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Ramblings on the topic of WOMEN (AND MEN)

I know I could have said GENDER, but that seems such an overused word these days.

Women friends – 2020

When I was growing up, I had a few female best-friends at different times but, until I met my friend Emma at university, none of them really stuck or seemed to mean quite so much to me as I moved into adulthood. Interestingly, I have rekindled one or two old school friendships in recent years and our bonds have remained surprisingly well. Shared experiences at tender age probably do that, but perhaps also our shared-but-not-shared-at-all female experience of life in the intervening years as we have faced life’s differing menu through the inevitable biological changes. Some have children, others don’t, but we all know what stage we’re at somehow. 

I always thought I was more comfortable in the company of men. I had a brother and no sisters. All my cousins were male. I was at a mixed school so did not suffer the all-female environment (that’s what I thought it would have been – suffering – although I later saw my daughter embracing and loving her all-girls school). My college at university had only recently gone co-ed and my intake was less than 30% female. I joined the rowing club and coxed crews of eight men. I later shared a house with five men (by this stage my poor father was resigned to it all and made a point of telling everyone. One of my friends suggested I had a man for each night of the week. It actually wasn’t like that – really. No honestly, it wasn’t).

But in more recent years, I have come to value female friendship far more. At work, I was part of at least two groups led by women who inspired a feeling of female camaraderie. And perhaps the empowered naughtiness of one particular set of us who shared the non-PC banter referenced elsewhere here. It’s interesting to think of this now, in the context of recent press coverage of Ann Francke’s comments to the BBC Today programme. Whilst I’m sure there is some exclusion felt by those who can’t, or don’t want to, join in with footie banter by the coffee machine, equally there will have been others who can’t join in the endless discussions about shoes*, or the merits of the latest handbag fashion. I recall that we shared a lot about our families, or relationships – but in the intervening 10 years or so, I reckon the family, at least, has become just as much a ‘both genders’ topic.

Perhaps we were just more supportive of each other, which I found surprising at the time, but still appreciate today. We were quite demanding people, with high expectations of ourselves and each other, but this seemed to drive performance up and grow the bonds. I was lucky enough to find this replicated later with both male and female colleagues, but before working in the predominantly female team, I had experienced far less of it from men, aside from one particularly great example of a leader. 

My best friend Emma died at the age of 55, in 2018. I have written about this from time to time in my blog. It has surprised me how much her loss has affected me. We were not in constant touch, we had different outlooks on life and different experiences of adulthood and family. And yet, we had somehow remained an ‘item’, sharing just enough for each of us to retain the bond and keep in touch. I have a good number of male friends of similar vintage, but it is just not the same. How much I value the female connection now than I had ever thought possible.

*I’m being extreme – in fact, I was one of those who could not find anything much to say about shoes or handbags, other than to muse occasionally about whether the scuff-marks on my own had become so bad that replacements were required. To his eternal credit, when my team was almost exclusively female, the only male seemed perfectly comfortable to take the gentle piss out of many of us for the enormous storage space required for our surplus shoes. An office relocation years later was hilarious when the same guy was proved correct in his estimation that we really didn’t need all these pairs: we discovered a large collection of forgotten footwear, none of which fitted him at all.

Hackneyed and politically incorrect view of men – 2019

This is awful, I know, but in several periods of my work life, I and a select group (very small, obvs) of female colleagues might have, in exasperation and under extreme pressure, messaged each other regarding our male counterparts’ ‘willy-waving’ – usually reduced to ‘WW’ for ease of typing in our hectic multi-tasking world. I’m sure we were far from unique.

Strangely we never used similar terms for our annoying female colleagues: is there a female equivalent? Nipple-tassel-twirling?  Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so well as WW does it? (- oh lord, not that I’m suggesting I’d put my tongue anywhere near said waving appendages. Or tassels. Move on…)

Some guys were particularly prone to attract these WW comments. Others may have been mad or occasionally annoying in other ways, but we rarely used this term about them. Most, of course, were just fine. Just colleagues. Let’s not exaggerate – our need to let off steam occasionally was only used for a handful (sorry) of the worst offenders.

I suspect that our comments were also only very loosely linked to any conscious consideration of the male-member in question, but were more generally following an unfortunate learned societal norm. We cannot claim any originality here. But, in a moment of bored or irritated doodling (yes doodling – on paper, with a pen) and for my own amusement, I did once scribble a few words in my notebook which I have just rediscovered and share below – is there actually any link between W-size and character? #

Mr W* – always has to have the last word, in meetings, on the phone, in conferences. Talks about himself even when claiming to have everyone else’s interests in mind. Makes crass statements even right alongside the politically correct ones he’s been told to use, and feels hard done by if anyone calls him out. Me, me, me, look at me.

  • Clearly compelled to wave it around endlessly for fear it’s just too small to see.  Insecure and regardless of how talented (or not) he is, will keep on waving it in the hope that we can actually see it (a more generous commentator would insert here a reference to Stevie Smith’s ‘drowning’? – discuss.) This is not any sort of a new theory at all, but received wisdom from generations and generations. Must be true, then?

Mr N* –  is a nice bloke, who listens, has his own opinions which he shares but doesn’t force on anyone, is forthright when necessary, has an empathetic sense of humour although still able to make healthy caustic remarks and throw weight about if the situation requires. Not necessarily a superhero or even especially likeable all the time, just a regular decent colleague. 

  • Doesn’t care what size it is. He knows that what he does with it is perfectly fine, and what business is it of anyone at work anyway? There is no one-size-fits all – and he knows that (so do we).

Mr Z* – completely off the wall. Has moments of brilliance and inspiration, and others of complete and utter bonkers ruthlessness and idiocy. Can be very kind and considerate, sometimes a good listener, but often seemingly hears or remembers NOTHING AT ALL.

  • It’s f*****g enormous, and he might or might not wave it, depending on his mood. He has no idea that people might notice or care that he literally leaves them bleeding – but might, or indeed almost certainly would, create alternative strategies to achieve harmonious intercourse if only someone could explain properly what that actually is. 

Ladies – it is maybe wrong (and certainly politically incorrect) to judge or even to think along these lines, even if we legitimise it as a coping strategy. In all cases, in the end we need to call out the bad behaviours in any or all our colleagues (male and female) and sort them out so that any thoughts of WW (or N-T-T) are banished – from the workplace at least. We can find something else to laugh about, because laughter and the camaraderie it can bring are hugely important and we must never banish humour or we are f****d. 

Then we can truly say ‘size doesn’t matter’.

In the meantime, I am now ‘retired’ and therefore of course would never dream of such behaviour.

I thought of doing this as a Linked In article, but perhaps it’s too soon… Thoughts?

# Remember, these are workplace men.  Woe-betide any woman analysing loved-ones or family members this way – DO NOT GO THERE, ever.

*In choosing anonymous names, I wanted to a) avoid complete cliche of X,Y,Z and b) remove any perceived sexiness or mystery from the use of Mr X. Of course, the letters chosen bear no additional underlying meaning – unless you choose to invent it – and most certainly do not refer to actual people thrusting alive or dead.

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