I have many very bad habits. One of these is falling into the trap of a kind of… chauvinism when it comes to laughing it up with the lads. I have a lot of male friends, always have done, and I love the differences, some subtle, others blatant, between their company and the company of women. But in the company of men, something does happen to my humour, a subtle shift that is nothing if not sexist, and, given I’m a woman and some kind of version of a feminist, that’s a really odd thing to be.
I often call Llew ‘Louise.’ I’m not the only one, but it is a teasing thing, to call a big man by a girl’s name. It’s a gentle mockery. But so much of the way men insult each other is tied up in the language of womanhood. ‘You’re a big girl’s blouse’ was a popular taunt when I was young. ‘Don’t be such a pussy’ never seems to go out of style. One of Llew’s friends is an hysteric, always in a flap, the busiest, most stressed, most overworked and constantly endangered man alive. He sent me an email yesterday that managed to convey his usual brand of hyper-tension, and I found myself writing back in terms that now strike me as peculiar. I said something like ‘Shit, keep your skirt on. I don’t know how you do it, but you always manage to sound exactly like an hysterical woman even in an email. I think from now on I’ll call you… Shirley.”
And I will, that’s the thing. We’ve been going back and forth ever since, and I’ve told him to stay home and play with his dolls, and stop having hissy fits, and I’ve called him Shirl, Shirley, and Shirlotta. There’s no end to the amount of fun I expect to have at his expense in the coming months. Living in the danger zone of PNG’s Port Moresby, he likes to think he’s the wild man of the mountains, but there’s nothing that cuts down an image of swarthy masculinity quite like being given a girl’s name you just can’t shake. Shirley, I think, is going to stick, especially because I intend to correct anyone who tries to use his old nickname, which is Wookie. That sounds too beast-like for such a frilly, shrill little girl. See? There I go again.
Why is the worst insult that can be levelled against a man a comparison with a woman? And much more pressing is the question of why I of all people help perpetuate this phenomenon… and I do it all the time. I honestly don’t know why… it comes so naturally at the time, the ammunition is just there to hand and I release it without a second thought. The words fly right out of my mouth or tap straight out of my fingertips. But the moment I put something like ‘Shirley’ out there, I stop, and I think, there it is. There it is again. The harmless little joke that in a backhanded way is a not so harmless insult to women. We, after all, don’t want him. Shirley? Why does it have to be one of our names??!! He’s not a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown – he’s a man. But it seems the best – certainly the most instinctive – way for me to emphasise the extent of his knee-jerk bouts of hysteria is giving him a girl’s name. Why? Why?
Well, there’s at least one major thesis topic here, in representations of the figure of woman. The other Darklings and I have discussed it, and it’s certainly an historical fact in religion, law, and literature that women have largely been bludgeoned in countless depictions both literal and figurative. And it’s distressing when I catch myself contributing to the flogging, especially when the object of my scorn is always a man.