Two Carnivals ago, in the midst of the wining at Adam Smith Square in Port-of-Spain, a middle-aged American tourist looking on at the lewd coupling taking place before him, asked me in bewilderment, “What are the rules of engagement?” My answer was that I did not know and, in fact, from close observation of the street on Carnival days, it would seem that “any dog could play” and all that was needed was a strong back and a willing bottom. There was no preparation for the action, little eye contact, “come-on glances,” smiles, pursed lips, hellos, comments, suggestive movements of the hips, hands or bottoms, lip-licking or anything of the sort. It just sort of seemed to happen. One minute a woman would be sashaying by; suddenly a male would jump out of the crowd and cover her; violent jooking to the beat of the music would take place for around 30 seconds, in which both male and female would participate in silence, intently looking down at the ground. Then they would separate, turn around and each go their separate ways. Most of the time they did not appear to know each other and in fact they seldom seemed to recognise the wine. When friendship was acknowledged the wine would often be of a less violent nature. After the preliminary leap into the air to attract the attention of the woman and spectators and the accompanying scream, “Oh gord gul, yuh looking sweet!” the woman might bend over, offering her taunt buttocks (if she had been in the gym for the last six months) for the gent to scramble over and after some pelvic thrusting, often a gentle wine-down to the ground would occur, held for some seconds for all to admire and photograph and separation would take place, both participants returning to their respective limes to the accompaniment of hoots and whistles, high-fives and admiring comments from the male friends, smiles and kisses from the female party followed in a number of cases by a locked-leg wine with one of her girl friends.
This, of course, is an affront to anyone who grew up in the fifties or sixties when flirting was the norm before any real physical contact and there were concrete rules of engagement given to you by some relative: “Chip together but no touching” and holding hands was an exercise in bluster, a kiss was a venial sin and a hip thrust was a mortal wound guaranteed to put you into hell before death itself. Preceding all of these daring events was an entire series of signals used to assess interest by the other, known as flirting. Flirting can be defined as a playful romantic or sexual overture by one person to another, subtly or not, indicating an interest in a deeper relationship with the other person, and can involve verbal communication as well as body language. There were no definite rules when it came to flirting, because every situation was different. It was tricky and complex and varied from culture to culture and Trinidad culture in the past, with its sharp ethnic differences, made it even more so. Some people confuse flirting with sexual harassment and vice versa. The most important factor here is perception and perception is a bottomless pit (no pun intended). It’s sexual harassment when it leaves the person feeling offended, demeaned or violated. The bottom line is that if the object of someone’s flirtation makes it very clear that the flirting is unwelcome and unwanted, but the person continues to flirt, then he or she is guilty of harassment.
Scientifically, flirting comes down to our inherent desire to reproduce. When we flirt, we’re giving off information about how fit we are to procreate as well as our health. There are also specific aspects of our appearance that make us more attractive to others. Some of the “female” signs of flirting, such as angling her body and sticking out her hips, are attempts to draw attention to her pelvis and its suitability for carrying a child. In addition, men tend to be more attracted to women with a certain hip-to-waist ratio: in most countries, the waist must be no more than 60 to 80 per cent of the hip circumference. The correct ratio is unknown in T&T but there seems to be much research daily conducted into these dimensions. This ratio is also an indication of fertility. When a man makes intense eye contact and smiles often, he attempts to show that he is both virile and dependable. Women are attracted to prominent, square jaws, which are indicative of a man’s power and strength. If he has a loud voice, so much the better. Features like square jaws have a connection to prominent features in the animal kingdom. Male peacocks attract females with their elaborate plumage, male kiskidees scream loudly, and stags have large horns. Because these features require additional biological resources and also tend to make these animals more visible to their predators, an impressive display shows that these animals are strong. The question then is: is wining flirting?