There’s a pervasive cultural myth that all a woman has to do is flirt, and men will give her everything she wants. Angry Men’s Rights Activists kvetch about it in forums all the livelong day. Spice Girls Feminists brag about it and think it’s great for women. And some of us don’t think it’s the big solution to women’s problems it’s cracked up to be.
Of all the sources for deep thought, a Scrubs re-run really got me thinking about this issue today.
Carla and Jordan were teaching Elliot to flirt so she could get her lab results faster, get chocolate cake in the cafeteria, etc. She was getting pretty good at it when she used her newfound powers of flirtation to cut in line and get the last orange soda… which should have gone to another man in line. A man who was about to interview Elliot for something. Whoops. The moral of the story? Some light-hearted flirting to get your lab results back on time is okay. Relying on flirting for everything makes you obnoxious.
Forget the moral for a minute; here’s what’s interesting.
When Jordan was explaining how flirting works, she told Elliot that only when something goes wrong will you maybe have to sleep with somebody, but the goal is to make him feel like you might have sex with him even though you wouldn’t. It was one of those throwaway lines Scrubs often works into an avalanche of dialog, which leave you thinking, “Ha! Yet not so far from the truth.” Because, you know, if the promise of sex really did make men do whatever you want, and you overused it, then eventually you’d have to follow through on the promise or find a new tactic. That’s one of the fundamental absurdities of the idea that women can run the world by manipulating men with their vaginas. (The other fundamental absurdity is the idea that this isn’t a power men grant – of course it is. Would they react the same way to women they don’t want to have sex with? Women of all shapes, sizes, colors? Not quite. So it’s still a power men grant, not an inherent power all women have. And they can take it away any time they’re motivated to.)
The other thing that interested me – even more than the first – was when Turk was criticizing Carla for corrupting Elliot, and Carla pointed out that the only reason Turk got his lab results back so fast was that he always told the guy he’d play basketball with him sometime.
Whoa. For the first time, I could at least see where the Spice Girl Feminists were coming from. If you’re an attractive that men want to screw, and you suddenly find yourself in an environment where men offer each other theoretical favors right and left to fasttrack themselves, it might make sense that you should offer theoretical favors too, and what favor could you offer a guy? In theory, there’s certainly nothing more wrong about suggesting sex than suggesting basketball. In fact, there’s nothing more wrong with having sex than playing a game of basketball as a shortcut to getting what you want. (Personally, I hate schmoozing in all forms and can’t understand why we can’t all just do our jobs whether someone flirts with us or not, but maybe that’s just me.)
The problem is that guys can offer each other basketball, video games, fine wine… anything on earth. The man doing the offering doesn’t have to be appealing; he just needs to find what appeals to the other guy and offer that. But when you are the offering, you have to make sure you’re appealing to the guy. You have to look right, talk right, move right, say the right thing, etc. If you’re a woman who’s not good at that stuff, or you’re the wrong race/size/whatever to appeal to the men you need favors from, you’re usually just out of luck. (I think this is actually changing, particularly among twenty-somethings, so that women can offer men stuff other than sex, but we’ve still got a ways to go.)
The other observation I found myself making was that the lab guy and the cafeteria guy were both men who had no authority over Elliot, nor she over them. So here we have relatively menial male laborers withholding chocolate cake and lab results from female doctors who don’t flirt with them. Who has the real power in this situation?