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Sex and Difference in the Jewish American Family: Incest Narratives in 1990s Literary and Pop Culture

My dissertation investigates protective representations of white male Jewish masculinity in the 1990s, via the lens of celebrity incest narratives. In chapters on Woody Allen, Roseanne Barr, and Henry Roth, I demonstrate how media coverage of their respective incest denials (Allen), allegations (Barr), and confessions (Roth) intersect with a history of sexual anti-Semitism. Though prevalent in nineteenth century Europe, sexual anti-Semitism, which simultaneously emasculated Jewish men and rendered them as sexual threats, no longer permeates discourse in the same fashion as the sexualizing component of antiblack racism. I examine how these iconic Jewish artists, news media, and artistic contemporaries, negotiated the hidden, but never absent specter of Jewish male incestuous pedophile in telling these stories. The project intervenes in gender and sexuality studies and ethnic studies by arguing that the particular histories of white ethnic groups, in this case Ashkenazi Jews, informs the manner in which contemporary white privilege operates discursively. The project reveals the community protective patriarchal politics that define “Jewish” interests in a narrow, gendered fashion that dismisses female Jewish (and non-Jewish) accounts of abuse, instead obeying an imperative to deny anti-Semitic stereotypes, even when individual instances demand confirmation. Furthermore, the project proposes that this Jewish community protective politics falls within a broader category of white male class interests, and serves a demonstrable purpose: helping construct a white masculinity that subtly incorporates and champions Jewish male historical vulnerability in order to reconstitute white male American identity as similarly vulnerable and sympathetic in the face of allegations of sexual transgression.
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