In her work Gender Roles and Women’s “Window of Opportunity,” Iris Parush discusses the gendered structure of Jewish society in nineteenth century Eastern Europe. There, men were focused on spiritual endeavors, which left the work of home-keeping to their wives. Due to different educational backgrounds, only women had the foreign language skills that enabled them to work with non-Jewish customers. As a result, they had a greater impact on the surrounding society, and the phenomenon of women as breadwinners permeated their neighboring cultures. Both by their status as the family’s breadwinner and through their impact in the public sphere, Jewish women in this period inhabited hyper-masculine roles in society.
Parush also explores the trope of reversed gender roles in the context of maskilic literature, which positions the husband as unproductive and the wife as the “optimally positioned figure” in society. This situation is ironic and comical, but more importantly it’s based on on the presumption of certain stereotypes of masculinity and femininity; the roles are simply reversed. The prevalence of this phenomenon in maskilic literature gave exposure to the idea of reversed gender roles, however comical it was meant to be.
Expression through writing – especially through poetry – is emotional, and therefore feminine (according to normative associations of gender roles). Jewish women’s position as breadwinner in Eastern Europe and the exposure in maskilic literature to reversed gender roles combined to make writing – a field only occupied by men for a long period of time - gradually more accessible for women. They could access the emotional element, and were simply reclaiming what was ‘naturally’ theirs. Of course, women entering the realm of writing was not a simple feat, but these two phenomena of exposure to masculinized women helped them through the fight for recognition. Consequently, women’s writing is inherently wrapped up in the themes of reversed gender roles.
Parush, Iris. “Gender Roles and Women’s “Window of Opportunity”.” Reading Jewish women: marginality and modernization in nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewish society. Waltham, Mass.: Brandeis University Press ;, 2004. 38-56. Print.