This Insight is part of GNET’s Gender and Online Violent Extremism series in partnership with Monash Gender, Peace and Security Centre. This series aligns with the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gendered Violence (25 November-10 December).
Fat, bloodthirsty, and wicked. The adjectives ascribed to ‘Jewesses’ on far-right social media forums give some insight into the denotation intended by the term. The use of specific terminology reflects a wider stream of misogynistic antisemitic rhetoric, which does not merely manifest in the targeting of Jewish women, but in itself constitutes the source of specific tropes and imaginings of the role of masculinity and femininity in anti-Jewish sentiments.
This Insight will seek to provide an overview of the specific phenomena of gendered antisemitism. Even in its contemporary manifestations, antisemitism remains rooted in historical context, redressing many of the same tropes popularised centuries ago. Gendered antisemitism is twofold: it embodies unique tropes about Jewish women and targets them with misogyny. Moving from ideological imaginings to practical manifestations, this Insight will subsequently analyse the scale of the problem, cutting through often contradictory literature. It concludes that while literature disagrees on the scale of the targeting of Jewish women, the central themes of gendered antisemitism which first arose centuries ago continue to underpin broad conspiracy theories today.
From Jewess to JAP: the Language and Tropes of Gendered Antisemitism
Evelyn Torton Beck articulates the intersection of “the familiar anti-Semitic figure of the Jew as controlling and insatiably greedy, always wanting more, combining with the misogynist stereotype of the insatiable woman, the woman who is infinitely orgasmic, who will destroy men with her desire.” Creating a stereotype of a “Jewish American Princess”, is, according to Beck, merely the transplant of “traditional antisemitic tropes onto a female form: she is materialistic, money-grabbing, manipulative, shallow, crafty and ostentatious”
Mirroring the wider construction of femininity in traditionalist spaces, gendered antisemitism particularly demonises sexual promiscuity and liberation. It weaves misogynistic narratives into existing antisemitic tropes, forming the building blocks of far-reaching conspiracy theories in often contradictory ways.
Such stereotypes can take multiple directions. On the one hand, Jewish women are essentialised as undesirable and hyper-masculine. Antisemitic theories emerging in the 19th century began to emphasise the femininity of Jewish men, and the masculinity of Jewish women. As such, according to Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, Jews were seen to challenge the desired familial framework, where the Jewish woman was seen as dominant over her feminised husband.
On the other hand, Jewish women are over-sexualised and painted as the embodiment of sexual greed – a sexual parasite draining their hosts. Where Jews are seen as money-grabbing and ostentatious, Jewish women are typified as materialistic and trivial, only interested in looks and clothes; a symbol of the decadent and powerful elite. The essentialised Jewish woman is the embodiment of globalised capitalism, leeching off others, exhibiting both laziness and greed; the misogynist imagining of the parasite symbology. Schüler-Springorum summarises the “erotically threatening fantasy” of the ‘Jewess’ as “an exotic temptress who inspired male fantasies”. She articulates how, with the rise of racial antisemitism in the early 20th century, the threat of sin from the ’Jewess’ was emphasised, and “the Jewish woman became the veritable incarnation of the femme fatale”. Therefore, as traditionalism combined with nationalism to demonise sexual promiscuity, Judaism was co-demonised.
These tropes can still be seen in the roots of contemporary gendered antisemitic constructions. Karin Stogner notes that “due to the intermediate position regarding gender and sexuality attributed to them, Jews were seen as an essential threat to the unity of the cultural community, which is still inseparably linked to the heteronormative order today”. Blyth Crawford investigates this linkage between antisemitism and familialism in neofascist militant accelerationist discourse, concluding that feminism is seen as a Jewish plot to lower white birthrates and therefore control or eliminate white people. Expansive conspiracy theories about ‘The Great Replacement’, rest on alleged Jewish control of the ‘gay agenda’ or attempts to undermine the white nuclear family unit, and are therefore rooted in gendered antisemitic tropes of the manipulative ‘Jewess’.
In the extreme-right imagining, Jewish women are both debauched and desired; a temptation and a taboo; promiscuous and parasitic.
Measuring Gendered Antisemitism: A Brief Literature Review
Quantitative measures of gendered antisemitism produce mixed results. The Fundamental Rights Agency’s survey on the experiences of European Jews, the largest survey of its kind, was analysed by Mie Astrup Jensen using gender identity as the independent variable. Ultimately, it concluded that Jewish men were more likely than women to experience antisemitic discrimination, including physical attacks, offensive or threatening comments, offensive gestures in public or online harassment. The data was adjusted for multiple factors, including the increased visibility of religious Jewish men in public, given the overtly identifiable traditions which govern Jewish male dress and appearance more than women’s, including peyot, facial hair, hats and clothing. Jensen comments that both her literature review and data analysis led to the same conclusion that men are more likely to experience antisemitic discrimination.
The Jewish Policy Research’s 2014 survey also registered lower levels of antisemitic abuse against Jewish women than men. Equally, research for the Antisemitism Policy Trust and the Community Security Trust by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz analysing 9000 Stormfront threads found that Jewish women entertainers were mentioned less than men.
One place where antisemitism was found to target women more than men was the political arena. The same FRA survey which served as data for Jensen’s gender analysis also concludes that political life is one of the main places where antisemitism is reported, particularly in the UK. On the Stormfront threads analysed by Stephens-Davidowitz, the most mentions were of Luciana Berger and Margaret Hodge, former and current Labour MPs who experienced abuse for their opposition to antisemitism in the Labour Party. He notes the overlap of sexist and antisemitic attitudes towards the politicians, with heightened negativity about their appearances, exemplified by insults such as “equine-faced Zionist”. Berger and Hodge have previously both spoken about the soaring levels of antisemitism they and other Jewish women in parliament experienced, including four convictions for abuse of Berger.
Specifically speaking to the increasing divergence of white supremacist and manosphere online communities, Media Matters recorded a 180% increase in posts containing both misogynistic and antisemitic language on 4chan between 2015 and 2017. This suggests an overall growth of online abuse of women but does not measure whether this increase is proportionate to that experienced by Jewish men.
As such, literature attempting to quantitively measure the levels of gendered antisemitism, and the intersection between misogyny and antisemitism, generates mixed findings. There is likely to be some divergence in results where there is a difference in arena or type of incident being recorded, particularly given the lack of uniformity in how online antisemitism is measured, and equally a lack of consensus on what exactly constitutes antisemitism. This review is therefore indicative of a patchy field of literature, with only sporadic, rather than methodological, analysis. Currently, little definitive and authoritative literature on the topic exists, and as such, much remains unknown.
Where sexism is often ingrained into the contemporary psyche, antisemitic discourse is no different. Ranging from the unconscious targeting of Jewish women, the torrents of abuse experienced by female Jewish politicians, to the overtly misogynistic intersections of extreme-right antisemitism, gendered antisemitism is diverse in its manifestations.
Gendered antisemitism may be particularly tricky to survey quantitively, both due to the coded and often covert nature of all forms of antisemitism, and what the Antisemitism Policy Trust theorise as a “less challenged” form of hatred due to its relation to wider structural sexism. If, as has already been explored, gendered antisemitism is not just antisemitism targeted at women, but a specific worldview which underpins much of wider antisemitic discourse, its contribution to conspiratorial, extreme-right and even mainstream thinking is arguably immeasurable.
It is also pertinent to address a perception gap between Jewish men and women in JPR’s survey, where the women surveyed reported higher concerns over rising levels of antisemitic abuse. Where the bottom line of the Jewish community’s safety is not just statistical, but threat perceptions and feelings of security, the intersection of misogyny and antisemitism must be addressed by victim-centred threat reduction measures.
Despite recent attempts to reclaim the term, the ‘Jewess’ remains a shadowy figure seen through a gendered lens, hated by many, and understood by few. Much more must be learned about the diversity of intersections between gender and antisemitism in order to definitively understand the issue, and therefore combat it.