America’s Next Bill Clinton!

I am not a flirt! I am just a (3rd wave) feminist!

Recently, I’ve been told – by more than just one woman – that the actions I take when around them tend to me misleading – and that I tend to be, according to some, a “flirt.”

I find this problematic and interesting because I am a pro-feminist male, and as such, I tend to treat everyone equality without regard to gender, but I cannot help but think somehow, because of my behavior, I am ending up confusing the shit out of some people, and in a sense, “leading them on.”

Because of my activism on and off campus in the feminist as well as progressive politics movements, I often dine with a lot of women – and have a lot of what I call “friendly outings” with them.

That’s certainly not the problem. The problem comes in when, in our interaction, I may say things that – in a gendered society as we know it, be considered flirting.

A touch on the shoulder here, a brush on the lap there, a “you’re amazing here,” a “you’ve got a beautiful mind,” there. Just compliments – and just friendly touching – all of which are welcomed. But then I’ve been accused that, because of this, women are taking it as a sign of a come on, and that I somehow don’t “follow through” with my actions, because I then go on and gloat about Emily and how wonderful she is and how much she means.

Perhaps that’s what bothers me the most about the gendered world as we know it – people can’t appreciate and show affection for one another – albeit a very platonic and friendly one, without having to feel as though they are somehow showing signs of romantic interests.

It’s not that I feel bad for myself – I live in a world with male privilege and have absolutely no rights to bitch or complain. I just feel bad that I may be leaving people with the wrong impression.

Really, in the end, is a brush on the lap, stroking someone’s face, or a compliment about how much you like them as a person, really a sign of a come on?

I mean – as a straight male, I do that to male friends, too. It’s a sign of affection. It’s a sign of closeness.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just be a robot, sit there and show no signs of emotions or affection whatsoever. Maybe then, no one would accuse me of being “well on [my] way to be America’s Next Bill Clinton – in behavior.”

4 Comments so far
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Everybody’s different, but if a guy (even a very close friend) was touching me (brush on the lap, stroke on the shoulder, cupping the cheek, etc), I would take that as a come-on. That might not be fair and it might not be his intention, but that would be my initial reaction. Like, woah, this guy LIKES me!!! If I was single and liked him back, I would probably be happy and take it to mean that there is a potential for a relationship and further touching…if you know what I mean.

I think touching in a non-romantic context is fairly taboo in society. Hugs are one thing, but if my husband was touching close friends the way you described, I would be very upset, just as I would be upset if a woman was touching him in the same way. I’m not a possessive or jealous person and I’m very secure in my relationship, but I think friendly touching crosses a line somewhere. And of course, that can change depending on the people, but in general that’s how I feel. I’m sure other people feel differently.

I know that when I was in high school, I was always really nice to the guys I wasn’t interested in. I didn’t feel self conscious or nervous around boys I had no romantic feelings for, so I would just be myself and have great laughs. Some guys got the wrong idea…because I was being so fun and friendly, they thought I was interested in them and would ask me out…I was always caught off guard…like, WHERE did they get that idea?? I thought I was just being friendly…how did they get the wrong idea? I had to closely examine my actions after those high school years. People did call me a flirt because I was just being so nice. Sometimes it’s hard to say where being nice ends and flirting begins. Of course, that doesn’t really have anything to do with touching, but sort of similar.

Comment by Sunny

If a guy were acting that way towards me, I’d assume he was interested (especially the brush on the lap or cupping the cheek, 2 moves I find to be extremely intimate and definite romantic signs). And, honestly, if a girl were touching you like that and giving you compliments about your “beautiful mind” would you really not think that she might be flirting with you? And if you act this way with your male friends as well, then I consider you a minority as an American male.

The problem is not our “gendered society” but American culture. Here in Europe, a place that still in many ways holds even more stereotypical gender roles than in the US, they are much more free with touching– you stand closer to people, and you say hello and goodbye by kissing cheeks. My husband had a college professor from Malaysia that all the students thought was flirting with them b/c she was very touchy-feely, which turns out to be very much a classic cultural habit. So I think this has much more to do with culture than gender roles.

I want to feel bad for you, but as a female that has tended to have guys think I want to sleep with them simply b/c I smiled and said “hello” (and this is not an uncommon problem for many females), well, it sorta feels like the shoe’s on the other foot for a change.

Comment by Marcy

touching of the face and lap seem very intimate. For me that is a come-on or should be coming from some one I know VERY well so I know how our friendship is defined and where this action is coming from.

Comment by nakedthoughts

Just browsing through your blog for the first time. I mostly agree with the things you write, though I find this post somewhat inconsistent with your feelings toward using pet names. For me, being a feminist has a lot to do with my freedom to choose. If I choose to call you babe or you choose to brush my arm, there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with either expression as long as the parties involved consent.

Comment by JoAnna

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