When he referred to the Duchess of Cambridge as ‘the missus’, Prince William was stepping into a linguistic minefield that men face daily, says Martin Daubney
Last week, when Prince William was interviewed by Gary Lineker ahead of the FA Cup final, he casually deployed the phrase “the missus” in reference to his wife, who is a real-life princess.
Like many men, I took to Twitter afterwards and said, “I quite like him for it. Makes him more like us.”
The Duchess of Cambridge herself was not, as far as we know, offended, but plenty of other women took offence on her behalf. Respected feminist commentators were quick to blow their bugles and remind men that the phrase was “blatantly misogynistic” and needs to be “stamped out” like a disease or a cockroach.
The Telegraph’s Claire Cohen called it “creeping, benevolent sexism” adding, “as outdated, crass terms go, ‘the missus’ surely tops the list”.
It’s worth pointing out that 72 per cent of readers who responded to a Telegraph poll didn’t feel that ‘the missus’ was offensive. Some 30 per cent said it was “fantastic” and 42 per cent called it “appropriate”, while a mere nine per cent agreed it was “extremely sexist”.
I took to Twitter again to ask women how they would wish to be referred to by their men, and they replied with phrases no sane man would ever use, including, “my goddess,” “the love of my life”; “my princess” (not even the Duke of Cambridge would use that) and “the one I bow down to”.
Now, I’m not saying for a minute that most right-minded women think that British men using phrases like “the missus” is an inequality issue up there with domestic violence or the pay gap. Clearly it isn’t. Indeed, complaints about the M-word suggest that the fairly trivial matter of a member of the Royal Family engaging in entry-level banter with a football presenter has been blown out of proportion.
So why am I bothered? The truth is, most decent men don’t want to be seen as sexist, and would much rather work with women to solve the real problems of gender inequality than get embroiled in petty spats. Yet there is a sense among men that the language we use and the way we behave is being continually judged, with many of our common words and gestures finding themselves on feminist lists of shame.
So to avoid embarrassing social pitfalls, perhaps it would be best if those feminists provided us with a list of unacceptable phrases. I’ll even start you off with a few. If you’re man, you might not even know how sexist they are…
1. ‘The wife’
Next on feminism’s blacklist after missus, the correct prefix should be “my,” although even that implies ownership. Still, “the wife” is definitely better than “the fierce one” or “the old ball and chain”, Arthur Daley’s “‘er indoors” or the Cockney rhyming slang version: “the bread knife”. Still, they’re all probably better than “Wifey” and don’t even go near the Marquis of Bath’s “wifelets”. Other no-nos are “she who must be obeyed” and, even “the management”. Perhaps we should go with “serial monogamous life partner?” No? Thought not.
2. ‘My girlfriend’
Since our teens, we’ve called our significant others our “girlfriends” but, increasingly, women see the term as as derogatory, or, worse, that we inadvertently display an unhealthy obsession with underage women. Yet the approved choice – “my partner” – can feel toe-curlingly PC, or could imply our other half is male, which is just confusing. So when does a girlfriend become a partner? Easy: scatter cushions.
3. ‘Love’, ‘lassie’, ‘pet’ (or any regional variation thereof)
It’s an admittedly alien concept to Britain’s metropolitan intellectual elite, but if you spend time outside of London you’ll be hit with a wall of joyous colloquialisms for women (and men) that practically no locals find offensive.
Thus we have “lassie” in Scotland (definitely not pertaining to the cinematic canine of yore), the North East’s “pet” and the East Midlands’ “duck”. Use them off-turf, and you’ll likely be wearing your next drink. On home ground and in their natural context, however, users should be safe from London’s feminists who have little jurisdiction outside the M25. OK, “love” and “darling” might be pushing it, but try telling that to most of the locals in Manchester or Essex.
A widely-used term of endearment pertaining to one’s mother (‘old dear’), or used by men over a certain age when politely addressing a female. These days, of course, “dear” is a tad too Michael Winner or David Cameron for many people’s tastes. And the prefix ‘old’ is no longer allowed because, well, you can’t call people old any more, because that would be ageist. Even when they’re old. Except when you’re talking about an ‘old man’, obviously. Which is fine, as long as you avoid the word ‘codger’.
Lena Dunham can get away with it, but you can’t, especially if you’re a BBC reporter. Last year broadcaster Mark Beaumont got into hot water during the making of a Commonwealth Games documentary in which, after being flattened by a female judo champ, he observed that he had been “beaten by a girl”. According to the Guardian, using the word “girl” is all about context. So “throwing like a girl”, “crying like a girl” or “being a big girl’s blouse” are definitely out, but “girl power” is OK. Oh, and to call adult women “girls” is borderline Yewtree, apparently.
6. ‘I’ve got a pass / pink ticket tonight’
Used to convey the fact men are “off the leash” from a partner they portray as overly controlling, even when she isn’t. Such men deploy “the pink ticket” to enjoy men-only sessions that are usually prohibited or mildly frowned upon: boys’ poker nights, watching football in the pub, enjoying meals with very little salad content.
The phrase is sometimes inappropriately buttressed with “You’d better lock up your daughters” which is dangerously paedophilic in the current climate, even though most men who say it don’t get anywhere a female, and instead fall asleep in a curry house while talking about the state of the property market.