The other night I was in the pub with a group of friends. It was a Friday and a warm evening and those two things were a good enough reason to neck three bottles of rosé between the five of us. Somewhat inevitably we decided to carry the party back to my flat. On our walk down New Cross Road, my friend’s boyfriend – who I had only met once but very much liked – and I had a conversation that went, to my memory, like this:
Friend’s boyf: What do you do?
Me: I’m a features writer.
FB: Oh really? That’s great.
FB: So what do kind of “features” do you write about?
At which point he cupped his hands, gesturing he was holding breasts and grinned as if he’d just craftily won a game of conkers. Within that single action, (and particularly infuriating facial expression) he’d undermined me, my job and made a really bad joke. Except it wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t funny. It was boring and tiresome and irritating. It was the sort of gesture that just put a huge full stop on the rest of our conversation and a nasty stain on my opinion of him. Yet, alas, the conversation did continue.
FB: Smug grin.
Me: I don’t actually think that’s funny.
FB: Worried face.
Me: What would your right-on feminist girlfriend think about you belittling my job with boob gags?
FB: Really worried face. Er, shit, sorry. You’re right. What a stupid thing to say. I don’t know why I said it. I’m really sorry.
And so was I. If smart men – like my friend’s boyfriend – who fall in love with feminists and at all other times have sensible, non-offensive thoughts and conversations, slip up like that, what hope do we have? Why does their usual intelligence short-circuit when it comes to women? How does a bit of casual sexism seep through their usually brilliant brains?
Quite obviously, he isn’t the only offender. Smart men in the public eye say really stupid things too. Remember David Cameron’s ‘Calm down, dear’ to MP Angela Eagle in PMQs? Or more recently, BBC tennis commentator, John Inverdale’s remark that French Wimbledon champion, Marion Bartoli ‘was not a looker’? And I know it wasn’t just my jaw that dropped when Seth McFarlane’s boob song which opened the Oscars reduced Hollywood actresses to an cinema-themed edition of Nuts.
Last week trolling on Twitter became front page news, and rightly so, when feminist campaigners refused to accept rape and death threats online. Some men, namely those sending such vile threats, are not smart. They’re misogynist and evil at worst or stupid and cowardly at best.
The men that frighten me are the smart ones. The smart ones who are sexist. Just how hard can it be?