My Morning Feminism: Charm School

Is charm amoral? Is a charming man or woman manipulative? Is that what makes Cary Grant and George Clooney so compelling? The fact that they’re great salespeople?

I just got through reading The Rise and Fall of Charm in American Men and almost posted it to Facebook, tagging every one of my charming actor friends or celebrity pages to prove a point that charm was not only alive and well and contributing to the success of so many people, it was also a characteristic that I really liked about all of them as human beings.

But then I figured Facebook wouldn’t let me post a novel-length status update anyway so I moved the monologue here.

Honestly? I didn’t read this whole thing because it’s long as hell. But a few minutes into wading through it, I started thinking about Chris Pratt, Patrick Adams of the show Suits on the USA network, John Krasinski, Donald Glover and quite a few others.

And when the writer couldn’t think of any charming men in the military, I immediately thought of a dozen charming men of service that I’ve had the good fortune to meet. I think the level of respect many servicemen give to each other and people around them when they’re in uniform is a part of that charm.

As a person who has been reared to notice and appreciate charm in all its forms, but particularly the charm of the menfolk, I find it obnoxious to base an argument on a vague premise that doesn’t clearly define what a charming man was or should be. That’s likely because the author hasn’t done the kind of thorough research that I have done throughout my life. I’ve earned a certain level of expertise in this area.

Charming men need no defense. There is nothing deadlier than their winning smiles. Being charming is a power that can mask unsavory motivations, but when used for good, charm can influence political movements; it can persuade ignorant people to do some scientific research.

What I think should be highlighted is how powerful it is to have the ability to put people at ease. A confident smile, a well-timed joke or a knowing glance can provide a graceful antacid to an otherwise tense situation. Having the ability to converse easily with people about a range of topics puts people at ease and allows for the productive exchange of ideas.

This type of charm isn’t reserved only for men.

I can be charming sometimes because it’s useful to me. I don’t think it’s necessary to put on the charm for every situation, but I feel that each person has a responsibility to at least try to create positive environments for themselves and the people around them. I kind of take that responsibility a little too seriously (an indicator of how much this young Jedi still has to learn).

Charm is not about smoothing the rough edges and making Nice Nice, nor is charm about accepting what other people are trying to sell you or selling other people by smiling at them aggressively. The most charming people handle negative situations with confidence, nipping shit storms in the bud, applying discipline to douchebags sharply and swiftly. Knocking the bully out with a single punch to the face.

At the core, what I love about charming people are two things: confidence and empathy.

Charming people aren’t afraid to lead the conversation. They have a wealth of wit and knowledge to navigate through all kinds of colorful situations.

Charming people can also read a room and the people in it. They’re respectful and sensitive to other people’s triggers and can soothe wounds with a single social grace.

Sure, it can open the floodgates for bullshit when used for evil. It can help awful people sell you crappy Amway products. I don’t recommend buying into the things nice people tell you without being critical.

Effective charm, charm when used for good, is a tool that anyone can utilize to create a positive, comfortable space. It helps us find our tribes, it brings us closer to each other. This is the space where people can disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

This also might seem counter-intuitive but I think charm also allows ideas of feminism to flourish.

Ok, so the idea of going to charm school and reading books about etiquette, those are all uncomfortable, awful, stifling, antiquated things. These books and classes have told men and women what roles they should play and how they should behave within the confines of decency and propriety. To this, I’m steadfastly opposed.

But the art of persuasion and conversation, the art of listening and putting people at ease while asserting our opinions in a public place, that’s useful for people who challenge the status quo (like feminists).

It allows us to enter male dominated spaces saying, “Thank you for occupying this space, let me make space for the both of us now.” We assertively claim the space for our own and then invite other people to the party.

That’s pretty much what feminism does, right? Takes control over the party in an effort to make it enjoyable for everyone?

Post Script: I got through the article and still found it obnoxious, and out of touch, overly dependent on stereotypical conventions of sexuality and gender, and condescending. My point, if I have one, is that men and women who are enjoyable to be around, who are charming, aren’t tied down to antiquated notions of etiquette and behavior, and so the purpose and usefulness of social grace especially as it is exhibited through characters in film and contemporary literature or other media is reflective of an increasingly progressive context.

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