In Israel, Middle Eastern women are read as more “traditional” than European women. Yet life-story interviews conducted for this article reveal that elderly Polish Jewish women self-present as traditionally feminine—emphasizing home-centeredness, passivity, modesty, self-sacrifice, and delicateness—in ways a matched group of Iraqis do not. The article shows that these presentations are a by-product of how Poles assert Western identity. They claim Westernness by emphasizing continuity between their current behaviors and ideals and those they were taught in upper-class 1930s Europe, including feminine ideals. They see these behaviors as European and are inattentive to potential links with traditionalism. The discussion focuses on this finding in light of arguments that for women classified as Western, being on the “liberated” side of Orientalist contrasts can render gender invisible, enabling reproduction of gender inequality.

You do not currently have access to this content.