Calling women ‘birds’ isn’t banter when only one of you is laughing

Anna Anca Lacatus, an analyst at Barclays, was awarded compensation after repeatedly being called a ‘bird’ by her boss, James Kinghorn

Nicky Clark
Tuesday 21 September 2021 14:30
<p>‘Banter, I’ve found really depends on who is the ‘bantee’ and who is the ‘bantered’ – or, rather, the target’ </p>

‘Banter, I’ve found really depends on who is the ‘bantee’ and who is the ‘bantered’ – or, rather, the target’

Another day, another sex discrimination case.

This time it involves a woman, Anna Anca Lacatus, repeatedly being called a “bird” by her boss, James Kinghorn. Kinghorn repeatedly used the reference although asked not to by Anna Lacatus – as it was, in his opinion, funny – the entirely more subjective issue of, “banter funny”.

The judge didn’t agree with him, but her – and so she was awarded a payout.

Banter, I’ve found really depends on who is the “bantee” and who is the “bantered”; or, rather, who is the target. If only one of you in this unsolicited “grin and bear it” arrangement is laughing, it tends not to be able to pass the objectively funny litmus test, as is so often the case.

So, why is this inadvisable? Well, aside from the obvious awkwardness of having to defend the banter in any tribunal environment, the ultimate tough crowd; it’s probably a good rule of thumb to cease and desist when asked (though the phrase “rule of thumb” in itself is another toxic friend to women – the historical linguistic reference refers to the thickness of the stick a man could use to beat his wife; which must be no thicker than his thumb, because that would be “wrong”).

To err comedically is human, to keep doing the “it wasn’t funny the first time” joke is a bit like David Brent.

So, why are we women so implacably immune to the rib-wrenching, obvious humour inherent in being called animals or birds? Why don’t we just get a sense of humour (”love”) and stop ruining men’s punchlines (”while you’re down there darlin’”)?

I guess it’s history and time. As one of the 51 per cent of the population to have been called a bitch and a cow – to my face, online and oddly by a call centre employee who clearly hadn’t really paid close attention in training – I’ve had enough.

You constantly read about relationships predated by “cougars” on innocent toyboys. When women are young, we’re “chicks” – when older, we’re “mother hens”. Shakespeare gave us The Taming of the Shrew in a time of plague and terrifying absence of dental hygiene – yet now, irrespective of huge advancements in both indoor plumbing and flossing, it persists.

Sometimes it’s meant positively, like after we’ve dutifully fulfilled our expected function. We are “lionesses” or “tiger mums” in defence of our children; but for the most part, these zoomorphic phrases are still overwhelmingly used pejoratively.

We’re supposed to be beyond the era of job adverts for “dollybirds”, or the likes of Monty Python only featuring women as mute sex props, to their masculine hilarity.

But mostly we’re just sick of the animal references, which make us so much less than human.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments