Thursday, March 21, 2013

"On paper" UPDATED

Sometimes we all make assumptions. For instance, I'd assume an American Jewish woman of a certain generation would be familiar with what the "Jewish American Princess" stereotype consists of. As I have been informed that not all readers of my blog are American Jewish women around my mother's age (that my blog is read by more than just my mother), I will link to the Wikipedia entry on the phenomenon, which is incomplete but gives some sense. What it doesn't get into is the sexual aspect of the "JAP" cliché. The "JAP," according to tradition, wants a husband desperately for money and status, but is frigid and uptight. She's preoccupied with what she looks like, but her husband needs to be a hard-working pushover, and Jewish, and that's about it. 

Which is why I'm completely flummoxed by (JTL, avert your eyes) this recent Dear Prudence exchange:
Dear Prudence, 
I am a 31-year-old American Jewish woman who has been studying veterinary medicine and working in London for the past several years. I am ready to start a family. I recently ended a casual relationship with a man I desperately loved, but who wasn’t ready to commit. Enter David, a tall, blue-eyed Jewish doctor I would be proud to introduce to my family (the antithesis of the dark, hipster man I still think about). David is sweet and kind and everything I could ask for, on paper. We are a couple of months in and he wants to meet my mom, but I'm scared my family will love him so much I will be pressured into marrying him. Here’s my problem: He's bald. When we have sex it just sometimes feels like I'm banging an infant or grandpa and I get weirded out. I have never imagined being with a bald man for the rest of my life. I'd also like him to work out more than he does—I’m a workout junkie. All superficial things, but isn't passion and attraction an essential ingredient to a happy relationship? How do I improve a man without demoralizing his ego? How do I get past the baldness without resorting to asking him to wear a hat?

—Self-professed JAP

Dear Self,

I despise the Jewish American Princess stereotype, but in your case, you deserve the crown and scepter. Out of nowhere, just as you feel your egg timer ticking, comes a tall, kind, blue-eyed Jewish doctor who’s crazy about you. I’m ready to plotz! But you want to kick him out of bed because of a weak follicular showing. Surely you know that one day, no matter how much you can bench press, your breasts will deflate. I sincerely hope that your husband—if you find one—won’t complain that he feels as if he’s having sex with his grandmother. [....]
OK, so. Several issues here. One being that baldness and/or paunch are kind of the name of the game if you're a heterosexual woman over the age of 16 and not a supermodel. Heck, even if you are a supermodel. And even if your dude is currently musclebound and with a full head of hair, look around at men of various ages and it will become clear that what's common at 20 is less so at 50. So I wouldn't think to anchor male beauty to either of these. As Yoffe notes, aging happens to us all, and in predictable enough ways. That said, men don't seem to have a problem anchoring female beauty to qualities more often found in the young, even when assessing women they perfectly well know to be middle-aged. A further that-said: there's a case for being attracted to your partner initially, and then taking what comes aging-wise later on. Blather blather blather, but allow me to get to the point:

How does Yoffe, given her professed familiarity with the stereotype (and she's from the generation most plagued by it, I suppose), not see that it is in no way "jappy" to care what a man you're intimately involved with looks like? The "JAP" is utterly uninterested in intimacy or sexual pleasure. It is the precise opposite of the "JAP" stereotype to meet a nice Jewish doctor and think not, OMG when am I getting the ring, but, does he do it for me physically? And life being unfair, part of sexual attraction for the non-blind is, do you like looking at this person while you're having sex with them? Does this add to or detract from the experience? Obviously, not all women will consider baldness and paunch detractions - just as there are gay men who prefer the bear look, there are probably that many more straight women who simply associate that look with masculinity and would be suspicious of a never-aging Keanu Reeves type. (Poor Keanu, must be tough for him to get a date.) But the letter-writer, for whatever reason, is not one of those women. She spells out that she does not like looking at this guy while they are having sex.

These are, then, two separate questions: a) is she being a "JAP"? and b) is she being reasonable? Re: the first, it's an obvious no, this is exactly what a "JAP" does not do. If she cared what he looked like to her friends, if there were a status angle, maybe, but if this is about their most private moments together, nope, definitely not. Re: the second, it's less straightforward. It kind of hinges on whether "I am ready to start a family" refers to her desire to do so, in which case it might be time to reconsider an aversion to what heterosexual men in a 31-year-old woman's dating pool tend to look like, or whether this is something she feels she must say, but the occasional fling with a Keanu would be more to her liking. And I'd kind of guess the latter - the 'too-picky' single woman is often enough a woman who doesn't want domesticity but feels somehow obliged to pretend that she does.


So the consensus in the comments (which are, btw, impossible to read what with the scrolling, and mostly about the other letters) seems to be that a Jewish doctor with a British accent is the prize of the millenium. There are female commenters prepared to run off with him sight unseen. And it's readily agreed that this woman is a "JAP," because apparently "JAP" just means a single Jewish woman not aware that her kind ("JAPs" or Jewish women generally?) is so repugnant to men that she must take what she can get. The consensus is that a woman who expresses preferences for what the man she's sleeping with looks like is being superficial, that these preferences are something to be embarrassed about.

The only reasonable points around were that a) the guy deserves to be with someone who finds him attractive (although the reasonableness was mitigated by the accompanying assertion that this guy - sight unseen, remember! we have not heard him speak, observed his manner... - would have a million women lined up to marry him), and b) she might want to hold off introducing this man to her family.

Mostly, though, it's the usual man-shortage nonsense directed at single women generally and single Jewish women in particular. All of which leads me to revise my initial take - this woman should move on. Better for everyone involved.


Petey said...

"When we have sex it just sometimes feels like I'm banging an infant or grandpa and I get weirded out."

Your (valid) concerns about the piece aside, I'm just happy that Yoffe managed to work an incest/bestiality angle into her "reader question"...

Jacob T. Levy said...

Thanks for the warning! Skipped right on by. Don't wanna know.

Petey said...

"A further that-said: there's a case for being attracted to your partner initially, and then taking what comes aging-wise later on. Blather blather blather, but allow me to get to the point"

Burying the lede again.

Aside from the separate bizarre "JAP" usage solecism, isn't that the actual point here? I think the following line is key:

"(the antithesis of the dark, hipster man I still think about)"

That's important In the world you live in, while Yoffe seems to be living in world completely indistinguishable from a Jane Austen novel, but with more incest/bestiality...

PS Why does everybody toss the important part in parentheses?

caryatis said...

Phoebe, This is not relevant to JAPs, but did you see the Dan Savage post in which he suggests that 28 is too young to be married?

The letter doesn't actually say when they got married, though.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I hadn't seen that! And boy would that have been useful for my window-of-opportunity post, although it's tough to link to things that haven't yet appeared/been written.