As protective power tool for women, flirting has had key role
LAURA SESSIONS STEPP; The Washington Post
Animals are hard-wired to flirt in order to attract,
then judge, a mate. Experiments on rats have shown, for example, that
when traditional courtship rituals between the males and females are inhibited,
reproduction falls off. Of course, human beings have made up other reasons
to flirt - we turn on the charm to get a promotion, to raise our spirits
or those of someone else - but flirting to seduce is organic, whether
we're aware of it or not.
"A woman doesn't drop her handkerchief anymore,
but she may drop her Palm Pilot," says anthropologist David Givens.
"The end of it all is to have more of our own species."
Monica Moore, an evolutionary psychologist at Webster
University in St. Louis, has identified as many as 50 different signals
a woman may give to entice a man to come closer for her inspection. She
wishes more women understood flirting's protective power, bestowed by
nature because females are the ones who bear children and have more to
lose by making a bad choice of mate.
Young women of the middle and upper classes did set
the course of relationships before the 1920s, according to Beth Bailey,
professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico. A young
man would arrive at the home of a young woman and offer his card. She
might see him or she might not. If the courting progressed, the couple
might advance to the front porch, always under the eye of watchful parents.
Then came the automobile and the invention of dating.
Bailey writes in her book "From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship
in Twentieth-Century America," that when men took women out in a
car and spent money on them, they expected something in return: a woman's
full attention, submissiveness, even sexy fun . Men, and not the women they
dated, were now in control. This equation held straight through to the
last third of the 20th century, when feminism and the sexual revolution
started to shake things up.
In Bailey's view, the old gender-specific roles didn't
prepare women or men for marriage particularly well.
Here's how fast the generations can change: "My
mom says you should never have to depend on a man for money," says
Paige Nichols, an Arlington, Va., senior. "She said I didn't have
to be with a guy to be valued. I was afraid to have a boyfriend because
I was afraid she'd get mad."
Her friends at Starbucks all nod knowingly. They've
heard the same questions and admonitions: Why do you need a boyfriend?
Don't get wrapped up in a guy. Such parental warnings ignore the undeniable
tug of romance, leaving girls to seek love without guidance except, perhaps,
the dictate to "Just say no" to sexy fun .
Some mothers, like Sarah Brown, concede the dilemma.
Brown is mom to three daughters, including Helen, a senior at Stanford,
and runs the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
"It offends me to say to girls that you have to
look good, learn how to flirt, how to walk, in order to compete,"
she says. On the other hand, parents need to say something. "I don't
think any mother says, 'Here's how to be sexual in a way that is fun,
appropriate and will get you what you want, a relationship.'" Absent
that guidance, says Brown, young women rely on mimicking what other girls
do (or say they do) and what they glean from music and the media.
Are they really better off watching a barely clad Christina
Aguilera making love to a mike stand at a concert? Or signing on to BarBitches.com,
which promises advice on how to "properly conduct a hook-up from
start to finish"?
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