Clutching my pearls and thinking out loud

I’m seeing a lot of this lately; pile-ons from young women in Twitter, claiming that men who call one another ‘soft cock’ or ‘pussy’ aren’t just crass, they’re evil or mentally unhinged, with masculinity so toxic it melts your vegan nailpolish at 100 metres (and smells like Lynx and packet macaroni – be on guard, womyn).

In other circumstances, this ‘pile on’ – where the hysteria reaches epic proportions and otherwise sensible people find themselves making frankly ridiculous claims about the mental health/motivations and/or personal hygiene of someone else – would be called out for being over the top.

The fact that it isn’t demonstrates a complete schism between the classes. I’ve heard many, many men refer to one another as soft-cocks and pussies. Generally speaking it is a gentle form of giving one another curry. It is not, as the hysteria would suggest, an incitement to commit war crimes (generally war crimes language is more subtle. It often includes terms like, ‘operational’ ‘sustainable’ ‘negative’ ‘maximise’ and ‘neutralise’. This masculinity smells less like Lynx and more like Polo for Men).

I have worked in male environments before, with men who might be called working class *gasp*. I am familiar with their strange and exotic ways, a familiarity that I can only assume does not extend to the woke twitteratto, above.

I know language matters. I am not undermining the sexism that this kind of language reflects – a social order that is rapidly changing. Yet I struggle though to connect this kind of sexist language with severe violence against women – which is the basis for this extreme, clutch-my-pearls hysteria against it. Calling someone a pussy does not make you a murderer.

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot lately. My personal is my political. And I think my personal is different to these twittering women above. Unlike them, I suspect ‘personal’ includes experience with ‘the working class’. Many encounters have shaped my view, including this one;

I once worked in a place (all men) where one employee (I’ll call him ‘Neil’) regularly used the services of a prostitute. Neil was married with teenaged kids. His wife was aware of the arrangement. Although he held a relatively senior position in our little hierarchy (he got to choose the workshop radio station four days out of five and had access to the welder for personal use, both privileges bordering on minor royalty) he was always on the outer. Several years previously Neil had made one or two derogatory comments about his wife’s sexual organs. These comments were eventually relayed to me when I started. Although he was treated with some decency, he was not respected. I wouldn’t say shunned, but definitely regarded very differently. Worse.

The language in this workplace would feed the Twitter outrage machine for a year. Terms of endearment included; Cunt, fuckhead, soft cock, pussy. Men routinely derided one another’s sexual abilities and capacities. Except Neil. Neil was left out of it.

Terms that alluded to one’s sexual prowess (or lack thereof) were acceptable. Interestingly, terms that derided one’s cognitive abilities were not OK. No-one was ever called a moron. That’s a key difference between classes – slagging off one’s mental health or abilities is completely OK for the twittering middle classes (I guess it doesn’t matter how thick you are if your parents are rich, Queenwood will get you over the line and you can pretend you got there on merit). It’s not OK for everyone else.

Men who are sexually violent have a peculiar attitude to women. It is not denoted by calling one another’s masculinity into question by calling them softcocks. You know it when you see it. Looking back on it, I was never, ever left alone in the workshop with Neil. Everyone else – no dramas, just not Neil.

Men who are violent towards women belittle them, often in subtle ways, and often in front of other people. Thinking that masculine violence is underpinned and heralded by smutty talk just demonstrates a class division between middle class young women and working class men (I’m not even comfortable with the term working class because it’s so problematic in both economic and cultural terms. It’s also universalising and therefore feels derogatory).

The whole point of this navel gazing is of course so we all stop talking about this;

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