In October of 2006 my rabbi started blogging. While trying to comment on one of his posts, I accidentally registered my own blog. Within hours of posting a comment, my name began appearing in Google searches. I was now linked to the post I had commented on, previous posts my rabbi had written, comments left by other users and the posts they had written elsewhere within the blogosphere. The rapidity with which I was branded, not only by my own online activity, but also by the online activity of others, seemed incomprehensible.
I thought about this phenomenon in relationship to, the images that my friends and I had posted on Myspace throughout that year. I unknowingly went from being slightly annoyed and simultaneously amused by the phrase “take a picture of me for my Myspace”, to it becoming completely natural and almost organic to document every moment, every outing, every time my friends and I put on make up, and to take pictures for Myspace. I saw this behavior even further exaggerated in the high school students I was student teaching. Their conversations were dominated with events that had transpired on Myspace, and when they were not talking about Myspace they were taking pictures for Myspace.
When we talked about the factors that contributed to the construction of their individual and collective identities, my students were quick to bring up their style of dress, group of friends, the neighborhood they lived in, and the way they spoke. Yet not a single student referenced their online activity, the pictures they posted, the groups they joined, the comments they left on each others pages. I wondered why it was, that they were so aware of and adept at reflecting upon their experiences in the material offline world, but failed to mention the social network that played such a major role in their day-to-day lives.
DECONSTRUCTING PERSONAL IDENTITY
(today) I am referring to myself as a performance artist, Internet curator, and editor. I create and (concurrently) perform multiple online identities, by sampling from different representations of existing cultural discourses. I fragment my personal experiences and invite others to join in, and modify and regroup those fragments. By doing this I hope to share the process through which I deconstruct and reconstruct my individual conception of self, so that others can do the same in their lives.
In the series Acciones Plásticas I performed representations of five constructed characters: a religious Jewish woman, a spoiled Jewish girl, a ghetto Latina, a sexy Latina professor, and a Mayan woman. I created low quality YouTube video blogs for four of the characters, the Mayan woman did not have a video, as she would not have had access to YouTube technologies. The videos were strategically placed on popular social networking sites, including YouTube and MySpace. The layout of YouTube contextualized the videos and framed them with user comments and similarly tagged user content. Jewish Girls was picked up by a popular left-wing Jewish blogging site Jewschool, and soon entered the Jewish Blogosphere where it was referred to as the JAP. This repositioning shifted the focus from the portrayal of multiple interwoven identities to a depiction of the Jewish American Princess. The JAP became how people knew my work, validating me while simultaneously conflating my identity with that of this particular character.
One of the strategies that I employed to counteract idea of “me as The JAP“ was to group videos from the series Acciones Plásticas together with three other Youtube videos in a video reel of my work. The first video in the reel, el es frida kahlo is me dressed as Frida Kahlo where I violently scream I am Frida Kahlo! In second video Be Wife, I wear a bright red bikini top in front of an image of a Mayan temple in Tikal. Traditional Guatemalan marimba music plays in the background, while red text scrolls across the top reading Guatemala’s finest export. The third video Que Sencilla, features me as a little girl, who is being coaxed by an off-camera male voice to perform a dance for the camera.
Someone who is expecting to see a Jewish American Princess, is instead greeted with an enraged Latina artist, trying to fight the stigma of being associated with Frida Kahlo. My inclusion of these additional videos was to show the multidimensionality of the five characters initially presented in Acciones Plásticas. The Mayan women does not have her own YouTube video, but with the addition of the Be Wife video, her absence is felt even greater. The face of Guatemala in these videos, is the chest of a mail order bride. Another example can be seen within the four original videos themselves. With the grouping of the ghetto latina with the sexy latina professor, vast cultural and class difference can be seen between the two representations of Latina women. Put together with el es frida kahlo and Be Wife, there are suddenly five Latina performers all acting on one stage.
Acciones Plásticas was discussed in current issue of Bitch Magazine Lost and Found #38. The article is entitled The Princess Diaries: In an Age of Ostentation the J.A.P. is Back written by Julia Appel, a rabbinical student at Hebrew College.
