By Hinnerk Frech
A male perspective on flirting behavior in the 21st century.
A warm summer evening together with my girlfriend and her friend, let’s call her friend Anna. We end up at a bar, having fun and some nice conversations. It is a cozy and calm evening, nothing special but nice.
At some point, we continue our evening at a club nearby, but not one of those big halls, more a small and cozy club between a disco and a bar. We find a sofa on the club’s terrace outside, quite far away from the dance floor. The whole evening is nice and peaceful.
Then something happens. There is some space next to Anna on the sofa, which is spotted by a guy. He is quite drunk and perhaps thinking that this could be a possibility to start a good conversation. He sits down and fortunately, keeps quiet. He keeps staring at his phone, eyes wide open, which indicates that the beer in his hand is not the first one on this summer evening. He seems quite tipsy but somehow is a bit depressed and lost. And then he starts talking to Anna, just like how drunk guys often begin a conversation with girls, clumsily. She is obviously not interested in the conversation he just started, but the guy does not care at all. My girlfriend and I give him a rather unamused look, but that does not bother him either. He moves a bit closer to our friend.
Meanwhile, from somewhere, three or four of his friends appear. While one sits down on the sofa, the others keep standing next to it. Our situation is such that we cannot really get away from the terrace anymore since the guys have blocked our way out. They do not say anything at all, but they just stare at their phones. Only the first one is still trying to flirt with Anna, who, just like my girlfriend and me, starts to feel that the situation is getting quite uncomfortable. Even if we want to, we cannot get away from the sofa without passing that group of boys. They are all quite drunk. Right now, they are just staring at their phones, but we have all heard this kind of story before, how situations like this can end. We would like to get out of here, away from the sofa. Especially Anna would really like to get away from this annoying guy.
But we need to be careful since we do not want to make any mistake. We do not know if the guy and his friends might get angry and aggressive, just like these types of guys sometimes do. He just laid his eyes on a nice girl he thinks he might be able to hook up with, so we should better not dare to go now and steal his opportunity! Maybe it is his fifth try this evening but that does not matter because he is having a nice conversation with a beautiful girl right now! So he does not want to get disturbed! Fortunately for him, he is not alone but with his good mates. Now they are in the majority and it is a bit easier with this girl since they are able to block her and her friends’ way out. Three to four guys against two girls and one guy: that is easy, so they better behave!
The situation is not dangerous. Maybe it is just a nice but clumsy guy who cannot figure out how to flirt. However, like I said, we all have heard of stories like this. Moreover, his friends do not make the situation more comfortable. Altogether, the situation is a very uncomfortable one. We are inferior against three to four strong guys and one of them is flirting with a girl who is clearly not interested in him. The circumstances are not in our favour. We have to be lucky now, lucky that we can make the guy stop his flirt without him or his friends getting upset, so that they let us go. Because that is what we want: out of this corner with the sofa, away from the terrace, away from this club. We do not want to be here anymore. Our nice summer evening atmosphere has been ruined.
I am so tired of this. I am a guy, but I get angry in this kind of situation nevertheless. Who allowed this guy to have the conversation with our friend? “But are we not allowed to start a flirt any longer?” I hear many people argue. Yes, of course one is allowed to! But one has to pay attention to the other person. Does she want to flirt, too? Additionally, one does not need a couple of friends to block the way out for the girl. Because then the flirt turns into a threat. A threat not only to Anna in the described situation but also to my girlfriend and me. What if the guy would not have stopped and we would have needed to help our friend? What if the whole situation with the guy’s friends would have escalated? We were fewer in strength; we would not have had any chance whatsoever. And that is exactly why I get so mad.
It does not matter where you spend your night out in town. You cannot be sure that there would not be a group of drunk guys who do not know anything about limits and who cannot stop when you signal them to do exactly that.
And I am a guy. Luckily, I do not have to experience this kind of threat so much because it is quite rare that this kind of behavior would come from girls. I only experience it when I am in town with my girlfriend or some friends who are regularly targeted by drunk guys without any reasonable feeling for what is happening around them. I am sad to say this, but apparently, there is only one thing that matters to these guys: hooking up with a girl quickly or at least getting into a flirt. It does not matter to them if the girl consents or not, and even if she does not, it has to be done anyways.
