I don’t know if editors are supposed to be unbiased and treat each piece in their books like their babies (as in, “I can’t choose which I love best!”) but if that’s a rule, I’m breaking it. I totally fell for Rachel Shukert‘s “Big Mouth Strikes Again: An Oral Report” when I read it in Heeb. In part, yes, because I’m a Jewish girl who likes giving blowjobs and got her start in the erotica world with a fantasy piece about Monica Lewinsky (“Monica and Me”). But it really won me over because it unpacked a huge stereotype, but didn’t just set about debunking it. Rachel went after the truth behind the stereotype and along the way tackled some uglier stereotypes than Jewish girls just liking cocks in their mouths. She looks at JAPs and Monica and food and family and the ways these all get tangled together. Because I believe that sex is not just about sex; that is perhaps the true point of Best Sex Writing 2008. That sex is about sex and so much more; it’s about identity and safety and love and comfort and pride and on and on, and Rachel did such a wonderful, witty job of tackling her topic. Plus, come on, she sent me the above photo of her with a giant penis that she said “seems appropriate” to illustrate our interview! LOVE her, and I hope you will to.
And…you can come see and hear us read this very Tuesday, January 22nd, 7 – 9 pm at Rapture Cafe, 200 Avenue A, between 12th and 13th. It’s free and, for those who have oral fixations, there will not be penises to suck (well, if there are, that’s your business), but there will be peanut butter chocolate and strawberry cream cheese mini cupcakes from Kumquat Cupcakery, perhaps the next best thing.
Rachel Shukert is a playwright and author based in New York City. Her plays include Bloody Mary (NYIT Award nominee), The Red Beard of Esau, Sequins for Satan, The Blackstone Hotel and Soiled Linens, and have been produced and developed by Ars Nova, the Williamstown Theater Festival, the Culture Project, the Ontological/Hysteric, the EVOLVE series at Galapagos, and the Omaha Lit Fest, among others.
Rachel is also a regular contributor to Nerve.com. She has also contributed to Heeb magazine, McSweeney’s, Babble, Culturebot, and Critical Moment. Her upcoming collection of essays, Have You No Shame? will be published by Random House/Villard in the spring of 2008. Rachel holds a BFA from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. www.rachelshukert.com
What was the genesis for your piece on Jewish women and blowjobs? What were your ideas about Jewish women and blowjobs going into it and how did they change once you were done?
Well, I felt so much had been written about Jewish male sexuality, (we can all picture scenes from “Portnoy’s Complaint,” et al., of some weird-looking little boy masturbating furiously, lusting after tall blond shikeas, etc.) and traditionally, that had left Jewish women sort of sexless–as either mother figures, or obnoxious harridans, or at best, entitled JAPs who only care about money and status. This is something that bothers me very, very much, and I felt that Jewish men have really had a large part in disseminating those stereotypes, in books, and especially in Hollywood, where you see these very stereotypically Jewish men scoring with hot, WASPy chicks constantly, and Jewish women are never, ever part of the equation. Which is funny to me, because there are more hot Jewish leading ladies now than maybe ever before–Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johanssen, Sarah Michelle Geller, Rachel Bilson–but they never play Jewish characters.
There’s this idea that Jewishness is sexiness in guys but a liability in girls. Yet, the tide is hugely changing, in that there’s been an explosion in the past several years of Jewish women emerging at the forefront of movements about sexuality–you, for instance. So I wanted to find something very, very specific to research that would address some of these cultural myths, and Josh (Neuman, the publisher of Heeb, where the story appeared) and I remembered all those dirty Catskills era sort of jokes about Jewish women being frigid, especially where blowjobs were concerned, and I remembered growing up how people always joked about Jewish women loving to give head, and being great at it, and then Monica Lewinsky entered the collective unconscious and Jewish women and blowjobs became kind of inextricably linked for a generation, at least.
How did you figure out who you’d include in the piece? Did people say, “Go talk to her – she’s a blowjob queen?”
Ha. Originally, I wanted to talk to girls in high school, who were active in Jewish youth groups, etc., but that didn’t really work out–I spoke to one or two, but for the most part, they were very, very uncomfortable talking to me, as I think I would have been at that age. To my surprise, they really saw me as an adult, which is a big division to overcome. And you don’t have much perspective on sex, at that age, obviously–with very few exceptions, you’re just trying to wrap your head around and make sure not too many people (or only the right people) find out what you’re doing–which would be the opposite of being in a magazine story.
So I switched my focus, and started thinking about who I wanted to talk to, and yes, asking around. One of my colleagues had interviewed Miki before for an article, and knew she was Jewish–I don’t know if he knew she had once been ultra-Orthodox, but she told me that in the interview and that was obviously extremely compelling, and I really wanted the point of view of a professional–who could really keep feelings out of it and look at the act in a very clinical, very objective way.
I really wanted to talk to a non-Jewish girl, just to turn the tables a little bit, see what it was like from the other side, and Kristina Grish wrote the book (Boy Vey! The Shiksa’s Guide to Dating Jewish Men). And I wanted to talk to a Jewish woman at the forefront of the sex-positive, educational movement, so I talked to Jamye Waxman, who gives seminars and classes on oral sex, etc., and she took me to what was kind of the Holy Grail for this story–she was giving a blow job class to a bachelorette party of Jewish girls from Long Island, and that experience really turned a lot of my hypotheses around. But basically, I decided I wanted to talk to people who would really have some perspective and point of view on this issue, who’d though a lot about it, and wouldn’t just be “My boyfriend says I give good head, I guess,” you know? I think I wound up getting some of the best of all worlds.
I thought the connection between Jewish women using their mouths for eating and for cocksucking was a very interesting one. Do you think they’re related, both in the mythology of the oral-obsessed Jewish woman and in actuality?
I think it’s a question of appetite and consumption, and not being squeamish, you know? A story just popped into my mind when you read this question–I was a debutante in Nebraska where I grew up, and I remember going to the mother-daughter debutante tea at a country club. The food was terrible–like this horrible pasta salad, and lettuce, and some lemon thing for dessert (like why bother, right?) but I remember noticing that my mother and I were the only ones who ate anything. We were hungry, it was lunchtime. And it wasn’t like we were fatter or had worse manners or anything, it was just a very cultural thing–that culture still exists I guess, where it’s very not done for a woman to be seen eating much of anything in public. And it’s completely because of other women–there were no men there at all.
So I don’t know. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that if you eat like a pig, that must mean you’re great in bed, but I think there’s some kind of link. I think it’s appetite, and more than that, it’s a kind self-determination that Jewish women have, which I think we actually acquired from never being part of high society, from never really being seen by men as these kind of dainty flowers. It’s the kind of self-determination that’s like, if I’m hungry, I’ll eat. If I want to suck your cock, I’ll suck your cock; and conversely, at the other extreme, if I don’t want to suck your cock, I won’t, you can’t pressure me, I’ll do what I want to do. And I do think there’s an oral component, but some of it has to do with speaking up for yourself, which is something Jewish women traditionally don’t have a problem with. And food is a very important part of Jewish culture, and this constant urging from maternal figures to “Eat! Eat!” So I’m sure there’s some subliminal messaging there, and you know what? It does feel nice to have something in your mouth.
What kind of reaction did you receive to it, both from men and women, and Jews and non-Jews?
Hmm. Positive, for the most part. I think a lot of people were disarmed by the humor in it. A lot of non-Jewish girls came up to me and told me how true it was, how their Jewish boyfriends always told them that the girls they went to camp with gave better head, etc. A lot of people really responded to the characterization in the story. A few Jews had some problems with it–but that’s how it always is. My parents were proud, as always.
Why do you think the stereotypes about Jewish women and sex are so pervasive? What do you make of the contrast between the older stereotype of the frigid Jewish woman vs. the newer one of the oversexed one?
Well, I think it’s important to stress that most of the factors in the culture that have made Jewish women seem unattractive–whether it’s being frigid, or physically unappealing, demanding, spoiled, etc.–have been created by Jewish men. Now, I love Jewish men. The men I love most in the world–my husband, my father, my grandfather–are Jewish men. But it’s not Gentiles who invented the “shikse goddess” or wrote all the JAP jokes. Who knows why? Frustration, mostly, I think. All that self-loathing and insecurity.
I’m going to speak in incredible generalizations here for a minute, so just bear with me. I think that Jewish men in the past 30 or 40 years have been extremely invested in making themselves sexy and attractive to the culture-at-large–and they are, they seem smart, sensitive, generous, etc. But with it comes this sense of fear, this kind of atavistic fear, I think, that at any moment they’ll be found out. And if anyone can call a Jewish man on his bullshit, it’s a Jewish woman. So they rationalize why they shouldn’t be involved with Jewish girls–all of these reasons. Jewish women are left open to constant criticism. And since Jews have been such an intrinsic part of popular culture, all this stuff disseminates and becomes conventional wisdom.
Now, I think this is changing, hugely. I think Jews have become more and more of an accepted part of mainstream culture, and this generation of Jewish men are more comfortable with themselves than ever before, and no longer feel like they’re straddling two worlds and trying to leave one of them behind. They can look on their Jewishness as something comforting instead of something constricting. But in the meantime, I think Jewish women have been like, “You know what? We’re sick of waiting for you,” and started on their own project of who they are, which is extremely interesting. And that’s what’s ascendant right now, I believe, which is very exciting for me. So that’s the split, I think, that the old Jewish stereotypes were disseminated by men, and the new ones by women. And the mainstream picking up on it.
If Jewish women are supposed to be good at giving blowjobs, does that extend into other areas of sex as well, or did you find that most of the stereotype is about oral sex?
I think most of the stereotype, at least in the research I did for this article, dealt with oral sex, but look. Jews, for all our troubles, are remarkably un-fucked up about sex. There’s not a lot of shame or guilt about it; “purity” in the creepy, virginity pledge way, is not a part of our doctrine. Our religious leaders mostly stay out of it. You won’t find a lot of Jews, not mainstream Jews, in the abstinence only movement. Dirty jokes and earthy humor were a part of Yiddish culture for hundreds of years. And that translates into a pretty healthy sex life, I think–and by healthy I don’t mean necessarily frequent, but not fraught.
What are you working on now?
Well, I’m glad you asked me that, Rachel! My book, Have You No Shame?, a memoir/essay collection is coming out at the end of April from Random House/Villard. It’s my first book and I’m tremendously excited, and I hope everyone will read it and like it but mostly that they will buy it! I’m also shopping my next book, which is a follow-up to the first one about my time living in Europe, working on a couple of new plays that will probably go up this summer, and some collaborations with exciting people that it’s probably too soon to talk about, but look for them soon.