Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 03/30/2010

The Conundrum of The Flirt

Flirting at its finest

Flirting at its finest

I have a friend. Let’s call him Finneus. Finneus is a well known flirt at my school. The fact that he’s pretty much had a girlfriend consistently since the beginning of 6th grade does not disuade him in what can really only be called a flirtatious personality trait. He’s as consistent with his flirting as he is with dating – he will flirt with pretty much any female, and has been known at times to cross over and flirt with guys as well. Which is weirdly a way to show off his masculinity as long as it’s all in jest. This aspect of boy culture still eludes me.

Anyway, I used shrug off Finneus’s flirting, thinking, “Hey, he’s a teenage boy. It happens.” I couldn’t really get mad at him because, amazingly enough, his flirting was surprisingly varied and genuine. If he were only complimenting girls’ bodies (which, believe me, is not out of the question for him) I’d be pretty pissed off at his blatant objectification of women. But just as often as he compliments a girls boobs he compliments her on the grade she got on her last math test or her debate accomplishments. What?

Finally, I asked Finneus what the heck his deal was. I was truly fascinated by a boy who flirted so comprehensively. And his answer was pretty much as surprising as his behavior.

“I like making girls feel good about themselves,” he said simply. “And the things I tell them are true anyway, it’s just most guys don’t even think to say it. Or they’re stupid and they don’t care or don’t notice. Maybe it is flirting…I like flirting…but it’s all the truth.”

So what about complimenting girls bodies? You have been known to actually tell a girl she has a nice rack and feel that that exchange was sufficient, I remind him.

“I am a boy,” he reminded me. Oh right, I SUDDENLY remembered, rolling my eyes. “But the thing is,” he continued, “when I say ‘nice rack’ it does make girls feel good. They pretend like they’re offended, but they like the attention. It’s not my fault…blame the media.”

Now that last point is debatable. I’ve inherited some noticable boobs myself and when guys stare at them instead of my eyes while talking to me or go so far as to compliment them openly it really does make me feel uncomfortable and objectified. But at the same time, I think there’s some validity to what he’s saying. There are a lot of girls, when just parts of their body are complimented, act offended but secretly like it. It’s affirmation that they’re living up to some standard of beauty.

So where is the line between sincere compliment and objectification (and even sexual harassment) in the art of flirting? My friend Finneus really made me rethink this one. Where I had once written off any guys saying anything about girls’ bodies as objectification, I’m now reconsidering. Maybe a lot of these guys are just trying to make girls feel good. Or they’re trying to get ass. Tricky stuff.

All I know is that if more guys varied their game a little bit, and instead of saying “Great ass,” they tried, “Good job on that math test!” we’d all be just a little better off.

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  • A.Y. Siu @ at 12:36 pm, March 30th, 2010

    I think the issue here is that not all girls are the same. Some girls will pretend to be offended but secretly feel complimented. Some girls will be obvious about feeling complimented. Others will feel both offended and complimented. And others still will be only offended.

    Instead of treating all girls the same, this flirty guy should be a little more sensitive to the fact that people react differently to the same things.

    I don’t talk to my wife the same way I talk to her sister. I don’t talk to my brother the same way I talk to my mother. I don’t talk to strangers the same way I talk to friends. I’m not perfect, of course, but I try my best to act appropriately in whatever context I’m in.

    Flirting’s fine… when it is fine. And “compliments” about people’s “racks” are fine when you know the person and know she’s fine with it.

    Definitely agree about there being a need for more compliments on performance and intelligence than just looks. Women and girls have had plenty of “compliments” on their bodies over the centuries, welcomed or not.

  • Zoe @ at 3:03 pm, March 30th, 2010

    The whole girls act offended but secretly like it…well, I mean, I’ll be honest, I do like it. Not that I get extremely offended in the first place, though. I think there’s a line that can be crossed with blatant remarks like that. I don’t mind if a male friend decides to tell me that I have great boobs, because I like them myself and in a friendly context, I don’t mind discussing them. When guys are being objectifying assholes about it, it’s relatively easy to tell.

  • Vimbai @ at 3:32 pm, March 30th, 2010

    Personally, I’m more likely to be offended than complimented if the flirting makes me feel like a piece of meat and it’s from a complete stranger who shows little respect for me as a person, you know, like I just feel like boobs on legs. But with that said, I’d rather hear that I’m intelligent than I have a good rack.

