On Sunday September 22nd, 2019, the Primetime Emmys Awards took place. I did not watch the ceremony. I did not know that it was happening that night and I do not know how the awards work. Frankly, I do not care about the Emmys. As I was about to login to my email account, the word “Holocaust” caught my eye in one of the news headlines on the email server’s home page. I glanced at the full headline and clicked to read more. The link took me to a video of Alex Borstein’s Emmy Award acceptance speech for her role as best supporting actress in the series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. To be honest, I have never seen the show, nor had I ever heard of the actress until I saw the clip. For the next week, her speech flooded my Facebook feed, which prompted me to write this response.
Borstein started off her speech by dedicating her award “to the strength of a woman,” to Amy Sherman-Palladino (the creator of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), to the female cast members and crew of the show, and to her mother and grandmother, who are both Holocaust survivors. She continued by stating that during the Holocaust, her “grandmother turned to a guard. She was in line to be shot into a pit and she said, ‘What happens if I step out of line?’ He said, ‘I don’t have the heart to shoot you, but somebody will’ and she stepped out of line and for that I am here, and my children are here. So, step out of line ladies! Step out of line!”
Her comment really rubbed me the wrong way. I think it is great that she is remembering the Holocaust and bringing attention to it, especially in this ignorant world. Furthermore, it is beautiful, in my opinion, that she chose to honour her Holocaust survivor mother and grandmother. She clearly respects them. I take major issue with her speech, though, in two senses.
The first issue is that Borstein uses the Holocaust to advance her own feminist agenda. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying her agenda isn’t virtuous, but it is inappropriate to use the Holocaust to advance one’s own political or ideological views, especially in such a public forum. No matter how good or bad the agenda might be, it is not appropriate to use the murder of millions of individuals to promote it. Borstein’s speech reminds me of an assignment that I had while I was pursuing my BA. I was asked to write a short response piece on whether there was gender equality in the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust as portrayed in a source the class was required to read. Really?! Instead of properly answering the question, I wrote a rant explaining why the question was absurd. When people are fighting for their very lives, they do not care about gender equality. They had much more to worry about during the Holocaust, don’t you think? This brings me to the second issue with Borstein’s speech.
The second problem I noticed in the speech is that, without straightforwardly saying so, Borstein compares her grandmother’s Holocaust experience to contemporary women’s experiences. This is completely ludicrous. Borstein’s grandmother had nothing to lose by stepping out of line. She was as good as dead by speaking up to the guard. By what I can only think of as a miracle, he did not shoot her. The vast majority of women in the Western world today, the same women who Borstein was addressing, are not facing challenges even remotely similar to those that took place in the Holocaust. There is zero comparison between the experiences of the average woman today and the experiences of Borstein’s grandmother. To equate the two is to belittle the grandmother’s experiences and the Holocaust in general. The hashtag, “#Stepoutofline,” which has arisen as a result of Borstein’s comment is merely another method of Holocaust belittling.
Yes, it is possible that Borstein’s grandmother told Borstein this story with the goal of giving over a feminist message. Her grandmother has the right to take whatever message she wishes to glean from her own horrific experiences. Borstein, though, did not state that her grandmother held this feminist view stemming from her experiences and therefore this implies that the view was Borstein’s own. Borstein could have simply stated that she was grateful for the step her grandmother made in defying the guard as it paved the way for Borstein’s and her children’s lives. This comment would have perpetuated the memory of the Holocaust as well as honoured her grandmother, without twisting the events of the Holocaust for her personal agenda and comparing the incomparable. Congratulations to Alex Borstein on receiving an Emmy, but her comment is downright “out of line.”