To view the full article (pdf version) click here
One blogger on Jewschool questioned the artistic success of a new piece by a performance artist named Maya Escobar entitled Acciones Plasticas (Plastic Dolls), in which the artist impersonates in short video segments various stereotypes that make up her identity. Her send-up of the J.A.P. was familiar to me from my years spent in a heavily Jewish, upper-middle-class suburb of Boston. Escobar’s J.A.P. flips her straight dark hair and fiddles with her silver jewelry as she talks insipidly about her high-school popularity and rejection of male suitors. The blogger wrote by way of illustration, “She…nails the J.A.P. with a monologue so infuriatingly vapid and unaware it’s as excruciating as the real-life experience.”
[…]Using the Jewish American Princess in a deadpan manner can result in a sophisticated social critique that reveals how ridiculous the stereotype itself. The key is absurdity: Take Sarah Silverman, who frequently conjures the J.A.P. in her comedy, with mixed results […] Maya Escobar’s piece also falls in this category: by contextualizing the character in her video as a “doll” she reveals how ridiculous it is to take the character seriously.
But what about the less-successful attempts at deploying the term? The reason “J.A. P.” is ripe for reclamation is because it stands at the border between resonantly hateful and outdated. Although not as widely used as it once was, it still packs a punch. Therefore, if the context is not skillfully executed, the attempt serves not to interrogate or reclaim, but rather only to perpetuate the myth[…]
In her essay The Myth of the Latina Woman/ Just Met a Girl Named Maria, Judith Ortiz Cofer describes her Puerto Rican upbringing in a strict Catholic home in New Jersey, where she was taught to behave like a proper señorita. Cofer explains that the conflicting messages she received as a child, were those commonly propagated by Puerto Rican mothers. “They encourage their daughters to look and act like women and to dress in clothes that our Anglo friends and their mothers found to mature for our age.”
When the mere notion of latinidad equates passion and sexuality to gringos, why is it that Latino men are the first ones to point finger and to call these same women suelta (loose) or facil (easy)? Wouldn’t they understand? Have they not been subjected to the same treatment? Perhaps it is comes down to the way they were raised.
In the Latino culture ideas of masculinity and femininity are delineated very early on. Author Evelyn P. Stevens, first introduced this concept know as machismo and marianismo in 1973. Machismo grants supreme authority of the man over the woman. Under this doctrine women, who are considered to be morally and spiritually superior to men are able to endure abuse. They grow up expected to follow the sexual code of marianismo, and are submissive to the man’s authority.
Puerto Rican culture places women into one of two categories the virgin or the whore; mujeres de la casa (women of the home) or mujeres de la calle (women of the street). Una mujer de la casa, is expected to be pure, giving and compassionate. While, una mujer de la calle is considered to be sluty, wild, and dangerous.
In Honor and the American Dream: Culture and Identity in a Chicano Community, author Ruth Horowitz says the following:
The very presence of a woman outside the household implicates them in promiscuity and/or sexual misconduct. Puerto Rican girls learn this good girl/bad girl dichotomy most clearly in the recruitment into reproductive labor… A good girl cooks, cleans, takes care of younger siblings, and helps her parents. In contrast una muchacha de la calle is a transgressive women who has gone beyond patriarchal control whose sexuality is unbounded and therefore dangerous.
While in Puerto Rico this January, I had the privilege of meeting the incredibly talented video artist, Tamara Liz Rivera Boria. Tamara and I instantly bonded, finding similarity in the content of our work, and decided that we needed to collaborate.
I conducted a short series of interviews with her (documented with the camera from my laptop), where she describes her work as it plays on the screen behind her…
Interview with Puerto Rican Artist Tamara Liz Rivera Boria
Maya: Tamara, what can you tell me about muchachas de la calle and muchachas de las casa?
Tamara: De la casa and de la calle girls might as well be related. They exchange roles sometimes, de la casa girl wanting to be de la calle, and vice versa.
Maya: How has this affected you?
