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It's charming when I do it - Tactical Ninja

Jul. 3rd, 2013

10:48 am - It's charming when I do it

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Wow. I just got a notification that someone has updated their MySpace. I didn't realise that people still even used MySpace. Although, hipsters might. Hmm..

Anyway, rivet posted this thing yesterday. I don't know how many of you read it, but it's about charm - more specifically, the seeming lack of it in modern society. The article claims that men in particular have lost their charm - or that charm is a learned method of social interaction and that nowadays men do not seek to gain.

I struggle a bit with the gendered nature of that claim. The article suggests that women tend to be more charming as a social strategy, because charm requires creating space for another to shine rather than focusing on oneself and this is something that women are socially conditioned to do. I'm not sure I necessarily agree.


Well, when I start trying to think of people I know who are charming, I struggle to think of any, male or female. I can think of one off the top of my head, and while she is a woman, I don't see her charm as an artefact of her gender. I mean, I can't say whether she'd be as charming if she were a man, but I'm not seeing a lot of supporting evidence for the idea that charm is a womanly trait these days. She is not a representative sample, yeah? So there's that.

And then there's the bit where I'm not really sure what charm is. So I looked it up:

Wikipedia says it's a number of socially desirable characteristics, but doesn't expand on what those might be. Could be "doesn't pick nose in public", you know? In which case, I'm dead charming.

The Free Dictionary says it's a delightful quality or characteristic - again, without going into specifics - although it does mention mischievous smiles. I have one of those too, at least sometimes. Hmm...

WikiHow says it's the art of having an attractive personality. It also comes with a handy-dandy list of 11 things You Too Can Do To Become More Charming, complete with cartoons to demonstrate. And lo! The list includes a whole lot of things that are about making other people feel important, and being nice. It even mentions practicing sounding sincere into a tape recorder. Which makes me go O.o.

Anyone else notice that almost all of the cartoons depict women? Particularly the one who is learning to be charming. Also, I don't know about you, but this is the ad that I got at the top of the page:

Why Men Pull Away CatchHimAndKeepHim.com
10 Ugly Mistakes Women Make That Ruins Any Chances Of A Relationship


So I'm gonna take a wild stab in the dark here and suggest that even if charm itself isn't gendered, there is some conditioning going on that implies that charm should be gendered. That women are the ones who seek out ways of becoming more charming, perhaps in order to attract men. Which agrees somewhat with the premise of the article up there.

Further to this, the other thing that rivet posted yesterday was about Manic Pixie Dream Girls - a phenomenon that most of us are probably familiar with nowadays, in which the woman plays an archetype that is designed to - wait for it - charm a man out of his rut/depression/shyness, and teach him to embrace life to its fullest and therefore further his character development.

I can't be the only one seeing parallels here, right?

So we have this idea that charm is gendered and that men have somehow 'lost' it. We have the idea that charm is something women seek to have. And we have the idea that a woman whose existence is entirely about making things better for the man who is central to the story, is a charming and desirable archetype. Because charm is about placing the other person in the central role, apparently.


And yet, when I look around me, I'm not seeing these ideas played out in real life - at least, not the gendered aspect of them. I can still only think of that one person who I think is truly charming. And I wonder if people really were any more charming Back In The Day than they are now, or if as Dr Wheel says, the depiction of charm in movies is related to the contrived nature of visual stories before the advent of method acting, and was only ever a fantasy created for us by those who seek to extract our money by delivering wish fulfilment fantasies?

Which is something of a cynical perspective, but I can definitely see its point - lots of things from bygone days get this rose-coloured-spectacle treatment, and without context it is possible to see a Cary Grant flick as an accurate depiction of real life back then, you know? But my Dad, who was Grant's contemporary, would give you a very different picture of the interactional norms of the time, you know?

Anyway, I'm curious what y'all think about this. Do you know anyone you'd consider to be charming? What do you think charm entails? And is the version we get in 1940s movies really the only way to see it?

Comments:

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From:anna_en_route
Date:July 3rd, 2013 12:08 am (UTC)
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The guy I know who springs to mind when I think of charming is one who uses it to cover a certain amount of social awkwardness.

I love the show Community (while acknowledging that it has a lot of problematic elements) and I would say Jeff Winger is both an example and a deconstruction of charming men (which gives the lie to that article about there being no such thing any more).

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From:tyellas
Date:July 3rd, 2013 12:35 am (UTC)
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I know quite a few charmers, both male and female. I'm not one of them - I lack the unique combination of charisma, physical presence, and quick wit. All of them do have an old-fashioned flillip to their personal style.

