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Apr 23 2012

What Happened to the Jewish American Princess?

By at 10:26 am

Acrylic nails: one of the markers of the Jewish American Princess.

I was absolutely astounded the other day when my younger stepson, Eli, who is 11, was musing about his sister Penelope’s new-found princess obsession–it had to happen sometime–and he said, “You know what’s funny? There’s no Jewish princesses.”

Bless his heart! No Jewish princesses?

I had a vague sense of the existence of the JAP stereotype in high school. I remember my friend Fran speaking dismissively of both WASPs and JAPs and wondering why she hated bugs and Asians so much, but soon enough I saw Spaceballs and was able to recognize a type–not someone I came in contact with myself very often, but sure, I knew young women sorta like that.

Then I got to college. Barnard, specifically. Hoo boy.

Did I meet women who got nose jobs for their sweet 16s, stuffed never-worn Benetton rugby shirts into their overflowing closets, and whined about how it was worse that they didn’t get to go to Florida this February because they were used to going, while I had never been, so I didn’t know what I was missing? Yes. Yes, I did. My first-year roommate, in fact, so embodied the stereotype that it became a sort of performance-art, a game she played with herself as she blow-dried her hair and drummed her acrylic nails on her desk in class. She stood out as the uber-princess, and claims she was uncomfortable and felt out of place. But she seemed pretty darn committed to her bit. The rest of us were wearing pajamas to class and trying to remember to shower at least once during finals week, and she was always perfectly turned out. Yet she made the same good grades that the rest of us did. Which just goes to show: you don’t have to look like you suffered.

I tried on several personas when I got to college, and this was certainly one of them. But I was broke. There was no pretending I came from Scarsdale or even Short Hills.

As my college years went by and I became more comfortable in my skin, I began to resent the way people tried to pigeonhole me into this Jewish-princess role when it was distressingly obvious I had nothing to do with it. Anyone, regardless of her background, is going to ask her floor-mates if a new interview outfit looks okay. Only the Jewish girls get called JAPs for asking. And no, College Boyfriend, I do not consider it a compliment that your Italian friend says I’m “not dumpy like most Jewish girls.” Really not. But thanks.

For a while, I objected when people used the term JAP, pointing out that it was sexist, it was reductive, it was anti-Semitic, it was inaccurate. I got laughed at, and moved on. After a while, I stopped hearing it–was that because it’s become archaic, or because it’s something only younger women worry about? I had totally forgotten about it when Eli brought it up.

“Well, there’s a Jewish queen in the Star Wars movie,” I replied. “Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala.”

“Oh yeah, huh,” he said. “But I don’t think they have Jews in a galaxy far, far away.”

“The only way Penelope’s going to be a princess is if she’s Princess Madame President,” my husband piped up, sounding like Amy Poehler’s character on Parks and Rec. I love that guy.

Do you think there’s still a Jewish Princess stereotype? Does it bug you? How do you handle it with your daughters?


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