Tamara: I was raised in a catholic home, in a catholic school. I can tell you, I have been fucked up. I didn’t want to be told what to do, or what to believe in.How can you tell someone that using a condom is a sin? I had many issues over the years being raised like that. Even though my parents are not Catholic extremists. They were pretty easy going that’s how they could understand me or deal with me. Deep inside it made a mark, no matter how much I tried to live and understand the world. I became insane trying to understand other people lifestyle because indeed I might have been raised inside a bubble. I still am kind of in there, don’t wanting to look at how things really are.
Maya: What role does your cultural upbringing play in your work?
Tamara: Recently I made a video called él, baño de marîa. In this video I present various symbolism about religion, pecados (sins), sexuality, purity, faith among other things. Mainly because our culture has raised us thinking inside the box, controlling us with Christianity, especially Catholicism. Being pure, waiting till marriage although most don’t do it, is deep inside the mind. Like it is wrong to embrace sexuality.
Aglubium, is another video I made in collaboration with Ralph Vazquez and Rebecca Adorno. In this video I am drowning, or trying to kill myself by submerging my head in the water. It’s aggressive, and it’s beautiful. We just want to end, we don’t want to think. We don’t want to face fears. We don’t want to wait, we want to get it over. We want to drown our fears. We don’t want to face reality. Escape its what we do.
Maya: How do you escape?
Tamara: Most people (Puerto Ricans) use drugs. Puerto Ricans that do not use illegal drugs, use legal pills, alcohol or even coffee. Everyone has an addiction. It’s a shame but I have seen most of my friends doing drugs. I been there, I done that but I never had an addiction. My new boyfriend said I was an alcoholic, he didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t. It wasn’t till he lived with me for over a moth when he saw that I didn’t drink for so long that he believed me, and with the cigarettes the same.
For some weird reason I can try things for as long as I want and not create any addiction. I wish it were the same with those that surround me. But in the arts almost all the people I know use some kind of drugs, are the ones that worry me the most are the most intelligent that keep using. I guess they are not that smart…
Maya: Is there an alternative to escape?
Tamara: I can see clearly that with true art I can make a difference, I can say what I understand to be real and important. I might help somebody. Other people just ignore what is going on (Puerto Rico). So many things had happen here, that demanded the people marching up the streets in protest, because our government is insane. But people don’t, they just “sit quietly”. They don’t want to get involved, they think they cannot change anything. They believe they have no power, when indeed I say, with all your power, what would you do? – I love that flaming lips song-
Maya: How does this affect Puerto Rican girls?
Tamara: Puerto Rican girls have many issues. Not only because of gringos (Americans) our identity issues extend into religion and the ways women are portrayed in the reggaeton culture. Girls want to be thin like gringas (American girls), they don’t like they’re beautiful curves, ass and tits. They always feel fat no matter how thin they are. I bet this happen everywhere, but these are issues we shouldn’t have.
Accepting ourselves, as we are its what we should do. Because we are not gringas! We are not blonde and white! But boys see these girls in TV, and everywhere and they expect girls like that. It’s the gringo media. I’ve forgotten all about this, but I also had these issues. I think I kind of still do, I just ignore most of the time.
Maya: You mentioned Reggaeton, what message do you think Reggaeton is sending to young women?
Tamara: Reggaeton is a part of that movement leads ladies to feeling less than the man, like he has to buy her. Girls learn to use their sexual power way to early with reggaeton. It is a confrontation for some, between what they like (reggaeton movement, lifestyle) and the religious foundation they might have. But since it probably was forced (religion) they escaped thru reggaeton. Ultimately ending in ugly situations.
Maya: Okay , I agree with you. But I am not going to lie, I love reggaeton… are you sure you don’t secretly like it?
Tamara: I don’t dig reggaeton; I see how girls embrace being just a piece of meat, especially high schools girls. How much is this necklace, like a million? Said a girl, the boy answered – no. The girl said – well then, work and buy me this necklace.
Yesterday I heard a senior girl say that to her boyfriend at a hotel, it was their prom. Girls parade in lil’ dresses, easily they could have been mistaken for high-class whores. I won’t even comment on the dancing. It has gotten worse, every time. Since parents are so young they allow they’re children to behave like this. I mean, I see a problem with these situations. Boys catch another boy,looking at their girls, no matter if its sexual or if they just passed and look because its simply there, they get all worked up and want to fight. What is that dumbass looking at? So basically, what, people cant look at each other now? Girls can’t stand if you look at them either. Puerto Rico was not like that; you went to the mall, smiled and people smiled back at you.
