“She acts so much like a Jewish American Princess,” my friend said.
“The girls from Westchester all act like J.A.P.’s,” my mom said.
“Rachel Green (from the TV show Friends) is a Jewish American Princess. She most conforms to the stereotype when, during various flashbacks, we see her ‘pre-nose-job,’ although her obsession with Bloomingdale's is a pretty big tip-off,” wrote Michael Bernstein on a Medium post.
The term “Jewish American Princess” is one of the most uncommon Jewish stereotypes. It’s referenced in pop culture without using the saying. Depending on where you grew up, the stereotype can be a mystery to some.
It’s a phrase that was thrown around my family my entire life.
A Jewish American Princess (J.A.P) is a Jewish girl or woman who dresses nicely and displays their wealth. Think Gretchen Weiners from Mean Girls or Rachel Green from Friends. These two characters play into the stereotype that their father provided everything for them, they never had to work a day in their lives and every material item they ever wanted, they got.
J.A.P. was also a term used heavily in the Jewish community. My grandmother used it in reference to her family friend’s kids and my mom used it to describe Jewish women she knew. It was a common term, but it never settled right with me.
The stereotype was a way to attack women based off their appearance and their personality, and it was anti-semetic. It never made sense to me why it was so common to use in the Jewish community, but a shock when non-jewish people used it.
If it’s misogynistic and anti-semetic, why is it so regularly used?
The stereotype followed me everywhere I went. Growing up in Brooklyn, where there’s a large Jewish population, attending both a Jewish day camp and sleepaway camp, and attending Hebrew School, it was a term threaded throughout my life.
And I never questioned it; until I got older.
I thought more about the use. We touched on it at camp every once in a while. I felt uncomfortable with the jokes made when watching Friends or New Girl. The jokes further pushed the “all Jews are wealthy” narrative. It is problematic on so many levels.
The problem was, the stereotype was intertwined everywhere. It seemed like my mother and grandmother had internalized the term and it was natural to use. They didn’t seem fazed by it.
When I was in middle school and high school, I was scared to act like a “Jewish American Princess.” It was a negative concept both in and out of the Jewish community. My friends and family judged those who acted like one, and non-Jewish people used it in an unfitting way; with an unawareness of how hurtful it was meant to be.
The education around the negative implications of the stereotype wasn’t until I was a counselor at my Jewish sleepaway camp. I was 19 years old when another counselor ran a 50 minute activity on its impact in pop culture and society. Except for the first time it was casted in a negative light.
Prior to that I still felt an uneasiness of using the term, but it was so internalized and thrown around, that sometimes I wouldn’t think twice of calling myself a Jewish American Princess as a joke.
But this short activity opened my eyes to how internalized the stereotype actually was, it made me think twice about how commonly it was used and how often it was used to degrade women.
The first-year counselor showed the group of four women a zine, a magazine about a specific topic, about J.A.P. It included examples of pop culture from the 50s to present day including the characters from Friends and Mean Girls.
Though the stereotype J.A.P. was always a term I felt uncomfortable with that activity was the first time other people shared their discomfort. It was the last time I ever used it, regardless of if it was as a joke or used seriously. It was a word that I no longer wanted to be a part of my Jewish identity.
Contact Amanda Levine at firstname.lastname@example.org.