Sexy at Last: Why Bill & Gary Chose Those Girls

Once upon a time, on my first trip to France, when I was

living in a dormitory for American girls and feeling free as a bird, loose as a

leaf and frail as a snowflake, I met an American boy who’d been on a Fulbright

in Finland and had a notebook filled with poetry in his back pocket. One thing

led to another and there I was, in the attic room above the rooftops of Paris,

doing things that would have given my mother a heart attack. As the heavy,

scented smoke from the Protestant boy’s Gauloise floated about my head, he

said, “Jewish girls are so sexy.”

“Really?” I asked, pleased as I could be.

“Yes, really,” he said.

“I don’t think most Jewish boys would agree,” I said.

This conversation came back to me the other day as I was

looking at Chandra Levy’s photo. Monica and Chandra had more in common than

just being ambitious interns. They were both Jewish girls, not so uptight, not

so frigid (at least as far as the camera could tell). So juicy Jewish girls

exist, I thought. My Fulbright fellow was on to something. He was expressing

the common belief in his neighborhood that Jewish girls lived in their bodies

with more joy, more freedom, more pleasure than those who went to church with

him. But I was right, too. As the jokes prove, the Jewish men of a generation

past did think that Jewish girls were frigid, materialistic and not so sexy,

unlike the wonderful blondes, the idealized others-the Africans who promised

exotic paradises, the warm Italians, the freckled Irish, the subservient Asians

who knew sexual secrets that no Jewish girl could even imagine. Did my

Fulbright fellow admire me because of my personal adorableness, or was he after

a Jewish girl like a man might go fishing for striped bass in the sea? Was his

admiration for my kind a compliment or a prejudice turned inside-out? Why am I

worrying about this 45 years later?

Jewish women have all known Jewish men who wouldn’t look at

us twice because we carried the colors of the home folk. Our manner,

appearance, gesture, body type-all spoke of outsiderness, of first-generation

bottom-of-the-social-ladder-ness. And yes, they said we were frigid. Maybe, God

forbid, after centuries of marriage in the same Eastern European gene pool, we

also reminded some guy of his mother or sister, and the Oedipal whiff was

enough to make him run in another direction, into the corn-fed, the

white-bread, into the American dream, leaving behind a puzzled, rejected Jewish

girl.

I thought of this again

while watching The Producers , which

got a huge laugh with a line that says Jewish women don’t enjoy sex. I winced.

It’s a funny line, but the humor depends on the canard loose in the culture

that Jewish women are not good in bed (or at least don’t have a good time in

bed). Ha ha. Well, no point in being sensitive about something in The Producers , since every vulnerable

group is exposed to equal ridicule, and I laughed my head off when other types

were getting theirs. Humor is mean. It’s meant to bite, but it’s also telling.

Humor is not accidental; it depends on something we believe. It mocks our

pretensions and reflects our prejudices. No big deal-but I did hope that Nathan

Lane & Co. noticed that Monica and Chandra could not have been as unsexual

as all that, and that some men find them the most appealing type of all. Gary

Condit did not seek out a Swedish bombshell. He chased a Jewish girl whose

grandmother likely made gefilte fish from scratch.

You could make the point

that a guy like Gary, who is a Christian-morality candidate, is happy to play

with a Jewish girl but would never marry one. You could say that Bill Clinton

was happy to have oral sex with Monica but would never have taken her home to

Mother. That may be true, but it doesn’t change the point that the grass always

seems greener on the other side of the cultural divide: that Lutheran guys

daydream about Jewish girls while Jewish guys are busy making up Jewish-princess

jokes and running as fast as they can from anyone who can make a good guess as

to why we have matzo at Passover.

Some people say that it’s a sign of Jewish acceptance in

America that the losing Vice Presidential candidate was Jewish-and that that

wasn’t why he lost. Some point to the university presidents, the corporate

executives, the scientists and musicians, moviemakers and surgeons in America’s

roster of successful folk who are Jewish and say, “We have arrived.” These

things are impressive, but most convincing of all is that the two interns

involved in Washington scandals are both Jewish. That’s a 100 percent rate.

The question has been loose in our culture for a long time:

Are Jewish women loving, or even sexually capable? Hooked onto this issue is a

disguised self-dislike on the part of Jewish men, balanced perhaps by an equal

dislike on the part of the ethnic majority for the Jewish thread in our

country’s tapestry. Philip Roth wrote book after book about his search for the

perfect non-Jewish woman. They always failed to make him happy; some positively

tormented him. When one of his characters finally finds a Jewish woman, she is

anti-Semitic and torments him, too. This big-joke theme is no joke.

Following the line of fantasies about Jewish and non-Jewish

women through our culture, watching Woody Allen movies or reading about his

affairs in the tabloids, anyone can see that there’s a tension between the Jew

and the non-Jew that is sometimes presented as desire or love and sometimes as

rejection or hate. That tension is not a cultural artifact buried in the

dust-not yet, at any rate.

Jewish otherness is

still playing a role in our lives as Americans. As assimilated and successful

as we may be, there is still the tension: us and them, us and ourselves. How

like or unlike everyone else are we? Do we remain different? When they love us,

are we most in danger?

I don’t want to be

flippant about Chandra Levy. Something terrible has happened to her. Almost

everyone in America wants her killer caught and brought to justice. Her

Jewishness is not the point of this gripping story, this tragedy. But as a side

note, it tells us that yes, Jewish girls can be sexy, and a lot of guys mowing

the greener grass missed out. A lot of guys who married or played with Jewish

girls because of their supposed sexiness also bought into a myth. With all our

personal variety, we are probably no more or less sexy than anyone else. All

the rest, negatives or positives, form a tall tale-and a slightly toxic one, at

that.