The reggaeton anger and sexual damage can be easily identified. Even kindergarten boys are sexually harassing little girls. My mom is a teacher and I have heard some stories. I haven’t analyzed reggaeton issues deeply; this is just for what I have seen.
Maya: Thank you for your insight Tamara, I can’t wait to see what you produce next. I hope we can collaborate together in the future.
Tamara: I know I could make more sense out of my ideas, since they’re not organized very well, but it doesn’t matter. This is just the beginning of many wonderful works to come, ideas to flow… I’m glad that I can collaborate with you.
“Everything that surrounds me, mi entorno, makes a part of who I am and what I say in my videos. Little by little its somehow implicated.”
As I begrudgingly stated in my interview with Tamara, I am a fan of reggaeton. Like most, I don’t even acknowledge the lyrics or really think too much beyond the beat of the music. Yet now I find myself wondering, are most girls conscious of the message? I guess to some extent they must be, after all as Tamara shared many sing the lyrics as they grind (rub up) on men.
In my research I found extensive commentary regarding the direction of Salsa and its implications on women in the Puerto Rican community. However, as it is relatively new form of music, the writing concerning Reggaeton seems to be incredibly limited.
So I turned to a more contemporary source and found a blog entitled REGGAETONICA, written by Raquel Z. Rivera; author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone. In a recent post: From White to Mulata: The Darkening Powers of Reggaetón, she shares an email addressing this very issue:
I think reggaeton has been raunchy & explicitly all along, but I think the lyrics have reverted back to the “Reggeaton Sex” days of Underground. I think that “raunchiness” & degradation have become more mainstream & therefore are seen as less scandalous & more acceptable to society, so I think it has questioned our value as a community. The fact that Reggaeton outright refers to sexual references & acts & is accepted as mainstream Puerto Rican culture posing an interesting cultural issue for me. Now you can go to Puerto Rico and see young girls singing “dame con el palo, ” & they’re parents paying no mind to it, which I think is crazy. In the beginning of Reggaeton I found the lyrics to be much more raunchy, violent, & drug-related. Then mainstream Reggaeton came along, switched the “sexo” to “amor” & the “nenas” to “gatas.” I think these subtle changes in language allowed Reggaeton to be more successful in the mainstream, but now a lot of artists are moving back to the original lyrics because they already have a stable fan base. I mean, look at someone like Tony Dize, if you translated some of his songs into English, they could put even 50 Cent to shame with the blatant sexual references & degradation of women.
Perhaps reggaeton is so widely accepted by mainstream and popular culture, because it provides a free ticket to promote these concepts in a non-threatening form. If Puerto Rican women and other Latinas are fine dancing to this music, then what harm is there in gringos doing the same.
This then becomes representative of Puerto Rican culture. When a gringa dances to reggaeton she can purse her lips and grind on men, but without an attached stigma. She is just acting like a Latina girl. The Puerto Rican girls participating in this scene are aiding in the further perpetuation of the stereotype of Latina’s being easy.
However, as Tamara explained a lot of this has to do with a search for independence. Wanting to rebel against the forced restrictions of being una mucha de la casa, girls go to the furthest extreme to break down those barriers. But to what cost?
I myself am unable to provide a concrete solution. Yet I do think that one of the primary steps to forward progress is conversation. Tamara and myself have opted to publish the text on the web so that others may join in the dialog…
Please take this as an opportunity to let your voice be heard.
I welcome anyone who would like to offer a response online, either written or in the form of a video blog. Remember that the acciones plásticas videos are not the stereotypes themselves, they are women who have be affected by their presence.
I will continuously update this post with videos as they are submitted. “How does it feel to be called a _____?” Feel free, (but not limited) to respond to the stereotypes I have presented. Use this as an opportunity to share your own experiences.
