A pretty blonde walked into The Local, strolled up to the bar, and in reaching for the purse hooks beneath, "accidentally" grazed the leg of the attractive man sitting one stool over.

She didn't skip a beat.

"Does that bother you?" she said with a playful grin as she whipped around to face the stranger.

This is how Katie Kocken, 22, operates. A sarcastic line here, a flirty smile there.

"And that's all it takes," she said, sipping a cocktail at Chino Latino in the trendy Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis as she recalled that evening at The Local. "I'd say 60 percent of the time, I'm the one approaching a guy."

Not long ago, the idea that women might be the ones to make the moves would have been considered improper. But researchers are noticing a new trend: spurred by a mobilizing blend of confidence and frustration, many women -- particularly the 20- and 30-somethings --are simply deciding they're not going to wait for a guy to make the first move.

"First, it's definitely the case that women approach men more frequently, and second, it's becoming expected," said Susanne Jones, a Communication Studies professor at the University of Minnesota, who said she notices increasing gender parity in relationship behavior in her students with each year she teaches. "In terms of assertiveness, an area where we've traditionally thought men ruled, that is just really changing."

And it's not going unnoticed in bars.

"You can watch it across a crowd and see it happening," said Ben Quam, a bartender at the Uptown Cafeteria. "It's like a shark finding its target. She'll see a guy, and maybe she'll talk with her girlfriends first, or maybe she'll just disappear and go after him."

Researchers say part of the surge in female assertiveness in the social scene has to do with the long progression of the feminist movement. An increased confidence is natural as women have become more prominent in the workplace, gained more high-powered jobs and have begun out-numbering men in college enrollment and graduate and doctorate degrees.

Now more than ever, that tenacity is bleeding into the social scene.

"It's confidence," said Mound native Erica Lovera, 25. "And it's such a big deal. Women are not getting married as quick, women are way more visible in the workplace, and they're not having kids. Everything is changing. Women are asking out men, that's just part of it. All of the stereotypes are different."

But as much as the answer is "invigorated confidence," it is just as likely a mere frustration with the bar scene itself. Many men, some women say, simply aren't good at approaching women.

On a laid-back Tuesday evening, while Kocken and Lovera were in the middle of dinner at Chino Latino, three boisterous men sprung through the front door, immediately pointed at their table and strutted over, loudly announcing "Hey, there they are!" and "Aw, come on ladies, meet my friend Evan, former Big Ten wrestler!"

The women just rolled their eyes and groaned as one of the men tried to sprawl his arm around Lovera's shoulder.

"That's exactly it," Kocken said. "They come at the wrong time. There was that [jerk] last week, he just came up to me and pulled my ponytail. And then the other day, I was having lunch with my girl friend, and this guy just comes up and says, 'Can I take a seat?' We hadn't even started eating yet!"

Perhaps that reaction from women is causing men to back off a little. If women don't mind doing the approaching, then why take a risk?

"Men are just so relieved," said Jill Spiegel, local author and self-labeled "flirtologist." "It instantly takes the pressure off the man."

Some men apparently don't refute that.

"If a guy comes up to a girl, it's still 50-50 how he'll come off, maybe he'll come off like a creep," Quam said. "But [when a woman approaches], guys, for whatever reason, will have less flags that come up. The reality is, it's still a woman hitting on you."

Added Envy bartender Amir Teyhori, who agreed it's mostly the younger-generation women he sees doing the advancing: "I think guys are very receptive to it. And some guys don't want to deal with the rejection anymore, so they say, screw it, I'll wait for someone to come to me."

Getting results? Not always

Although women might be doing a lot of the initial approaching, experts say that doesn't necessarily mean they're finding what they're looking for.

"I think it would be great if women could really feel like they could be assertive, but the research is showing it's not getting them what they want: the sexual pleasure, the respect they're looking for, the type of relationship they're looking for," said Emily Boyd, an assistant professor of sociology and corrections at Minnesota State University, Mankato. "I think dating and relationships are one of the areas where progress toward gender equality has been surprisingly slow, given what women have accomplished in other realms."

University of Minnesota sociology professor Kathy Hull agreed, saying a strong double standard still exists.

"Research suggests when things progress as far as an actual date, men can be turned off by women they perceive as sexually aggressive," she said. "They may continue to see these women, but not view them as 'marriage material.'''

Whatever the outcome is, some women feel it's high time they took matters into their own hands.

"If you want to date somebody and you're waiting around for someone to come talk to you, you better rethink your strategy, because you're going to be there a while," Kocken said.

Amelia Rayno • 612-673-4115