Harriet Walker: Women have their own brand of sexist banter

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

All aboard for a spot of banter-bashing! To briefly re-cap, banter or "bants" is the preferred humour of the graceless half-wit, the sort that might have bought the sexist trousers that surfaced so delightfully on the internet this week (under washing instructions, the offending label read "give to your woman").

The comeback "oh , it's only banter" has reverberated around the giggle-less void after so many rape jokes and domestic violence gags in the past few months that it has become, officially, the last refuge of the numbskull. Thank goodness, finally, that we have been able to ascribe so precisely the Clarksonian characteristics of witlessly aggressive verbiage and slogan T-shirts to one 17th-century word.

"Banter" is a specifically male concept – and I don't say that pejoratively, it just is. It's the equivalent of the fist-bump and the jeering that follows a comment about someone's knockers; it's a pot noodle consumed outside polite society's delicatessen of jokes. Jonathan Swift used it, and we all know how he loved to embarrass and belittle the ladies. Just think what he wrote about Celia: that is the very definition of banter.

But these days it's more loaded, so we're quite right to call it out as loathsome rather than – as its champions insist it is – "just a bit of fun".

How strange then that its female counterpart shouldn't also be strung up for being just as charmless and invidious. Those oddly patronising Mother Hen gags that so much of our daily life is predicated on – the concept of "man flu" for instance, or any one of those vile "we know better", eye-rolling Boots ads that tip the shuddersome wink to the widely acknowledged ineptitude of men and the "I-don't-know-how-she-does-it" superhero powers of the almighty modern mum.

If I were a man, I'd find these adverts uniquely insulting – just as I find most "banter", in fact. True, they're not as aggressively offensive as, say, a chauvinist pair of chinos or a nudge and a wink that makes light of wife-beating, but they're odious in their lowest common denominator tactics: the simple act of pitting women against men. The truly funny among us realised long ago that the "him indoors" joke is every bit as tired and unhelpful as the mother-in-law genre.

Whenever men get in on a female concept, we make a cutesy portmanteau of it – "manscara", for example, or "mankini". "Womanter" might not be terribly catchy, but do bear it in mind, because it's every bit as bad as "bants".

Do what you feel like, Sergei

Gone are the days of starting your career as a clerk and working your way up. The Royal Ballet's former principal dancer Sergei Polunin has declared his intention to give up dancing by the age of 26. He's 22 and has already scaled the heights, so what's left for him?

Polunin is part of a strange new generation that does phantasmagorically in its early years, then decides it has mastered everything and strides off in a new direction. Polunin is not just any twenty-something. But even for the rest of us, careers are more fluid; vocations less of a notion: you can decide what you want to be and go for it, regardless of skills, training or experience. Let's just hope Polunin doesn't find his next metier as a political blogger.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emily Thornberry  

Left-leaning patriots unite! Let's get straight about Ukip

Katy Guest
Gary Catona has worked with a number of high profile singers including Stevie Wonder, pictured  

High pitch: In search of the next Whitney

Simmy Richman
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin