Page 37 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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STRAUS / IDEOLOGICAL AGENDAS AND IMAGES OF WOMEN
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as women” write better or differently about women, than male
authors? Do women “writing as women” write better o r d iffe r­
ently about men, than male authors? When women claim to
“tell their own stories,” do they perhaps merely tell the story
o f womanhood in the same old patriarchal voice?
Bringing together these issues to consider images o f women
in Jewish literature then raises questions about how the roles
o f women in Jewish culture are represented in Jewish literature,
and what the potentials are for a new generation o f Jewish writ­
ers — women writers, but maybe also men — to influence p ro ­
gressive changes in these roles, and in ou r ways o f thinking
about these roles. For example, we might wonder whether Jew ­
ish women actually do write better or differently about these
topics. Do they write “as Jewish women?” And what does this
mean?
The initial temptation may be to provide a snap answer based
on common sense: O f course Jewish women know more about
the life experiences o f Jewish women, and therefore will write
better or differently about such matters. This is clearly the as­
sumption o f Anne Lapidus Lerner, when she writes: “Studying
portraits o f women by women affords one the opportunity to
focus on works in which women are empathetically portrayed
characters whose characterization benefits from the insights the
au thor brings from her own life.” But if we look more closely
at these questions in the light o f contemporary critical theory
which often compels us to challenge what we call common sense
— we find that the answers become more murky, and the ques­
tions exceedingly more interesting.
Let us begin by considering the issue o f authors and meaning.
T radition and common sense make us think that an au tho r
means what he o r she intends to mean; so that if a woman
writes a book about women, she will be in a privileged position
to do so, because she is the au tho r o f her experiences as a wom­
an, and the au thor o f he r words about women. Similarly, a Jew­
ish woman will be in a privileged position to write a book about
Jewish women. Now, o f course, in one importan t sense this is
true, a woman writer may write from a d ifferen t position than
a man, a Jewish writer from a d ifferen t position than a Gentile.
And the position from which a writer
may
write counts for a
lot, for the “perspective” o f the writing, from the type o f life
experiences from which the writer draws — the “positionality”