debunking "JAP" is like pulling teeth

February 20, 2007

Interesting stuff happening over at Jewschool – my virtual ears perk up whenever I see a discussion relating to feminism and Jewish women (among other things, of course) in a mainstream-ish Jewish space. The majority of Jewschool’s contributors are men (I get the sense that this is also true for the overwhelming number of commenters). So when I see a post about the reappearance of the word JAP (‘Jewish American Princess’) and why it is incredibly problematic, I start listening.

It started with the linking of some random youtuber’s videos wherein she models various stereotypes – the purpose is beyond me, it’s hard to tell what her point is, whether she’s pointing out how easy these different personalities/stereotypes are to imitate, thus poking holes in their authenticity or just having fun or what. I watched it, I was kind of over it after 10 seconds (wow, you’ve got the JAP stereotype down pat. What are you going to do with that incredible talent?). The weird thing about blogs is that it’s possible she was just having some random fun and decided to post her vids on youtube, but once some blogger picks it up and posts it, suddenly people start theorizing and pontificating about it. But I digress – the discussion was kicked off, and so it (mostly) stops being about random youtuber and starts being about something else.

That was yesterday. Today’s entry was way more interesting. Kol Ra’ash Gadol writes in Can We Please Not Revive That Ugly Stereotype? on the resurfacing of the little nickname that could:

Let’s get at what’s really underlying the stereotype here: there’s an element of self-hatred (I – particularly if I’m a man- can differentiate myself from those Jews, I’m not like them) and there’s an element of misogyny (we know what women are about, don’t we, nudge nudge, wink, wink). But make no mistake, it is not an accident that this stereotype is rearing its ugly head again against not just any women, but Jewish women.

She links to Evelyn Torton Beck’s fantastic 1992 article From ‘Kike to Jap’: How misogyny, anti-semitism, and racism construct the Jewish American Princess. The article, in pretty amazing clarity, asserts why the use of the word JAP (and the normalization of its use) is the result of some combination of self-hatred, anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, and classism, all in one tight little package called JAP. An excerpt:

The woman, the Jewish woman as JAP has replaced the male Jew as the scapegoat, and the Jewish male has not only participated, but has, in fact, been instrumental in creating and perpetuating that image. I want to show how some of the images of Jewish women created in American culture by Jewish men provided the roots of the “Jewish American Princess.”

Jews have been said to be materialistic, money-grabbing, greedy, and ostentatious. Women have been said to be vain, trivial and shallow; they’re only interested in clothing, in show. When you put these together you get the Jewish-woman type who’s only interested in designer clothes and sees her children only as extensions of herself. The Jew has been seen as manipulative, crafty, untrustworthy, unreliable, calculating, controlling, and malevolent. The Jewish Princess is seen as manipulative, particularly of the men in her life, her husband, her boyfriend, her father. And what does she want? Their money! In addition, she’s lazy — she doesn’t work inside or outside the home. She is the female version of the Jew who, according to anti-Semitic lore, is a parasite on society; contradictorily, the Jew has been viewed both as dangerous communist” as well as non-productive “capitalist.”

I highly recommend the entire article for anyone genuinely curious to know why the overly-sensitive feminists get whiplash every time they hear that word. KRG instructs her wise Jewschool readers to check out the article, as it is chock full of useful and enlightening information. Ever the patient and engaged readers, the brilliant comments and questions start pouring in (and all of them, clearly, reflect having read the aforementioned article and having understood the focus of KRG’s argument. Picking up on my sarcasm yet?). These are only as of today, I’m sure that more great ones will roll in tonight/tomorrow:

-Is the JAP unique in the spectrum of Jewish stereotypes?

-i dare you to spend one thursday night standing on ben yehuda street and tell me that this is a stereotype that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

-How do you feel about Sascha Baron Cohen pretending that Jews turn into cockroaches at night? Does that also assert negative Jewish stereotypes, or is it ridiculous enough that he gets a free pass? And finally, if you’re answer is that Cohen is a Jew, and thus has some permission to mock himself (since a Gentile doing the same over-the-top humor wouldn’t get a free pass) isn’t Maya a Jewish woman? Doesn’t she have the right to play with the stereotypes generally applied to her?

-Has the “JAP” stereotype ever included physical ugliness? Maybe at one point, but I think now the stereotype, as included in Escobar’s treatment, is of highly attractive women.

Miss the point much, folks? The discussion then continues to something a bit more substantive, but it stray further and further from the original argument of the post, which included very scary elements like feminism and self-criticism. The point of KRG’s post as well as Beck’s article is that JAP is different, unbelievably more complicated and worthy of some serious unpacking, not to be brushed aside. Certainly if we can’t talk about the misogyny/ racism/ classism, can we at least talk about the internalized anti-Semitism it takes for Jews to call each other such a term? Am I expecting too much if I think a self-proclaimed “progressive Jewish blog” should be able to have a simple feminist discussion? Granted, Jewschool readers do not necessarily equal Jewschool readers who comment on posts. But still. Come, on folks.

How about these questions. How does the JAP stereotype propagate the myth that all Jews are wealthy? What is the damage of such a myth? How does it unquestioningly accept the notion that Jewish women are controlling and manipulative? What lesson are we teaching Jewish girls when their only visible/public image of Jewish women paints them as vain and materialistic? How do we internalize and propagate the stereotype that all (or even most) Jews are rich when half a million Jews in New York City live below the poverty line? And perhaps the underlying question of this post – why are we so afraid to talk about these issues?



  1. Great post! Re: Maya Escobar and her video, she’s actually a performance/video artist of some sort, and her talents go far beyond the JAP stereotype: she also does a religious mother, a hispanic woman, and some others I think. Not sure exactly what the point is but she has a website if you’re curious.

  2. […] Femme to linked my blog . I was s delighted because I secretly thought she disliked me after the JAP fiasco. Interview with Puerto Rican Video Artist Tamara Liz Rivera […]

  3. […] from Salty Femme […]

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