Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “Adjustment Problems of the Modern Woman”: What Our Parents Learned about Women in 1947

“Adjustment Problems of the Modern Woman”: What Our Parents Learned about Women in 1947

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 20, 2009

Posted below is a lesson discussed in the Family Relations (Sunday School) class in 1947, from The Latter-day Saint Family, by Harold T. Christensen. This comes from the same book as the post Lonely, Bitter, Maladjusted, Highly Disagreeable, Sour, Gay and Insane: The Unmarried Saint in the Pew Next to You. (I point that out because while we had a good time disagreeing with him and picking out the flaws in that lesson, Christensen was a respected sociologist and his writing on other topics may very well be right on target. It’s fine to disagree with anything in this lesson, but it’s also fine to agree with anything, too – please don’t let our conclusions about that lesson interfere with a fair reading of this one. Thanks.)

1947 was just about the time that my mother and the other adults who shaped my early church life would have been getting their first adult lessons in modern women’s issues and “scientific” theories of women’s roles and nature. Lessons like this must have shaped my world in profound ways. It’s one thing to assume what women were being told in church or in the wider culture; I think it’s very helpful to have concrete examples of what they were in fact being taught.

What do you think about the questions asked here, and the answers that were proposed? Does it explain anything about your mother or the women you knew from an older generation that may have puzzled you?

Note: Be aware that in the jargon of the time, “women’s adjustment problem” doesn’t have a negative connotation. It is used in the same sense as “math problem”: a puzzle to be solved, a challenge to be faced.)

Adjustment Problems of the Modern Woman

Most discussions on personal maladjustment deal largely or exclusively with the male. Yet in many ways, the adjustment problems of modern girls and women are even more difficult than those of boys and men. In this rapidly changing world, with its new roles and its confused goals, many more women than men are left bewildered and floundering. Since this is so, and since also family stability depends so much upon strong and moral womanhood, we shall devote an entire lesson to this subject. Let us proceed by means of questions and answers.

1. What is the evidence that women’s adjustment problems are greater than man’s?

Answer: There is no way of measuring this exactly, and certainly one must recognize many individual cases where the reverse is true. But on the whole it does seem that modern woman has the more difficult time, and for these reasons:

(1) Social change is greater on her side; that is, in regards to the roles she performs. To give but two examples, more women are taking over men’s jobs than vice versa, and, in reaching for a single standard of morality, women too frequently have been lowering themselves to man’s level rather than lifting him up to theirs. This is still a man’s world, it seems, and woman to be equal has had to do most of the changing. Change always involves confusion.

(2) The emancipation of women has been so recent that, though many of the customs and ties of yesterday have lifted, they have not yet found rootage in modern soil. Though woman has invaded man’s world, the world has yielded only in part; prejudices and discriminations against the fairer sex still hold her back. This is a day of transition and contradiction, particularly for women.

(3) These factors of social change for women, both the magnitudes and the recency, make for contradictions and dilemmas beyond those that man is required to face.

Does family stability depend more upon woman than man?

Answer: Yes, as a whole, and woman’s recent confusion and demoralization incident to her emancipation is a major factor in family breakdown. To answer thus is not to shift responsibility but only to face facts. Family stability, as we have seen, hinges primarily upon the personalities and characters of those who marry. Women, as mothers, are much closer to the developing child during his most impressionable years, and hence are in a better position to mold him for the future. Women, as sweethearts too, are in an equally favorable position so far as moral control is concerned. Regarding some of the follies of the flesh, man might more accurately than woman be called “the weaker sex.” The influence of woman over man is tremendous; all through the ages she has been the moral balance wheel of society, the ethical stabilizer of mankind. Men who have risen to great heights have almost always had the inspiration of good women to spur them on, and, conversely, those who have sunk to the depths have usually been lured downward by women who were bad. It is primarily to the mothers and the sweethearts of men that we must look for the balance and guidance in morals so sorely needed in the world today. though both men and women are responsible, it is when womanhood degenerates that morality suffers most, and family disintegration becomes greatest.

