Actress Tracy Ann Oberman sheds light on the dual prejudices she, and many other Jewish women, experience at the hands of both antisemitism and misogyny. What do you think when you hear the words Jewish woman?
What is Misogyny? What does Intersectionality mean?
Misogyny is prejudice, hatred and discrimination against women – similar to sexism. The notion of intersectionality is relatively new to public discourse, but it suggests that different social categories are inter-connected, such as race, class and gender. This means that specific types of discrimination that at first may appear to be separate – such as sexism, homophobia or antisemitism – overlap and reinforce one another, and that we have to acknowledge this in order to confront the roots of social prejudices.
Jewish women are at the intersection of both antisemitism and misogyny, both of which involve the notions of power, control and domination. Jewish women are considered different, forced to place their Jewish identity at the forefront of their activism and commitments, rejected in their identity from the common space. Jewish women’s voices are undermined as Jews when discussing antisemitism, and are attacked as women when defending gender rights. Their voices are being threatened in the public space under this dual attack.
Are there any antisemitic ideas that are specifically targeted towards Jewish women?
Yes – one of the most common antisemitic tropes directed at Jewish women is that of the ‘Jewish Princess’. This image remodels the traditional antisemitic tropes onto a female form: she is materialistic, money-grabbing, manipulative, shallow, crafty and ostentatious.1According to Professor Deborah Lipstadt, the Jewish Princess stereotype “is no less offensive just because the … Jew has been updated and put into a skirt.” 2Nevertheless, this female version of the harmful Jewish stereotype is significantly less challenged and provokes considerably less outrage.
Do Jewish women experience targeted abuse online?
Unfortunately, studies have shown that they do. Women in general are subject to online harassment at an overwhelmingly higher rate than men – a UN Commission in 2015 found that 73% of women surveyed had reported experiencing abuse online, with 18% (around 9 million women) deeming it serious internet violence.3 Fundamentally, the internet has provided new, more opaque channels for perpetrating violence against women and girls.4
This background of online abuse against women coincides with the growing trend of online antisemitism – often placing Jewish women at the forefront of attacks. A report commissioned by the Antisemitism Policy Trust and the Community Security Trust (CST) investigated the neo-Nazi web forum Stormfront, and found that it had over 9,000 threads related to feminism from its inception in 1996. Of those threads, more than 60% mentioned Jews.5 A similar study into the online message board, 4Chan, found that there were, conservatively, 630,000 antisemitic posts in 2015, rising to 1.7 million in 2017. There were 530,000 misogynistic posts in 2015 and 840,000 in 2017. Looking at posts containing both misogyny and antisemitism, there was an 180% increase from 2015 to 2017.
What is the impact of online abuse in the real world?
Antisemitic abuse towards public figures is unfortunately not uncommon. However, there is evidence that female Jewish parliamentarians experience disproportionately high levels of antisemitism, impacting public participation and democracy more widely. The report commissioned by the Antisemitism Policy Trust and CST also found that female Jewish politicians were mentioned 14% more often than male Jewish politicians, and the two Jewish parliamentarians mentioned most on Stormfront since the website’s founding were Rt Hon Dame Margaret Hodge MP and former MP Luciana Berger. Their mentions far exceeded those of former Commons Speaker Rt Hon John Bercow MP and former opposition leader Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, for example, both of whom have Jewish ancestry.6
This online abuse has had direct effects on female Jewish politicians. On 17 April 2018, a general debate on antisemitism took place in the House of Commons, during which female MPs movingly recounted their experiences of antisemitism.7 Luciana Berger spoke of the torrent of antisemitic abuse she had been victim to, the extremity of which is evidenced in the four convictions (including three imprisonments) which were subsequently implemented for the racist abuse directed towards her over many years. Ruth Smeeth MP also emphasised the obscenity of the antisemitic abuse she had been victim to, reading out the gravely abusive tweets she had received, including:
‘The gallows would be a fine and fitting place for this d**e piece of Y*d s**t to swing from.’ 8
Antisemitic abuse towards female public figures is not a new phenomenon, and not only causes psychological distress, but in some cases also inhibits their full democratic freedom. It also acts as a bar to public life for young women and others, put off by the hatred they witness.
Is there anything we can do about this?
In 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, with support from the Antisemitism Policy Trust and the UK Government, hosted the ‘Sara Conference’. The aims of the event were to increase awareness of the issues at hand through examining the intersectionality of misogyny and antisemitism. The conference called on individuals, groups and governments to refuse to engage in abuse, set appropriate rules or standards, to educate and expose to those levelling abuse why they are wrong. The Sara Conference was the beginning of a conversation and there must now be a consistent effort to mainstream concerns about gendered antisemitic abuse, holding governments and also social media platforms to account. Consultations about updating the law in Britain, to take account of intersectionality, are ongoing.