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Published: 16 May, 2008

Rules of the game­ the unwritten rules of the bar pick-up

NEWS How is a pick-up done in a bar? What strategies for rejection and sexual come-ons do men and women use? In his dissertation Hans Andersson of Umeå University in Sweden provides insight into the unwritten rules of flirting and the pick-up.

Flirting and picking up dates at bars is a perennially topical subject. For men, the subject of picking up women is a kind of lowest common denominator. In shared trust, men are quick to exchange experiences, theories, and anecdotes, while women seldom speak so freely about their exploits. The bar environment­night clubs and pubs ­is a setting where sexual contacts are often established between men and women. Yet thorough observational studies of these environments and phenomena are rare.

Hans Andersson’s doctoral thesis Spelets regler (Rules of the game) provides insight into the thorny terrain of expectations on men and women as they are cultivated in the interplay between the sexes at bars. He describes “mating rituals” and strategies for sexual come-ons and rejections.

The gender ideals and sexual norms of our culture are reflected at bars. Despite all the talk about sexual equality over the last few decades and the wide-spread notion that women “take their share” on the same terms as men, reality is different. Women’s strategies in relation to men are grounded in a waiting and choosing approach, and the ability to choose with care and to reject unsuitable men is viewed as a measure of self-control and self-respect.

The sexual morality in force is that women are expected to be “well-balanced” in their sexuality. Women do not pick up men, they flirt. Flirting is an easy-going and playful act that is associated with “good” sexuality­romance, love, and twosomes. Picking someone up, on the other hand, is associated with bodily lust. Picking up men is therefore spoken of in terms of being something dirty. The pick-up is a morally low, masculine act.

Men speak of picking up women in terms of “conquest.” Picking up women is a feat or an achievement. For men, picking up women is based on the notion that women are hard to catch; it’s up to the men to pick them up in the proper way and to please the woman. In this way, the pick-up is a challenge, but it can also be a source of powerlessness and lack of control, since it is presumed to take place on the woman’s terms. Some men relish the “charm of the chase,” while other more reticent men feel uncertain and find themselves at a loss in their encounters with women. The book Spelets regler is based on in-depth interviews and field studies at night clubs and pubs. The study provides new perspectives on men and manliness in the interface between micro-sociology and gender and men’s research.

On Friday, May 9, Hans Andersson, Department of Sociology, Umeå University, publicly defended his dissertation titled Spelets regler­: raggning och flirt på krogen (Rules of the game­the pick-up and flirtation at bars). The external examiner was Professor Ulf Mellström, Luleå University of Technology.

Contact Hans Andersson at: e-mail: hansasson@hotmail.com
cell phone: +46 (0)73-800 90 18

Hans Andersson is easiest to reach in the evening (6:00-10:00 p.m.) and on weekends. Other times text messaging is recommended.

For review copies, please contact Maria Svallfors, Boréa Bokförlag, publishers: www.borea.nu

Read the dissertation at: www.diva-portal.org/umu/abstract.xsql?dbid=1617

Editor: Camilla Nilsson