what will happen to them as a consequence of our objectification.

On the Heeb thread, meanwhile, notoriousJ.A.P. (gotta love these hipsters) points out that, for a calendar supposedly dedicated to showcasing beautiful Jewish girls, the woman displayed on the page looks suspiciously Aryan. It’s true: perfect blonde hair, button nose, bronzed-yet-white skin. “If Heeb has selected six women who look like shiksas but happen to be Jewish,” she says, “it’s really not sending such a positive message.”

I’ll admit that I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, it is dismaying that Jewish looks still seem to fall outside of what’s acceptable; I’d be very surprised if any of the models had, say, a hooked nose or frizzy hair. Even the fact that those two adjectives have such negative connotations tells you a lot about how we view those body types.

On the other hand, I’m extremely wary of arguments over what constitutes being “Jewish enough.” Am I more Jewish than that model because I look a little more Jewish? Am I – and my looks – more authentic? Why? What does it even mean to look Jewish, when Jewishness crosses practically every racial and ethnic line imaginable? (Here’s a relevant anecdote: a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine said she’s always considered my hair blonde. It’s mostly brown, but it does lighten near the ends. I was surprised by how much her comment dismayed me. I don’t want blonde hair. I want to look Jewish, and blonde hair isn’t Jewish enough. Reader, I actually considered dying it before I came to my senses.)

Anyway, maybe someone who has seen the calendar can enlighten us on the looks of the other five models. (If I come across the magazine at a newsstand, I’ll look through it, but I don’t want to spend money on it.) Jill alerted me to this post by Sascha Elise Cohen, who makes another salient point about the calendar:

Ever notice that the porn industry loves the Catholic Schoolgirl but ignores her Hebrew Schoolgirl counterpart? And did you know that only one Miss America has ever been a Jewess? Never fear. The time has finally come for Jewish women to be objectified and fetishized just like spicy Latinas, ebony beauties, and exotic, fine-boned China dolls.

For decades the Jewish woman has found herself woefully deprived of being reduced to her sex appeal. Apparently, she was too busy complaining, spending other people’s money, and going to law school. For Jewish men–at least the ones on tv–cultural assimilation meant settling down with a bland-tempered, fair-haired shiksa (see Mad About You, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The War at Home). For women, it meant nose jobs and arm waxes. To add insult to injury, Barbie dolls come in nearly every shade of the ethnic rainbow, except Sephardic.

Hurray. Looks like we’ve arrived, eh, girls? We’re finally liberated enough to share everyone else’s oppression.

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6 Responses

  1. Now that we’ve achieved this kind of equality, I declare anti-Semitism finished and this blog no longer needs to exist!

  2. I think its the Feministe folks who have remarked that patriarchal norms are often pretty demeaning to men, in that they treat us as complete barbaric morons controlled by our penises. Something my girlfriend and I have discussed is that the way male heterosexual-oriented is constructed means that those of us het guys who (bizarrely!) aren’t into plasticity and the perception that women can achieve a never-ending orgasm through the incessant chant of “harder, harder, harder” are kind of left without a place to turn to.

    There is very little in the way of erotic material marketed towards people or couples who think that the pleasure of both partners is arousing, or that a multiciplicty of body types are sexy. What little there is tends to be marketed to the queer community, and only appeals to het guys, if at all, via a bank shot. So while the objectification that’s going on here obviously stinks from the standpoint of women (and it does), it also holds a pretty dim view of men and what society assumes we find attractive.

  3. “male heterosexual-oriented erotic material” — kind of an important omission

  4. Silly me, I never added you to the blogroll!

    At any rate, David, you’re absolutely right – those norms tend to be kind of condescending to men as well, and the thing about all the patriarchal norms (I forget where I read it, but I’m sure it’s been in several places) is that they privilege certain things in society, but there’s really no respect there – the traditional sexist norms treat men essentially as lifelong infants, needing ego-stroking and caretaking of nearly every kind through our entire lives. Which really is sort of akin to being a dog, actually – who wants to live like that?

  5. So while the objectification that’s going on here obviously stinks from the standpoint of women (and it does), it also holds a pretty dim view of men and what society assumes we find attractive.

    Yup. (By the way, I realize my generalization of het men in the post was pretty unfair. I think reading the comments at Heeb messed with me.)

  6. Yeah, those kinds of conversations tend to do that. But what somebody said WAS pretty interesting, actually – even if this is meant to be some kind of statement like, “yeah, Jewish women can be sexy too!” but this holds true only to the extent to which Jews don’t resemble the stereotype, well, not exactly so powerful isn’t it?

    But this tends to hold true for other minorities like black people, too – the lighter the skin, the more “conventionally” attractive. For example. And that says nothing about them all, undoubtedly, being very thin and athletic, but there’s really nothing Jewish about that being the only kind of attractive!

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