They also have a tendency to not reject the attentions of others - ones that might make you or I angry, or defensive, or get-out-of-my-space. Instead, they restructure the interaction to one that they are more comfortable with. There may be some distance involved, but it's a distance that makes the other person feel acknowledged, and thereby positive about the encounter.

Last Saturday, I was hosting a burlesque performer who wanted a kebab at midnight, so we went to the kind of kebab store that's open at midnight. Between placing her order and receiving it, she entranced the entire staff of the kebab place, a random fellow customer, and a dreadlocked man on the street who gave her a light. I would've just huddled into my coat...
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From:plantgirl
Date:July 3rd, 2013 12:54 am (UTC)
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I do not think charm is gendered.

While I am currently coming up short on specific examples, I know/have known people who are charming, many/most of whom are male. I think it involves a focus on the other, plus an element of grace. A certain amount of charisma is necessary, but charm is not *only* charisma.

Charm has had to update itself. What worked in 1940s movies does not work so well today.

I think charm is rarer than it used to be (I know more older men who are charming than young ones), but it still exists. What is considered charming will not be the same for everyone. I have a tolerance for old men flirting with me in situations where I believe their goal is to flatter, for example, & I have friends who find this same behavior repellent/inappropriate.

Yes, many sociopaths have an ability to charm. It's useful if you have no actual empathy & want people to buy the drek you are selling.

I hope these comments actually make some sense? I am tired enough I am not sure I am speaking clearly as to the questions you asked.
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From:rivet
Date:July 3rd, 2013 01:19 am (UTC)

THIS

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As is par for the course, plantgirl manages to lucidly communicate in a few paragraphs what I couldn't get across in 30 minutes of hand-waving and analogy.
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From:plantgirl
Date:July 3rd, 2013 01:29 am (UTC)

Re: THIS

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And *this* comment is part of why I was very tempted to list you as one of the people I know who consistently exhibits charm.
:)

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From:tatjna
Date:July 3rd, 2013 01:30 am (UTC)

Re: THIS

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Well, you know, rivet is the mystery woman from my post. ;-)
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From:rivet
Date:July 3rd, 2013 01:32 am (UTC)

Re: THIS

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Awww, shucks you guys... Thank you.
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From:plantgirl
Date:July 3rd, 2013 03:06 am (UTC)
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To clarify part of the above -

While there are lecherous old men (& people in general) who will mack on anything, I am talking about people flirting for 2 reasons: because it makes them feel good *to* flirt, & because they like making someone else feel good *by* flirting. I find this desire to improve someone else's day charming. However I have known people who are offended by old men flirting with anyone, or perhaps only with people significantly junior to them. I believe they are attaching far more intent to the flirting than exists, &/or too little agency to the people on the receiving end of the flirting, but this is one area where different folks see different strokes.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 3rd, 2013 03:19 am (UTC)
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One of my superpowers is the ability to charm older men. From my side, there's never any intentional flirtatiousness in it, and I don't really know how it works. All I know is that older men like me a lot, and I get twinkled at on a regular basis. It does feel good, and I hope that they also get something out of it.
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From:rivet
Date:July 3rd, 2013 11:55 am (UTC)
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I flirt because it generally feels good for everyone involved. That, and I can't help it ;)

Edited at 2013-07-03 11:56 am (UTC)
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From:plantgirl
Date:July 3rd, 2013 03:18 am (UTC)
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This conversation brought something to mind-

In the Travis McGee novels, by John D. MacDonald, there is a character named Meyer. Meyer, is a great hairy bear of an economist who lives on a houseboat. And he is able to become friends with anyone in a very short period of time, in large part because he is charming & empathetic.

IIrc, the author describes Meyer's ability to do this as involving the ability to find something fascinating about anyone. Even truly boring people are fascinating, Meyer says, because it's worth studying how they manage to BE so boring.

