Mercy Muroki: Is there really a need for wild overcorrections in our language?
'I don’t initiate a mass protest against misogyny when a colleague calls me darling'
A Judge ruling on whether a man was right to be sacked for comments he made towards female colleagues has said that calling a man “mate” or “lad” is fine but the words “babes” or “hun” are – quote - “demeaning and infantilising ways of referring to women”.
Now, with all due respect to Judge Pauline Feeney she is wrong.
I understand that, in the past, we didn’t draw the lines quite right on what was appropriate and what was inappropriate when it came to relationships between the two sexes.
I understand there’s a need for conversations about consent and sexism.
But, I’m also woman of the classic, traditional kind – I appreciate chivalry, male gestures of flattery, and terms of endearment and pet names.
I don’t go home and weep if someone on a building site wolf whistles me.
I don’t have an aneurysm if someone holds a door open for me.
And I certainly don’t initiate a mass protest against misogyny in the workplace when one of my male colleagues calls me ‘love’, or ‘darling’.
Surely it’s all about context and tone. Judge Feeney deems the word ‘mate’ as a pet name which isn’t demeaning… Except, I’ve certainly heard the word ‘mate’ deployed plenty of times when people want to be condescending and passive aggressive.
In fact, I kid you not, a black employee in America was awarded over $1 million dollars after he sued his employer for calling him “boy”, which he claimed was racist because, historically, pre-civil rights, white Americans routinely described black men as ‘boys’.
Ultimately, after the case made its way through many appeals for several years, it was overturned - with the Supreme Court saying that the speakers meaning depended on, quote: “various factors including context, tone of voice, local custom and historical usage”.
And quite right.
The same is true of the words babe, hun, or darling.
Is there really a need for this wild overcorrection where men become so afraid of whether their words and behaviour might be perceived as sexist that they become socially awkward, weak and ineffective at navigating an increasingly complex and competitive world of relationships?
Judge Feeney thinks it is demeaning and infantilising for a man to call me ‘hun’ or ‘babes’, I think its quite infantilising of Judge Feeney to suggest that I – as a woman – should be offended by those words.