The stereotyping of the Jewish American woman as the JAP, which stands for Jewish American Princess, is an insult, an injury, and violence that is done to Jewish women. The term is used widely by both men and women, by both Jews and non-Jews. When gentiles use it, it is a form of anti-Semitism. When Jews use it, it is a form of self-hating or internalized anti-Semitism. It is a way of thinking that allows some Jewish women to harm other Jewish women who are just like them except for the fact that one is okay -- she's not a JAP. The other is not okay -- she's too JAPie. The seriousness of this term becomes evident when we substitute the words "too Jewish" for "too JAPie," and feel ourselves becoming considerably less comfortable.
When I speak on college campuses, young women frequently tell me that when someone calls them a Jew they are insulted because they know it's being said with a kind of hostility, but if someone calls them a JAP they don't mind because they frequently use this term themselves. They think the "J" in JAP really doesn't mean anything -- it's just there. While everyone seems to know what the characteristics of a "Jewish American Princess" are, no one ever seems to think about what they are saying when they use the term. How is it that you don't have to be Jewish to be a JAP? If this is so, why is the word "Jewish" in the acronym at all? Words are not meaningless unless we choose to close our ears and pretend not to hear.
This subject is frequently trivialized, but when it is not, when we take it seriously, it makes us extremely tense. Why is that? I think it's because it takes us into several "war zones." It brings us in touch with Jew-hating, or anti-Semitism. It brings us in touch with misogyny, or woman-hating. And it brings us in touch with class-hatred, old money vs. nouveau riche. (Jews have classically been seen as intruders in the United States and have been resented for "making it.") It also puts us strongly in touch with racism. It is no accident that the acronym JAP is also the word used for our worst enemies in World War II -- who were known as "the Japs." During World War II, posters and slogans saying "Kill Japs" were everywhere. It was a period in which slang terms were readily used in a pejorative way to identify many different minorities: "Japs," "Kikes," "Spics," "Wops," "Chinks" were commonplace terms used unthinkingly. And women were and, unfortunately, still are -- easily named "bitches," "sluts," and "cunts."
In such a climate, negative stereotypes easily overlap and elide. For example, in the popular imagination, Jews, "Japs," women and homosexuals have all been viewed as devious, unreliable, and power hungry. What has happened in the decades following World War II is that the "Japs," whom we de-humanized when we dropped our atom bomb on them, have subliminally merged in the popular imagination with "kikes" and other foreign undesirables. (The fact that in the 1980s Japan poses a serious economic threat to the United States should not be overlooked either.) While efforts to eradicate slurs against ethnic minorities have made it not okay to use explicitly ethnic epithets, women still provide an acceptable target, especially when the misogyny is disguised as supposedly "good-natured" humor. In this insidious and circuitous way, the Jewish American woman carries the stigmas of the "kikes" and "Japs" of a previous era. And that is very serious.
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." But first I want to provide a context for understanding the development of this image. I want to look at anti-Semitism in the United States, and at misogyny, and show how the merging of anti-Semitism and misogyny creates the Jewish American Princess.
Between 1986 and 1987 there was a 17 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in this country. Of these incidents, 48 percent occurred in the Northeast, and the highest rates of increase were in New York State; California, particularly Los Angeles; and Florida. These are all areas where there are high concentrations of Jews. On November 9 and 10, 1987, the anniversary
the Night of Broken Crystal, when Goebbels staged a mass 64 spontaneous
pogrom" in Austria and Germany in 1938, swastikas were painted on entrances
to synagogues in a number of different cities in the United States: Chicago,
Yonkers, and others dotted across the country. Windows were smashed --
not simply of Jewish-owned stores, but of identifiably Jewish businesses
such as kosher meat markets, a kosher fish store, a Jewish book store --
in five different neighborhoods, particularly in a Chicago suburb largely
populated by Holocaust survivors. Having grown up in Vienna and having
lived under the Nazis, the horror of that night resonated for me in a way
that it might not for those who are much younger. But that, these pogrom-like
episodes happened on the eve of Kristalnacbt cannot have been an
accident, and the timing of these incidents
should not be lost upon us.