3. Is woman justified in reaching for equality?

Answer: Certainly, but she is not justified in many of the means she uses to obtain it. The inequality of opportunity, the discrimination, and the injustice that woman has had to endure throughout history are a disgrace to both democracy and Christianity. Woman has come a long way in her struggle for equal rights, but she is not yet there, and she has made many mistakes in the process. One of these is to confuse equality with identity. Wanting to be equal with man she has striven to be like him, aping him in dress, speech, and mannerisms. This masculinization of woman has only led to confusion and sorrow, for she cannot go the full way because of biological conditions, and she very frequently feels misfitted and frustrated because of it. Furthermore, as research reveals, men like best those women that are feminine, and marriage succeeds most where husband and wife play the traditional personality roles of their respective sexes. The personal and social relationships of men and women should be supplementary and complementary rather than duplicative; cooperative rather than competitive. It is entirely possible for men and women to be equal and still be different; they can be equal, each within his own field.

Another mistake has been for woman to accept man’s vices more readily than his virtues without raising him to her level. Woman’s standards have always been higher than those of man, and they are now as a whole. Yet they are not so much higher as formerly. The trend toward moral equality has meant a lowering of woman’s standards, unfortunately, rather than a raising of man’s. Too frequently, in their search for freedom, women have simply become coarse, crude, and vulgar. Emancipation for many has meant merely license and indulgence, when it could and should have meant opportunity and progress.

A third mistake that some women have made in their struggle for equality is to assume an extreme individualism and independence, an independence so strong that it ignores responsibility and precludes cooperation. This is not to say that woman should necessarily be more dependent than man, but neither should she be more independent. As woman finds her rightful place side by side with man, the masculine ego will have to adjust somewhat, and rightly so. But let the woman who is wise be neither too impatient nor too aggressive. Arguing, being obstinate, making demands, acting independently, fighting – these do not make one equal or free. Equality is more than the assertion of equality.

4. How can a capable woman protect herself against unreasonable masculine dominance?

Answer: Since male dominance is rooted in both biology and culture, and abuses in it are as old as history, it may take some time before male-female relationships become established on an equalitarian basis. Nevertheless, the trend is in the right direction. Women who chafe under this seeming, and in some cases actual, injustice have but two alternatives. One is to assert their rights openly or to react against the injustices aggressively. In which case their chances for marriage become less, either by their own choice or because their challenge to the masculine ego frightens away possible suitors. It is well known that bachelor girls, on the average, are of a much higher caliber than bachelor men, their very ability being a factor in their unmarriageability. If the rebellion against male dominance comes after marriage, the most likely results are either continual conflict in the home with the possibility of divorce or the acceptance by the husband of a “henpecked” status. Neither of these developments can be called ideal. The other alternative for the capable but discontented woman is to accept the situation and to play the game in the light of what is. In adjusting to man throughout the ages, woman has had to develop many subtle techniques for asserting herself, for getting her way without open conflict. These devices (known well to most women) are still available, and while they should never be abused, they can be used. Clever women can be equal with men, even superior, without letting them know it. While it may seem unjust to have to resort to such a method, the subservience is only surface deep, it should be remembered, and this is one way of solving the dilemma of “equality without equality” that some women face. Until men as a whole can recognize that women too have ability, it is probably the best way.

5. Is it implied above that women are justified in tricking their lovers?

Answer: No, only understanding them, and then adapting personally to make the relationship run more smoothly. This kind of self-sacrifice really requires love and bigness of character, but it is the way to harmony. The woman should be cooperative, as should the man also, but never be completely docile or servile. There is a difference. Marriage, to be successful, always requires a division of labor between husband and wife and a willingness of each to give in and sacrifice for the other. Never, however, does it require blind submission to an overlord. Woman should be man’s partner, never his servant or his slave. To make it so, frequently requires intelligent planning as well as love, but it can be done.

But women sometimes prostitute their special power over men by using it irresponsibly in order to gain some special advantage. Figuratively speaking, they want to have their cake and eat it, too; they want to enjoy the freedom that equality promises without accepting the obligations entailed; and to get it they are willing to sell their birthright for a “mess of pottage.” The selfish use of sex appeal is wrong, but it is done. Here are some of the ways:

(1) They resort to flattery, coquetry, and deceit to lead man on.

(2) They cry when they don’t get their own way or otherwise appeal to men’s affection or gallantry in order to control him.

(3) They wear clothes which accentuate the anatomical features peculiar to their sex, and they similarly use language and actions designed for erotic suggestion and stimulation. Sometimes these things are done innocently, with a simple desire for the attention of the elusive male. If so, the girl may wonder why masculine eyes follow her down the street or why her partner becomes so amorous. But at other times it is done deliberately, with the cause and effect relationships well understood.

(4) They “gold dig” in courtship, offering favors in intimacy as payment for the money spent; or they marry for money, exchanging sexual favors for a life of leisure or luxury.

(5) They enter commercialized prostitution, or they engage in one of the various sexual rackets whereby they seek to extort money from respectable citizens by threatening to smear their names. It is only this last category that is commonly referred to as prostitution; but actually all of these ways in which womanhood is used to unfair advantage could logically be so called, for in all of them virtue and right are “sold” for personal profit. This is debauchery, not equality, for it is divorced of both responsibility and morality.

Which is the more important for a capable woman, marriage or a career?

Answer: If she must choose between these two, marriage is the one that will usually bring her the greatest satisfaction. Most women feel that way, and experience demonstrates that they are right. Certainly it would be only the very rare and exceptionally talented woman that could make a better contribution to society than through motherhood, and a number of that kind have demonstrated that it is possible to make their contribution in addition to having a family. motherhood is a function that only woman can perform; if she deserts, it will be left undone. And motherhood is more than procreation, for upon the love and care it sponsors hinge the characters and actions of men. Women who are jealous of men err greatly in thinking that their own role is less important. Childbearing should be accepted in dignity by those endowed with the function, and homemaking should be regarded as the career supreme.

But in saying that marriage itself should be viewed as a career, we do not imply that women’s full time should be spent in the home. In an earlier lesson we showed how her personality might be enriched b moderate outside interests of the recreational, cultural, and service varieties. Here we shall apply this same principle to outside employment; some women are better and some homes happier when they have it. Studies seem to show that the best wives are those who have had some work experience before marriage. Outside employment of the wife after marriage, however, does frequently lead into difficulties of one sort or another, such as child neglect, an unkept house, irregular meals, fatigue, and irritability of members. There are some women who can successfully carry out their family responsibilities and work part time on the outside as well, but the strain is usually great. The woman is exceptional that can do justice to these two interests at the same time. Without laying down any absolute rule, we can say that employment and career activities are justifiable only if they can be successfully fitted into a happy home life; for every normal woman the home and family should come first.

With the proper planning it is entirely possible for the woman of ability to have marriage and a career. Some try to work the career in before marriage, which, unless it is for just a year or two, has the disadvantage of postponing family life too long and even risking spinsterhood. Others seek a career along with their marriage. This has the shortcomings listed above, which come from divided interests and neglect. The third and usually best method of harmonizing a career with marriage is having the career after the family has been reared. In addition to its avoidance of interference with the family, this scheme has the additional advantage of making vital the later years of life which are so often left empty otherwise.

7. Can man help?

Answer: Very definitely. Although we have been discussing the adjustment problems of modern woman, by implication many of these would apply to man as well. furthermore, since man and woman are complementary to each other, the welfare of the one is intrinsically tied up with that of the other. Many, if not most, of woman’s problems are over her relationships with man, and unless man understands these sympathetically and tries to adjust them cooperatively woman will continue to flounder and will pull man down with her in the process. That is the reason this lesson has been written.



  1. Hmmm… THis all seems so, so, dangerous.

    However, my wife told me about a recent Oprah program in which a couple and their interaction with a counselor was featured. The wife was rather dominant in the couple’s relationship and the counselor directed that the wife learn to surrender to her husband. The program included a videotaped date, in which the husband chose the restaurant they would visit, the wife’s clothing to wear, etc.

    As the wife expressed her repeated doubts and concerns at his choices (“What makes you think I’ll enjoy the food at that restaurant?”) and he would simply say to her, “surrender”.

    This, my friends, was on Oprah, not Dr. Laura.

    Sort of makes me feel, oh, I don’t know, as someone I know puts it, “lonely, bitter, maladjusted, highly disagreeable, sour, gay and insane.” Or at least puzzled about how things work out in the culture wars. I remember in the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when such talk would get you put on a list at pretty much any university, and your unfortunate manner of speaking discussed in scientificly perjorative terms.

    Evidently, no more. Yet another socio-psychological truth may be looming on the horizen.

    Comment by S. Taylor — July 20, 2009 @ 9:51 am

  2. I can only imagine the comments if this sort of lesson was presented in the adult Sunday School class in our ward. Yikes! Perhaps that’s why this sort of lesson no longer appears. That said, I don’t think today’s official Church position varies much from the positions stated, other than to be even more condemning of women working outside the home.

    Comment by Clark — July 20, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  3. Don’t you see some lines that could come straight out of feminist discussions on the bloggernacle today?

    Since male dominance is rooted in both biology and culture, and abuses in it are as old as history, it may take some time before male-female relationships become established on an equalitarian basis. Nevertheless, the trend is in the right direction.


    It is well known that bachelor girls, on the average, are of a much higher caliber than bachelor men, their very ability being a factor in their unmarriageability.

    I hear that last one in every discussion of single women in the church — only “unmarriageability” (which sounds as though it’s the woman’s fault) is usually couched as “why men are too intimidated to date me” (which shifts the burden to the men).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 20, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  4. By the way, congrats on your pile of Niblit trophies.

    Comment by Clark — July 20, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

  5. This lesson seems to be an odd mix of a little good advice and a lot of the truly bizarre. I also find this particular statement to be offensive, and I’m a guy!

    But women sometimes prostitute their special power over men by using it irresponsibly in order to gain some special advantage.

    “Prostitute” their “special powers”? I think we know what he is talking about, but holy cow, that really was jarring! But then, in section 4 where Male Dominance, in all its cultural and biological glory is discussed, is this statement:

    “In adjusting to man throughout the ages, woman has had to develop many subtle techniques for asserting herself, for getting her way without open conflict.”

    It seems to say “Don’t prostitute your special powers unless you think you can get something for it. Like I say, a weird mix.

    I would agree, also Ardis, about the seeming bias against women for getting an education and possibly pursuing a career, thereby making someone unfit for marriage. But it is okay for men to be of lower caliber, apparently, just as long as women don’t sink to the male’s level.


    Comment by kevinf — July 20, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  6. This lesson makes me so angry I can’t post about it yet, except to say what’s described is not freedom and equality nor anything close to it.

    I almost didn’t read this post, because I had a feeling it would act in my heart as a sundering from the church, which I very much do not want.

    However, these ideas are vile.

    I think of the Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

    That’s all I can say for now. Maybe I can answer this fully when I’m not so angry.

    Comment by Tatiana — July 20, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

  7. I hope you will comment after you have worked it out in your mind, Tatiana. I hope you’ll also keep in mind that these are the thoughts of one man, writing as much from his professional view as his religious one, and that although this was used as a Sunday School manual, it predates the vetting of manuals to ensure that they are in harmony with church teachings. In those days, the fact that a BYU professor wrote something was good enough to recommend it as a manual.

    Correlation has a bad name in the bloggernacle — but maybe you appreciate it more when you read PRE-correlation material.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 20, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

  8. S. and Clark and kevinf, thank you for taking the time to read through this and give us your reactions. You realize that I don’t often post deliberately sensational or controversial material. Although I would be very uncomfortable hearing this particular lesson taught as printed, I think that there are a few ideas which, if couched in more modern terms, wouldn’t be out of line today, and in any case it can be useful to recognize exactly what ideas were taught to our parents rather than merely assuming we know what they were taught. I didn’t mean to offend anyone by posting this, and hope Tatiana accepts what I wrote in the previous comment.

    Clark, thanks for your congratulations, too. I don’t plan on any more public comment than this (this one is buried deeply enough) because of the hard feelings, and the ridicule expressed for taking the Niblets too seriously, but I do recognize the compliment of having been nominated and having so many readers indicate their appreciation for my efforts. A lot of the smaller, newer blogs — some of those listed in the sidebar, for instance — post excellent material. Somehow Keepa has attracted a core of commenters who are witty and thoughtful and avoid the easy put-downs of other commenters, and that’s what makes it work.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 20, 2009 @ 9:37 pm

  9. One must also realize it was a product of the times.

    Also, kevinf, I don’t think he used the first instance of the word “prostitute” to denote the selling of sex. Though I admit I’m confused by his later statement that only if it’s accompanied by extortion is illicit sex considered prostitution.

    On the positive side, there are some items in which his stance is more modern and progressive than what I thought were the prevailing attitudes of that time.

    I thought this passage was particularly enlightened:

    The woman should be cooperative, as should the man also, but never be completely docile or servile. There is a difference. Marriage, to be successful, always requires a division of labor between husband and wife and a willingness of each to give in and sacrifice for the other. Never, however, does it require blind submission to an overlord. Woman should be man’s partner, never his servant or his slave.

    Ardis, you did well to point out the alternate meaning of “problem”. And more than just “prostitute”, I’d suppose that there are other words used in the piece that had different connotations back then.

    Comment by Bookslinger — July 20, 2009 @ 9:39 pm

  10. Thanks, Bookslinger, for recognizing some positive statements in what kevinf called an “odd mix.”

    It will make for a lot of reading two days in a row, but I’m posting a lesson tomorrow directed to young men, that might be an interesting contrast to this problematic one about women.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 20, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

  11. Christensen was a very interesting person who did some national important research. He talks about himself in an article in DIALOGUE. The title of the article is “Memoirs of a Marginal Man: Reflections of a Mormon Sociologist.” He died at the age of 94 in 2003 after teaching for many years at Purdue. He is known for his “pioneering work in crosscultures investigation of factors influencing premarital sexual activity.” He is also know for putting “the discipline of sociology on scientific footing.”

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — July 21, 2009 @ 8:38 am

  12. Of course, this lesson was written very early in Christensen’s career and it might have been different if he had written it at the end of his career. Understanding does develop.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — July 21, 2009 @ 8:43 am

  13. Thanks, Jeff. Reminding us of his professional credentials reminds me that this book was written as a professional text, a school book, rather than a typical LDS lesson manual. We’re very used to using manuals that teach us the way the church believes things should be. But this manual is descriptive, reporting for the most part the way things were, not the way they ought to be — I realize that that’s not entirely consistent, but is generally true. These situations were presented not for class members to absorb as an expression of the gospel, but as problems — discussion questions — for class members to struggle with and resolve. He does not, for instance, endorse the idea that education intrinsically unfits a woman for marriage; he only reports that, men’s egos being what they are (at least in his view), education makes a woman undesirable in the eyes of men who can’t bear the idea of not being superior to their mates. I can see that being the source of a very lively class discussion, especially if the room happens to hold both a highly educated woman and a particularly outspoken opponent of women’s education.

    In that view, this lesson is very advanced, I think. Look at point 1(2) — doesn’t that describe the “glass ceiling” 30 years before everybody else started talking about it? Or point 6 — doesn’t he both honor the career of motherhood while at the same time acknowledging that women need mental and social and political engagement outside the home?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 21, 2009 @ 9:21 am

  14. The backdrop of this lesson, especially point 1(2) is the fact that women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers during WWII, which ended only 2 years previously.

    And when the men returned from war, those men who previously had jobs resumed those jobs and displaced the women who temporarily filled them. And, many jobs held by women were in the manufacture of war materiel, and there was no more need to build bombs, bullets, and tanks. So those jobs simply evaporated very quickly.

    Therefore, the Sunday School class likely had such women who were displaced in the workforce by the returning men, or whose jobs simply disappeared at the end of the war.

    There were a few years of economic “adjustments”, like a recession immediately after the war. I forget the year that the GI Bill that put veterans in classrooms was effective, but it wasn’t right away. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t until those first veterans graduated that the post-war economic boom started.

    Ardis, was that you who posted articles from WW II that gave adivce about how management should “handle” all the new female employees during WW II ? There were some lines in those articles that were real groaners. But given those times, women had generally not been raised with the expectations of going into the workforce, especially in occupations traditionally held by men.

    So not only was the culture different, the people were not ncessarily prepared for those times either.

