you're reading...
Just stuff (things on my mind that aren't to do with writing)

Don’t ever put up, or shut up, girls


Once upon a time I worked on the sports desk of an evening paper.  One day, at lunchtime, I was going over some page proofs when the phone rang.

Some guy on the end said, ‘Can I speak to the sports editor?’

‘He’s out to lunch,’ I said. ‘Can I help?’

‘I don’t think so. Is the deputy editor in?’

‘No,’ I said.

‘Is Reg in?’ (Reg was our racing correspondent)


‘Is Ray in? Gary? What about Pete?’

‘They’re all out,’ I said. ‘Can I help?’

‘I shouldn’t think so, love. You’re just the secretary aren’t you? I need to know the date of the FA cup final.’

‘May 20,’ I said. ‘Anything else?’

I’d forgotten all about that until I watched Mary Beard’s BBC4  lecture ‘Oh Do Shut Up Dear’,  on the silencing of women. I was appalled when she told of the insults (some of them death threats)  that she regularly gets whenever she appears on BBC’s Question Time. Somebody actually told her he’d chop her head off and rape it. Most of the hate mail she gets tells her that she’s stupid. Eh? She is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, a fellow of Newnham College, and Royal Academy of Arts professor of ancient literature. If that’s stupid what does that make the rest of us?

If you’re going to put somebody down effectively, you need to use wit. You have to match your intellect to your intended victim and expose their weaknesses.  Trouble is, most of these people aren’t too hot on the intellect front, and all they want to indulge in is some anonymous, venomous bile spilling.

Professor Beard’s lecture was about how we have been conditioned over the last 3,000 years, since Homer’s time, to believe that it is wrong for women to take part in politics, to speak publicly,or  to have an opinion on issues other than the home and family. She points out that women in politics these days are tolerated if they have jobs in education or health, but that there has never been a female Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I found her speech riveting, but she fudged it at the end, when it came to how we, as women, should deal with men who talk over us, or who ignore us at meetings, or who tell us to shut up, (as revealed by a distinguished panellist at January’s World Economic Forum). Professor Beard is a reasonable, decent woman and an academic, so her solution was along the lines of analysing and then dealing with the faults  causing these problems.

That’s all very well, but it doesn’t cut the mustard in the here and now.  We can’t, like Kruschev, take our shoes off and bang them on the table if we are ignored. (Although, actually the idea does rather appeal) because then we play into the stereotype of being emotional and unreasonable. We cannot put up and shut up, so we must just be assertive, and keep going.

And, if the insults get too many, we can always quote Winston Churchill, who on being disturbed in his toilet by a call from the Lord Privy Seal said, ‘Tell him I can only deal with one shit at a time.’

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


22 thoughts on “Don’t ever put up, or shut up, girls

  1. Really liked this – for me it was very well written and I love the Churchill quote 🙂 I agree with what you say.

    What I think is not helping good women be heard is positive recruitment, quotas for women on boards etc. This is not nurturing the best women, fundamentally because the intention behind such schemes is not really always sincere. Where any woman will do to ‘make up the numbers’, mediocre Queen Bees acquire power, quite ready to speak out. They don’t lean in so much as shove themselves in. Unfortunately this only confirms their mediocrity to everyone – men and women alike. This isn’t helping the cause at all. The counter argument is that well, hey, mediocre men also gain power this way. However the spotlight isn’t on those men it’s on the current batch of women leaders and speakers who need to be mindful of the pivotal role they have. Possibly not fair, but it is what it is.

    Posted by sarahcrowtherbooks | June 3, 2014, 5:58 am
    • I’m glad you like it. I take your point about positive recruitment, but if it succeeds in some places, then there may be an increasing benefit. It’s attitudes of some of the men doing the hiring that need to be addressed (although I don’t think they have a pill for stupidity, yet). I wrote a similar, rather angrier piece called WTF? Guys, listen to yourselves about my experience of workplace bullying.

      Posted by elainecanham | June 3, 2014, 7:19 am
  2. I had a similar experience. A neighbour’s daughter knocked on my door to speak to another neighbour, a school teacher who was visiting. The girl asked the teacher for help with some maths which he didn’t know. I offered to help but the girl”s response was – “you’re not a teacher’. LOL!