In response to these attacks many members of the Jewish community wanted to hide the facts, and one member of the Jewish community in Chicago actually said, "The swastikas could have meant general white supremacy; they were not necessarily aimed at Jews." They just "happened" to be placed on synagogues, right? In the same way, it just "happens" that the word "Jewish" is lodged in the very negative image of this hideous creature known as the Jewish American Princess. Anyone who is aware of Jewish history and knows about the ridicule, defamation, and violence to which Jews have been subject will not be able to write this off so easily.
The Jewish American Princess phenomenon is not new; I (as well as other Jewish feminists) have been talking about it for at least ten years now, but only recently has it been given wide public attention. One reason for this is that it is beginning to be seen in the light of increased anti-Semitism and racism, particularly on college campuses. Dr. Gary Spencer, who is a male professor of sociology at Syracuse University (and it is unfortunate that his being male gives him credibility over women saying the same things) closely examined the library and bathroom graffiti of his school and interviewed hundreds of students on his campus and has concluded that "JAP"-baiting is widespread, virulent, and threatening to all Jews, not "just"Jewish women (which we gather might have been okay or certainly considerably less serious).
Spencer discovered that nasty comments about "JAPS" led to more generally anti-Semitic graffiti that said among other slogans, "Hitler was right!" "Give Hitler a second chance!" and "I hate Jews." He also discovered that there were certain places in which Jewish women --JAPS -- were not welcome: for example, certain cafes where Jewish women were hassled if they entered. He also found that certain areas of the University were considered "JAP-free zones" and other areas (particular dorms) that were called "Jew havens." At The American University in Washington, D.C., largely Jewish residence halls are called "Tokyo Towers," making the racial overtones of "JAP" explicit. But let the parallels to Nazi occupied Europe not be lost upon us. Under the Nazis, movements of Jews were sharply restricted: there were many areas which Jews could not enter, and others (like ghettos and concentration camps) that they could not leave.
What I want to do now is to show how characteristics that have historically been attributed to Jews, primarily Jewish men, have been reinterpreted in terms of women: how misogyny combined with Jew-hating creates the Jewish American Princess. And I want you to remember that Jewish men have not only participated in this trashing, but they have not protected Jewish women when other men and women have talked about "JAPS" in this way. And this fact, I think, has made this an arena into which anyone can step-an arena that becomes a minefield when Jews step into it.
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 lazay -- 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." The cartoon vision of the Jewish American Princess is someone who sucks men dry: she is an "unnatural mother" who refuses to nurture her children (the very opposite of the "Jewish mother" whose willingness to martyr herself makes her ludicrous). And she doesn't "put out" except in return for goods; she isn't really interested in either sexuality or lovingness. We live in a world climate and culture in which materialism is rampant, and Jewish women are taking the rap for it. The irony is they are taking the rap from non-Jews and Jewish men alike -- even from some Jewish women.
Another way in which Jewish women are carrying the anti-Semitism that was directed in previous eras at Jewish men is in the arena of sexuality. Jews have been said to be sexually strange, exotic. There are many stereotypes of Jewish men as lechers. The Jewish American Princess is portrayed as both sexually frigid (withholding) and as a nymphomaniac. Here we again see the familiar anti-Semitic figure of the Jew as controlling and insatiably greedy, always wanting more, combining with the misogynist stereotype of the insatiable woman, the woman who is infinitely orgasmic, who will destroy men with her desire. Like the Jew of old, the Jewish woman will suck men dry. But she is worse than "the Jew" --she will also turn on her own kind.
There are physical stereotypes as well: the Jew with the big hook nose, thick lips, and frizzy hair. The Jewish American Princess has had a nose job and her hair has been straightened, but she too has large lips (an image we immediately also recognize as racist). Jews are supposed to be loud, pushy, and speak with unrefined accents. Jewish American Princesses are said to come from Long Island and speak with funny accents: "Oh my Gawd!" The accent has changed from the lampooned immigrant speech of previous generations, but assimilation into the middle class hasn't helped the Jewish American Princess get rid of her accent. It doesn't matter how she speaks, because if it's Eastern and recognizably Jewish, it's not okay.
