Coasties and controversy: Madison slur raises questions | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Coasties and controversy: Madison slur raises questions

There was an extraordinary number of Ugg boots pounding the pavement of Madison’s State Street this Halloween. The sheepskin boots were part of what seemed like the costume of choice at this year’s Freakfest — the Coastie.

Typically a “Coastie” is a woman from one of the coastal areas in America, usually New York, New Jersey or Los Angeles, Calif. She wears leggings, Ugg boots, North Face jackets, Longchamp purses, white v-neck men’s undershirts and big sunglasses.

She is often spotted drinking Starbuck’s coffees and seems to spend a vast amount of her parents’ money. A Coastie is always considered to be Jewish.

Though the term is not new, an original rap by two UW-Madison undergraduates, “What’s a Coastie?” has drawn controversy because of its perceived anti-Semitism and led to a resurgence of its use on campus.

The term has also been associated with real incidents of harassment. At a recent Badger football game, junior Melissa Sterling from New York was walking down the aisle to her seat, when, she recalled, “this 30-year-old guy took my hat [off my head] and called me a ‘Coastie.’”

Another junior Erika Meltzer from Los Angeles, was verbally assaulted at a football game two years ago. At one of her first games on campus, Meltzer didn’t know one of the cheers that erupted in the student section. One girl sitting near her said, “Put your f*ing hand up, you f*ing Coastie.”

Both “Sconnies” and “Coasties” agree that there is a divide between the two groups on campus. Sophomore and self-proclaimed “Sconnie” Leah Dipalma said, “It’s kind of like a war — Wisconsinites vs. Coasties.”

Today’s JAP?

UW Jewish studies professor, Jordan Rosenblum, immediately noticed the association between the term “Coastie” and “JAP.” Even the “Coastie” song includes lyrics such as “My East coast Jewish honeys.”

The term “Coastie,” “functions to reinforce the general stereotype of the Jewish American Princess (JAP), which is certainly not a flattering stereotype.”

Rebecca Neubauer, a junior from Chicago, agrees that the song has created an association between the twin stereotypes, Coastie and JAP.

“We [Jewish women on campus] can laugh about it … but if I walk in a room of Sconnies [Wisconsinites] who don’t know any Jewish people [they] call me a JAP.”

First identified in postwar America, the term JAP became widespread in the 1980s, including a slew of incidents on campuses, including anti-JAP graffiti, JAP contests and prohibitions against JAPs in housing ads. It receded from public discourse after feminists and Jewish community leaders launched a campaign against the slur.

Although such characterizations may be intended in fun, the consequences must be taken seriously, said Susan Weidman Schneider, editor of Lillith magazine, in a 1987 New York Times article.

“Jewish women’s self-esteem is being critically damaged by the stereotypes,” she was quoted as saying at an American Jewish Committee Conference on Current Stereotypes of Jewish Women.

To escape these labels, Schneider said, young women especially often try to distance themselves from their Jewish identity.

In Madison, some say that Coasties are partly responsible for the problem because they constantly fulfill the stereotype, whether by wearing leggings or living in private dorms like Statesider and Towers.

There’s some truth to that, according to sophomore Ariel Shapiro of New York. Some people from the coasts perpetuate the stereotype by living in the private dorms, she said.

“I think that they can try and integrate more into the general student body. There’s a self-segregation going on. They need to branch out and live in the [public] dorms, they need to not live in an East coast colony.”

But Sterling refuses to blame the victim. “I don’t feel a need to adjust the way I live to make other people feel comfortable.”

Coastie roots

The term “Coastie” seems to have started in Madison, said assistant professor of English and Linguistics at UW, Eric Raimy.

In the spring of 2007, his students conducted a study in order to determine the origin of the term. Students sent surveys to multiple schools in Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa to see if the term is used regularly there and which definition is ascribed to it — someone from out-of-state or a slur against Jewish women.

“Both of these meanings are found here in Madison, which suggests that Madison is the focal originating point of this word,” Raimy said.

“There is also the additional fact that, as one moved away from Madison, fewer people knew the term ‘Coastie’ and that almost everyone who did know the term could trace a connection back to Madison.”

Rosenblum is considering using the song to explore a range of issues in his class on Jews in Popular Culture.

Milwaukee native Michelle A. Langer is a sophomore at UW-Madison currently majoring in theatre and applying to the School of Journalism. She writes on campus for the Daily Cardinal and the Hillel magazine, The Voice.