Saturday, 6 September 2014

Woman-Hating Ranters Ancient & Modern

On the London train to run a conference on an ancient poet called Palladas, whose witty epigrams include several bitching about women, I chose an empty seating area for ten. I needed to finish my paper. At the next station I was joined by six raucous men returning from a stag night. 

They kept up a stream of misogynist ranting for an hour. In ancient Greece there was a genre of invective listing alleged female vices, a genre which I mistakenly believed had become obsolete. The most famous example, by Semonides, compares women with animals. It begins with the pig-woman, “a hairy sow, whose house is like a rolling heap of filth; she lies around, unwashed, on the shit-pile, growing fat.” Semonides advocates violence against the talkative dog-woman and the dense ass-woman who enjoys food.

My Fellow Passengers 
My fellow passengers had revived this ancient genre. They went through the Sun, Metro, and other journals, criticising every pictured woman, from teenagers opening exam results to the Home Secretary. Each was labelled a slag, a dog, a bushpig [this one was new on me], a hottie, gagging for it, or a ballbreaker. A vote was taken on whether each woman deserved the honour of “a good seeing to.”  

Semonides of Amorgos
I am not easily shocked. I ignored them and continued to write my comments on Palladas’ 1600-year-old epigram, “A woman is only good on two occasions: dead or in bed”.  But it became apparent that George, the most hungover stag, was Greek. He earned derision from the stags for saying he had to go home and take turns looking after his three-year old daughter before rejoining the testosteronefest in a Fulham pub. Who, they asked scoffingly, "wore the trousers" in George’s house?

I asked George, in Greek, if he would like either his mother or his daughter to hear him in conversation with his friends. He blushed deeply and told them to cool it. They did not stop, but George did, and looked embarrassed for the rest of the journey.

So what had happened here? Perhaps I am a humourless party-pooper. Perhaps some men just assume it is acceptable to talk like that in public or in front of females. Or is that since I am too old to be in the category of meriting “a good seeing-to”, I am effectively invisible? Or were the stags actually trying to provoke me into a reaction? If so, did they want to be told off by a middle-aged lady—perhaps spanked?—or get into a wrangle?  

Being outnumbered one/six may have played a part in the chemistry of the situation. Certainly, once I established an individual relationship with one of them in a language the others couldn’t understand, so they couldn’t collectively combat me, he instantly reverted from Palaeolithic Man to a reasonable modern human.

A Symposium: arena for misogynist ranting
Long ago, when I briefly worked in Cardiff docks managing thirty-six tug-boat crewmen, I persuaded them to take down the topless “page 3” pictures festooning the office by putting photos of naked men on another wall. They said it was disgusting. Women could, I suppose, fight back by forming vigilante groups who roam public transport cackling noisily about all the men in the newspapers. When I retire, I may form a granny-gang to do so. If anyone would like to join me, get in touch in about 2026.

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