The stereotype of the JAP—the Jewish American Princess—is a relatively new phenomenon, emerging after years of Jewish Mother jokes and slurs. But whereas the Jewish Mother has been lampooned as overanxious, overprotective, and overbearing, her vast capacity for love and self-sacrifice, albeit guilt producing, has given these jokes an inner core of tenderness; the mockery has been more rueful than vilifying. And perhaps more importantly, although the Jewish Mother has become part of American folklore, jokes about her have been geared toward a predominantly Jewish audience. [The perniciousness of the stereotype, however, can be seen in the events surrounding the firing of an older Jewish woman, chronicled in these pages—Ed.]
The Jewish American Princess, on the other hand, is a stereotype that seems to provoke hostility and aggression; the epithet is used by Jews and non-Jews alike. Even when Jewish women use it about themselves, it’s with a sense of defiance that often seems to mask confusion and chagrin.
“The stereotype of the Jewish American Princess is everything that’s considered good about upwardly mobile Jewish males—looking good, being a sexual exploiter, being an achiever,” noted Dr. Rela Geffen Monson, a Philadelphia sociologist who conducted a national study of Jewish campus life in 1983 for the American Jewish Committee.
“The Jewish American Princess is living out the role expectations of American society,” said Rachel Josefowitz Siegel, a therapist in Ithaca NY. “The JAP is the American girl next door who wants to marry the right guy, who dresses according to magazine styles, but in a somewhat exaggerated way. Being more assertive and overt is a trait associated with being Jewish.”
Thus the caricature evolves: the girl who drives her Porsche to do her shopping just five blocks away; the credit cards that spill from her designer purse; the oversized Benetton sweater, the skinny pants tucked into bulky socks and high-top Reeboks; the cascades of jewelry, the expensive perfume, the butterfly clip in the hair; the disdainful glance, the haughty walk, the Long Island accent; the pouting and complaining, the cajoling and manipulating; the obsession, in short, with achieving the status of a precious object.
Most of the young Jewish women on university campuses today are the daughters of parents who have “made it,” who have worked hard to live the good life; their feeling is, they’ve earned the right to show it off.
Up and down the East Coast, at colleges referred to as the Oy Vey League—Boston University, George Washington University, American University, the University of Maryland, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Miami among them—young women are teased. mocked, and baited for looking and acting a certain way.
There’s widespread agreement among students on all these campuses about the definition of a JAP. The J does stand for Jewish, they say, although many swiftly assert that you don’t have to be Jewish to be a JAP. The A, of course, is American—no hesitation here. And the P—well, the truth is, few princes get “JAPped.” Nearly always, the butt of the JAP joke is female.
To many non-Jews, Jew and JAP are synonymous. “At Boston University, everyone uses the term JAP, but different people attach different meanings,” said Lori Rubenstein, who graduated this past June. “Non-Jews use it in a derogatory way. I’ve seen some ‘I hate JAPs’ graffiti. And sometimes people scream ‘JAP’ when you’re just walking down the street. But a lot of Jews who are called JAPs just think everyone’s jealous.”
At American University in Washington DC, sometimes referred to as “American Jew” by its undergraduates, two Jewish male student disk jockeys sponsored a “Biggest JAP on Campus” contest. One of the national Jewish fraternities there, ZBT, is known as Zionist Bankers Trust; the corresponding sorority, SDT, as “Spend Daddy’s Tuition.” One of the most popular tee-shirts reads “Slap a JAP.”
“The kids who feel they can’t keep up, that they don’t have the cars, that their clothes aren’t stylish enough, they’re the ones who resent JAPs the most,” said Elizabeth Spencer, a student at American. “Non-Jews perceive all Jews as JAPs.”
At George Washington, too, JAPs are seen as status-conscious showoffs. Laura Holland, a graduate student there, claims that the materialistic system of values of the JAPs is found offensive by Jews and non- Jews alike. But most non-Jews think they represent all Jews.
At Cornell University, the joke goes, “What’s the difference between a Syracuse University JAP and a Cornell JAP? 300 SAT points.” Two years ago, a fraternity set up two booths. In one, an inflated life-size doll bearing the sign “Slap a JAP” was positioned; sponges were offered to all who cared to hurl them. At another, a large female head with an open mouth was featured. Here, the sign urged, “Make her prove she’s not a JAP—Make her swallow.”
The desks and walls of the carrels at Syracuse University’s Bird Library are covered with anti-JAP graffiti. Everywhere on campus students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, wear JAP-buster tee-shirts. (See separate story on recent events at Syracuse University, in these pages.) At the University of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, the only students wearing such tee-shirts were Jewish men, according to June graduate Judy Siegel.
At both Syracuse and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, outright anti-Semitic sentiments are being expressed openly. Inscriptions reflecting the views of Arab students and of right-wing, white supremacist and pro-Aryan hate groups—such as the words “Do Not Tolerate the Hebrew Menace” surrounded by swastikas— abound in Syracuse. A typical joke making the rounds at Ann Arbor is, “Why is a Jew like a pizza? They both belong in the oven.”
“These days, the anti-JAP graffiti have been replaced with vile anti- Semitic slogans,” said Tikva Frymer-Kensky, a visiting associate professor in the women’s studies department. “People no longer feel the need to hide an anti-Semitic comment behind a JAP joke.”
“Like the gays and the feminists, as long as they kept quiet, Jews were O.K.,” noted Reinhold Aman, publisher of Maledicta, a Wisconsin periodical that tracks varieties of verbal abuse. “When Jews become more obvious, when they deviate from the ‘norm,’ they’re seen as obnoxious.”
Sherry Chayat’s articles have appeared in Present Tense, Art in America, Art News, Syracuse University Alumni News, and elsewhere. She is the art critic for the Syracuse Herald- American, and is former editor-in chief of the Syracuse Jewish Observer. She teaches courses in contemporary art at University College, Syracuse University.
The Ten Best Legendary classics J. A.P Jokes
1. What’s the difference between a J.A.P. and poverty?
2. What does a J.A.P. do with her asshole in the morning?
3. What does a J.A.P. consider to be natural childbirth?
4. How do you know when a J.A.P. is having an orgasm?
5. What’s the difference between a J.A.P and a canoe?
6. What’s the difference between a J.A.P and a vulture?
7. What’s the difference between a J.A.P. and Jell-O?
8. What’s a J.A.P.’s favorite position?
9. What do you call a dozen J.A.P.s in the basement?
10. How many J.A.P.s does it take to screw in a light bulb?