I was 19 the first time someone called me a flirt. I didn’t like it. At all.
At the time, I was taking a small seminar on Latinas in electoral politics with my friends Erika, Pato and Vane. Our reading for that week included several pieces in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings, edited by Alma Gonzalez. The book was full of letters, speeches, articles and other historical documents from the 1960s and 70s. Although we weren’t assigned “A Chicana’s Message” — a one-page article originally published the January, 1972 issue of La Verdad — my peers still read the article. Here’s an excerpt from “A Chicana’s Message”:
The women who were at the [picnic] table were pregnant and I have gone through that torture. I have been on both sides of the fence. As women we have been pitted against each other for the big prize… el macho? We are constantly competing with one another, even when we walk down the street we are trying to hold our stomachs in or push our chi chi’s out. Believe me, that ain’t a very comfortable way to walk, but we do it. Since we’re little girls we’re taught to flirt; then we have boyfriends or get married and the men criticize us for being flirts — what do they expect? We are taught to use our bodies to get attention!
I don’t remember talking about the piece during class, but it came up during our walk back to the dorms. Erika was the first to draw the link between my behavior around our male friends and the article. Pato agreed too, but Erika was harsher in her criticism. According to her, my interactions weren’t friendly. They were shameless flirting and I was hungry for attention. She brought up examples of my flirting with one of our male peers in MEChA.
Okay, I was flirting, but that’s because I had a huge crush on the guy. I wasn’t about to admit that to them. So, I defended myself by linking my relationships with male friends to the kind of relationships I had with my cousins growing up. I grew up with a lot of male cousins. I had a lot of girl cousins too, but they were all too old or too young to play with. I ended up playing a lot of freeze tag and video games with my male cousins. I was accustomed to being around males. I told Erika and Pato that my friendliness with male friends was an extension of that. I wanted to feel the closeness and affection from my friends like I had with my family. Although it was all innocuous, Erika played it another way, “ugh, we don’t want to know what kind of attention you got from your cousins.”
Erika dropped the subject, as she could see I was getting more upset. But she wouldn’t let go of the topic all together.
The next year at our annual MEChA end-of-the-year dinner, she and a couple other women wrote up the gag awards. She presented most of the sarcastic and sometimes mean awards. People laughed, the award-winner blushed and then sat down at his seat.
For my award, Erika dragged up Jonathan, a mutual friend. He seemed embarrassed to read the paper, but she told him, “read it!”
“Okay, the award for Most Likely to Flirt With the Presenter of this Award goes to Cindy.”