Sunday, 21 December 2008

Punching Women Is Funny

Since my ex and I split up, I've been processing the past five and a half years and wondering what lessons I can take from this, because I haven't quite managed to shake off my self-help book past. There's a lot of processing to do, because my memory is annoyingly good. And about twenty minutes ago, I remembered this:

We wander into a local pub. We go to the bar to get drinks, as one tends to do in a pub. Standing at the bar with a pint is a cheerful-looking elderly chap. He smiles affably as we approach, and watches us order our drinks. He makes a little small talk. He mentions something his wife said him the other week. Then he says: "I told her if she ever said that to me again I'd smack her."

I do my bug-eyed "Excuse me?!" face. He turns to my ex with a friendly face and a male-bonding laugh. "Eh?" he says. My ex says nothing. Loud, loud silence from him. "Oh," says cheeky chappie, "can't say anything while she's here, I get it!" He still looks genuinely friendly, laughing good-naturedly as though the three of us are enjoying a joke, even though my "Excuse me?!" face has turned into my "I am seriously appalled and must leave NOW" face. My ex lets out a weak laugh and we turn to go and sit outside.

I'm not sure why this little scene should suddenly have popped back into my head, but I remember several like it. Horrible domestic violence jokes or insults about me as a stand-in for all women, usually coming from a source that genuinely seemed to think they were good-naturedly joking around. And (duh) it upset me. Hugely. I would say this to my ex, and every time he would tell me that he knew the jokes were horrible, but he wasn't going to say anything, and I had a choice: either I could back off and let him say nothing, or he would get into a physical fight with the joker. Those were my two choices. Shut up and take it, or tell him to get punching. He said there was no other way to go, because were he to say anything, the other guy would take it badly and want to start a fight. Some of these men were our friends. One was (is, indeed) my friend's partner, and I could well believe that he thought these jokes were welcoming. Were you to respond, I would say, to a joking comment that you are totally screwed now that we're engaged with a smile and "Actually, I'm really lucky", that would provoke nothing more than a grumpily affectionate "Sappy git." No, he insisted, it would start a fight. I know men.

No, you don't. Or at least I hope he doesn't. I don't think he does, but the one thing I've been left with post-break-up is a huge, steaming pile of uncertainty. I've heard a lot of men make those jokes. I believe that had their blithe assumptions that said jokes are funny to all been met with a cheerful yet firm refutation, they would have stopped. I don't think men say these things with the intent to force other men to into fist fights. I just think there are a lot of people who think that on a theoretical level, punching women is funny. And as all comedy fans know, if your joke falls flat, find a better topic and fast. If you make a joke, it's because you're trying to be funny, and only really terrible comedians punch people who don't laugh at their jokes.

Scary, though, to realise that so many people do think this is funny, and scarier to realise you spent five years with a man who thinks that whilst they're not funny, they're certainly reasonable. Misogynistic jokes are a reasonable part of modern life, but isn't it a pain when your girlfriend takes exception to them? Isn't it a pain when she expects you to be bothered too? Bloody women, wanting to go out without hearing how men would really like to punch their partners in the face/tie them up and shove them in the boot of their car? (We had this one too - my ex's response was a long silnce and then "She wouldn't fit.")

Punching women is funny, and moving on is really, really tough.


sickboy said...

There is of course a base level of reasoning amongst men. Simply, we agree or we fight. There is not really supposed to be any other option.

Of course between men and women we usually,respectfully, submissively and hopefully take the 'agree' option.

It is only when we combine these factors in an arena such as a 'pub' that the boundaries become blurred.

We have had less than a hundred years to evolve on from this sudden change in mixed social interaction. You can see the problems.

Great read by the way, but you must excuse me, I must retire to the smoking room with my fellow men to drink brandy and discuss all things manly with bellowing laughter and a knowing nod to the 'little woman' next door.

Jen said...

Well, thank you.

I think we would find it very difficult to function if the majority of men really believed that disagreement meant a physical fight was in order. Since my ex-partner was fully capable of disagreeing civilly with men on other issues, I don't think it's a huge jump to say that his attitude toward these jokes indicates a slightly warped perception of women in general and me in particular. Either her safety is being threatened by these jokes (hence, punching ensues), or it is not, so she should shut up and behave herself.

Relationships are compromise, we know this, so what happens when his idea of a compromise is "shut up or let me hit someone" (Well, clearly, what happens in the long run is that he becomes single, but work with me here)? I'm trying to work through what we're expected to put up with, and what we're prepared to put up with. It's a mite confusing.

Bobby said...

Well, I find black humor funny.
It's making a gruesome or shocking joke just for the heck of it.
Making a smacking-women joke in front of a feminist isnt going to work of course...
I would never hit a women, of course if I heard someone bragging about how he threatened his girl he would smack her I would compare him with a pile of shit.
But I can enjoy a "joke" too, if it's not serious.

Kev said...

I doubt your ex was serious; he was probably exaggerating. Most women, while they may not like such humor, are aware of it, and if you find such jokes to be beneath you, you should be mature enough to dismiss them without a second thought. There is no need to show insecurity by being needlessly dramatic.