Sunday, November 16, 2008

Borscht or Bloomingdales

Mary-Ann and Ginger. Betty and Veronica. Mary and Mary Magdelene. Popular culture and Christianity are rife with examples of the virgin-whore dichotomy. Women are relegated into two camps. One is pure and innocent, placed on a pedestal without the taint of human touch. The other embodies pulchritudinous temptation (or in plain English is the village bicycle). There isn't much gray area in between and frankly, it's a lousy choice.

Lucky for me, I'm a Jewish girl and we tend to shy away from the whole Original Sin thing and we view sex as a healthy aspect of human relationships. That said, I have noticed that representations and conceptualizations of Jewish women tend to fall into two categories, eerily similar to the good old fashioned virgin-whore construct. Look around in movies, books and even many of your friends. They'll fall into one of two categories - the JAP and the Balebusta.

We're all familiar with the Jewish American Princess. You'll most frequently find them in their natural habitat, the mall, using daddy's credit card and whining. Herman Wouk coined the rather pejorative term and back in the day, 2 Live Jews even made a song about these entitled ladies. Generally portrayed as being uninterested in anything domestic, JAPs also get a reputation for being sexually withholding. Of course, New Jersey and Long Island host and breed the largest concentrations of JAPs and Fran Drescher is pretty much the poster-woman.

Then there's her polar opposite, the Balebusta. Perhaps less easy to lampoon, she is the Jewish equivalent of Martha Stewart, and her name literally means "homemaker" in the best sense of the word. She is earthy and voluptous, and how could she not be with those killer latkes she makes?! Unlike the goyishe Donna Reeds, the Balebusta rules her home, rather than submitting to her husband, and her moniker implies loving care and pride in her roost.

Confused? Here's a little comparison to help you out. The Balebusta makes kugel and brisket. The JAP makes reservations.

Sure, it's a bit nicer than being called a virgin or a whore, but it's still pretty limited as choices go. But in thinking about my friends and my own daily behavior, I think the reality is that there is a little bit of both archetypes in all women. Some of us master home decor projects but also sing the praises of ready rice. Others soldier through strife with astounding dignity and wouldn't know how to frost a cake if their lives depended on it. My own mother diligently sewed every Halloween and Purim costume but I have never seen her use a mop.

As someone who takes great delight in scoring a bargain and who just bought her first kosher, all-natural, 9.5-pound turkey and prides herself on delicious matzah ball soup from scratch, I mostly fall into the Balebusta crew. Of course, when it comes time to wearing that bargain, I will gladly throw on the heels and pearls and strut with the best of 'em. Maybe I'm just a very down-to-earth princess.


RaggedyMom said...

Love it ---

Cash register or Kasha?

Bling or boiling?

Great post!

Bible Belt Balabusta said...

Oh, Shtetl Fabulous, I think you ARE fabulous. Thanks for introducing yourself to me. Sounds as if we have much in common. I'll be subscribing to your posts, once I figure out how to do it....

SaraK said...

Down to earth princess - I think that suits me, too :-)

Rivster said...

What a great post! I really like how you laid this out. Thanks!

frumhouse said...

Great post!

Batya said...

I don't see anything JAPpy about the Nanny character Fran D plays. She's a baleboosteh in waspville. A JAP would never work so hard or pay attention to others.

Tony Comstock said...

Here from your comment on TNC. My mom is Jewish, and I credit her generous, physical mothering for a lot of my own sense of sensuality/sexuality. She's a damn good cook too!