I also want to give you some idea of how widespread and what a moneymaking industry the Jewish American Princess phenomenon has become. There are greeting cards about the "JAP Olympics," with the JAP doing things like "bank-vaulting" instead of pole-vaulting. Or cross-country "kvetcbing" instead of skiing. In this card the definition of the Yiddish term "kvetch" reads: an irritable whine made by a three-year-old child or a JAP at any age." So in addition to the all-powerful monster you also have the infantilization of the Jewish woman. And there are the Bunny Bagelman greeting cards: Bunny has frizzy hair, big lips, is wearing ostentatious jewelry-and is always marked as a Jew in some way. One of her cards reads, "May God Bless you and keep you ... rich!" Or Bunny Bagelman is a professional, dressed in a suit carrying a briefcase, but this image is undermined by the little crown she incongruously wears on her head bearing the initials "JAP." There is also a Halloween card with a grotesque female figure; the card reads, "Is it a vicious vampire? No, it's Bunny Bagelman with PMS syndrome!" In analyzing these kinds of cartoons, you begin to see how sexism is absolutely intertwined with anti-Semitism.
Such attacks devalue Jewish women and keep them in line. An incident reported by Professor Spencer at Syracuse University makes this quite evident. At a basketball game, when women who were presumed to be "JAPS" stood up and walked across the floor at half-time (and it happened to Jewish and non-Jewish women), 2,000 students stood up, accusingly pointed their fingers at them, and repeatedly yelled, "JAP, JAP, JAP, JAP, JAP" in a loud chorus. This was so humiliating and frightening that women no longer got out of their seats to go to the bathroom or to get a soda. This is a form of public harassment that is guaranteed to control behavior and parallels a phenomenon called "punching" at the University of Dar El Salaam, Tanzania. Here, when women were "uppity" or otherwise stepped out of line, huge posters with their pictures on them were put all over campus, and no one was to speak to them. If you spoke to these women, you were considered to be like them. This is a very effective way of controlling people.
The threat of physical violence against Jewish women (in the form of "Slap-a-JAP" T-shirts and contests at bars) is evident on many Eastern college campuses. A disc jockey at The American University went so far as to sponsor a "fattest JAP-on-campus" contest. That this kind of unchecked verbal violence can lead to murder is demonstrated by lawyer Shirley Frondorf in a recent book entitled Deatb of a "Jewish American Princess": The True Story of a Victim on Trial (Villard Books, 1988). Frondorf shows how the murder of a Jewish woman by her husband was exonerated and the victim placed on trial because she was someone who was described by her husband as "materialistic, who shopped and spent, nagged shrilly and bothered her husband at work" -- in other words, she was a "JAP" and therefore deserved what she got. This account demonstrates the dangers inherent in stereotyping and the inevitable dehumanization that follows.
One of the most aggressively sexual forms of harassment of Jewish women, which amounted to verbal rape, were signs posted at a college fair booth at Cornell University that read, "Make her prove she's not a JAP, make her swallow." Part of the mythology is that the Jewish woman will suck, but she won't swallow. So you see that as the degradation of woman as woman escalates, the anti-Semitism also gets increasingly louder. In a recent Cornell University student newspaper, a cartoon offered advice on how to "exterminate" JAPS by setting up a truck offering bargains, collecting the JAPS as they scurried in, and dropping them over a cliff. While the word "Jew" was not specifically mentioned, the parallels to the historical "rounding up" of Jews and herding them into trucks to be exterminated in the camps during World War 11 can hardly be ignored. This cartoon was created by a Jewish man.
This leads me directly to the third thing I want to discuss, namely, how and why Jewish men have participated in constructing and perpetuating the image of the Jewish American Princess as monster. How is it that the Jewish Mother(a mildly derogatory stereotype that nonetheless contained some warmth) has become the grotesque that is the Jewish American Princess, who, unlike the Jewish Mother, has absolutely no redeeming features? Exactly how the Jewish Mother (created entirely by second generation American men who had begun to mock the very nurturance they had relied upon for their success) gave birth to the Jewish American Princess is a long and complex story. This story is intertwined with the overall economic success of Jews as a class in the United States, the jealousy others have felt over this success, and the discomfort this success creates in Jews who are fearful of living out the stereotype of the "rich Jew." It is also a likely conjecture that middle-class American Jewish men view the large numbers of Jewish women who have successfully entered the work force as professionals as a serious economic and ego threat.