If you are an educator takes this as an opportunity to discuss these issues with your students. I am in the process of developing curriculum for presenting acciones plásticas in the classroom.
while the “youtube” video blogs are played on a reel.
The public will be invited to respond, by altering the text accompanying each doll. Over the course of the exhibition the original cards displaying the stereotype will be replaced by the new cards with altered text.
Your video responses will be incorporated into the reel.
From the show
Now I am asking you to participate. Hopefully viewing these images has caused you to question if and when similar stereotypes have been applied to you or those around you. Please take the time to share your experiences by clicking on any of the dolls to submit your response.
I have included a section with guiding questions. If you have more you would like to submit post them here
Please feel free but not limited to answering the following questions regarding each doll:
Is there any truth to this description?
Are all of these things negative?
What is the origin of this stereotype?
What is a _________ really like?
What does this stereotype leave unsaid?
from the series acciones plásticas
click here for Kol Ra’ash Gadol’s critque on Jewschool about this piece.
When Maya Escobar uses this stereotype she may be either mocking it or indulging it – or both – that’s one of the dangers of comedy. She clearly thinks that she’s mocking it, and attempting to provide a conversation starter (Okay, Maya, so here I am starting a conversation: Kol hakavod!) But even in her attempts to mock the stereotypes that have been projected onto her (and let’s be clear the chach and the sexy latina aren’t any better!), I have to wonder about those who are watching the comedy, and whether it helps them reject – or accept- those experiences in which they met a person onto whom they themselves projected such a label. “After all, how can she “nail the JAP” if there’s no JAP to be nailed, if the JAP happens to simply be a person whom one dislikes upon meeting, but no more likely a Jew than a Lutheran? In order for it to confirm that glorious feeling, one has to have a little sense that there is something about being Jewish and female that attaches to that kind of behavior, n’est ce pas?
she offers the following links
an exerpt from Dr. Evelyn Torton Beck’s essay “From ‘Kike to Jap’:How misogyny, anti-semitism, and racism construct the Jewish American Princess.”
bibliography of the analysis of the JAP stereotype
SHOMER NEGIAH PANTIES NOW AVAILABLE ON ShomerNegiahPanties.com
Shomer Negiah is a concept in Jewish law halacha that prohibits any degree of physical contact with, or touching of, a member of the opposite sex, except for one’s spouse and immediate family. Shomer means “guards”, but due to its common use in phrases relating to religious practice, it has come to mean: “adhere to” as well. Negiah is the Hebrew word for “touch”, and thus Shomer Negiah is a term used to describe one who “guards the touch” or simply “adheres to restrictions of touch”. Although the feminine form of the term is technically Shomeret Negiah, it is almost always used in the masculine, even when in reference to women. Shomer Negiah Panties allow a woman to abide by the halacha, but still be individual and sexy at the same time.
my pink sexy low cut bras say vlo sasuru in micro print … lol
frumbabe | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 2:00 pm
why don’t you ASK her, DB? Or would that be un-tznius (as opposed to, say, visiting her blog, looking at her panties, and then tattling on your own blog…) 🙂
Tzipporah | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 2:34 pm
this is much more tzanuah.Trust me. I’m a man 🙂
DovBear | 02.22.07 – 2:44 pm
“Shomer Negiah Panties,” essentially ordinary cotton undies, I’m going to run over to CafePress and put some “Shomer Negiah Thongs” up for sale.
Al Gore | 02.22.07 – 3:07 pm |
What about the fringes? Women unite for equality! We want fringes on our panties!
Anonymous | 02.22.07 – 3:13 pm
How about upgrading to a tattoo strategically placed on one’s behind? This could be a real trend on the upper west side!
Anna Nicole | 02.22.07 – 3:18 pm |
How about upgrading to a tattoo strategically placed on one’s behind? This could be a real trend on the upper west side!
Totally unecc. In Willy. they’ve found the combination of bald heads and really thick stockings serve the same purpose.
DovBear | 02.22.07 – 3:27 pm |
that’s a weird fetish. 🙂
Tzipporah | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 3:31 pm |
Not a fetish. A form of birth control.
