Jewish Feminism and Intersectionality

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Marla Brettschneider
SUNY Series in Feminist Criticism and Theory
  • Albany, NY: 
    State University of New York Press
    , May
     2016.
     206 pages.
     $80.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781438460338.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Jewish Feminism and Intersectionality, Marla Brettschneider considers the many ways that Jewish feminism can contribute to intersectionality. Mainly, she aims to incorporate Jews into the existing field of intersectionality, an area of study that combines multiple vectors of thinking about positionality—such as queer, race, feminist, and class theories. Brettschneider points out that “beyond such an occasional mention of Jewish feminists or of anti-Semitism among a matrix of oppressions, Jews and Jewish issues are basically absent in this intellectual and activist turn” (9). For instance, during second-wave feminism, most feminists fought for women as women—not as Jewish women. Brettschneider aims to bring Jews—as Jews—as well as Jewish issues, to the intersectional table. She notes the ever-present Christian privilege in the United States that often marginalizes Jews as well as people who consider themselves LGBTQIA+ and/or feminist. She asserts throughout this book that antiracism, particularly, is critical for Jewish feminism.

Within the six chapters, she addresses a wide range of possibilities for intersectionality which can be inclusive of Jewish feminist issues. The first chapter includes the use of a counter-text, in this case, a section of the Talmud, to destabilize feminist Elizabeth Spelman’s Aristotelian categorizations for thinking about hierarchy (29). In the second chapter, she emphasizes “new diaspora theorizing” to frame her conceptualization of not only the writing, but also the positionality of the Jewish, Afro-Caribbean author Jamaica Kincaid (41). Brettschneider adds the word “new” to demonstrate that her intersectional analysis refers to all Jews, not only those who are now considered “white.” The next chapter focuses on what she calls a co-constructionist intersectional approach to the television show the Goldbergs after they move to the suburbs (61). In the fourth chapter, Brettschneider discusses a group in which she participates, called the Jewish Queer Think Tank; here, she focuses on the ritual of (be)coming out for queer Jews (76). She describes, in the fifth chapter, the narrative of Ashkenazi Jewish immigration to the United States, and how they dealt with dominant views that they were hypersexual. These views were racially enacted to limit reproduction, and they even resorted to eugenics. Finally, she examines reproductive justice in an intersectional Jewish feminist context, explaining the multiple ways in which American legal shifts occurring in the 1990s informed on each other to reduce opportunities for children of color—particularly children of Black lesbian mothers—to remain with their bio-families.

A few smaller critiques: given that these chapters cover such a wide range of material, Brettschneider might frame the book as six essays, or more thoroughly link their themes together. Even though she notes that many white-identified feminists are Jewish, she might mention specific Jewish feminists who are prominent in the movement, notable figures such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. When Brettschneider writes about the (be)coming out ritual in chapter 4, she could incorporate the extensive ritual theory that emerges from religious studies, such as the work of the prominent figure Catherine Bell. One nitpicky point: although most everything she describes occurs in the US—with the exception of Kincaid’s origins in Antigua—Brettschneider does not include the words “US” or “American” in her title.

Although she engages intersectionality throughout the book, Brettschneider seems to assume that readers have more knowledge of this subject than they might. She cites the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw but she does not discuss its history in Critical Race Studies (CRS), which originates in legal theory. One of the most important components of CRS is that it focuses on the experiences of racialized people in the ways that they are marginalized. With that in mind, Brettschnedier might have interviewed Kincaid for recollections of her life, her experiences of being in diaspora, and her relationship with Israel, three of Brettschneider’s emphases in that chapter.

Throughout this book, and this is my main critique, Brettschneider imagines a predominately marxist audience, perhaps given that she considers herself a marxist too. Karl Marx famously argued that “religion is the opiate of the masses,” and although his thoughts on religion cannot be reduced to that phrase, it’s reminiscent of his overall distaste for the subject. Unfortunately, this view potentially limits Brettschneider’s ability to connect with Jewish feminists who consider themselves in any way “religious” or “spiritual.” These feminists could be members of synagogues, chavurot, or Jews who practice in their homes. Likewise, her book may not speak to “religious” and/or “spiritual” non-Jews. These two groups include many people who would otherwise benefit a great deal from this book.

In sum, despite these mostly small oversights, Jewish Feminism and Intersectionality presents a wonderful encapsulation of specific issues that more broadly convey the role that Jewish feminism plays in intersectionality. This is a necessary volume that adjusts intersectional viewpoints to include Jewish issues and Jewish feminism. Brettschneider’s creative theoretical approaches in her various chapters enable her to demonstrate that there are multiple ways to accomplish this work.

                                                                                                                            

About the Reviewer(s): 

Annalise E. Glauz-Todrank is Assistant Professor in the Department for the Study of Religions at Wake Forest University. 

Date of Review: 
September 18, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Marla Brettschneider is Professor of Political Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of several books, including the award-winning The Family Flamboyant: Race Politics, Queer Families, Jewish Lives, also published by SUNY Press.

Keywords: 

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