- “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs by Tahneer Oksman
Tahneer Oksman’s book “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?”: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs provides a valuable analysis of how seven women graphic memoirists—Aline Kominsky Crumb, Vanessa Davis, Miss Lasko-Gross, Lauren Weinstein, Sarah Glidden, Miriam Libicki, and Liana Finck—arrive at their own individuality as women and as Jews through “dis-affiliation” (as Oksman describes) or distancing themselves from common ideas about Jewish American women’s ethnic/religious affiliation and then finding, or at least searching for, their highly individual understandings of that affiliation (p. 2). Oksman sees Jewish women’s identification with being Jewish in America today as more fluid than in the past, when immigration, anti-Semitism, and religious participation were more certain factors in defining Jewish identity. She also claims that, despite these changes, women continue to be marginalized in contemporary Jewish American culture, a position that influences issues of Jewish and feminine identity. While it is possible to argue with some of Oksman’s conclusions, she has performed a valuable service by showing how each one of these seven creators goes beyond stereotypes and standard expectations to define herself as a unique person, arriving at what she sees as a postmodern understanding of Jewish American female identity. Moreover, Oksman takes into full account the graphic genre of these memoirs, providing detailed and insightful analyses of their artwork in support of her discussion. [End Page 546]
Oksman starts her discussion with the work of Kominsky Crumb, who portrays herself both as an “insider and outsider Jew” (p. 52). For Kominsky Crumb, Jewish identity is both “inherited and chosen” (p. 44). By representing herself and her mother in stereotypical ways, Kominsky Crumb shows her awareness of how Jewish women are usually portrayed and goes beyond these images to find her own identity, all the while grappling with “what it means to be a contemporary secular Jew in America” (p. 44). Oksman analyzes Kominsky Crumb’s use of photographs as well as drawings to depict herself, finding that this spectrum of self-representation affords Kominsky Crumb a chance to display the external aspects of her character as well as to move toward defining her true inner self in her drawings.
Alternatively, as Oksman argues, Davis, creator of Make Me a Woman (2010), reveals a rootlessness rather than a fear of stereotypes with regard to her Jewish and female identity. As a single woman, she explores what it is like to date a Jew, a non-Jew, and an Israeli, always keeping in mind the question of what it means to choose one identity over another. She struggles to find herself as a Jew, a woman, and a conflicted resident of the East Coast, where she was born, versus the West Coast, where she moves and has difficulty fitting in. Her use of the diary format, according to Oksman, enables her to record public and private events and details, thus producing a complex reality that examines the way in which the past influences the present. However conflicted Davis may be in terms of personal issues, it is mostly in her role as an artist that Davis finds her true identity and stability.
Lasko-Gross’s semi-autobiographical graphic narratives, including Escape from “Special” (2006) and A Mess of Everything (2009), question how her protagonist Melissa’s attitudes towards Jewishness, even when unstressed, often result in her feeling like an outsider in both Jewish society and society as a whole. The works are suitable for adolescents as well as adults since Melissa is portrayed as a child, a young girl, and a teenager. Oksman explores Lasko-Gross’s talent for bringing out meaning through her drawings. Like Lasko-Gross, Weinstein is interested in the contrast between public and private lives and identities, and her work addresses the ways in which being...