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The trouble with nice Jewish boys and girls

I recently got wind of the 2011 Nice Jewish Guys calendar, described thusly:

Firemen and Chipendales have had their spotlight long enough! This Nice Jewish Guys Calendar turns the spotlight on the underrated characteristic that pecs and tight buns can't deliver...niceness. The Nice Jewish Guys Calendar features a different mensch for every month of the calendar year. Meet Brian, whose favorite movie is Annie Hall, and Michael who doesn't look Jewish, but is. 

Cute, although I'm guessing this calendar is more about making Jewish moms kvell than it is about making anyone swoon. This is far from the first time someone has capitalized on this idea; there have been plenty of examples when the Jewish community - and even those outside the Jewish community - collectively kvelled over a group of "nice Jewish boys." Most recently, I'm thinking of the Maccabeats Hanukkah video that went viral last December. The tune (Taio Cruz's "Dynamite") is certainly catchy, but the video's popularity was also a result of its "nice Jewish boy" appeal. I'm not sure why, but the "nice Jewish boy" thing has always felt a little strange to me - particularly because its reverse, the "nice Jewish girl," doesn't really parallel the "nice Jewish boy's" space in Jewish culture.

If a "nice Jewish boy" is a mensch, roughly defined as a "good person," is the "nice Jewish girl" a "menschette?" Jewish women, or girls, are much more likely to be categorized as JAPS (Jewish American Princesses) or "sultry, sexy Jewesses" than "nice Jewish girls."  In fact, the only time you really hear people say the phrase "nice Jewish girl" is in the context of marriage, as in: "Isn't it time you found a nice Jewish girl and settled down?" or "Nice Jewish boy seeking nice Jewish girl for longterm commitment." As a result, the "nice" in "nice Jewish girl" seems to connote an old-fashoined sense of domesticity and traditionalism rather than mensch-hood and integrity.

Even if "nice Jewish girl" did mean the same thing as "nice Jewish boy," would we ever see them on a calendar? I don't imagine it would have the same appeal. After all, girls are expected to be nice. Jewish women receive recognition for their accomplishments, leadership, and sex appeal, but "being good" is merely status quo.

When talking about nice Jewish girls and nice Jewish boys, I can't help but notice hints of the "attractive and successful woman gets schlubby, slacker dude" phenomenon in pop culture. From Marge and Homer Simpson to Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, we consistently see this double standard where amazing women are paired with "average guys," and are apparently lucky to be so. So, while we expect Jewish women to be smart, successful talented and sexy, Jewish men just need to be "nice."

It's also important to note that the "nice Jewish boy" stereotype may not be so great for Jewish men either. Jewish men are saddled with their own unflattering stereotypes, namely weakness and intellectual nerdiness, not to mention the lack of a hot bod and/or atheletic prowess. The fetishization of mensch-hood is one way to counteract that, I suppose, but it ultimately reinforces these stereotypes rather than challenge them.

While it seems sweet to kvell over nice Jewish boys, it also feels weird to champion traditionally stigmatizing stereotypes about Jewish men that are at odds with general American sensibilities about masculinity. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Jewish boys should abandon Jewish values of mensch-hood, or even that Jewish boys should conform to normative hyper-masculinity in American culture. I just think that Jewish boys should have the freedom to define manhood on their own terms, without feeling limited by the "nice Jewish boy" stereotype. Same goes for Jewish women defining womanhood free of the "nice Jewish girl" stereotype.

I'm curious to know how other people feel about "nice Jewish boys" and "nice Jewish girls." I asked people on Twitter and Facebook to do a word association and I'll compile and share their responses. I would like to hear yours too! What do you think of when you hear "nice Jewish boy" or "nice Jewish girl?"

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5 Comments

We are very similar to our ancestors in mostly the Ukraine, Eastern Poland, Lithuania, and Germany. However, we have become completely angloizced and have obviously abandoned our religion ad culture. The passivity of Jewish America males was internalized over in Europe because our ancestors survived by being weak and piggish. However, I look Lithuanian and am extremely attractive.

/unflattering stereotypes, namely weakness and intellectual nerdiness, not to mention the lack of a hot bod and/or atheletic prowess/

Well, Your Mileage Might Vary: I find intellectual nerdiness extremely attractive, and I don't see a lack of athletic prowess as something that makes one weak - not when it's compensated by intelligence and niceness.

PS: I found this blog entry by googling "Nice Jewish Boy", because I find the archtype kinda sexy, though I tend to prefer the older ones, mmmmnnn Mandy Patinkin. He's so sweet I want to jump his bones.

Think of it this way, it used to be that all a girl has to be is to be pretty and nice, someone pretty and nice for an Alpha male to come home too, I guess it's a bit of a flip.

Of course - what I observed of popular comedy (targeted towards MEN) is this: the men are rarely ever handsome or actually /sweet/ enough, or SMART, to make up for a lack in athletics or earnings.

Although I have to confess, I'm actually kinda attracted to guys who are NOT athletic, if it's slim-ish not athletics, like Howard on Big Bang Theory. Something about that just allows /me/ to feel more aggressive, in a way that I really really like. To each their own I guess.

I don't see any inherent inferiority or deviancy in being more aggressive or passive following or being against traditional gender role, it's cool as long as it's what people like, and not, pressure.

So yeah, for any douchebag who expect you to be super everything, while they are like, not remotely matching up, totally not sweet and cute enough for you to forgive them for it (The Cute Boy Consideration counterpart to The Pretty Girls exception of forgiving bad and stupid behaviour), then just kick them to the curb and NEVER settle.

Hey, if Nice Boys is exceptional because boys are expected to be nice, what about a calendar for Jewish Action Girls? Princess Leia, Willow Rosenberg, Kitty Pryde (X-Men)...and I'm sure someone else would know more.

I find it amusing that you're kvetching about "why don't we objectify jewish men?"

Since i created and distribute the Nice Jewish Guys Calendar i can respond to this accurately. I am more then happy to feature Nice Jewish Girls. As a matter of fact, we did a test shoot. We will be featuring three of them in the 2012 Nice Jewish Guys Calendar. Let's see how the reaction is. There may be a totally new Nice Jewish Girls Calendar for 2013. Sorry it's taking a minute but i'm a small operation. it's a good investment in the guys. the girls are more of a risk 'causer they don't illicit the same comedic response and people wanna pay for what makes them smile. so one step at a time. thanks very much for the interest. -adam cohen

Jewish boys are not always defined by the "nice boy" stereotype. Many Jewish boys are raised in environments where the values are education and family. But this does not make them inherently intellectually strong and physically weak. Jews and Jewish families are no longer the immigrant caste in America and with this conformity, there will be a shift in the stereotypes surrounding Jewish men. Just wait, in a few years all the underachieving Jewish burnouts, who failed to live out their parents dreams, will begin fornicating. This will inevitably give rise to a generation of intellectually weaker and physically stronger Jewish Americans, who can appear on any calendar they like (if they can land the job).

2011 Nice Jewish Guys Calendar
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The 2011 Nice Jewish Guys Calendar.

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "The trouble with nice Jewish boys and girls." 25 January 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 21, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/the-trouble-with-nice-jewish-girls-and-boys>.

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