A few years ago, Urban Outfitters launched their “Everyone loves a . . .” line of t-shirts. Whether you were an Irish girl or a Jewish boy, embracing your ethnicity on a t-shirt suddenly became trendy. And while I personally don’t embrace this trend, some of the t-shirts being sold on websites like Jewcy.com, RabbisDaughters.com and Rotemgear.com are cute. (Admit it, the “Yo Semite” shirt on ChosenCouture.com is pretty clever.)
While most of the clothing items being sold are harmless (although some may be considered immodest), a few of the designs may be derogatory to non-Jews. The “Shiksa Goddess” and “Shiksa” shirts seems to perpetuate an unpleasant stereotype about non-Jewish women. This feels like a step backward to those of us at JOI who encourage welcoming the non-Jewish partners of Jews into the Jewish community. I don’t know many non-Jewish women who would gladly display “Shiksa” — the Yiddish work for non-Jew, but that more accurately translates to “abomination” — across their chests.
There could be three things at play here: first, the creators of these shirts did not realize they were being offensive, or didn’t care; second, there is a market for these shirts because women wearing them don’t realize they are wearing a slur, or don’t care; and finally, it’s possible that non-Jewish women know full well that the word is a slur and they are “reclaiming” it as a word of pride the way the gay and lesbian movement reclaimed the word “queer.” If it is the latter, then it would be okay for such folks to refer to themselves as “Shiksa” but I think it would still be offensive when others (especially born-Jews) refer to them as such. At JOI we’ve long said it’s time to remove negative words like “Shiksa” (and the male counterpart, “Shegetz”) from our communal vocabulary.