Culture, Sex & Gender

Can we please not revive that ugly stereotype?

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?

37 thoughts on “Can we please not revive that ugly stereotype?

  1. I agree. Its a horrible offensive term and is little more than self-hating in nature. (And if I hear another sheigetz say it, its gonna be hard not to lose my temper)
    We gots to learn to give more respect to the women of the tribe yall. this sh*t dont fly.

  2. Is there any space for mocking Jewish stereotypes? If not, why not? Are some stereoptypes okay (the yenta, the cowfee lady, the yiddishy old Jewish man) while others are not (the grubby money counting market Jew, the greasy haired slick conniving Jew, the smoke filled back room tammany hall/mob Jew)? Is the JAP unique in the spectrum of Jewish stereotypes?

  3. krg — 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.

  4. KRG, is your problem with Maya’s video that she performed a rendition of the JAP without anything wink-wink about it? That it seemed straight-forward and honest?
    Which is to say, if Maya had completely mocked the stereotype in the video, would you be ok with it? And if so, doesn’t make your problem with her presentation, not with her concept? (Since she makes it clear this is a joke?) 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? This isn’t Marjorie Morningstar. It’s a 1 minute clip on youtube. It’s not like mass audiences are being influenced on the JAP stereotype by watching it.

  5. KRG, thank you for this great post. I found the Maya Escobar stuff mostly boring and unimaginative. I wasn’t laughing but I wasn’t offended either – I was left wondering what the point was. The Beck article is a really great introduction to why the word JAP is so complex and fraught, so thanks.
    Mobius: stereotypes are usually based on some reality, and yet they are all worth unpacking. I don’t think that KRG was arguing that the stereotype doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. More like, why do we focus on this in particular, why is there no male equivalent, what is this stereotype actually about, why is the word JAP still an acceptable term? If you read the Beck article that KRG linked to you’ll have a better sense of the point being made.
    JG: I do think that there’s space for mocking Jewish stereotypes – just not in a video that recycles those stereotypes. A little more creativity is usually required for that kind of mockery.

  6. I’ve been on Ben Yehuda street. The young girls there are exactly like young girls everywhere. Some are stupid some aren’t. And why do the vapid boys get a free pass – what you think teenage boys aren’t vapid?
    I think you’ll see that part of the problem here is also that this stereotype has two intersecting matrix points of stereotype: woman and Jew. Why do men get off free on this one? – partly it’s because men (and sometimes women) sometimes use this stereotype to say, “see, I’m not like that” to non-Jews. It’s a way of divesting oneself of stereotypes without actually fighting the stereotype.
    It’s also a reason I’ve heard men give for not dating Jewish women. Here it becomes really ugly and problematic, because those women, become all Jewish women, way too quick.
    You want to date a non-Jew, go in good health, but leave my accounting practices out of it.
    2. is your problem with Maya’s video that she performed a rendition of the JAP without anything wink-wink about it?
    No, it’s not the presentation, actually. I’m sorry Mobs. Normally I love you to death and would walk over hot coals to defend your words, but your phrase “nail the JAP” is actually what got me thinking here about what really happens when people laugh at a “sendup” of a stereotype. When I watch Sarah Silverman, I can be uncomfortable with her humor because it’s really her laughing at us (and laugh myself, often becauseof the discomfort, but I don’t feel like it’s anti-semitic, even when it plays on some stereotypes of Jews. With Cohen, I couldn’t say, since I’m apparently the last Jew on earth who hasn’t seen *that film* (I meant to, really, I’m not boycotting it or anything, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet). I’ll let you know at some future time after I’ve seen it.
    I watched her other presentations too – Her Orthodox Jewish woman or her Latina hottie aren’t any less silly a stereotype than the JAP stereotype. As I write, the thought occurs to me that perhaps the JAP is different in some ways because it simultaneously codes two different messages to two different audiences.
    To non-Jews its ” Jews are like this, and I’m different (I’m not TOO jewish)” and to Jews the code is “Jewish women, should be a certain way (that suits my opinion of what a “good” Jewish woman is).o Again, I urge folks to go read the Torton-Beck essay.

