J.A.P.: Let’s Keep It Unpalatable

Courtesy of Chanel Dubofsky.

I have an ongoing conversation with myself about whether or not some terms are redeemable. (You would be surprised how much time I’ve spent thinking about this. Or maybe you wouldn’t be). I’m not interested in trying to reclaim JAP, something so fraught with classism, misogyny and anti Semitism. Let’s keep it unpalatable, unspeakable.  There’s nothing to keep here, nothing that’s worth the energy.

Alana Kayfetz proposes in her recent piece Reclaim The J.A.P.  that JAP (Jewish American Princess) be redefined. Why can it not mean as she writes, “a smart, strong, and proud Jewish woman that is driven to change the world; and dress well at the same time”?  

There’s power in reclaiming words, if for no other reason than we should engage in the process of exploring what’s wrong with the connotations we’ve placed on these words. If we interrogate what we mean when we refer to someone as a slut, we find ourselves face to face with our fear of women’s sexuality. Slut has been used as a weapon, an excuse for violence, as has JAP. Feminists are working to lift up the word slut, but for many (including me), it’s still a trigger. But in the end, I’m more comfortable with pulling it out of the sexist muck, because I don’t believe in policing women’s bodies and sexualities.

JAP, frankly, is not worth it to me. Why can’t we be strong, outspoken, etc, without having to contend with a deeply offensive stereotype that has been used against us for decades? A princess might evoke royalty, but if you’re a princess your hands are tied, and you actually have very little control over your life and decisions. This is not a role that anyone should be aspiring to.  The classist piece of the stereotype isn’t limited to Jewish women. A classic anti Semitic trope is that all the Jews have money. But Jewish women with Jewish money is particularly problematic, because it means power is in the wrong (cold, frigid, spoiled) hands.

We need to eliminate JAP from the lexicon, because it’s not a relic of yesteryear. Sadly, you can’t just say you think a word or a term should mean something else. It requires more work than that. We have to get why we feel the need to cling to it. Is it because we find power in being seen as attractive, since Jewish women are often seen as outside the norm of the traditionally attractive? (Or we’re fetishized as being exotic. Either way, we have a problem). Our attachment to the stereotype requires mining, and helping other mine, what the stereotype is actually about and how far it reaches.  

We can be powerful women who know what we want. We should be, and we should be able to be without having to define ourselves according to antiquated parameters. Let’s set up new paradigms, and push beyond attachments to class and gender performance. And along the way, let’s not buy into notions and pitfalls that come with the term “JAP”.

Topics: Antisemitism
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A Jewish fraternity at the University of Michigan, AEPi, has sort of apologized for the video, though it's not clear if any actual sh*tstorm has resulted from the relatively innocuous fare. The president of the fraternity says, "After speaking with the creators of the film, it was made without any insulting or ridiculing intention. More than anything, it was only intended to portray a childish, yet miniscule aspect of Greek Life at the University of Michigan." (A decade ago, AEPi was disbanded on campus after a brother shot a pledge in the groin with an air rifle during a hazing.)

Some of the lyrics touch on a very specific form of American Jewishness — upper-middle-class, mostly Ashkenazic, mostly from Long Island, with family in Boca Raton — that is apparently plentiful at the university, and that will ring a bell to some. Others are more nebulously Jewish; it will come as news to Blackberry messenger users that this is a recognizably Semitic practice.

But the more interesting aspect of the video is the fact that for its makers, the Jap (Jewish American Princess) is seen as gender neutral. Sure, there are girls thrown in here, but they are no more mocked for being spoiled, materialistic or pushy as the boys are. Progress!

AEPi Issues Apology For 'Pursuit Of Jappiness' Video [Michigan Daily]


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How to cite this page

Dubofsky, Chanel. "J.A.P.: Let’s Keep It Unpalatable." 26 April 2013. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 17, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/jap-let-s-keep-it-unpalatable>.