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On men who call women ‘darling’

I told a chap off in Pret today for calling me ‘darling’. I had to lean past him to get my coffee, and I think mostly in innocence he said, “Sorry, darling”. He was saying sorry for being in my way; a classically polite and quite British thing to do. But why did he have to call me darling? I stepped away and said, not angrily but firmly, “Don’t call me darling”. And that was that. I sat down. He and his friend sat down at a table near me, but I didn’t feel intimidated. I ate my porridge, did a bit of work, and stood up to leave. I bussed my table and just as I was stepping to the door I heard, ever so faintly, “Bye, darling”, and then some chortling.

There it is. He thought he was being funny, getting one over on me by imposing his will. He gets to call me darling. He gets to decide. If I don’t like it, he’ll do it as a parting shot to remind me of my place. But that acknowledges that my request for him not to do it was valid; he’s like a child, rebelling against an acknowledged and authoritative rule, not an adult debating two equal but opposite points of view.

I turned around, stared at them both, and gave him the finger. If I’d been feeling more larey, I’d have gone over and quizzed him about his behaviour:

“If you didn’t like it when I asked you not to call me darling, then you should have been a grown-up about it and addressed it with me there and then. Would you like to talk now about why you think you should be allowed to call strangers by a term of endearment? It seems like you didn’t want to talk, because you shouted out behind my back, to try to amuse your mate, but as I’m here and I’ve got the time, I thought I’d say some words to you that you didn’t want to hear. How do you like it?”


A success for Let Toys be Toys

As an avid social media user, when I see something astonishing and objectionable, my first thought is Twitter, for better or for worse. Thanks to the team that operate the Let Toys be Toys campaign account, however, and a very responsive PR team running the California Academy of Sciences‘ account, I’ve had a minor success, and I’ve put together a quick Storify to commemorate the occasion.

The dangers of women’s appeals to male authority

This blogpost is part mea culpa and part ‘What the hell are two grown women doing playing one-up with their fathers’ qualifications?’ 

Recently, the tenants in my building have been negotiating with the owner as part of a relatively minor but costly issue. In an inevitable way, having finally reached a resolution with the owner, we are now squabbling amongst ourselves. One woman in particular has taken point on a lot of the negotiations. And one other woman is behaving irrationally about the whole settlement. In any legal dispute, a bit of healthy “f*** you” to the other party is desirable, but those with delusions of the courts offering full vindication are dangerous. She is in the latter camp.

As part of her campaign for… I’m not sure what… she not only repeatedly hectored us all condescendingly about her view of the law — rise above it, rise above it — but she had her father (supposedly a lawyer in some capacity) email our point woman to attempt to bully her into refusing the settlement, indicating that he was “senoir [sic] counsel”. Counsel to our fellow tenant, one assumes. He’s certainly not senior counsel at any firm or in-house (because he runs a travel business).

I’m afraid that up with such bullying idiocy I will not put. I thought long and hard about it, but the opportunity to be snarky was too much for me, and I did it. As a fully grown woman with legal qualifications of my own, I leant on my father’s career and CV as a prop when I replied to our fellow tenant indicating that no, just because I accepted the settlement did not mean that I accept any liability for any future issues in her property.

Now, law, in general, is a domain constructed on the logical fallacy of the appeal to authority. So perhaps I can forgive myself for my “I know better lawyers than you” retort (although that might be a tu quoque self-justification…). But when I used to teach debating, logical fallacies were 101, and we hammered into students how to avoid them. And yet I just wasn’t able to resist. In part, my point was that we were both being ridiculous in having recourse to other people’s qualifications when we were both perfectly capable of reasoning our way to the proper course of action. But I was also quite genuinely participating in the dick-by-extension-swinging contest. If it had been her mother or sister who had sent the bullying email, it would probably not have occurred to me to bring my own relatives into it, or at least I would not have been so sorely tempted. 

Implicitly, particularly because we are women, we can treat our fathers as trump cards. They are supposed to be figures of protection, and stereotypically they are also the most highly qualified and professionally advanced of our family unit. Yielding to the temptation to resort to them as trump cards diminishes not only our achievements and capacity as women, but also reinforces these stereotypes. It is an actively damaging step that reinforces stereotypes about both us and them. It validates those who refuse to hear our ideas unless they are repeated or endorsed by a man, and each time we employ the strategy we believe in our own insufficiency a little more. 

Beware logical fallacies. 

And, so as not to end on too dismal a note, while we’re on issues of logic, Tim Minchin’s bit on post hoc ergo propter hoc remains one of the funniest logic-nerd bits ever performed as stand-up.

Image (c) YourLogicalFallacyIs.com, with some minor editing

Imagination "cages"

Andrew Anthony’s article on Simon Schama was posted yesterday, but I only saw it today thanks to Fern Riddell‘s skewering commentary on Twitter, including:



This is all in response to what I’m sure Anthony thought was a charming link between two paragraphs towards the end of the article, jumping off a Schama quote about risking children’s imaginations being “held hostage in the cage of the eternal now” and remarking that Mary Beard is “never one to remain in her own cage”. It’s completely throwaway; Mary Beard is of no interest to Anthony, beyond using her to add “balance” by showing that Schama is not universally loved. (Edit: Anthony also horribly misquotes Beard to achieve this, making his apparent dislike for her doubly disturbing. Beard has tweeted about this herself.)