  7. Interesting discussion. Minor question re. “Jewish women are not ugly, we are not money-grubbing, we are not stupid, vapid or mindless.”
    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. I wonder if the stereotype has shifted from ugly to hot, and if so, when this happened in the popular imagination (some time between Bette Midler and Fran Drescher?), and what this transformation means.
    I expect somebody, not me, to write a doctorate on this.

  8. The fact is, Jews are relatively well-to-do in this country. Hence, a successfully materialistic culture does exist in pockets at least slightly more than in the general population.
    I never heard “ugly” as part of the JAP stereotype either.
    Mobius wrote,
    “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.”
    No doubt. But come with me to the mean streets of Potomac, MD and Great Neck. Then tell me the same thing. Without laughing or smiling.
    KRG wrote,
    “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.”
    There are. But society is a lot harsher on male JAPS. That’s not considered funny. They are forced to tone it down more than women are.

  9. Re:ugly
    It depends on where you are. I guarantee that in parts of the country that aren’t New York, people consider the look of “new York” (read: Jewish) as a signal for not attractive.
    Loud, is a nother piece of this.
    Of course, there’s the weird phenomenon that jewish women are considered to be simultaneously totally hot and ugly, sexual and frigid – etc etc Again, I refer you to the article. There’s a lot of class stuff mixed up in here, too.
    And whether it’s considered funny for women… well, funny enough that people used to advocate randomly assaulting women – and by the way, actually doing it sometimes- that met the stereotype.
    You may recall a murder case turned on this not so long ago.
    Funny? not so much.

  10. Many stereotypes are incorrect! First of all, Jewish girls and women are tough. If you ever say anything that is just wrong, they will be the first to correct you. Never even try to insult the supposedly Jappy Jewish women from my shul.
    Second of all, Jewish girls are fucking hot. Whoever thinks that they’re ugly needs a reality check. Big real boobs, fake tans, painstakingly straight dark hair. Just simply hot. What all Jewish boys should lose their virginity to. Oh, and somehow Jews and Irish have that red hair thing going on.
    About the big boobs: Jewish women have them to pump all that milk into their sons who will be spending a lifetime of sitting in yeshiva and will sorely need that sustenance. How else did Israel repel those advancing Arab armies??

  11. Of course, there’s the weird phenomenon that jewish women are considered to be simultaneously totally hot and ugly, sexual and frigid – etc etc
    What’s with all these contradictory stereotypes, and why don’t they cancel out? (E.g. Asian men are bookish nerds and kung fu masters, etc.)

  12. “What’s with all these contradictory stereotypes, and why don’t they cancel out? ”
    Good question. Perhaps they are not always contradictory, and they may be based on two different strains of types either slightly more represented by a group or with a unique originating. For instance, most Asians are not kung fu masters, but kung fu is understood to be a southeast Asian invention. Or with Jews being both fiscal Leftists and capitalists, these are both aspects different manifestations of desiring to control and manipulate markets.
    But the intra-group steroetype can often be more complicated and different than the outside stereotype. For instance, both EV and I jumped at the suggestion that Jewish women were ugly. I don’t think this is something most “affiliated’ Jewish men believe.
    KAG wrote,
    “And whether it’s considered funny for women… well, funny enough that people used to advocate randomly assaulting women – and by the way, actually doing it sometimes- that met the stereotype”
    The extremes do not disprove the general perception, or a disparity in perception of genders. While it may still be socially unacceptable for both men and women to be obsessed with shopping, it is still considered more unacceptable for a man to be so, especially a straight man. There are double standards out there, right? Jewish women are portrayed horribly on TV. And it isn’t funny to me. But they are still portrayed differently than men much of the time. There are exceptions — 9021o — that newer sitcom with Jewish woman with the gay best friend — but usually when Jewish men are portrayed negatively, they are portrayed as nerds. And not the way Woody Allen or Larry David portray us.
    I find their caricatures of the hostile Ashkenazi-male much harder to watch in a different way than the less interesting nebach portrayals because it rings home, and I empathize with the characters, and wish I would stop being so meshugah. Outside of calls for violence — which is a very different issue, or any form of discrimination, really — I think we are bothered by stereotypes that we believe do reflect upon us individually. The middle class Jewish women I know — really middle class, not “comfortable” middle class — are simply oblivious to the JAP stereotype. It really doesn’t bother them the same way.

