'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!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • 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.