Anon | 02.22.07 – 3:39 pm |
I think it’s just for giggles. I could imagine SN girls giving each other these panties as a joke… the number of SN guys who’ll ever see them on a girl is probably tiny.
quietann | 02.22.07 – 4:10 pm |
Granny panties are by definition shomer negiah.——–
Perhaps what the world REALLY needs are burqas with playboy bunnies or ‘party-babe’ stencilled across the front.
The Back of the Hill | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 4:18 pm |
Been done before. Look, don’t you think this makes the statement just a bit more…… pointed? http://www.corkscrew-balloon.com…torture/ 31.html
“A form of birth control“
A form of birth control??? Wow, I’d hate to know what you consider birth-out-of-control, then.
Baal Devarim | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 4:33 pm |
ThePervert | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 4:52 pm |
I just don’t see it.Then why bother giving old Maya and her incredibly unfunny, juvenile and tasteless underwear any more free publicity? What motivates you to post what you do really mystifies.
Chaim G. | 02.22.07 – 5:13 pm |
Oooh, these could be useful for the frum girl who secretly moonlights as a stripper. Warning, guys — all lookie, no touchie.
GoldaLeah | 02.22.07 – 5:19 pm |
the frum girl who secretly moonlights as a stripper. A match truly made in hell as her audience would no doubt comprise frum boys who secretly “moonlight” as patrons of “gentlemens” clubs
Chaim G. | 02.22.07 – 5:28 pm |
Kinda like the “Sanitized for your protection” ribbons on motel toilets.
Psycho Toddler | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 5:54 pm |
A match truly made in hell as her audience would no doubt comprise frum boys who secretly “moonlight” as patrons of “gentlemens” clubs…I now have this mental image of bearded young gentlemen wearing ill-fitting ‘gentile’ clothes yelling “remove your sheitel, remove your sheitel”. Thank you. It will take me a while to get over this trauma.
The Back of the Hill | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 6:14 pm |
BOTHDain ershtoinung iz gornit antkegen der ershtoinung fun zaira vaiber If only such occurences were as humurous and harmless as the “sleeveless bar” scene that you conjured.
Chaim G. | 02.22.07 – 6:20 pm |
I can see them being a present for a friend too–or a joke for one’s husband.I don’t see them having any halachic purpose, though. Unless there’s a mitzvah to wear tacky panties that I somehow missed.
balabusta in blue jeans | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 6:27 pm |
I’m married, and I would wear them. I think they’re hilarious. But I’d be too scared to give them to anyone I know–they might take it the wrong way.
Rivka | 02.22.07 – 8:39 pm |
Pardon me for the overshare, but I have a pair of panties that say “Girls know best” on the front. And there are times that they are appropriate for the situation, like maybe when I need a reminder that girls really do know best 🙂 (I am almost 43, so hardly a girl, but the sentiment is the same.)Similarly, I could see a shomer negiah young woman wearing these panties on a date. Just knowing what her panties say might help her keep her skirt on!
quietann | 02.22.07 – 10:21 pm |
at the mall any day now, i’m expecting to see “Shomer Negiah” stenciled on the butt of some babes yoga pants…
eliyahu | Homepage | 02.22.07 – 11:15 pm |
I am truly mystified that this post exists
reality | 02.23.07 – 7:38 am |
It’s obviously a gag. What’s the big deal? Girls that are really shomer are never going to wear them with any expectation that a guy will see them, and those that aren’t will wear them for their ironic humor.
nicejewishguy | Homepage | 02.23.07 – 11:15 am |
How about upgrading to a tattoo strategically placed on one’s behind?Also know as a “Tramp Stamp.”
Al Gore | 02.23.07 – 12:26 pm |
It should also say “shomer negiah” in braille in case it’s dark in the room when being read.Should also say it in Hebrew or Yiddish, so the message is clear to all chareidim as well.
B.T.A. | Homepage | 02.25.07 – 1:54 pm |
Ah, should have looked at her site first. DB, now you’re linking to tushies?! What a shonda. I go away for a few weeks…In any event, perhaps she could tatoo it on the small of her back, then could wear any panties she likes? Just a thought.
B.T.A. | Homepage | 02.25.07 – 1:55 pm |