Gender, sexuality and Judaism played key roles in the emergence of the new woman in the 20th century. Jonathan Freedman, the author of the book “Transformations of a Jewish Princess” gives an interrelationship between these concepts as the New Woman emerged in the 20th century. He uses the play Salome which was played in 1908 by Fanny Price to illustrate how the New Jewish Woman emerged. Salome became a famous dance for women which reflected the behaviour of a new woman. In his book, Freedman illustrates the transformation of American culture and society in terms of gender and sexuality. According to Freedman, gender and sexuality was intended to “display and consume the orientalized female body” pg 91.
The Salome dance which was sexual in most aspects was mainly associated with females; hence showing that the idea of sexuality was mainly focused on the New Woman. The New Woman took the position of a sexual object. Dramas of female ethnic passing as seen through Salome performance signified a mark of identity for gender. Freedman also argues that the female body is capable of giving pleasure to and taking pleasure from men. This sexual orientation branded on women indicates that gender and sexuality is an important aspect that defines the new woman. Orientalism, dance and fashion are the three issues that define women and their sexuality (Freedman n.d.). The new woman uses fashion, dance and orientalism to evoke pleasure and sexual desire from men, and that explains the role of the new woman.
Judaism is also said to be associated with the new woman. First, the Salome dance which was cherished so much by the Jews was performed in a biblical context. The enthusiasm of the Jews about the Salome dance is mainly due to the Judaism aspect of the dance. Jews would watch the dance in order to enjoy the decapitation of the Christian Saint. Therefore, the use of Salome dance, which is a sexual women dance, shows that Judaism is also linked to sexuality and gender in the emergence of the New Woman.
Jewish femininity was very appealing to the Jews during the emergence of the new woman in the 20th century. It enabled them to come out of their traditional roles and Jewish constructions. Salome paintings were produced several times and in several styles in the 20th century. In each of the painting, Jewish feminism and sexuality were clearly demonstrated. This indicates that Judaism, gender and sexuality formed a good basis of the emergence of the New Woman in the 20th century. The new woman emerged from what the society painted due to the Salome dance.
Sexuality and gender was even clearer when Salome was painted in such a way that she was a slender adolescent. This transformed the girl, so did the Jewish society, into a model of female beauty who is different from the Jewish woman of the past. This marked the beginning of an era of the New Woman. Various qualities were also branded on the Jewish women. Such qualities described them as sexual. They include: thinness, leanness and girlishness. These are the main qualities that shaped the views of Jewish society on gender and sexuality. They define the New Woman.
However, whether a person is thin or not meant a different think in Judaism. The Jewish Christian society considered a thin person as sick, diseased or malnourished. Therefore, Judaism differed from the view of gender and sexuality as posed by the New Woman. According to Judaism, Jewish feminism is determined by other factors but not thinness. However, the new woman of the 20th century identified her Jewishness and thinness as key aspects of her feminism.
The self-representation and publicity of a Jewish woman were also important manifestation of their feminism. The New Woman may use her feminism which apparently publicizes and represents them to lead her people to Judaism. Publicity also gave the new woman a chance to appear in the media. Demonstrating their feminism and thinness in the media, women are able to attract attention. Therefore, gender and sexuality plays a crucial role in defining the New Woman of the 19th century.
The book “Sexual Anarchy” by Elaine Showalter also demonstrates the relationship between sexuality, gender and the New Woman in the 19th century. Showalter suggests that the new woman demonstrates a turn of events from a traditional woman whose life was dedicated to marriage to a new woman who seeks opportunities through self-development outside marriage. The book describes the new woman as someone who has gone out of her way to seek self-development through participation in labor, education, and politics (Showalter n.d). As a result, the theme marriage for the New Woman has vanished. This indicates that Showalter seems to show the tradeoffs between Judaism, sexuality, and the New Woman. This book demonstrates a different perspective of the New Woman from the perspective of Freedman.
It is clear from this discussion that there are two perspectives of the New Woman. Showalter demonstrates that there is no relationship between gender, sexuality and the New Woman. On the other hand, Freedman suggests that the three concepts are related. Freedman observes that the New Women use their sexuality to appeal men while Showalter says that the New Woman pursues self-development without seeking to appeal men.