And that’s what makes it so disturbing. Because it’s obviously bad writing. It barely even makes sense. It’s made its way through Anthony’s drafting process and the online editors because none of them even thought about it.

The only way that one could interpret it as a follow-on from Schama’s use of the word “cage” is if we charitably assume that Anthony is remarking on Beard’s significant pedigree as a classicist. But that is a huge stretch. First, Anthony clearly disagrees with Beard; his article is Schama love-in, and so we doubt there’s much respect meant in his remark. Second, how come Mary gets her very own personal cage? Presumably because, subconsciously (come on, let’s be charitable!), the idea of women’s thinking being restrained (particularly when it disagrees with his) rather pleasantly resonated with Anthony.

So, let us romp wildly on Twitter and wherever else we can!

Out-with-the-women spaces

I’m a little slow on the uptake, but last week Jenny Diski‘s blog on the London Review of Books site was about all-male spaces and men’s defence of them.

She talks about the 60s and 70s, but I think the post is overly optimistic about the idea that young women nowadays will not be familiar with the sort of experience she encountered, being chastised by a male boss for having dared to attend a party in an ‘men only’ space.

I remember a similar experience about ten years ago when I was all but chased out of a room in a social club by the one single man occupying it (backed up by the barman) for neglecting to notice the ‘no women’ sign. I was about 14 at the time and barely even realised that such signs existed, let alone that they were taken seriously! There was a family function in a hired-out room elsewhere in the club, but my younger brother had wanted to play snooker, and so we had gone to where the snooker table was (I’m quite a bit older than him and so was ‘minding’ as much as playing). I actually had to leave my younger brother there (try convincing a seven-year-old to leave the snooker table he has just discovered!) and run off to find my father.

I do wonder whether now, 10 years later, the same thing would happen. The man must have been in his late-50s or early-60s, so of an age where he could easily have been the boss that Diski describes. Perhaps she’s right, and this will eventually completely die out….

I also wonder whether, had I been the same age as my brother (i.e. without noticeable breasts), we would have been allowed to entertain ourselves with the snooker table together.

Aside: The title of Diski’s blog reminds me of this film, which I really want to watch – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It has been on my LoveFilm queue for over a year now, but naturally they don’t yet have it. They probably never will because they’re a bit half-arsed (especially compared to the service Netflix has been offering its US customers for years). In which case, I may be forced to buy it, or just buy the David Foster Wallace short story collection!

Meetings with Etty

I’ve been a bit quiet recently, as I’m not in the last stretch of thesis-writing, but I’ve been doing some interesting things too, in particular the start of the Etty Hillesum Fellowship.

The fellowship is based around the work they’re doing on a new production, The Wrestling Patient, based on Etty Hillesum’s writings, particularly her journals. We’ll be work-shopping with some high-school students and attending rehearsal later on in the year, but the first few meetings are fellows-only. The last meeting really got me thinking about what it means to have a fellowship on “the meaning of leadership and mentorship” in our lives, particularly as women. Does this mean a detached discussion from a philosophical/historical/sociological point of view (which might take your fancy)? Or a sharing of personal experiences? Where does one become detached from the real world and the other become a support group? The last ‘women+leadership’ seminar that I did (at Harvard’s Institute of Politics) really focused in on practical skills: speech writing, negotiating, oratory, etc. I’m interested to see how this new fellowship will progress, as I don’t think it will do quite the same thing at all. Etty certainly was a remarkable woman, though, as are the two women who are running the fellowship.

I’m just pondering today, I think, which is good, because I have to write two journal entries for our next meeting on Friday.

You didn’t think I wouldn’t have something to say…

… about this, did you?

It’s being talked about all over the place (NYT, for example), and I’m sure you’ve all seen it already, but if you haven’t, it’s Dating a Banker Anonymous. My first two thoughts when a friend pointed me towards it?

Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe, very amusing) and the fair-weather wife, and The Razor’s Edge (Maugham, much adored) and, well, the not-so-fair-weather, but certainly bitchy wife. And that about sums up the DABA blog. I think that some of it’s in jest (we live in hope, don’t we?), but other posts obviously aren’t. A particularly hilarious quote?

I’ve seen some negative responses to your blog and I think they’re all transparent douche-bags.

The irony should be obvious when it comes from a blog written for and by women more interested in bottle service and Manolos than anything else.

My mother’s response was the best of all, I think:

Oh my God…just imagine what it must be like to be sooooo vacuous!!  We can only dream of such emptiness – thank God!  I did a book proposal review for [a university press] last week and took payment in Feminist texts instead of money.

There are some things in life that money can’t buy. The hilarity of the DABA blog and the responses from actual grown-up women are some of those things!

Yet still, one has to ask: What is the world coming to???