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A Jewish American (Disney) Princess?

In response to yesterday's post about the "What's a Coastie?" song, Renee Ghert Zand of Truth, Praise & Help shared this video.  Landline TV spoofs classic Disney "behind the scenes" shorts about the making of a fictional new animated film about a Jewish American Princess called "Rachel and the Dragon."

This is clearly intended to be satire, and personally I found it hilarious.  Since it was so obviously satire, as opposed to the iffy "Coastie" song, I don't find it offensive.  It did bring up an interesting point, though.  Disney princesses are just as popular as ever, and many African-American girls and parents were excited to see a black woman represented as a Disney princess in the new film, The Princess and the Frog.  But will we ever see a Jewish woman as a Disney princess, or are Jewish girls excluded from the "princess" club as a result of the JAP stereotype?

Recently, Disney has begun expanding it's image to include non-white people (although their often charicature-like representations are still problematic).  Tiana, the African American Princess is the newest in the Disney princess roster, which includes Mulan and Pocahantas even though they are not technically princesses. Thanks to Disney, princesses are the favorite, magical, play-fantasy for many American girls.  So what happens when Jewish girls learn that for them, being a "princess" is actually a bad thing? Disney's African-American princess is being heralded as a symbol of acceptance for African-American women, but a Jewish American princess is still just a spoiled brat.

The JAP stereotype relfects a hostility towards wealth, but since it is directed at Jewish girls, usually "Daddy's girls," the hostility is directed specifically at those who did not earn their wealth.  Embedded in this is the assumption that girls, or women, do not work or support themselves.  As we saw with the Coastie song ("spending Daddy's money") and this piece of satire, many Americans (I'm hestitant to generalize about which) do not respect people born into privilege. 

It's interesting, then, that Americans are so enamored of the idea of royalty -- especially when we have never had a monarchy.  We romanticize royalty in fairy tales and romantic comedies like The Princess Diaries, but in many of these stories, including The Princess and the Frog, and Cinderalla, we see an ordinary girl become a princess. In a distorted way, the "rags to royalty" trope reflects the American value of social mobility, a dream central to the American immigrant experience. The myth of the American dream depends on this very plot line; that we arrive as penniless immigrants and gradually become, through equal parts assimilation and hard work, successful Americans. 

The Jewish American immigrant experience is celebrated in our culture, most recently by the Jewish American Girl doll, Rebecca Rubin.  But the post-assimilation story of Jewry in the United States is not.  The great American story is always about the journey, never the destination.  Now that American Jews have "arrived," they are once again stigmatized as "other," this time for their privilege.  And as one might expect in our gendered society, Jewish women bear the brunt of this stigma.

A fairy tale I'd like to see?  The tale of a 21st Century Jewish woman who overcomes the stigma of privilege by proving her value as a contributing (or perhaps over-achieving) member of society.  Until that story overrides "Rachel and the Dragon," modern Jewish girls won't get to be Disney princesses.

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Thanks for sharing this clip. I agree with a lot of what you say. But the whole distrust or lack of respect for Jews who happen to have money has a longer lineage than 19th and 20th century USA. It dates back to medieval Italy, where Jews were forced into moneylender positions. Many people still believe that there is some kind of world-wide Jewish network which allows our businesses to be successful. On another note, I'm sure it sucks to be judged because you don't have any money, but it sucks just as much to be judged because you do.

Rachel Berry?

Yes, you're absolutely right. While the wealth stereotype certainly excludes a number of American Jews, it is still the prevailing cultural image of Jewish Americans overall. Disney rarely deals in anything beyond those prevailing cultural images, so I was going on that assumption.

Really interesting post, Leah. But isn't your argument predicated on another stereotype -- that all American Jews are "privileged" (aka wealthy)?

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "A Jewish American (Disney) Princess?." 22 December 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/jewish-american-disney-princess>.


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