We find the origins of the Jewish American Princess in the fiction of American Jewish males of the last three decades. In the '50s, Herman Wouk's Marjory Morningstar (see Morgenstern) leaves behind her immigrant background, takes a new name (one that is less recognizably Jewish), manipulates men, has no talent, and is only interested in expensive clothing. The postwar Jewish male, who is rapidly assimilating into American middle-class culture and leaving behind traditional Jewish values, is creating the Jewish woman -- the materialistic, empty, manipulative Jewish woman, the Americanized daughter who fulfills the American Dream for her parents but is, at the same time, punished for it. It looks as if the Jewish woman was created in the image of the postwar Jewish male but viewed by her creator as grotesque. All the characteristics he cannot stand in himself are displaced onto the Jewish woman.
In the '60s, Philip Roth created the spoiled and whiny Brenda Potemkin in Goodbye, Columbus at the same time that Shel Silverstein created his image of the perfect Jewish mother as martyr. Some of you may remember this popular story from your childhood. A synopsis goes something like this: "Once there was a tree and she loved the little boy. And he slept in her branches, and loved the tree and the tree was happy. And as the boy grew older, he needed things from her. He needed apples, so she gave him apples, and she was happy. Then she cut off her branches because the boy needed them to build a house. And she was happy. Then finally he needed her trunk because he wanted to build a big boat for himself and she was happy. The tree gave and gave of herself, and finally the tree was alone and old when the boy returned one more time. By now, the tree had nothing to give. But the boy/man is himself old now, and he doesn't need much except a place on which to sit. And the tree said, 'An old stump is good for sitting and resting on. Come boy and sit and rest on me." And the boy did, and the tree was happy." This "positive" entirely self-less mother, created as a positive wish fantasy by a Jewish man, very easily tips over into its opposite, the monstrous woman, the self-absorbed "JAP" who is negatively self-less. She has no center. She is only clothes, money, and show.
In concluding, I want to bring these strands together and raise some questions. Obviously Jews need to be as thoughtful about consumerism as others, but we need to ask why the Jewish woman is taking the rap for the consumerism which is rampant in our highly materialistic culture in general. We need to think about the image of the Jewish American Princess and the father she tries to manipulate. What has happened to the Jewish Mother? Why has she dropped out of the picture? If (as is likely true of all groups) some middle-class Jewish women (and men) are overly focused on material things, what is the other side of that? What about the middle-class fathers who measure their own success by what material goods they are able to provide to their wives and children and who don't know how to show love in any other way? Someone who doesn't know how to give except through material goods could easily create a child who comes to expect material goods as a proof of love and self-worth, especially if sexist gender expectations limit the options for women. We need to look more closely at the relationship between the "monster" daughter and the father who helped create her.
This brings up another uncomfortable subject -- incest in Jewish families. We have to look carefully at the image of the "little princess" who sits on Daddy's lap and later becomes this monstrous figure. (My father thought it appropriate for me to sit on his lap until the day he died, well into his '80s, and I do not believe he was unusual in his expectations.) There are enough stories of incest in which we know that the father who sexually abuses his daughter when she is a child becomes quite distant when she reaches adolescence and may continue to abuse her in psychological ways. And the JAP image is a real form of psychological abuse. We need to look at these things to understand that this phenomenon is not trivial, and to understand how it undermines all Jewish women and particularly harms young women coming of age. It cannot do Jewish men such good either to think of their sisters, daughters, mothers, and potential girlfriends with such contempt.
Last, I want to say
that we have many false images of Jewish families. There is violence
in Jewish families, just as there is violence in families of all groups.
It is time to put the whole question of the Jewish American Princess into
the context of doing away with myths of all kinds. The Jewish family is
no more nor less cohesive than other families, although there is great
pressure on Jewish families to pretend they are. Not all Jewish families
are non-alcoholic; not all Jewish families are heterosexual; not all Jews
are upper or middle class; and not all are urban or Eastern. It's important
that the truth of Jewish women's (and also Jewish men's) lives be spoken.
Beginning to take apart this image of the Jewish American Princess can
make us look more closely at what it is that we, in all of our diversity
as Jews, are; what we are striving towards; and what we hope to become.