I had a horrifying brush with misogyny the other day. Out on the town with a group of women I was sharing a friend’s birthday with, I encountered a rush of disdain and disparagement towards my glammed-up companions I was not quite expecting and didn’t know how to handle … because it was coming from me.
I’m not good with the whole Girls’ Night Out thing, generally. I don’t like to categorise my friends by gender, or segregate them in social settings in case De Boys try to mate with De Girls. Just because we share a certain physical blueprint doesn’t mean we have anything at all in common, after all. I find, too, that when there are plans for a Girls Night Out, there is a certain leaning towards inviting along women you wouldn’t usually socialise with, just to make up the numbers – sisters of friends, daughters of neighbours, ex-girlfriends of troublesome future brothers-in-law, all swept into the same cocktail bar in a sort of unintentional, uncomfortable celebration of womanhood that begins and ends with fragile smiles and scornful texts home. There was something of that in my recent night out; the birthday girl had collected quite a hodge-podge of ladies, only two of whom I’d met before (and only one of those I’d had a conversation with). I can be quite the chameleon when I feel like it, though, so I wasn’t too worried about fitting in. There’s always common ground somewhere, and I could always do what I did on the last hen night I was at – inadvertently but mortally insult the groom’s sister and thus become the evening’s entertainment.
But there was no common ground.
Not even lowest-common-denominator ground.
I don’t subscribe to the girly model – rosé, make-up counters, Sex And The City – although some of my close friends do, and we still find plenty to talk about. I’m not gay, into Converse, or hopelessly addicted to reality tv, but I still manage to have a best friend who’s all three. It is an entirely new experience for me to find myself surrounded by aliens, in other words – it’s not like I expect to only get along with people exactly like me in every way – and yet I was, out in the city, with pretty and vivacious sorts who were all around my age, but utterly alone. We were all of the same cultural background – we all watched the same sitcoms growing up, all loved the same 90s bands, all well aware that Deirdre Barlow hadn’t a criminal bone in her body. And yet I couldn’t find a single thing to talk about with my new companions, no gap in their inane codswallop to hitch sense to, and scramble into. In fact, it wasn’t so much lack of common ground. These women were idiots.
I know, Jesus, I know. I shouldn’t call other people idiots; we’re all capable of idiocy, but the odd pratfall into brainlessness doesn’t make you a lost cause. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to look good, whatever shade of “good” you go for. Being bright orange, wearing a paint pot of mascara on your fake eyelashes, and pumping and trussing your breasts up to your chin doesn’t mean you’re of but modest intelligence, as celebrity glamour models never tire of telling us. Aspiring to nothing but being bright orange, wearing a paint pot of mascara on your fake eyelashes, and pumping and trussing your breasts up to your chin probably does, though; style is an embellishment to a personality, not an alternative to one. And embellishments and improvements to a personality all too deftly hidden were all these girls could talk about – I want my boobs done, I want my arse waxed, I want my nose fixed, I want to meet a footballer in Lanzarote and pose for Maxim and wear a tiara up to the chandeliers when our wedding is covered in Ok! Oh look! My knickers match my dress! I’ve always believed that there must be something ticking away behind the facade of the dolly bird – it takes a healthy bank balance to keep one in designer claws and bottles of WKD, after all – but I honestly could find nothing at all to latch on to with these ladies, no topic of conversation we could all get behind without anyone’s brains leaking out her eye sockets.
The thing that upset me most is that these ladies were of the same social class as myself (how outdated does that sound? Social class!). We were all working class, urban girls … exactly the kind of girls one might expect to act like lipglossed ninnies. It was like coming across a pocket of prejudices in the middle of your PC conscience, or like meeting a tribe of savages on an expedition to save the rainforest. I used to loftily insist that girls like that didn’t exist outside of dance music videos or Big Brother buffoonery, and it was a nasty, unwelcome shock to find them congregating, dim as you like, in the real world. And, like the hitherto optimistic explorer in the jungle paradise, I wanted to run from the savages. What’s the point in trying to woo the headhunters? You’ll only lose your head.
Not having the option of running away, I drank myself stupid instead. Which wasn’t a stereotypically idiotic action to take at all. But what else is there to do when you’ve just choked on your own politics?