The thing is, we put up with a lot… I’m talking about women in this particular instance, because this post relates to women, but lots of groups put up with a lot. Being a woman isn’t much fun a lot of the time, neither is being any “minority” race, creed or orientation.
We put up with a lot, so, for the most part, we only really talk bout the big stuff. When it comes to being a woman, we’re talking a lot at the moment, and, I might add, loudly, about serious sexual harrassment. It’s a terrible thing, and I’m very happy it’s being talked about, and that men are being called out on this stuff.
My problem, today, is that the big stuff happens because of the small, daily, grinding stuff.
The husband has quite a following, and the signings have been well-attended, apart from the one in Leicester, because the city was under three or four inches of snow. Lots of customers of the shop phoned in to have books signed and reserved, which was lovely, but actually present was a small, select group. We all sat around with cups of coffee, and talked about stuff. I had a good time, and there was no differentiation between me and the others, who all happened to be white and male. I was completely comfortable.
Sadly, I was rather less comfortable at one of the other signings.
We arrived with take-out coffees in our hands, and met the staff, who were all very sweet. I didn’t plan to stay, because we were in a city that I know well, and I wanted to have a walk around, but I did want to stay for long enough to drink the coffee. I stood beside the husband as he sat and got himself ready, rummaging around for sharpies, and whatnot.
A man engaged the husband, and started asking questions. This is normal, it’s good, it’s why he’s there, and me too. I joined in the conversation, and the husband broke off to deal with the first person in his queue.
That person spoke. When I looked up, he was smiling; he clearly believed that what he said was charming, matey, even funny. I don’t remember his words verbatim, and I wish I did, because his language wasn’t offensive, even if, when put together, the sentiment was.
He said something like - Does that always happen when you bring her?
I was having a conversation that he clearly thought I shouldn’t be having, and that’s after the implication that I was there on sufferance.
The husband didn’t miss a beat, he simply said something like - Nik’s my first reader and editor; she knows more about this stuff than I do.
If I’d opened my mouth first, I hope I would have said something like - Well, that’s offensive!
It’s the casual, matey way that men say these things to each other, as if they can form some kind of bond by disrespecting women, including those they should show the most respect to, and I don’t mean I deserve respect because I happen to be married to the husband, but because this man would say the same thing about his wife, his sister, his mother or his daughter.
He also felt completely comfortable saying it in front of me, as if even I, the target, might find it endearing, as if, like women have been trained to do, I might demure, I might smile.
He was wrong.
I left my half-finished coffee, wound up the conversation, and I left… quietly seething.
The husband had answered his comment succinctly, and without any agenda. I don’t know how that man felt about that, and, honestly, I’m not sure I care. I might hope that it would change his behaviour, make him think twice before making a comment like that again. But, it won’t. This shit, as silly as it might seem to you, to anyone, even to women, is so embedded in our society that there is, essentially, no recourse against it.
Had I spoken first, had I actually said - Well, that’s offensive - I would no doubt have been labelled a scold or a shrew, or that terrible word a Feminazi.
Do they know what they’re calling us? And, if they do, what the hell is wrong with them?
We are people. We are all people, and to prove it, here’s another example from the same day out.
We were looking at the sound track album for Twin Peaks. We were discussing the show, and asked one of the staff if he’d seen it. His reply was - I don’t watch David Lynch. None of his characters are Brothers.
He was a Brother who had a point.