I've found this concept useful in improving my ability to interact with others. When I can find something interesting about another person I am more involved. That involvement can create a positive feedback loop. I don't think this is the same as being charming, but I think it is relevant. I think this seeing other people as interesting, as people of value, is part of what tyellas's friend did.
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From:rivet
Date:July 3rd, 2013 12:00 pm (UTC)
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Without having read MacDonald, I suspect I would relate to that character.
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From:rivet
Date:July 3rd, 2013 02:46 am (UTC)
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For me, the most interesting part of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl article is the response she gets to no longer doing that. I, too, want to be the protagonist in my own story, rather that the supporting character in someone else’s. My mother taught me that I’d get bored waiting for a knight in shining armour—it’s much better and more reliable to get your own damn white horse and learn to ride. I think one can have the empathy and awareness required to be charming, and still play the protagonist. Or at least I hope so, since that’s what I’m striving for. I’ll let you know how that goes ;)
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From:plantgirl
Date:July 3rd, 2013 03:20 am (UTC)
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I am trying something similar. I wish you all the luck!
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From:downwardlashes
Date:July 3rd, 2013 03:02 am (UTC)
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I wracked my brain and came up with one genuinely charming person - someone I went to high school with. He was a great guy. With him as an example, I'd say that charm was a combination of personal magnetism and being a genuinely good person. But then I think of all the times that someone has tried to act charming, and it's an instant red flag that they are insincere. And in movies, charming people are usually con men/women. So I don't know. Maybe charm is something that comes more easily to people with good social skills. Me no have.
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From:crsg
Date:July 3rd, 2013 06:46 am (UTC)
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There's one guy I know of that springs to mind when considering the word 'charming'. He's a friend of mine but not an especially close one (mostly because I just haven't ever spent that much time with him), but I think it's his charisma (combined with boyish good looks - a group of us once voted him as the person among us most likely to be a Disneyland Prince) that makes him charming. At the same time, I feel like his attitude is real, meaning he doesn't attempt to be like anything other than what he naturally is.
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From:goddessofchaos
Date:July 3rd, 2013 11:29 am (UTC)
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I always think of charm as a male thing, somehow. It's just not a word I would apply to a woman. I suppose that's sexist in itself, but I just never seem to hear women described as charming. Mind you, I don't see "charming" as a compliment because usually I hear it applied to the type of man who seems charming on the surface but is actually superficial/manipulative/cruel underneath. Also, the phrase "a real charmer" is often used here to sarcastically describe someone who is boorish and ill-mannered. So I just associate the word with bad things.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 3rd, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
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It seems this is fairly common - the line between charming and sociopath seems somewhat blurred. I wonder when this changed?
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From:rivet
Date:July 3rd, 2013 12:05 pm (UTC)
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I did manage to come up with someone in my life who is truly charming in model of James Garner in the article. I'm consulting him for his take on the article, which will probably make him uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, some part of my brain remains entangled in the 'what would Rivet be like if she was not a woman' question. It's like the Woolf "Shakespeare's sister" essay, but in reverse. I think I probably would have been beaten up a lot as a kid, for starters, which probably has a formative effect on one's personality...
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From:tatjna
Date:July 3rd, 2013 08:33 pm (UTC)

If rivet were a man

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I totally would.

*ahem*

I've wondered that too, and it seems to me that it's entirely possible you and I would never have met if we were men. I'd likely still be a shearer, for a start..
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From:rivet
Date:July 4th, 2013 02:11 am (UTC)

Re: If rivet were a man

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http://rivet.livejournal.com/705532.html
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From:subtle_haven
Date:July 3rd, 2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
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This made me think. It made me think lots of things, but first and foremost that I, also, can't quite explain what charm is.
(Granted, that might be the fault of English being my second language. Translating "charm" back and forth a few times led me to believe it's closely related to elegance and social grace.)

Either way, charm is clearly difficult to define, but must have something to do with social interaction. No one is charming alone.
As far as charm in relation to gender, I don't know how much of it is learned or even conditioned, but I do know a woman's brain tends to be better at social interaction, making social connections, and even small talk. Extrapolating that slight biological advantage to charm seems like a tiny bit of a stretch, but I could see how it would make sense.

Also, I don't think charm is absolute or unconditional. I don't think there are (many) individuals whose charm defines them. It depends on the situation, context, and even the person being "charmed". It's certainly much easier to be charming to someone mildly attractive than to someone creepy.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 3rd, 2013 08:34 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, that thing about charm not being absolute or unconditional is important, I think. I can think of lots of people who are charming in small ways, or in certain situations, and in that case it seems to be a natural, unconscious thing (like my ability to charm older men). I think it's likely most of us have aspects of charm, but they aren't on display all the time or for all people.
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From:thesecondcircle
Date:July 3rd, 2013 03:49 pm (UTC)
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Two quick thoughts:

First, look at the word itself. According to Merriam Webster online, a charm is both a magic spell (or an object with a spell on it AKA lucky charm) or "a trait that fascinates, allures, or delights." So to be charming is to attempt to cast a spell of allure or delight on or with another person. Note, I mean this as morally neutral -- this power can be used for good or evil.

