Ger and I loaded the van and started off. Another weekend, another job. It’s late afternoon and the prospect of a three-hour drive gets us giddy. He’s driving the van and we pass a woman — a girl, more like — probably on her way home from work or college. Ger honks the horn of the white van and whoops like a hillbilly in a pickup truck, and shouts something “complimentary” at the girl. I die inwardly of embarrassment, protesting feebly while he chortles like a boner in a waistcoat.
Ger is not normally a dickbag. He is a caring, funny and clever guy. A nice guy. He probably never thinks how rapey it seems for a guy, no matter how nice, to be honking and shouting from a white van at a woman he doesn’t know. He probably never suspects that I’m ashamed to be with him in what now looks like the Rape-mobile. He pats me on the knee, still chuckling. Thick as thieves. He wouldn’t do this in front of his girlfriend, of course. Just with the boys. Bit of a laugh. With the boys. The Boys’ Club. Every man is a member of the Boys’ Club. Membership is free and involuntary.
But what if I don’t want to be part of the Boy’s Club? In fact, what if I think it’s really shitty? “Just say something,” cries the peanut gallery. Obviously. But I’m too busy cringing myself to death. Calling your mate out for being sexist, and most likely alienating yourself from him and creating bad feeling in the room, maybe even at work — that’s not in my interests at all. Better to keep my mouth shut, later telling my partner what a shmuck he acted like, then getting into a debate on Twitter with a proper Neanderthal, and privately congratulating myself for not being a knuckle-dragging Men’s Rights fuckwit.
Dyed in the wool chauvinists will argue that sexist banter is harmless. They’ll even say it’s a compliment and should be taken as such — and anybody who disagrees is taking it, and themselves, too seriously. But this behavior is aggressive and abusive, and women telling us so should be all the proof we need. If women can’t get this notion through some men’s thick skulls, then it’s paramount for unwilling members of the Boys’ Club to get on board and start drilling.
So how do you go about telling your mates to shut their pie-holes when they spout this kind of cock-wielding imbecility? It’s worth considering what it accomplishes. Margaret Atwood comes to mind: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” My friend Ger had recently been through a nasty break-up. His girlfriend got together with another guy before the ink had a chance to dry. Ger felt like a total zero, he told me. She’d rejected him, then she expected them to be friends. Almost like she was laughing up her sleeve. “I’ve had it with birds,” he would say. It wasn’t just her, it was Women. As well as breaking his heart, she hurt his pride.
A perverted victim complex is profoundly obvious in expressions like “the friendzone,” which suggests that guys are punished by women for being “nice”, as if it lowers their sexual credit rating. (For the record, I’ve never gotten laid by being anything other than “nice”, i.e. not acting like a dick.) To this “nice” guy, women are a code to be cracked, a prize to be won, some tantalizing treat that you need to reach out and decidedly grab with both hands. When women respond to this like any sane person would respond to a maniac, it only proves his point. The soundtrack of low male self-esteem is not “Creep” but “No More Mr. Nice Guy”.
Some guys with low self-esteem turn to books like The Game, or to pick up artists like Julien Blanc to “build their confidence” or learn “the art of seduction” because it’s easier to think of their failure to form meaningful (or even sexual) relationships with women as a matter of technique. It’s even more appealing to join a group of like-minded guys — a literal Boys’ Club. Taking a really good look at yourself and deciding you want to confront your insecurities is so much more complicated than following a step-by-step initiation into the Order of the Slayers of the Pussy Dragon.
I very much doubt my mate Ger would ever read The Game or think Julien Blanc was anything more than an asshat. But shouting from a moving van has a similar purpose. Ger’s sexist banter was symptomatic of the anxiety that some men have about women, and to shield himself from this anxiety, he made me complicit. What’s a Fat Girl joke among friends, hey? Answer: a Masonic handshake, but with more ball grabbing. The Boys’ Club is some men’s way of feeling less vulnerable to the Inscrutable Otherness of women by banding together, by creating an Us and Them. To these men, it’s easier to drag women down in the same hole as them, rather than trying to get themselves out of it. The ugly logical extension of this is the Sun’s recent Page 3 prank: juvenile sniggering at the expense of everyone not stupid enough to want a pair of tits in their newspaper. It’s insulting, awkward and ridiculous — like Eric Idle’s “wink wink, nudge nudge” character in And Now For Something Completely Different.
So what do you do when your otherwise perfectly reasonable friend goes all shit-for-brains? My answer is: take the fucking piss out of him. Let him know what a gobshite he’s being, and how embarrassed you are to be seen with him, through the socially acceptable veil of contemptuous laughter. After all, he would say that it’s all just a bit of fun. And so it is — but the joke is on him for being a daft twat.