  • Hannah @ at 5:34 pm, March 30th, 2010

    You have to give respect where it is due and lets face it, even if his response wasn’t perfect in the case of media and implication that all girls secretly like compliments that could potentially offend (whether he actually meant ‘all’ could be debated endlessly), he has a good point and a very convincing reason behind his actions. He likes to make people feel better about themselves. I’ve said people as “cross over” was mentioned. Also, if his response was ‘perfect’ I would be less incline to believe it, reasoning that he was merely repeating what he had learnt incase he ever was questioned about his actions. He seems like a genuine guy.

  • johnny @ at 5:56 pm, March 30th, 2010

    your friend’s excuse isn’t anything new. the old ‘but she secretly wants it!’ trope has been used time and time again to justify everything from inappropriate comments to unwanted groping to rape. it’s been in use for years, and it is complete bullshit, full stop.

    if you are hitting on somebody and they look, act, or say they are uncomfortable, you stop hitting on them. it is not your place to decide that they secretly lust for you and want you to keep going.

    your friend clearly either doesn’t understand this, or doesn’t care. frankly, he sounds like an entitled, misogynistic asshole.

  • SarahC @ at 7:14 pm, March 30th, 2010

    Some of it is being a teenage boy. However, the idea that girls secretly like it is a very real fallacy. Personally, I’m pretty up-front. I don’t pretend to dislike things I actually like, and my guy friends get it.

    Unfortunately, the only way to really tell is by knowing if the girls call him a creep behind his back. Frankly, if a guy notices my boobs, I’d rather he compliment me on them and be able to ignore them for the rest of the conversation than just stare at them the whole time.

    There are clearly lines to be crossed. I have a handful of casual friends that I don’t care about discussing my boobs. These are actually about equally numbered boys and girls. People in this group can make comments about my boobs without crossing the line, but random people on the street can’t. There are people I know are like that, and are like that with everyone, and don’t mean anything by it, and they get the same license.

    I suspect your friend has a better grasp than he lets on about who actually doesn’t mind and who’s genuinely offended by his comments.

  • May @ at 1:25 pm, March 31st, 2010

    I’m also a flirt by nature, because I also like making people feel good about themselves. But it is absolutely not ok to walk around discussing people’s bodies unless you have a close friendship that allows for that. Unless it’s something neutral like, “you’re looking good/great” or something like that.

    Saying that girls and women “secretly like it” has been an excuse for rapists, harassers and bad behavior for so long. It’s totally not ok. Like you, most women feel uncomfortable and objectified WHETHER OR NOT there is any additional feeling of being complimented.

    You should tell your friend that if he really respects women, he will keep his comments to topics that girl brings up. If someone brings up their boobs in a conversation, then they are probably ok with them being discussed and complimented.

  • Alex @ at 5:09 am, April 5th, 2010

    I think he meant that the media was influencing the woman’s self image, and not “The Devil/media made me do it.” Though still he might be making some assumptions to justify his behavior and doing more damage than he knows.

    It is my understanding that objectifying comments, like rape, aren’t really about sex as much as dominating the other sex. He sounds like he’s more interested in mutual enjoyment rather than domination, which is a very good sign.

    I found this article via feministing, and interesting study where they found that women exposed to cat calling, even as bystanders, become more suspicious of men. Cat-calling might technically be compliments, but to anyone besides a full autistic, it’s meant to objectify. Unfortunately a lot of flirting can occupy a gray area. If most examples of male-female interaction is of a objectifying nature, women will come to expect it, and will be suspicious, and men might not be sure how to proceed when genuinely interested.
    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2010/03/18/cat-calling-bystander-sexism-and-how-sexual-harassment-hurts-men/

  • Alex @ at 4:33 pm, April 7th, 2010

    “You should tell your friend that if he really respects women, he will keep his comments to topics that girl brings up.”

    Really now? So you’re saying that men should not talk about things that they want to in order to avoid offending women?

    Almost sounds like oppression to me…

    But as for the actual article, it’s refreshing to hear a woman say that yeah sometimes she does pretend to be offended and actually likes the compliment.