    In the 1980s, I was a manager and a Caucasian worked for me in Singapore. On business trips, everyone approached him, thinking that he was the boss. It happens even now, sometimes.

    So, I can imagine it’s tougher for women.

    Yes, they come in all shapes and shades 🙂

    Posted by Eric Alagan | May 24, 2014, 1:41 pm
  3. Very well put. Having the patience to deal with such behaviour is something only a saint can ever hope to have!

    Posted by Sally | April 24, 2014, 7:57 pm
    • But women do take it and they shouldn’t. Maybe not punch someone on the nose like I did (see my post WTF? Guys, listen to yourselves) but no one should have to put up with being belittled. Oh, listen to me go on. Matron, I’m having a hot flush…

      Posted by elainecanham | April 24, 2014, 8:27 pm
    • I think it’s just drilled into us from a young age so we’re trained to ‘take it’ and move on. Too much gendered baggage behind this one behaviour to actually unpack all at once >.<

      Posted by Sally | April 24, 2014, 8:37 pm
    • yes, you’re right. But sometimes you have to make a stand. (hopefully after teatime, but before gym club)

      Posted by elainecanham | April 24, 2014, 8:38 pm
    • Well you can’t make a stand before tea time, that would be all sorts of crazy :p

      Posted by Sally | April 24, 2014, 9:13 pm
  4. It is funny but if you go to most colleges around the United States you will see the cream of the crop are women. Men live in an illusion.

    Posted by awax1217 | April 19, 2014, 7:58 pm
  5. Reblogged this on Forget the Viagra, Pass Me a Carrot and commented:
    It will always be thus, I am afraid – over the years I have met men and women both, who use their assumed superiority to put down rivals or those that they consider to be fair game. In the 60’s feminism was aimed at my age group as teenagers in the hopes that we would burn our bras and pick up the flag and march with it into the future. The truth is – men and women are different – neither better or worse than each other. However, human nature is a different beast altogether – and it is in my opinion which is the main problem. I have also met incredibly generous men and women who have chosen to be mentors and role models – we can all choose how we treat others – and yes there are times when a damn good verbal put down is very satisfying!

    Posted by Forget the Viagra...Pass me a Carrot! | March 29, 2014, 11:04 am
  6. These days, just about everything’s traceable if not recordable. This is the digital age, even for those with single digit courage, intelligence, and respect.

    Posted by MikeW | March 19, 2014, 3:57 pm
  7. Yup, it was being taped. I didn’t say I was being nice….
    I did get my power back.

    Posted by naptimethoughts | March 17, 2014, 8:31 pm
  8. Reminds me: the (female) Minister of Social Welfare in New Zealand is “famous” for, having been interrupted in Parliament, saying “Zip it sweetie”.

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | March 17, 2014, 8:17 pm
  9. It’s interesting that you write this today, as I spent several hours on the phone with my power company this morning trying to get some information on why my power was out. I moved up the chain of command at the company, man after man after man… until finally I got near the top. The next man was not interested in allowing me to speak to his supervisor until I said:
    “Typical. I’m sure if I were a man, you’d put me right through. It’s amazing how men think they can disregard a womans’ request without even a thought.”
    Suddenly, I got in touch with his supervisor- he dropped me like I was hot.
    It didn’t help our cause, it didn’t even make a dent- in fact- in the grand scheme of things it probably made things worse, but damn if it wasn’t satisfying.

    Posted by naptimethoughts | March 17, 2014, 8:05 pm
    • Maybe he dropped you because the conversation was being taped (for reasons of security and customer service, as they say) and he panicked that you were going to make an official complaint. Hope you got your power back.

      Posted by elainecanham | March 17, 2014, 8:21 pm
  10. I so agree with you. I grew up with four sisters and have three daughters and on no occasion has anyones right to an opinion or action been determined by their sex, especially in that demeaning and aggressive manner you describe here, Grrrrr

    Posted by Peter Wells aka Countingducks | March 17, 2014, 7:52 pm
    • Thanks Peter. I should have made it clear that I don’t think all men are like this. But the ones who are…..as you say, grrrr. Actually, it’s beyond grrr, it’s almost just a weary sigh, now.

      Posted by elainecanham | March 17, 2014, 8:17 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow on Bloglovin

Follow me on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: