Jean Smith is a social anthropologist and has spent over a decade studying how men and women interact. She is from Iowa in the American Mid-West, which she describes as “a friendly place where people flirt naturally” so arriving in London she was a little confused by the British stiff upper lip and our penchant for dates-with-alcohol…
“I love the people, the politeness and the scones. But when it comes to flirting, you British have much to learn,” she says.
Smith has done a four-country comparison and found that flirting is too rare in Britain and when we do it – it tends not to be successful. New Yorkers are direct, can handle rejection and move on. Parisians like to use ritual to woo but here in the UK we tend to give up and go home – alone! British men need a lot of reassurance – only 35% can recognize the signals when a woman is flirting and we ladies aren’t much better either – 57% of us can spot the signs – lower than the women from the other countries in her survey.
Clearly we Brits need to up our game and learn from the pros – the grand dames of Hollywood, so I’m here to check out Smith’s new seminar “Flirt Like a Silver Screen Siren” at the British Film Museum. Do I have a flirting style? Not particularly but I use words and humour to connect so it’ll be interesting to see what she can teach me.
Her philosophy? She quotes the golfer, Arnold Palmer: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
The art of flirting
Inspired by Marilyn Monroe, Doris Day, Mae West, Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis, Smith has created an inspiring talk to show women how the original Hollywood goddesses captivated audiences – as well as the many men who fell in love with them. She says, “The art of flirting is all about being the leading lady, not the supporting actress. You have to stand out. Bette Davis was no classic beauty, but she learned feminine wiles, exuded confidence and was powerfully attractive. Mae West mastered the art of wit. My talk will teach women what kind of screen siren they are and how to play to their strengths, whilst learning new skills from the most enduring of Hollywood heroines”.
So here I am at the London Film Museum – a private museum in the gloriously historic County Hall. Former office of the Greater London Council. Mirrors, marble flooring, an old fashioned telephone exchange room and a huge staircase – it is like walking onto a movie set and instantly makes you feel more glamorous. The security guard in Reception has clearly had a lesson or two already. “You here to flirt?” – he winks and waves me upstairs. “I like Joan Collins and Audrey Hepburn,”.
Upstairs I find 30 expectant women and Jean Smith at the helm with laptop and TV. After introducing herself she explains that it’s an interactive workshop so we’ll be doing role-play and getting into groups.
The first exercise is to work out which of the four chosen actresses we most identify with (Mae West, Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo). She asks pertinent questions and divides us into groups according to our answers. How do we relate to men and women? How do we use body language and words to communicate? Do we use humour and wit to get what we want? Do we have a strong passion or belief in certain causes? Do we prefer small, intimate gatherings or large parties?
I ended up in the Mae West group so regrouped with my fellow Westies.
Smith then showed us movie clips of each actress and gave a potted bio. We then had to do a little exercise to practice their particular style.
- “With Marilyn it’s all about body language”. Monroe frequently brings attention to her hands, neck and chest. She used her looks and sexuality to get ahead but wasn’t entirely comfortable with this. She got a lot of flack in the industry and wasn’t particularly well respected for some roles (i.e. lingering shots of her bottom as the camera pans away…)
- In the 1930s she was asked questions about her weight and whether she was happy with it (Marilyn was a size 16).
- Her big love was Joe DiMaggio – they were only married for nine months but he was the man she called when she was in trouble. After her death he sent roses three times a week to her grave.
- She said she felt men expected too much from her and she couldn’t live up to it.
- Joe found it hard to reconcile the sex goddess/woman at home after they married.
Star quality: Enjoy your body and sexuality – whatever your shape and size.
- Hepburn came from a progressive family who encouraged her to be strong and independent.
- She was intelligent and confident and Hollywood had a problem with it.
- She had a big love affair with Spencer Tracy – they were together for 27 years and made nine films together.
- She was called ‘Katharine the Arrogant’ on set, wasn’t interested in her looks and refused to wear makeup or do interviews. She once refused to wear a dress so the crew hid her trousers and she wandered around the set in her underwear.
- She made her last film ‘On Golden Pond’ at 87 and she lived into her 90s.
Star quality: Be direct. Loving the scene where she tells another woman to ‘fuck off’ politely without pausing for breath.
- “Garbo was a pro with her eyes”. You could see thought with her expressions and “worlds turned on her movements,” according to one film reviewer.
- She learned how to make an impact using body language and facial expressions during the silent movie era. Studio bosses were worried that she might not make the transition to talking film but she did fine – with her trademark husky voice.
- Mastered the ‘triangle seduction technique’ – glancing from eye to lip and back again.
- She had no interest in the press or limelight and liked to have a black screen around her on set. “I just want to be left alone” – i.e. so she could concentrate on refining her facial expressions!
- Great with money – she retired at 37 and moved to New York the following year. She couldn’t cook so employed a cook who lived with her for 31 years.
- Often spotted taking her daily walks around town.
- She never married and was bisexual.
Star quality: Forget the Botox – you need your facial expressions to flirt!
- The ultimate showgirl – “It’s not the men in your life that counts, it’s the life in your men”. West was entertaining crowds from age 5 – her mother’s dream continued (she was a corset model). She loved to entertain and knew how to have fun.
- She wrote, directed and starred in her films on Broadway. Her first play was called “Sex” – critics panned it but audiences loved it. She and her crew were locked up for 10 days for public indecency.
- Her second play “The Drag” was about homosexuality and banned from Broadway.
- Her third play “Diamond Lil” about her life as a sassy woman was a huge hit on Broadway but Hollywood thought it was too racy.
- At 38, she was offered a bit part in Hollywood and stole the show with her one liner: “Goodness has nothing to do with it, dearie”.
- Most of her work was censored so Hollywood didn’t work out for her. Despite that in 1935 she was the second highest paid person in the US after Randolph Hearst!
- She found her home in Las Vegas doing cabaret.
- At 61, she met Chester Rybinski who was 30 years her junior. He said: “I believe I was put on this earth to take care of Mae West” and did so until she died at 87.
- West was always pushing the envelope and did exactly what she wanted. When a former boyfriend African-American boxing champion Gorilla Jones was banned from the building she was performing in she solved the problem by buying the building…
Star quality: Pushed the boundaries and used her wit to put on a show.
We can draw a bit from each leading lady and develop our own star qualities. What’s interesting about flirt interpretation is that it can be used for business success as well as in your personal life. I chatted to one of the Westies after the workshop and she explained how the techniques Jean had taught her had helped her business and changed her mindset around men. She is now having a lot more fun with dating as oppose to seeing it as a chore or something you have to do to meet ‘the one’. Another woman commented that men and women have completely different dating styles. Men tend to have several women in their ‘dating pool’ at any one time whereas women tend to fixate on one man to their detriment.
So, what other tips does Smith have?
- Tell jokes and smile more. Smiling makes people like us and produces oxytocin (the bonding hormone). You can spread happiness by telling jokes. Psychologist Richard Wiseman did a study called ‘The Happiness Experiment’, which involved people telling and rating jokes. He found jokes with words that make us smile when we say them – ‘duck’ or ‘quack’ for example, were rated more highly because they make us feel happier.
There were lots of giggles and bonding at this point:
“Why will Barbie never get pregnant?”
“Cause Ken always comes in a different box…”
We can create happiness and spread joy in simple ways – aim to laugh more, have fun and smile more – it makes us happier and more attractive to the opposite sex.
Check out the TED Talk by Daniel Gilbert on “Synthesising Happiness”. Strive to be happy and make the best of situations. It reminded me of a quote my friend Caroline shared on Facebook this week from ‘Spiritual Awakenings’:”The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you are.”
All in all, a stimulating and fun evening in a glam venue. I’m looking forward to learning more and testing out some of the techniques on London’s unsuspecting menfolk. Some of the comments have made me think about how we relate to others in everyday situations and how you need to be present, observant and seize the moment. I can feel a book brewing – “In a London Minute” – based on advice from the love gurus. Time to shake up my dating approach!
Want to join us for the next Flirting & Walking Tour? Let’s create some body heat!
For more info on Jean Smith’s work see her blog www.thesocialanthropologist.com and www.flirtology.co.uk. Her new book The Flirt Interpreter: Flirting Signs From Around the World is out now on Amazon.
Flirting and Walking Tours (London): March 7th, 6:45pm, £25.
Communication Essentials: Getting what you want in Life and Love: March 6th, 6:30-9:30pm, £50 (includes drinks and food).