  • Melissa @ at 9:10 am, April 8th, 2010

    While it sounds like his heart’s in the right place, he is being entitled and misogynistic here. Yes, SOME girls at SOME points in their lives with SOME people like being getting “complimented” on their breasts. I know I have, at certain times and with certain people I trusted. I also know there have been other situations and periods of my life when those sorts of comments made me not only offended, but terrified. The way he lumps all women into one big one-size-fits-all group is ignorant at best, and pretty darn sexist. And like other people have mentioned before, it’s rapists’ favorite excuse. And they get away with it. When he gets away with that kind of behavior and continues thinking that “girls secretly like it,” rape culture is getting reinforced in his mind. Which could be extremely damaging, even if he himself isn’t a rapist. What if he ends up on a jury for a rape case? Or if he turns out to be a school administrator? Or a lawyer? Or a psychologist? Or a judge? Or a police officer? Or someone working in an ER? Or the relative/friend of a rapist or rape victim? He could do real damage.
    If he’s really just interested in making people happy, wouldn’t he avoid making comments that may or may not actually make them happy, and in fact might terrify them?

  • johnny @ at 1:06 pm, April 9th, 2010

    alex, you are misinterpreting may’s comment. it is clear she was referring to men’s comments made about women in the context of flirting. as in, if a woman has not made it clear she is comfortable with her boobs being commented on, you do not comment on her boobs. which is pretty damn simple, and hardly ‘oppression’.

    please do not try to pull the ‘poor persecuted men’ card.

  • liz4 @ at 8:21 pm, April 12th, 2010

    YES BLAME THE MEDIA. Media has really placed this emphasis on women and their beauty. Ad’s selling womens bodies for something such as motorcycles. Its crazy. So when he says that hes complimenting women, yes I believe that he is doing that. But if he keeps following the medias ways and the way they want you to think he really isnt going to change anything.

  • Erin @ at 10:46 pm, April 12th, 2010

    I believe that even when a guy is trying to be nice and say something to make a girl feel good he could come off as somewhat of a jerk. Girls want to be recognized not just for what they look like but what they do, and how well they do it.

  • Ann @ at 3:32 am, May 7th, 2010

    I can’t help but wondering if Finneus’ explanation for his behavior is just part of his game. I have known a few guys over the years who fit a similar profile – almost overwhelmingly complimentary, perceptive, genial, intuitive, and attentive – and they all have shared a compulsive need for female attention. I don’t say this to be overly cynical, I just think that some dudes are really good at telling girls exactly what they want to hear.

  • blakerivers @ at 7:25 am, August 15th, 2010

    Let’s be honest here, and let’s put things into perspective. As the author states, Finneus has “had a girlfriend consistently since the beginning of 6th grade.” I do not mean to condone his behaviors, but clearly his method of treating women has been working quite well for him. From his perspective, what does it matter if some girls get pissed off? Other girls seem to love him for it. That’s excellent reason to keep doing what he’s doing. You have to look at it from a utilitarian viewpoint. If his methods get him action with “hot girls,” then is unreasonable to expect him to change; it just does not make economic sense.

    In light of this, perhaps removing the rewards system that keeps guys like Finneus going is the best way to enact change. If no girls wanted to hear his objectifying remarks, obviously he would stop making them. But his successes with many women reinforce his behavior, and he is willing to turn a blind eye to “those crazy feminists.”

  • blakerivers @ at 7:58 am, August 15th, 2010

    We also need to do a bit of soul-searching when it comes to how bodily compliments make women feel. In our culture, one of the most important assets for a woman to have is beauty. For women in media, it’s always about being beautiful.

    It makes people feel good when they know that others around them desire them and enjoy their beauty. How would you feel if no man was ever interested in your body? Would you rather have too many guys fawning over your body, or would you rather no one ever looked twice at you? If women did not want their breasts to get attention, they would not wear low cut shirts or padded bras. Period. No hypocrisy allowed. That’s why I disapprove of such garments.

    With that said, there’s still a lot of objectification going on here, whether or not women like it. Someone like Finneus is getting mixed messages from men, women, and the media, which is part of why this problem persists. We need to stop sending mixed messages. Stop using the products (certain make-ups, garments, even high heels) that invite objectification. Or else, “ask and ye shall receive.”

  • A @ at 11:25 pm, September 15th, 2010

    Finneus sounds like a really nice guy. I think that the body complimenting is fine only if he knows the girl well enough and/or knows that she enjoys those sort of compliments.

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