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Treating flirtation as an art form is an intriguing enough premise—intriguing enough for a college History of Sexuality course, anyhow—and the introduction to Read My Hips: The Sexy Art of Flirtation indeed draws on the geishas, concubines, and courtesans of past eras to make the case for flirtation’s historical import. But this brush with context is fleeting, indeed.
Not that that’s wholly unexpected: Author Eve Marx spent her salad days editing the likes of Penthouse Forum and Celebrity Skin, and since then, the self-proclaimed “bona fide sexpert” has stuck with what she knows—or at least claims to. Following up on 2004’s What’s Your Sexual IQ and last year’s The Goddess Orgasm, Read My Hips is light on the academic and heavy on the anecdotal, à la one of those Cosmo “How Your Bosom Can Haunt His Very Existence” articles. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the anecdotes and advice Marx offered up were either reasonably effective or, failing that, whimsical. Unfortunately, Read My Hips fails to deliver on both fronts, eschewing self-help entirely in favor of self-objectification.
Take Marx’s advice on how a woman can use male jealousy to her advantage: “This is kind of crude,” she writes, “but in a way, men regard women as food and turf. If you can stand it, imagine yourself as a delicious sirloin steak being ogled by two carnivores, or as virgin land being viewed by competing real estate developers.”
Apparently, Marx has spent a little too much time with the Penthouse crowd for her own good. She is equally offensive when it comes to men, whom she equates to gullible horses manipulated by their female riders in a chapter-long extended metaphor of truly juvenile proportions. Again, all of this might be bearable were Marx offering her readers anything meaningful. Instead, she shovels out dreck like “Every man notices every woman’s butt” and “Whenever possible, show your knees. Knees are like breasts on your legs. Men always look at them.”
Two things: First, knees are in a dead heat with inner ears for the female body part least ogled by men. Camp out at a construction site, and time how long it takes a worker to catcall to a passer-by, “Hey baby, nice joints!” Remember to bring a change of clothes and a lifetime supply of food.
Second, notice the use of “always.” The “always” statement—along with its twin, the “never” statement—is the Achilles’ heel of the self-help genre, and Marx’s rules are especially vulnerable to the arrow: Always wear lipstick; never say “I love you”; always use your cell phone for flirting (“especially during business hours”); never let a first date go longer than three hours. Bad advice, all, in certain easily conceived situations.
Even bad advice could be tolerable were this book any damn fun. But rather than basking in the joy of the flirt, Marx seems most interested in helping her female readership maintain an “upper hand” in all flirtatious situations. Doesn’t this negate the joy of flirting, which, at its best, isn’t a power struggle but a stimulating interaction between two people who need not declare a winner and a loser at flirt’s end?
But for all of its flaws, Read My Hips is spot-on when offering flirtatious ways to keep an existing relationship thriving—something that the married Marx seems much more at ease with than she is with laying out the blueprints for preliminary contact. Marx also lets loose some pun-ridden, nerdy-but-cute sidebars to nice effect, revealing curious factoids. For example, did you know that frequent watermelon consumption can make “your most personal bodily fluids and secretions taste and smell more delicious?” Paging Dr. Strangelove….
There are probably enough of these morsels to make Read My Hips suitable bathroom reading for the single woman, but woe is the self-help seeker who finds gospel within. Whether an education master’s from Columbia and editorial stints at assorted porn magazines make Marx a “sexpert” or not, it seems a truism by now that the sooner we stop viewing the opposite sex as horses, property, and steak, the sooner we can truly enjoy one another’s company. That’s when the best flirtations begin. —Mike Keefe-Feldman