This morning Z and I were talking about the kind of woman whose only method for communicating with men is to come on to them. He hates dealing with this type of female, especially if they are on the young side because it makes him feel like a dirty old man during every conversation. And Z loves to flirt, loves it. He will flirt with anyone on god’s green earth if given the chance in the right setting. But if he is talking about something serious he wants to be able to have a frank and intelligent conversation. Flirting in that context is actually pretty lazy, it’s what you do when you don’t have anything of substance to say. The point he was making today was he often feels like these women do have things of substance to say, which makes the sexualized way they approach every conversation all the more frustrating. We both wish we could be completely forthright and just tell these women to cut it out, that they are selling themselves short.
But you know what? Women come by that behavior pretty damn honestly. The message fed to us from birth by the media and through advertising is often that our looks and our sexuality define us. We know better, but the message is so pervasive that is is impossible to escape. Our self worth is measured by how attractive we are. I am lucky that my parents raised me to believe that I was equal to any man in every way. My father discussed his work with us every night around the dinner table. He occasionally had to make presentations at conferences. He would sit my sister and me down and rehearse his speeches on us when we were children, then he’d take the time to listen to our feedback. What a gift he gave us! Yet despite that upbringing I still worry about not being thin enough, pretty enough, I feel useless because I’m so bad at presenting myself as a sexualized being. In a classroom I might be confident, but in social situations I feel like I’ll never measure up to the expectations of being a vivacious, attractive, sexy woman. The ubiquitous focus by the media on the sartorial choices of Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin as they ran for office is an obvious example of how you must be more than just brains as a woman. As was the cruel and bizarre focus on Clinton’s “cankles” because clearly one cannot run this country without slender and defined ankles. That’s what won Obama the election 4 years ago-his Fibularis longus muscles are much more trim and shapely than McCain’s.
Wow. I sort of got carried away there and let my feminist show. The point of this whole post was meant to be much fluffier. As Z was headed out the door to work we wrapped up our conversation.
Me, “Oh man, do I do that?”
Z rather dismissively, “No. You don’t flirt. Ever.”
Me, “But what about back when I was 21? Did I do it then?”
Z, “Karen. No. You do a lot of things really well. You have never been able to flirt. Seriously. Ever. Ever.”
My need to overachieve kicked into high gear, even though I know I suck at flirting.
Me, “Jeeze! I can flirt!”
Z, ” Really, no. You can’t.”
Z, “Anyway! So we’ll meet at the restaurant tonight at 5:30?”
Me, “Ok. And I’m going to flirt with every person I see there.”
Z with way more condescension that I was comfortable with, “Fantastic! I really look forward to seeing that!”
So if anyone knows where I can pick up some feminine wiles before 5:30 this evening please shoot me an email….
Wow. I did not do a good job communicating how I feel with this one. The first paragraph reads as an indictment of women who would dare to flirt. And that’s on me and my bad writing. It isn’t what Z and I were talking about. You see, we were talking about a specific woman who makes Z uncomfortable every time they meet. Because they are meeting in a professional capacity. I wanted to be sure to be vague about the details, but by doing so I made sweeping generalizations about women. Listen, flirting is cool. Men do it. Women should be allowed to also do it without stigma. And if I think more about it, this discomfort Z was explaining to me? I’ve felt that way when I’ve dealt with men who are flirty while in professional situations and it is every bit as unprofessional and disconcerting. Perhaps because of my own insecurity or because of the power dynamics that exist in cross-gender communication I feel less like men are coming on to me in those situations and more like they are bullying me. But I have a feeling that my reaction is pretty personal, not universal. Across the board I think sexualizing a professional interaction is inappropriate I also do think that some women (and some men) use flirting as a crutch. Perhaps I was so sloppy in expressing myself because I’m jealous of the women who can play the flirting game when I cannot? For the record, I think it important and necessary that women feel empowered to express themselves. Flirting rocks, even if I can’t to it myself. I do also think that there are situations in which it isn’t appropriate. And perhaps some women use flirting in those situations because of expectations society has placed on the gender in general. Am I digging a deeper hole here? Any ladies out there want to tell me what they think?