This attitude is quite prevalent in the present times. It is an epidemic kind of a behaviour. Nobody can convince me that this is healthy flirting and engaging in a nice conversation because it is not. If it were “just a flirt,” then one does not need to have some friends accompanying to take care that the girl does not escape. If it is “just a flirt,” then there is a possibility of failure, a possibility for the girl not wanting it. Then one either changes to a normal conversation or stops completely. One does not just continue to flirt and move closer towards the girl. It is here where it starts to be threatening, and it is right here where one crosses very important personal borders. Just recently, the German social psychologist Rolf Pohl defined a flirt in very similar terms in an interview. A flirt, according to him, is a mutually equal game between two persons, which ends as soon as one person leaves the game. As soon as the equal rules are not accepted – for instance one person continues despite the other one leaving – we ought not talk about a flirt but about sexism (1).
The observation as to how many guys obviously lack an understanding of the mutual character of a flirt and important personal borders makes me sad. We live in the 21st century, in the middle of a movement where women and girls finally dared to tell us how bad boys and men actually behave in many situations. Yet, we need to listen to people who say that the described behavior is “just a flirt”. If you threaten a person, and maybe even that person’s friends, it is not flirting. Even boys and men should be able to understand that.
As an adult, one should understand that a girl can feel threatened when a couple of drunk guys sit next to her to flirt. Maybe some would say that they would be extremely happy if a couple of girls start flirting with them. But that just does not have such a violent and bloody history full of threats, kidnappings and rape. Because of this history, women can often not be sure whether the man approaching her is a threat or just starting a flirt. And if one, as the victim (predominantly women), is inferior, then there is nothing to do. My girlfriend and I would not have been able to match the strength of the guys if necessary. If these guys say, “Well, I did not want to threaten and my goal was definitely not to rape her, I just wanted to flirt,” I actually believe them. But then come alone and go away if she does not seem interested! Then we do not need to discuss threats any longer.
The fact that we need to have this discussion in the 21st century, despite all the progress in the treatment of women that has been made (at least in many Western countries) and despite an ongoing MeToo campaign, this behavior is simply ridiculous and not acceptable at all. It is almost impossible to go clubbing with girls without experiencing this kind of behavior. The expression of many men that this behavior reflects “just a flirt” is poor and very unreflective, especially for grown-up men. It demonstrates nothing but a complete lack of empathy and understanding for the feelings of women in certain situations. That this lack of understanding still exists today, in our enlightened societies, is shocking.
If you ask me how to deal with such behaviour, I would say let us introduce harsh punishments. It could be in the form of financial reprimand not only for the guy flirting but also for his friends, so that it deters them from exhibiting such behavior. Why punishments? Well, a big part of the male population has shown that they are unable to learn from public debate such as MeToo. Therefore, they need to experience instead. Obviously, it is extremely difficult to put this into practice, but we need to show clearly that this is not acceptable. We need to show that we do not tolerate this behavior.
Is it justified to introduce fines for aggressive, one-sided flirting efforts? Well, it can often feel like a threat, sometimes even dangerous. Maybe some girls might even feel that their life is threatened in some situations. And threat, at least in Germany, can be a crime under certain circumstances. It is time that we recognize how threat can be involved in behavior as I have described it throughout this article. And not only is it time to recognize the threatening character of this behavior but also time to act on it.
Thus, I would like to conclude by saying that since education and debates have apparently failed us so far, it seems to be necessary to rethink some of the education in the younger ages of boys and girls. As early as possible, we need to educate both boys and girls how to avoid situations like the one described in this article. We need to teach them how important personal borders are and how to recognize and accept them. We need to teach boys that a successful flirt is not a right they possess. Somehow, we just need to teach them how to behave decently towards each other. These tasks are not incredibly difficult but unfortunately not self-evident by now. Therefore, we need to face them so that all boys and men know for sure that some flirts are not just flirts but threats.
(1) Taken from https://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/metoo-interview-1.3801247-2 [Accessed: 24.10.2018]
About the Author:
Hinnerk Frech, 21, is studying International Social Sciences at Roskilde Universitet, Denmark. He is interested in a variety of different issues from philosophical discussions in the social sciences to the influence of social networks or smart homes on society, and enjoys writing about these issues and discussing them. This is the author’s first contribution to the Critical Edges Magazine.