The notion that “men should stop flirting with women” is something that will undoubtedly draw immense criticism, as people rationalize that without the action of “flirting,” there would be no people on Earth. “If your father hadn’t at one time approached your mother, you wouldn’t have been born,” they will tell me, a statement that is true but also leaves something out.
Flirting is defined as “behav[ing] as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but for amusement rather than with serious intentions.” This is a definition many will not identify with the colloquial understanding of the term, as it is an act that has been successfully bastardized by various members of the male population.
Many men see flirting as telling a woman that they find her attractive. They call this “hitting on.” They see no harm in this behavior. Yet what this fails to address is that women did not ask for your opinion. They don’t care that you think they’re “hot,” as you have so cleverly put it. While your comparison to a soup’s temperature in your mind is probably the “pinnacle of charm,” you must recognize you’re not the first to try this. These women are trying to get to work, making a quick stop in a store, going on an outing with friends: in other words, they don’t have time for you.
Now that doesn’t mean you can’t compliment a woman as a straight male, but there is a time and a place for such behavior. Obviously, if they ask what you think of their outfit on that day, you are at liberty to reply (though if you hate it, I would suggest you lie). There are appropriate social moments that are proper to engage a woman. Social gatherings or “parties,” as they are more often known, are a great time to converse with women. But only if they want to talk to you. If you introduce yourself and you read both from their posture and verbal remarks that they do not want to talk to you in any capacity, take the initiative to walk away.
Why modern flirting has become problematic is that men do not seem to grasp the fundamental difference between the words “no” and “yes,” a skill that one would think had been learned early in life. There is a parental saying that notes, “Nothing good happens past 2 a.m.” Similarly, nothing good happens after the word “no” has been uttered and you do not walk away.
Another idea of “flirting” some men have is the notion of physical touch: hugging, touching a shoulder or placing a hand on the small of someone’s back. This behavior is not capable of reform: it simply needs to stop. With the recent #MeToo movement, the male population must certainly recognize that their actions, however they might personally perceive them, can have damaging and traumatic consequences. So don’t touch women. Don’t touch anyone, for that matter.
Someone who errs on the side of ignorance will take this whole argument literally. “Oh so you’re saying men shouldn’t compliment women? Men can’t hug their best female friend?” I won’t grace such claims with a response, as they are ridiculous. An informed person will know the behavior of which I speak, as it is currently a menace upon our society and a source of tremendous hardship. Flirting as it is currently defined in society needs to cease. The notion of courtship itself needs to be entirely redefined for a modern era.
For flirting is something that seems to have gone largely unaltered for some time. This no doubt stems from the troubling view of women many men hold, and society’s interest in presenting women as somehow inferior (pay gap, anyone?). Yet flirting is something that desperately needs to be addressed, if our culture stands any chance of changing a dreadful pattern of behavior in which women feel consistently apprehensive while in public. For instance, many friends and colleagues have mentioned to me the great risk of walking by a construction site, something I wasn’t previously aware of. Yet I would reason that seedy characters “catcalling” is an experience most – if not all – women have experienced at some point in their lives.
So where do we begin? How do we stop this behavior? Barring some massive cultural shift or new educational efforts, men must take the initiative themselves. That is to say, as with any issue, not all men are guilty of this behavior. Yet it behooves all of us to work against those who are. Have discussions with your peers. Point out the flaws in their actions and constructively tell them how to be better. Let’s make it so a man approaching a woman is no longer a source of anxiety.
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