    Comment by Bookslinger — July 21, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  15. I’ve experienced cross-culture shock recently in getting to know the African couple who recently joined the church. The husband is intelligent and educated, but in some ways he’s also right out of the village. I have to remind myself not to judge him by Western or North American behavior standards.

    Comment by Bookslinger — July 21, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  16. Bookslinger, it wasn’t me who posted that, but I remember the article you’re referring to. If I knew where it was posted, I would link to it.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — July 21, 2009 @ 10:24 am

  17. This post caused me to lie in bed thinking for quite a while late last night after ceasing work rather late, about the women in my family, many of whom are quite gifted, and their work, relationships with men, and how much I am indebted to those women. At some point it all began to seem like a complex dance, something like a minuet, but a dance which became more graceful and profound as I watched it, with elements both sweet and bitter, dark and light, faces and forms illuminating where they moved, and as they knit us together.

    It is a blessing to be taught by a woman like Ardis.

    Comment by S. Taylor — July 21, 2009 @ 11:09 am

  18. Whatever this lesson’s value as a description of the way things were, I am troubled (to put it mildly) by the seeming acceptance of male dominance as a given, without a hint of a suggestion that the gospel teaches a completely different standard. Do the last 13 verses of D&C 121 figure at all in Bro. Christensen’s worldview? or “Mormonview”?

    Comment by Mark B. — July 21, 2009 @ 11:42 am

  19. Paul Reeve and I are finishing up work on an historical encyclopedia of Mormonism to be published early next year by ABC-Clio. I am proud to say that our volume includes a groundbreaking 3000-word essay on “Mormonism and Men,” written by Keepa’ninny Jeff Johnson, which outlines how that gospel standard, Mark, has been reflected in Mormon expectations for men as men (in contrast to men as generic members of the church) throughout our history. (Not that that absolves anybody who fell or falls short. I’m just sayin’. Or braggin’.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 21, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

  20. In adjusting to man throughout the ages, woman has had to develop many subtle techniques for asserting herself, for getting her way without open conflict. These devices (known well to most women) are still available, and while they should never be abused, they can be used….

    This seems to be the basic suggestion of Fascinating Womanhood, although FW has no compunction about recommending some of the methods this author categorizes under the “selfish uses of sex appeal” (e.g., flattery, coquetry, crying when one doesn’t get one’s own way).

    I’m intrigued that what seem like underhanded methods of obtaining and exercising power are recommended so openly in a Sunday school class for both men and women. If men are aware of these tactics, won’t they cease to work, I wonder? Or is the emotional power of coquetry and crying just too great to resist even if the man knows he’s being manipulated in some way?

    Comment by ZD Eve — July 21, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

  21. Eve, I’ve never had the slightest idea how to flirt or pout or otherwise manipulate in these ways, although to my great embarrassment I too often can’t control unwelcome tears. I once had a missionary companion who was a mastery at it, to my fascination — she could *literally* put a man on hold by touching his arm lightly while she otherwise turned her back on him to talk to another man, and the first man wouldn’t have budged for a nuclear blast, I’m convinced.

    You manly gentlemen, can you provide insight from the other side?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 21, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

  22. Eve, I’ve never had the slightest idea how to flirt or pout or otherwise manipulate in these ways, although to my great embarrassment I too often can’t control unwelcome tears.

    Yeah, me too, on both counts.

    What fascinates me about the way he describes this is that he simply alludes to “subtle techniques” and “devices” that most women know (clearly I missed that memo!) for getting one’s way and asserting oneself that may be used, but shouldn’t be abused. The way he lays it out crying, coquetry, flirtatious dress, etc., are abuses, so I’m scratching my head trying to figure out what the acceptable devices are, exactly.

    I often feel, reading things like this, as if there is something fundamental being alluded to that I am just not getting. I don’t know if my befuddlement is a result of my living in a different era in which these sorts of things have fallen by the wayside, or if these sorts of things are going on all around me and I’m just too thick to recognize them.

    I guess in another era I would have been sent to charm school to attempt to master some of these skills. But I don’t know if it can be taught. (And I’ve known a few flirts in my time, but I’ve never observed one as skilled as your missionary companion up close. Must have been quite interesting!)

