In the musical Wicked, good-hearted but overbearing Galinda decides it’s time to give hopelessly unpopular green skinned Elphaba a makeover. Convinced her hand will change Elphaba’s life, she tells her:
You’re gonna be popular!
I’ll teach you the proper poise,
When you talk to boys,
Little ways to flirt and flounce,
I’ll show you what shoes to wear!
How to fix your hair!
Everything that really counts to be… Popular!
Looking back at my dating years, I realize if anyone needed a Galinda in their life, it was probably me. Flirt and flounce? What does that even mean?
The topic of flirting has come up lately in various conversations. I’ll admit I bristled a little when it was suggested to my daughter’s Laurel class that they need to flirt more with the Priests. Then a friend mentioned that her brother had advised her teenage daughters to flirt more if they want dates. Finally, a dear friend, divorced and recently entering the dating world again, was told by a man she had dated for several weeks, “I can’t really tell if you like me, you don’t flirt enough.”
These three scenarios leave me feeling frustrated. I don’t consider myself a hard core feminist, but somehow I have had ingrained in me that flirting is demeaning to females. Clearly, flirting was never one of my strengths.
I suppose I associate flirting with a Marilyn Monroe type girl; a girl who flirts using Marilyn’s signature breathy voice and a wide-eyed look of bewilderment whenever a man is around. Marilyn is reported to have had an IQ in the 160’s, higher than Albert Einstein, but she was generally typecast as a dumb blond. I am fairly confident that when people think of Marilyn, “valedictorian” is not what comes to mind.
I much prefer Katharine Hepburn and her smart, witty persona. In real life, Katharine was known to speak her mind and was often considered stubborn and difficult to work with. Yet on the big screen, even while playing a wide variety of parts, she always managed to get the guy without portraying herself as a complete bimbo.
Confident in my flirting assessment, I brought the topic up while eating lunch with my husband. I felt sure he would agree with my opinion.
“What do you think about flirting?” I asked, completely out of the blue.
Caught slightly off guard with his sandwich halfway to his mouth he replied, “What do you mean?”
I briefed him on the Laurel class, the advice-giving uncle and my dating friend. Brought up to speed, he replied, “I think it’s important.”
Wait, what? Important?
Now it was my turn to ask for clarity, “Important? Don’t you think it’s demeaning?”
“No, I think it’s nice. A guy likes to know if a girl is interested.”
“But it’s so gross to act like Marilyn Monroe. It’s insulting.”
He then explained that you don’t always have to act like Marilyn Monroe to flirt. In his opinion, friendly smiles and genuine interest could be considered flirting. “Men appreciate the actions that show you’re interested,” he said. To be honest, I had trouble wrapping my mind around this concept. But if it is true, I guess I did know how to flirt back in my dating years, I just didn’t realize it.
I appreciate his male perspective. Despite having a husband and four sons, I don’t claim to have any understanding of the male side of life. I am often amused and bewildered by their actions. So the fact that my husband thinks flirting is good and I’ve thought you have to lose a few brain cells to do it properly, is not a big surprise.
It does seem however, that some men prefer the overt Marilyn approach to flirting. My dating friend was caught totally off-guard by her date’s conclusion. She felt she had been friendly, interested and encouraging. But she is a Katharine and he apparently needed a Marilyn.
My daughters are six and seventeen. One is clearly a Katharine and the other, probably a Marilyn. I hope I can help them understand that flirting is ok, even important. I want to teach them to use their natural strengths, but if necessary, the middle ground of a softened Katharine and a confident Marilyn can help forge relationships too.
By the end of Wicked, Elphaba (a Katharine) discovers she doesn’t need to flirt and flounce to get the guy. She finds love by being herself, green skin and all.
If you are a Katharine or a Marilyn, do you ever wish you were the other?