We need to talk about the way Jewish women are portrayed on TV.
There are so many issues with representation on TV — that’s no secret. But I can’t help but notice that the way Jewish female characters are written often flies under the radar.
Perhaps one of the worst issues is that so many young Jewish girls are portrayed as the stereotypical Jewish American Princess, aka JAP.
If you don’t know what I mean when I use the terms JAP or jappy, here’s the perfect example: Tammy from Bob’s Burgers.
She’s rich, entitled, spoiled, and a total snob. If she were a real person, she would attend expensive Jewish sleepaway camps in the summer. And if it were 2012, she’d rock Uggs and a Northface jacket in the winter.
Tammy becomes peak jappy at her Bat Mitzvah — aka the Jewish right of passage. Her party is over-the-top (not to mention that they completely skip the part about her having to read Torah) and she’s as demanding and whiny as possible. It’s cringe-worthy to watch, which is exactly what the writers intended. Tammy is the mean girl and Bob’s Burgers wants you to hate her. They want you to hate this little Jewish American Princess
Of course, there are plenty of examples outside of adult animation. Think Shoshana from Girls, Mona-Lisa Saperstein from Parks & Rec, Midge from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and yes, even Rachel Green from Friends (particularly in the first season).
Perhaps Rachel’s former high school classmate Will (aka Brad Pitt) puts it best at Thanksgiving:
“Typical of you, Rachel Green, Queen Rachel does whatever she wants in little Rachel land.” (Cue hair flip)
And when Jewish girls aren’t being portrayed as JAPs, they’re off being Christian-wannabes.
How many Jewish characters have we watched not only celebrate Christmas but actually bring Christmas trees into their homes?
I can’t for the life of me figure out why Monica, a Long Island-bred Jewish girl, would insist on having an extravagant Christmas tree every year. In fact, there’s only one mention of Chanukkah in the 10 years of Friends, and it’s brought up by Ross. If they didn’t directly mention that Monica was Jewish, you would never even know.
And of course who could forget when Gilmore Girl‘s Paris Geller went to her high school boyfriend Jaime’s house for Christmas. She returned ranting and raving about how awesome Christmas was, especially in comparison to Chanukkah, which she deemed lame.
Listen, I get that your Christmas trees are dope. No tea, no shade.
But you know what else is freaking awesome? Latkes, noodle kugel, Chanukkah parties, and lighting the menorah with your family.
I’ve never met a practicing Jewish family who ever had a Christmas tree. Yes, we heard tales that there were some Jews out in the universe who had Chanukkah bushes, but we were completely appalled at the mere thought.
This may all seem trivial to you. It may even seem petty.
But as we all know, representation matters. There are plenty of people out there who have never met a Jewish person IRL and this is all they have to go on. (When I went to college in Michigan, more than a few people told me I was the first Jew they had met).
With anti-Semitism on the rise, we can’t afford to take any chances with our reputation. The Nazi presence in America is very real (proof here, here, and here) and I can’t let anything slide, even if it’s just a cartoon TV show.
So, I want to be clear: these women on TV do not represent me. They don’t represent my life or the way I was raised, and most importantly, they don’t represent my culture.
Because Jews are so much more diverse than the white JAPs you see on tv. We’re queer, black, brown, activists, and total badasses.
It’s time to move on from the JAP stereotype and make way for some more accurate representations of what it’s like to be a young Jewish girl in America.
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This article was originally published on March 6, 2019
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, and Tiger Beat. Her favorite Housewife is Bethenny Frankel and when she’s not watching RHONY, you can probably find her obsessing over her tuxedo cat Tom or hoarding drugstore lipsticks.