'Girls,' Sex and the All New JAP

HBO Character Represents Evolution of a Stereotype

Not So Simple: Shoshanna Shapiro, center, played by Zosia Mamet, is more than the sum of her allowance.
JoJo Whilden/HBO
Not So Simple: Shoshanna Shapiro, center, played by Zosia Mamet, is more than the sum of her allowance.

By Emily Shire

Published June 17, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The evolution is especially apparent in scenes involving sex. A common stereotype was that Jewish American Princesses lacked all sexual feeling, or saw sex solely as a trade-off for the material comforts of marriage. And in fact, until the season finale, Shoshanna is the lone virgin on “Girls.” Her first sex scene is with someone she met at a Jewish sleep-away camp, and she is clad in a perfect set of high couture matching bra and panties. Yet Shoshanna’s virginity is a source of anxiety, shame and desire rather than an indication of disinterest. When her sexual advances are rejected because she is a virgin, Shoshanna squeakily responds, “I’m the least virginy virgin ever!” Though the line has a ridiculous, Valley girl quality to it that infuses the scene with humor, there is also emotional texture in Shoshanna’s insecurity. Sex is perhaps the one thing this princess doesn’t have, and wants more than anything else.

Shoshanna is not the only JAP on TV that goes beyond a flat, stock character. Rachel Berry on the TV series “Glee,” played by Lea Michele, is known for her self-involvedness, impatience and sense of entitlement. Rather than whine for a mink coat or a gold wedding band, however, Rachel uses these qualities to move closer to her goal of becoming a Broadway star. She makes good on her kvetching through commitment to her professional dreams.

On the cable show “Mad Men,” Jane Siegel is another recent example of the evolved JAP. Played by Peyton List, Jane oozes selfishness after her marriage to advertising agency partner Roger Sterling. She vacillates between behaving like a spoiled child and a frigid goddess, and as her marriage crumbles she demands a new apartment in exchange for a business appearance. But when it becomes clear that Jane desires a new home because she cannot bear the memories of her relationship with Roger, her desperation and regret become painfully sympathetic.

In addition to imbuing JAP characters with complexity, these depictions also represent a reclaiming of identity. With a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, they go so far as to embrace materialism, entitlement and other princess qualities. Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City,” though never formally identified as Jewish, bears some JAP signifiers: She is obsessed with shopping, hates the outdoors and doesn’t like to cook. None of these traits comes across as negative, but instead they are all presented in the context of Carrie’s humor, intelligence and sensitivity. Rather than force Carrie into the obnoxious and sexually unappealing stereotype of the past, these qualities shape her glamorous and whirlwind lifestyle. They are part of her charm and make her one of the most iconic characters in television history.

This is not to say that all of popular culture, or even television, has now embraced the evolved Jewish American Princess. Turn on Bravo, and every Jewish woman on a “Real Housewives” series seems like a living punch line for the corniest jokes. Materialistic, pampered and lazy, they embody the most obnoxious and obvious JAP traits. Ironically, it’s reality television rather than scripted that can’t seem to let go of the caricatures. Worse than grotesque, these one-dimensional women seem archaic.

Such outdated characterizations are doing everyone a disservice, and not just because they’re wrong. Depicting Jewish women in such crass ways is bad not only for Jewish women, but also for television. Even with many of the stereotypes intact, the JAP character can be emotionally layered and compelling to watch — a fact evidenced by Shoshanna Shapiro and her peers. The Jewish American Princess may be with us for a while, but that doesn’t mean she’s got to stay the same. We’ve just got to let her evolve.


Emily Shire is the chief researcher at The Week magazine and a freelance writer. Find her work at emilyshire.wordpress.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.