I also think that, historically, charm was used as a mechanism to negotiate social and political power imbalance, which is where the lingering gendered nuance comes from. So a man (or person in power of any gender) may be charming in order to smooth the effect of their application of power and be seen as a "better man" than one who applied power without social grace. A woman (of person of lesser power) may use charm to get what they want from the person in power (hence the reason for "charm school"). And finally a negotiator of any type may be charming in order to get what they want or to facilitate a compromise between different groups or individuals. Example: Abraham Lincoln was described as charming, which no doubt helped him politically during a divisive time in American history.
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From:tatjna
Date:July 3rd, 2013 08:36 pm (UTC)
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Hmm, yeah. That's really interesting, and something the article only touched on in a superficial way. I also wonder about the cultural changes that have led charm to be seen as manipulative rather than an effective social strategy.
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From:thesecondcircle
Date:July 3rd, 2013 10:00 pm (UTC)
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It could be that the perception (whether based in reality or not) of greater equality in many parts of the world makes charm seem less necessary and therefore more affected or fake. Which again can be used for good or evil. I'm thinking of women of a certain wave of feminism who feel that having the door held is an affront to their independence (I'm more in the 'let's all hold doors for each other' camp).

I think there's a lot that could be unpacked about the relationship between power imbalance (actual or perceived) and social niceties such as discretion, courtship, politeness, and so on. For example, I don't expect my husband to gift me with fine jewelry because I have my own financial power and property rights. If I want a shiny object, I'll buy it myself (and its more likely to be a new phone than a diamond). I don't have to wear my wealth because I can buy a house or stock or whatever myself.

That said, I find that the lengths to which Americans in particular have decided they don't need social niceties quite destructive. No wonder our national discourse is so contentious.
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From:vernacularity
Date:July 4th, 2013 07:44 pm (UTC)
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regarding MySpace, I saw that the original owners of Bebo bought it back for $1mil (having sold it for $850mil or so lols etc.) I'm thinking maybe there's going to be an attempt at re-producing non-fb non-g+ things?
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From:tatjna
Date:July 4th, 2013 07:47 pm (UTC)
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I wonder a bit if the success of Tumblr has demonstrated that microblogging isn't the only way people want to communicate on the internet. That sort of magaziney style is something MySpace did quite well, and if they updated it some, I could see it forming a sort of junction between microblogging, scrolling bullshit a la Facebook, with space for longform if folks were interested.

And of course it probably now has retro cool as well.
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From:vernacularity
Date:July 4th, 2013 08:57 pm (UTC)
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Also: self-controlled content. Because that is most definitely NOT what FB provides.
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From:vernacularity
Date:July 5th, 2013 02:37 am (UTC)
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haha I doubt myspace has anything of the sort!! check it out:

from wikipedia:

".... In June 2011, Specific Media Group and Justin Timberlake jointly purchased the company for approximately $35 million.[21]....."

"...On 13 June 2013, it was reported that MySpace deleted nearly all existing user content and discontinued "Classic MySpace" without consulting its remaining users in a reset of the site. [79] The mass deletion, which took place without giving users any warning or opportunity to back up their personal data, caused an unprecedented outcry from thousands of users who had lost years' worth of blog entries, emails from loved ones who had since died, evidence related to pending court cases, and games in which they had made considerable monetary investments. Many users demands MySpace to bring those back. [80]... "


"press release" from disgruntled usrs

http://www.viewdocsonline.com/document/i3ravu


THOUGH at least it is um a little different from Facebooks "you can never delete anything ever" approach

Edited at 2013-07-05 02:38 am (UTC)
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From:pundigrion
Date:July 12th, 2013 06:14 pm (UTC)
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I'm another who thinks of charming as a male term. Right up there with debonair and suave and uh yeah....40's movies.

I do thinking some of those definitions are flawed, like someone else above mentioned my own way of being charming is more to be bright and smiley and just sort of radiate happy at people. It usually works, as evidenced by how much extra produce I bring home from market. This does lead to some gendered (although good-natured) commentary of course. Yesterday the cobbler told me never to lose my sunny smile. I'm guessing he wouldn't have said that to a guy although on the other hand, guys aren't trained to have an easy sunny smile so much these days either, so maybe.

Hai! I has rambling run on sentences today! (Okay, probably everyday, but let's ignore that)
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