When I was in college, there was a t-shirt that was very popular. It pictured a woman who was overweight, had big red lips, “big hair” and was waving a credit card. There was a big red circle with a line through it (the universal symbol for “no”). Underneath this lovely graphic was the tag line: slap-a-JAP.
It has been a while since I have had to think about that particular t-shirt advocating random violence against Jewish women. Or the one that advised going further than just a slap. It rather pains me that this stereotype is’ one that is apparently being revived – even as comedy. Sure there are women who are Jewish, and vapid, who love money. There are also Jewish men who fit that stereotype, but somehow they seem to miss being mocked as a group and tarred with that excellent tag of “JAP.” For that matter, I believe I have encountered non-Jews who fit that stereotype as well.
When Maya Escobar uses this stereotype she may be either mocking it or indulging it – or both – that’s one of the dangers of comedy. She clearly thinks that she’s mocking it, and attempting to provide a conversation starter (Okay, Maya, so here I am starting a conversation: Kol hakavod!) But even in her attempts to mock the stereotypes that have been projected onto her (and let’s be clear the chach and the sexy latina aren’t any better!), I have to wonder about those who are watching the comedy, and whether it helps them reject – or accept- those experiences in which they met a person onto whom they themselves projected such a label. “After all, how can she “nail the JAP” if there’s no JAP to be nailed, if the JAP happens to simply be a person whom one dislikes upon meeting, but no more likely a Jew than a Lutheran? In order for it to confirm that glorious feeling, one has to have a little sense that there is something about being Jewish and female that attaches to that kind of behavior, n’est ce pas?
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. There’s been gallons of ink spilt on the portrayal of Jewish women, especially in television and film – and often by Jewish (male) writers. How many films in which the (Jewishy) guy gets the girl is that girl Jewish? How about “Keeping the Faith” in which all the Jewish women are portrayed as having something really wrong with them? The nice girl, the pretty girl, the lovable girl is the one who is not Jewish – the Jews get tossed a bone at the end – she’s thinking about conversion and is taking classes. Wow, She’s even a better Jew than the Jewish girls.
I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There’s plenty already written about this. See here for a short bibliography of the analysis of this nasty thing. Here, one can find an exerpt from Dr. Evelyn Torton Beck’s essay “From ‘Kike to Jap’: How misogyny, anti-semitism, and racism construct the Jewish American Princess.” Be well read, if you care to, or not, but this blog should not be a place for us to revive and support this kind of ugliness.
When I was in college, one of my roommates came home wearing that t-shirt, “Slap-a-JAP.” He didn’t quite get why I should be so offended by it, since I clearly wasn’t one of them the point of course being that despite the fact that I’m about as unvapid (unless you consider the absentminded-professor type to be vapid), uninterested in clothing, and well – can’t be said to have or be interested in money in any relevant sense, in fact I am “one of them.” And so is my mother, and my sister, and many of my cousins, and my grandmother, and many of my dear friends, not to mention several of the writers of this blog. But I was clear, if he wanted to continue to wear the t-shirt he could move his a** out. And he quit wearing it.
After all this time, I think we should all be beyond this. Jewish women are not ugly, we are not money-grubbing, we are not stupid, vapid or mindless. And my brothers, my sons, my fathers, my cousins – all of you who read this; if we are, then what does that say about you? And when you laugh at it – what does that tell us about what you think of us, really?