As a counterpart to interfaith dreamboat Paul Newman, consider Scarlett Johansson. Unfortunately, an outrageously sexist and objectifying piece about her appears in today’s New York Times Style Magazine. It’s about the only section of the NYT I don’t read. Luckily, my husband was perusing it for some reason and alerted me to the religion reference. “What?” I asked, my antennae shooting up. “Why are they talking about her interfaith status in a fashion magazine?”
It took me a while to page through the glossy, saturated mix of indistinguishable ads and editorial to find the little column about Johansson. And it took me a while to find the religion reference, because I came to a complete standstill after almost every sentence. The author manages to compare Johansson to a headless fertility statue, drool over her curves and “pubescent lips,” and impugn her intelligence and convictions.
Finally, I found this: “…Johansson’s physiognomy seems to combine two countervailing materials: strong Semite (her mother is Jewish) and etiolated Northern European (her father was born in Denmark).” Etiolated means pale–as in a plant deprived of light. So it connotes feebleness, weakness–not very nice to the Danes. In this context, we have to then also question the characterization of Semites as “strong.” Strong how exactly? I shudder to think what was on the author’s mind.
In essence, the piece promotes Johansson as an example of the “hybrid vigor creates more beautiful children” theory. According to this thinking, genetic mixing creates greater facial symmetry–and humans perceive symmetry as beautiful. The social science behind this theory is shaky, beauty being notoriously subjective and laden with social constructs. Given the context in such an apalling and superficial story, the reference to Johansson’s ancestry makes me queasy. She’s not a hybridized plant. She’s a talented actress, she is in fact gorgeous, and I’m happy to claim her as a fellow interfaith child. I’m just sorry that this reference to her interfaith heritage is embedded in such a snarky and salacious context.