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Babies and "flirting"

2628 Views 11 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  stafl
Ever since my six-month-old girl started smiling and looking at people, my parents-in-law have been commenting, "Oh, she's flirting! What a flirty girl! Is she flirting with you?" etc. I feel a little uncomfortable with this, as I associate the word flirting with romantic relationships, not babies. But I understand that many people use "flirting" to refer to babies, so I've tried not to get upset. Then, the other day, I was out with my mother-in-law and told her that a baby boy had moved in next door to us. She responded, "Oh, he could be hitting on her [my daughter] right now!" I was totally taken aback by this comment, said, "Well, I hope they'll get to play together," and changed the subject. I wish now that I had taken the opportunity to tell her I was upset, but I was so startled by what she said. I don't think she thought anything of it; I think she thought it was a cute, funny comment.

Anyone else share my feelings? Any suggestions on how to bring up this subject with my in-laws? I think that I read an article, years ago, about inappropriately "sexualizing" infant and toddler behavior. If you know of any discussion in a book or article, I would really appreciate it as a starting point for talking with them. I think that such language and attitudes sexualizes innocent baby behavior ("heterosexualizes", for that matter; I'm sure she wouldn't have made that comment if a girl baby had moved in next door).

Thanks for reading.
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Heck yeah! My mom does this. When I told her about then-6-month-old DS's encounter with a little 8-month-old baby girl at our playgroup, she said jokingly, "That hussy!" but then continued to refer to her as "the hussy" or "the older woman." The first time it was mildly amusing, but then the joke just got really tired and old, but she wouldn't drop it. I didn't know how to handle it. I was afraid if I said anything, the response would have been, "Oh, what's the big deal? I'm just kidding" or similar.

Why do people find it cute to attribute grown-up emotions and motivations to babies?

I'm so glad you said "heterosexualizes," as that's another, similar thing that really bugs me: the assumption that when DS grows up, he will have girlfriends. All the time I get comments like, "Oh, he's going to be a heartbreaker; he'll have his pick of the girls." And I bite my tongue to keep from saying, "Probably a fair amount of the guys, too..." And at any rate, it's way too early to be concerned with this sort of thing. Why can't folks just say he's a cute baby?

I'm not sure how to approach the topic with your ILs, except that I think offhandedly might be best. Maybe just say something like, "She can't flirt yet; she's just a baby! She sure is a social girl, though!" Not sure if that would be strong enough to get the point across, but I'd be afraid of coming off too strong if you actually sat them down and told them how much it bothered you -- kwim?

Anyway, great thread! I'll be interested to see the other responses.
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I really hate that! I have two girls that friends and strangers alike have insisted on sexualizing them as infants. on "flirt":

To make playfully romantic or sexual overtures.
To deal playfully, triflingly, or superficially with: flirt with danger.
To move abruptly or jerkily.
Nope, my girls are neither playing sexually or superficially. They are actually true, honest, and real- the opposite. And liek you said, it totally heterosexualizes the child to think that is the only valid form of love.

When people say it about my kids (granted I catch it the first time) I say "really? <cock head slightly> you think she's making sexual advances? I just thought she was being playful" or something like that in a serious and confused tone. That is usually enough to keep them from saying it again and I wasn't actually "rude" just asked a serious question. Strangers get all miffed though.

If your relationship is real good I would just catch MIL or FIL next time they say it when nobody else is around (to avoid them getting overly defensive) and just say a simple "I was wondering if you could use a word without sexual overtones to describe her playfulness. I know you mean it well, but it just disturbs me" OR "you know, name, I appreciate that you make such an effort to be involved in daughters life- but I've been a little curious why you use words with sexual connotations about her. I know you are just being playful, but it disturbs me to hear my 6 mo old spoken about in such a way, you know?"

I would say acknowledge the good intent (i mean they're there. One set of my inlaws haven't even met my kids.) and just let them know it disturbs you because it has sexual implications.

If your relationship is sketchy I'd have your partner do it- because I've found it is so much easier to have the one they love unconditionally tell them things they don't want to hear.
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I just wanted to add that if your partner is the type to say "wife wants you to stop......" then I would do itmyself either way. The only reason I'd say I'd send my DH is because I know he would say HE didn't like it, and would be blunt and honest about ti. He wouldn't bring me into it at all.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves with my mother's side of our family (the extended part, not my immediate family and NOT my mother, she's cool
). They insist on saying that dd and another younger cousin are flirting. They ask if dd has a boyfriend yet. It's really grating. I don't see them this much, but it's still irksome. I tend to ignore it.

And I am so glad that you mentioned the "heterosexualizing" aspect as well. I get that feeling too, but I was afraid that I was just overly sensitive to that part since I have so many gay friends and so I was aware of it. I've just heard too many awful coming out stories to stuff heterosexuality down my kids' throats, however unintentionally.

No advice, really, just wanted to pop in and say I'm glad I'm not alone.
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As for the "flirting," I myself have used it in referring to my DS. I meant it, of course, in the "playful" sense listed as part of the no. 2 definition for flirt, above. I didn't mean it in a sexual way at all, and in fact was using it to describe how my son interacts with male and female, relative and stranger alike. And no one said anything - UNTIL my DP heard me say to our baby (he was alternately acting bashful then flashing big smiles at his dad), "Are you flirting with your dad? Are you a flirt?" Then my DP objected. He said that made him "uncomfortable."