    Comment by ZD Eve — July 21, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  23. I wish some men would give us their input —

    Are you guys conscious of women using their “subtle techniques” on you?

    Are you conscious of women who don’t use them? Do you think such a woman is just not flirting *for the moment*, or that she *never* flirts?

    I’ve become aware in the last three or four years of another such “subtle technique”: I can be having lunch or walking across campus with a colleague, and another woman who knows the man will interrupt us, totally ignore me, and so thoroughly monopolize the man’s attention despite any attempt from me to participate, that sometimes I’ve deliberately dropped gradually behind until I walked away completely, and I’m sure that the man isn’t even aware that I’m no longer there. There doesn’t have to be the slightest hint of romance for this to happen — women who are old enough to be our mother do it, too. It’s an odd feeling being invisible, especially for someone as tall and, um, stout as I am, who isn’t afraid to speak up, as you can probably judge from my blogging. In a variation, a woman I once roomed with at a conference wouldn’t dare initiate a conversation with a man, yet whenever I would — every time! — no matter whether it was social or a business prospect I was trying to develop, she would step up, interrupt, and within seconds I would be invisible again, as the man devoted his full attention to her.

    I’m sure the women know exactly what they’re doing — do the men?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 21, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

  24. I believe, Ardis, that most of what we could say would be what the courtroom lawyers call a “declaration against interest.”

    Which may be fine if you’re looking for an exception to the hearsay rule, but not in this forum. :-)

    Comment by Mark B. — July 21, 2009 @ 9:26 pm

  25. “I’m sure the women know exactly what they’re doing — do the men?”

    Are you sure the women know? I think most of us spend a good deal of time unaware. I’ve heard mothers say that a child will play by himself until the mother gets on the telephone or does something else which makes the child feel that the mother might not be immediately available to him, and then he will cling, cry, etc. I wonder if the adult behavior you describe is a little like that on the woman’s part. But a little more savage, but with a sweet smile.

    There is that competitive side residing in the “lizard brain” – the limbic system. That seems to me to drive a good deal if not most of what ordinarily goes on with people – with the intellect along for the ride and to rationalize if necessary.

    The natural man does not easily cede the driver’s seat and does not need too much conscious thought to operate. But it is an able sophist when the need arises.

    Comment by S. Taylor — July 21, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  26. There you have it, Eve. Mark ain’t talking, and S. wonders whether it’s hardwired — absolving flirts of conscious manipulation, but turning your and my lack of coquetry into a birth defect. I guess that’s why men and women have been mysteries to each other forever. :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 6:48 am

  27. “into a birth defect”

    A trim reckoning! Handle a few divorces and you may begin to feel like human nature has a certain quality of birth defect, at least on a cynical day. One reflects that we are asked to come into “the depths of humility.” Nothing else answers. Maybe none of us have anything to be proud about ourselves. Gentility comes after humility. On occasion, one meets people who give that impression.

    Comment by S. Taylor — July 22, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  28. I’m sure liking your expanded participation here, S.!

    (S. and I discovered a few years ago that we were second cousins, and have enjoyed claiming the relationship ever since. At least *I* have, and I think he does, too.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 8:53 am

  29. I have seen the effect it has on me, but only sometimes. I haven’t figured out why it works (when it does) and why it didn’t work (when it doesn’t).

    I have a 13 year old daughter who is [unconsciously?] learning these skills by trying them on me. At the moment she isn’t very good at it. I assume she will figure it out by trial and error how to get what she wants. I dread the day she learns what works.

    As a parent I try to encourage certain types of manipulative behaviour, such as focusing your attention on every word of the person speaking to you (aka flirting) and discourage others (like crying).

    Comment by Bruce Crow — July 22, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  30. That has to be sometimes amusing, watching those first awkward attempts. Not as amusing as it will be when one day you suddenly realize that she successfully manipulated you without your immediately noticing, though.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 22, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  31. It is amazing to see the attitudes that have changed since then, just from the language used, though one can tell the writer is at least hoping to try to be unbiased. It’s also amazing to see how long I’ve had this tab open because I wanted to take some time to read it. Thanks for another great post. And I’m glad I got to meet you–I bragged about it to my sister and she was just as excited as I was.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — August 2, 2009 @ 11:25 am

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