  13. I think it’s partly two-sides of the same coin and partly a genuine evolution in the stereotypes. Just as Jewish-man-as-nebbish is giving way to Jewish-man-as-conquering-anti-hero (a la Ari Gold and even Larry David), I think stereotypes of Jewish women are evolving too — not necessarily for the better, but it’s interesting if the evolution reflects a different situation of Jews, or the perception of Jews, in American society. If I may grossly generalize the stereotypes (is that redundant?), in the 50s through the 80s, American Jewish women were caricaturized as ugly and frigid. (Joke of that era: what’s the difference between a tidal wave and a JAP? A tidal wave swallows seamen.) In the 90s I think the stereotype shifted to exotically beautiful and — possibly — promiscuous. But maybe it was always a part of it; Erica Jong was writing in the 70s, right? Again, someone needs to do their dissertation on this.
    I nominate Kelsey.

  14. KRG–WORD. And thank you for bringing it up. I think there’s a marked difference between using and subverting a stereotype to demonstrate, however deadpan-ed-ly, its utter absurdity (a la Sacha Baron Cohen), and using it because you think it’s funny or true or easy comedy. Maybe I’m too dense for the subtlety of this video–entirely possible–but it didn’t seem to employing the stereotype to explode it or anything.
    And for more reading on the subject, check out

  15. The scholar Riv-Ellen Prell has written on stereotypes of Jewish women (and men) in her study, “Fighting to Become Americans.” She takes a sociological/historical point of view of this complex phenomenon, following it from the late 19th/early 20th century-era up through the 1990’s. Worth checking out.
    In brief: Prell suggests that Jewish men transferred to Jewish women the stereotypes that were foisted onto them (the men) by the non-Jews of this country. Jewish men were seen as money-grubbing, loud, lazy, superficial, ugly and sexually threatening at the same time, and so on. Add in some madonna-whore stuff (passed on by Christians, thanks so much), and you see how interesting Prell’s thesis is. This summary is a vast oversimplification of Prell’s work, of course, so please see her book if you’re intrigued.
    There are other schoalrs at work on this stuff, too. I’m sure there are bibliographies out there if you look for them.

  16. A word on how one Jewish women feels when people use the word JAP – I feel shocked, alienated from that person, and like I was punched in the stomach …. and I don’t have much of a JAP vibe about me from what I can tell – so it’s not a matter of feeling like “one of them” . I just feel like it’s an attack on Jews and Jewish women. Not a good feeling. I also feel like the person who uses the stereotype is being unsophisticated… like I would feel about older Jewish relatives who use yiddish racist terms…..

  17. I do not understand how Mobius has gotten labelled “progressive.” I find his politics all across the map and his acceptance of the “JAP” stereotype proves it to me. I remember his (mis)characterization of affirmative action was the first tip-off for me. Mobius, you may be many things but a leftist you surely are not.

  18. this entire conversation is ridiculous. of course it is an offensive stereotype, wherever it comes from. examine your own fears and projection, get on with your life, date whoever you want – but don’t apologize for it with bigoted bullshit. there is no excuse for this shit.

  19. I don’t understand why anyone thinks Maya Escobar is trying to be funny.
    The point of having all these videos juxtaposed with each other clearly shows that it’s a think piece, and look, it’s started a dialogue. So it’s succeeded in its most basic goal.
    Go and look at the responses to any of these videos individually on Youtube, people react as if they are really whatever they’re pretending to be, and thus perfectly manifest the typical responses to these types.
    I think it’s interesting work.
    And yeah, I think Mobius came out looking a bit unfortunately conservative in his initial responses to the “JAP” thing. But hey, we can’t all pass all the litmus tests all the time.

  20. just wrote this in an e-mail and thought i’d throw it on here as an addendum to my other comment:
    i think the criticism on here, or at least what can be distilled to my satisfaction, is the usual “people won’t get it and thus it will just serve as perpetuation of these negative things” argument.
    i’m not going to say this argument has NO merit – but when i hear it i usually think, well, there’s so much actual racism and misogyny out there, does it really need a few extra youtube movies to perpetuate it? and won’t these movies, unlike numerous other perhaps superficially similar representations, at least lead some people to have some interesting and fruitful discussions about issues of identity and representation?

