For example, I was walking home from the lab the other day, still in my lab clothes (dress shirt tucked into Dickies with sneakers and a jacket), lost in the depths of my head as I often am. I noted that there were 2 casually dressed women approaching me from the opposite direct walking side by side, so I politely stepped to the edge of the sidewalk so they could pass and fixed my gaze somewhere oblique. Then, as they approached, one said loudly to the other "That's a GREAT IDEA, NAME!" and then she turned to me as they passed and told me so as well. I stammered back "Good, I'm glad to hear it!" and turned away to walk away and hide my blushing. I still have no fucking clue what any of that was about.
But the thing is, is I immediately wondered if they'd been playing a joke on me because my nerdness is apparent from 50m distance or if it was some odd form of flirting. I suspect that the ambiguity of flirting shapes a lot of how men perceive women's cues and accordingly react. Men grow up exposed to women in films and other popular media who very often say the opposite of what they really want, who are coy, or who are fufilled by a the acquisition of a strong protective man. This, in turn, leads men to believe that in order to
Although, in rational terms, it seems a wide and ridiculous leap from a protective attitude to a possessive attitude, the emotional space is actually rather small. It is all too easy for one to go "I protect them when they need it" to "I protect them therefore I know what is best for them". This kind of thing perpetuates the patriarchal attitudes of society just by itself and was especially evident in the historical argument against women's suffrage that they'd just vote how their husbands told them to.
Nonetheless, men believing that they must be strong, aloof*, and shallow to gain access to a relationship with a woman hurts both men and women in the long run. Men hide their emotions from women, and then from themselves, and as such carry around a knot of confusion that too easily erupts into rage and violence. And when many men may perceive the women in their lives (or lack thereof) as the source of their stress (which is a socially encouraged scapegoat**), they lash out at them, emotionally conflating their own misunderstood hurt with the "fight" response of flight-or-fight.
That society tells men they must be strong for women and to get women creates a strong impetus for men to not show weakness around women, especially those they are in relationships with. A woman may push very hard on the man in her life to open up to her emotionally, but when he does so she may very well never be able to see him as she used to want to perceive him, and at some level many men know this and as such it is an additional incentive to remain closed off. Perhaps women could help men here by signaling that they will not judge them poorly if they open up, as this clarity could help a lot of men to become more confident simply with feeling their emotions and not dangerously bottling them up.
I know I'd sure appreciate it if flirting were clearer.
(UPDATE: I just noticed that it doesn't say so anywhere here, but this video is "Closer" by Suffrajett. Citation citations!)
*Toaster has frequently been described as aloof. This is inaccurate. Toaster is simply oblivious.
**Bachelor Pad vs. Ball and Chain.