Is It OK to Say ‘JAP’?

A short film from the Unorthodox podcast examines the Jewish American Princess stereotype and the thorny questions of language and ownership. Join us July 18 in NYC for a live forum on the topic, featuring Odd Mom Out’s Jill Kargman.

June 20, 2018

Among us Jews, we say things we wouldn’t say on the outside. It’s family, it’s mishpochah, so we don’t have to watch our tongue. But there are lines we won’t cross. And for some of us, “JAP” is that line.

Mark, who doesn’t take offense easily, says the word “JAP” offends him. He associates the acronym for “Jewish American Princess” with the blatantly misogynist jokes his youth, which played on stereotypes of the Jewish woman as basically the worst kind of wife, a frigid, whiny, overspender: “What does a JAP make for dinner? Reservations.” “What do you call a JAP on a waterbed? Lake Placid.”

For Stephanie the term is less loaded: by the time she encountered the phrase, it had shed its associations with sex and, in her Long Island town, was simply something said by Jewish girls about other Jewish girls, the Jewish equivalent of ‘basic.’ She admits to occassionally saying it herself, even today, having found no other shorthand as useful and concise.

Liel, the Israeli immigrant, was baffled by the whole thing…

These opposing views of “JAP” became an occasional topic of conversation on our podcast, and we began to wonder: Why was this the word that divided us? Why does it persist? Where did it come from, and does it have a future?

We decided to dig deeper, and enlisted the help of filmmaker Aliya Naumoff and some very smart Jews—feminist writer Anne Roiphe, the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Judith Rosenbaum, Bat Sheva Marcus of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and high school freshman Ayelet Kaminer—to make this short film, Can I Say “JAP”?

Have a watch. Think about it. And, if you live near New York, join us at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan on July 18, at 7:30 p.m., at the Unorthodox live show, where the stars of the documentary are joined by special guests, including Odd Mom Out’s Jill Kargman, as we hold a forum on the question: Is it OK to say “JAP”?

Get your tickets here.

Unorthodox is a smart, fresh, fun weekly take on Jewish news and culture hosted by Mark Oppenheimer, Stephanie Butnick, and Liel Leibovitz. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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