  21. Sometimes you have to ask yourself about the source of the negativity associated with stereotypes. I mean, if you break it down, all Maya’s videos are just characterizations of people who, like it or not, exist pretty literally in the world in much the way they are being represented. So, if we assume these are accurate portrayals, which I think we can all agree they are (whether we want to admit it or not…), we have to ask why WE feel they have overstepped the boundaries from mere representations to offensive stereotypes.
    Why have they? Because WE have characterized them as such. In our denial that these are acceptable ways for Jews to act, we have turned actual human beings into negative stereotypes, so much so that people are being accused of being “bigotted”. So what do all these judgments do to the women the videos actually represent? What affect do your responses have on the women who exist in this world much the way Maya depicts them? We have to ask ourselves, are these inherently living a negative existence? Are they being depicted in the way African-Americans are negatively depicted in the media as criminals? Actually, if you watch the videos you’ll see the opposite: a boisterous young woman reminiscing about high school, an orthodox woman standing up for her beliefs, a Latina woman remarking at the inappropriate advances of a man at a club. No, these videos are caricatures, but still represent real people who are living their lives as they see fit, yet being demonized and polemicized by YOUR constant reference to them as horrible depictions of women.
    In the end, the people who are offended at the thought of such people existing are the ones being offensive, and much more debasing than Maya, who is merely portraying them, without stating her opinion. These people are the ones marginalizing other human beings existence by reducing them to insults.
    So what has her piece done? It has revealed the self-hatred and embarrassment many of you have for people within your community; people who are neither hurting anyone or causing any harm, but merely existing as they chose to exist. Your shame at their existence is the most offensive thing here.
    Like it or not. YOU’RE the ones who offend these women. Not Maya.

  22. LAvi, sorry no, The reason it’s offensive is because there is a presumption that there isa certainclass of people who are likely to behave this way, and that that class is identical with (Jews, Latinas, whatever). Whether you like it or not, the behaviors associated with these stereotypes are negative, and in fact, are often used to justify behaving towards anyone that is perceived to be a member of that class in very unpleasant ways (denying them jobs, using them sexually, assaulting them, killing them. I do NOT exaggerate).
    Sure there are individuals in the world who behave “that way” but so what? it in’t a function of their being Jewish, or Latina or Orthodox, it’s a function of them being individuals, and in fact, those behaviors are not limited to those of the class to which they are assigned. That’s why it’s offensive.
    I’m not arguing that some people aren’t materialistic, or vapid. I’m arguing that Jews aren’t more likely to be those things. I’m arguing that women aren’t more likely to be those things.

  23. In all fairness, if you’re arguing that “Jews…[and] women aren’t more likely to be those things,” then we’re not disagreeing at all. I’m not saying that, and I don’t think Maya is saying that either. Nowhere does she say it is ONLY Jews or women who act this way. She is just speaking from experience, and as a Jewish women, I’d assume this realm is where her experience is most extensive.
    I’m also not trying to say only Jews or women do this. As an example, if you and I are looking at two different walls, both of which are made of brick, just because I stated that the wall I’m looking at is made of brick, it doesn’t mean I’m saying YOURS isn’t.
    People do act like that. If she was saying this is how ALL Jews act…or ONLY women act this like, well, that’s one thing. But she isn’t. All she’s doing is posting videos.
    And probably recording everything we say.

  24. i wonder how some of the whiners on this board feel when they
    hear the term “shiksa¨”… are they ready to jump in the defense
    of their goy-sisters with the same outrage?

  25. I find Gaspar’s comment compelling as a non-Jewish female dating a Jewish man. I loathe that his mother, even before having met me, referred to me as a “shiksa”. Knowing the etymology of this word, and knowing it’s pejorative function, I found it very sad, and HIGHLY offensive. That attitude needs to be broken down across the board, or else we can not live comfortably as humanity. At the end of the day, we’re all people just the same.
    Cultural tolerance isn’t too much to ask from anyone. I do not refer to my boyfriend’s mother as a JAP– first and foremost, she is my elder and as such, deserves my respect. Second, who am I to pass judgment? It’s a sad day when one can look down on another without so much as a fair exchange of dialogue.
    Is it too much to hope for in thinking I deserve the same mutual respect of another culture, no matter the difference? Can we get rid of “Shiksa”? It’s such an ugly word, just as “JAP” is a pejorative to the Jewish culture. Please keep this in mind, even if your son brings someone like me home to make your acquaintance.

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