It had never occurred to me till then that anyone would think of the term "flirting" as sexual in relation to a baby.

But since I hate the concept of that - language that sexualizes, and sexual assumptions - I guess I will use the term less if at all. I don't want to encourage or validate anyone's heterosexualizing assumptions or any propensity to apply sexual concepts to a baby.

As for the other thing, the assumption that a baby will be hetero ... well, that one really bugs me. I guess I'm aware of it because no fewer than two people in my immediate family circle are gay, plus many friends, plus I read extensively and these things really stand out to me. Last night, for instance, DP was talking about how beautiful our son's eyes are, and said, "The girls will go crazy." And I added, "And probably the boys." I guess I shouldn't have used DP as the example again here, since he can say what he wants. It's the OTHER people - the strangers at the store, etc., though also both my mom and my MIL (hey, always happy to take offense when a mother/MIL is concerned! that's my motto!) - who bug me when they go there. DP was in point of fact just talking about our baby's eyes in the above conversation, whereas other people seem pressed to envision my baby's future sexual life. And I think ... WHY? Why NOW already? Can't he just be a baby, without having to take on all this baggage of mainstream gender/sexual assumptions/biases?

As you can imagine, my reaction is not much different when people begin talking about "boys will be boys" or "he's all boy" or "boys with their tools" and the like. I'M not convinced DS won't be a poet/artist/fashion designer/hopeless nontechnical dreamer. But others seem ready (and/or eager) to put him in the camp of toolbelt-wearing, monster-truck-driving, firearms-toting tough guy. My poor little babe!
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Originally Posted by melixxa
whereas other people seem pressed to envision my baby's future sexual life. And I think ... WHY? Why NOW already? Can't he just be a baby, without having to take on all this baggage of mainstream gender/sexual assumptions/biases?

Exactly what I was trying to express in my post, Melixxa! Well-said.

I also wanted to second Rainbow's suggestions for how to handle the "flirting" comments. Very good ideas! I'm hopeless when it comes to any sort of confrontation. Usually I just stammer and stutter and look like an idiot, and then later, in private, rant away!

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You know, thanks for this thread, it really made me think. I call what my son does "flirting" and saw it as playful, never anything else. BUT - it can send the wrong message and I intend to STOP doing it. I appreciate the different POV on it.

SO and I have already had the "what if he's gay" talk, thank goodness. I live out here in hicksville where SO grew up and I grew up in a much more suburban/urban area. He was brought up in a... umm.... narrowminded is the best way to put it... family. I gently brought it up one night when DS was very very small and he was shockingly open to the idea. I'm so proud of him. :) We DO tend to call him "all boy" though when he does "boy things". Got to rethink that.

Oh, and hi Nick!
I use the flirt word - now with my 7 mo and before when my older dd was a baby. I've never meant anything sexual by it (nor did I feel anyone took it that way). I do think there is such a thing as playful (only) flirtation. The reason I've used this word I suppose is b/c that's exactly what she seems to do. Does she make the same "flirty" style faces to women in the grocery store? No. She does it to the men. Not to little boys or babies but to men. Both my girls were like this and I thought nothing more of it than it's cute. They can detect gender differences and perhaps learn early to act one way or another to get what they need/want from that gender. It's no biggie in my book but I guess I can see how someone might be irked by the word. Just not a hang-up of mine (believe me - I have plenty of other hang-ups to choose from
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I have to say that I have used the term "flirting" but I think hussy and hitting on someone have much more sexual connotations and I would be upset at hearing that. I think flirt can be used to express a type of nonsexual interaction that implies being very friendly and outgoing as a means to foster further intimacy between you and another person (if that makes any sense). In other words, I think that sometimes grown women (who are heterosexual) can "flirt" with other women; have you ever been in a situation in which you really like a person you've met and would like them to be your friend and so find yourself being a little forward maybe (like touching an arm in conversation with someone you just met but really click with) because you just like them so darn much? For me, flirting means this also--acting in bit of a forward and unguarded manner in an effort to further a personal connection, be it sexual or not. So, I guess I'm not offended when it is applied to babies, but now that I think about it, babies can't really flirt because they don't have that consciousness of what they're doing, they have no concept of when they're being "reserved" vs. "outgoing."

Interesting thread.

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My stepmother is always saying DS is flirting. It drives me crazy. We went out to eat last week and she couldn't stop talking about how my son was flirting with an "older woman" (little girl about age 3). I responded with, "He loves older children, he likes to watch him play." When she continued talking about it I said right now, he's more interested in his toys than in relationships.

BTW I'm glad you posted this - it's been aggravating me for a while and it's good to see I'm not alone!
Both of my girls "flirt" with people, men and women and other children. There is nothing sexual about it, but there is no better term to describe what they are doing. Their father, my DH, does it all the time, too. And I know that when he flirts with some old toothless woman in line at the grocery store, that it is a far cry from being sexual in nature.

Now, the terms "hussy" and "hitting on" do indeed imply sexuality, and I would be terribly offended. Just as DH and I about had a fit when MIL called DD "sexy little thing"
That is an entirely different thing than saying my baby is flirting with someone.
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