Friday, 27 July 2007

Israeli Novel, The New Yorker's July 30 cover, and girls

The New Yorker cover this week shows three young women sitting on the subway, one in a burka, one in a nun’s habit and one—in the middle—in sunglasses and a bikini. “Girls Will Be Girls” is the title of the painting by Anita Kunz, and as I looked at it I kept thinking of the strange little novel I’d just finished, Persian Brides by the Israeli writer Dorit Rabinyan. (It’s translated from the Hebrew by Yael Lotan.)

The book takes place, apparently, in the early part of the 20th century in a small town in Iran. The main characters are women in a Jewish family, who spend a good deal of their time worrying about whom they will marry or where their husbands are. It’s only until the reader is well into the book that it becomes clear that these women are really just little girls who are being pushed into marriage and childbearing when they are barely pubescent.

I found the book deeply disturbing even though it seems to be intended to be part comedy, part fable. Flora or Nazie, the Persian brides in question, consider themselves old maids if they are not married at 12 or 14. They are being kept ignorant by their society, which is depicted as being clumsily backward and ridiculous. They—along with their Muslim neighbors—are victims although I have yet to read a review of the book in which anyone points this out.

Unfortunately there are many correspondances between these girls and the highly sexualized pre-teens you see today at the mall. Ask the Persian brides if they’d like a longer childhood, and they’d say no. So would the slight (or pudgy) mall rats in tank tops and short shorts, teetering on platform sandals and clutching cell phones. To be other than what they are would be boring, they can’t wait to grow up, they WON’T wait to grow up. It’s a dangerous situation, and one which the American Psychological Association has recently detailed in a report, calling for a number of measures to counter it,.

Yes, girls will be girls, but in the way that their society dictates. We should not be so culture-bound that we can’t see what is going on here or refuse to recognize its kinship to behavior elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

I also found that image haunting and so searched google blogs to see what people were saying ... leading me here! :-)

Do I understand your take correctly, that you see these as three examples of women being infantilized by three different cultures in three different ways?

Mary Soderstrom said...

Yes, that's more or less what I think, although infantilize is perhaps not the word I'd use. Groups, for many and varied reasons, socialize their members to different standards. Before we criticize another group's norms, we should realize that we're doing it too.


Anonymous said...

I believe that the cover is an insult to women and to catholic women in particular.

A young woman in the center is wearing the clothes she picked out of the closet that morning
she is free to chose her life
narcicistic materialistic not very modest but she chose it.

The lady in the nuns habit wears the clothes she chose some time ago she wears the habit to show a life devoted to faith and service to others.

Both of these women in our society could exchange these clothes anytime they wanted to they are living lives of choice.

The woman is the burka is wearing the closes hear family her husband and her religion demand she did not chose them she did not even have a choice. were this woman to take these clothes off in her own country or society she could risk stoning.

These women are not the same and any attempt to seat them on the same level is insane.

Anonymous said...

"The woman is the burka is wearing the closes hear family her husband and her religion demand she did not chose them she did not even have a choice. "
Could the nun have chosen to become a nun because of some unfortunate event in her life and not because she grew up wanting to become one?
Could the girl in the middle be more of a catholic in her heart than the nun?
Did you ever talk to a woman in burka? Found out what her parents said? Could she have chosen this for herself? Which religious sector does she belong to which had her wear this?

Please, please, please. Don't go around throwing opinions as facts.