I shrugged on my jacket and grabbed my purse from under the table, waving to some of my colleagues seated at the other end of the bar. I figured it was OK to leave; I’d put in the obligatory hour at the department-wide social event and felt I now deserved a quiet walk to a quiet house where I would spend a quiet evening. I turned to E, who had just ended a conversation with one of our colleagues.
“Well, I’m off,” I said. “This was fun. Thanks for the invite.”
“Of course,” she said, smiling brilliantly. E is tall and graceful with a mass of dark curls always piled on top of her head. She comes off as a bit of an airhead, but she’s nice enough and quite intelligent really, though she doesn’t often show it. She’s usually full of idle chatter that is welcome after a long day of studying. “Thanks for coming. You’ll be there on Friday, right?” I grimaced internally at the reminder of yet another party I had to attend.
“Sure,” I said, smiling back. “Wouldn’t miss it.” I made to leave, but, wanting to satisfy a suspicion, I stopped and bent down conspiratorially. “By the way,” I said in a low voice, “I think A really has a thing for you.” She fluttered her eyelashes innocently.
“What makes you say that?” she asked.
“He was talking to you when I got here, he followed you around most of the night, and spent a really long time time saying goodbye to you. I think you’ve got a not-so-secret admirer.” She waved a hand dismissively.
“Oh, that. No, he’s just helping me with my Arabic.”
“Uh…right,” I returned. “Be careful. You might make the poor kid fall in love with you.”
“Good!” she said, surprising me. “That would make my life easier.”
“Huh? Wait, do you like him?” I asked in a strained whisper, hurriedly taking a seat, my thirst for juicy gossip overriding my desire to leave.
“He’s a nice guy. He’s fine.” She flashed another beautiful smile and waved to some of our colleagues who were leaving. “He’s tutoring me, and it’s helping. I’m just taking advantage of a good situation.”
I stared at her. “You’re playing around with him for tutoring? That’s a little mercenary, don’t you think?”
“No, it’s not!” she gasped in shock. “I’m improving my situation by using my…my feminine wiles! What’s wrong with that?”
“Did you tell him you have a boyfriend?”
“I…may have implied that I have someone I’m talking to.”
“And that didn’t put him off?!”
“No. Maybe he didn’t get it. Before you got here, he was talking a lot about his OKCupid profile and how to know if a girl is easy by how much she drinks on the first date. It was a little weird, but whatever. But come on, you do the same thing!”
“No, I most certainly do not!”
“All girls do! You use your body and charm to get what you want. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it works. Well…it doesn’t always work.” E had told me a few weeks ago how she had played on the affections of the two TAs for our history class last semester, and how, after their hopes were disappointed, neither of them will have anything to do with her. “But a lot of times it does. I mean how do you think I got into this school? I had straight C’s in undergrad, but I had the most stellar recommendations from my employer and professors, and they were all men. Me and my friends used to compete over who could seduce a TA the fastest, who could lead a guy along the farthest, and what was the best thing we could get out of him. It was fun. It is fun. A little flirting here and there, a little whiff of possibility, and you can wrap any guy around your little finger. Show some skin, smile sweet, stare in wonder at their wide knowledge of the big scary world, and you get a Tiffany’s bracelet. Like mine!” she said brightly, jingling her wrist and its trinket in front of me.
“But I mean…some of them must sometimes expect some sort of pay off?” I asked, completely shocked at what I was hearing. I suppose my relatively sheltered upbringing in a scholarly family had taught me to get ahead in my education through my merits and had definitely not taught me how to use sex as a weapon.
“Yeah, I guess.” I thought of A, who I knew was a smart, kind, sweet guy who I instinctively felt like protecting, now that I had heard E‘s confessions.
“What about the current dilemma, then?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll probably get as much as I can out of him, then make out with him a bit before he leaves for the summer.” And she said this all with a straight face, with no attempt at irony. I had seen these kinds of girls in movies, those sly women who knew men so well that they knew exactly how to get what they wanted. The whole display always made me feel a little ill.
I was angry at E, and I didn’t know why. I felt the entire idea was sexist…but how? She was using her body and her personality for her advantage by playing on the carnal lusts of men. If you really thought about it, it was a grand triumph for feminism and more proof that men are drooling idiots. So I wasn’t mad about that. I guess I was mad because I could probably never get away with it.
Confused, perplexed, I stood up and slung my purse over my shoulder.
“See you Friday!” E said as she stood to hug me. I hugged back, half-heartedly, and headed for the door. I glanced back at her and I saw her sidle up to one of our colleagues, a married man with two kids, and smile, hitting him lightly on the shoulder. I shook my head and walked out into the street.