‘Calm down dear, it’s just an article’

By Ali Leyland-Collins

On Monday I had the bad fortune of tuning into Leading Britain’s Conversation — a radio programme on 97.3FM. I say bad fortune because, by and large, I feel as though LBC takes interesting or pressing topics and butchers them by simply being on air. If you’ve never listened to LBC, I strongly suggest that you do because I believe that the presenters actually make you feel better about yourself. Rant aside, the topic of discussion on Monday was rather interesting: ‘Why is it not okay to call a woman “love”?’ Yes, that is another issue I have with LBC — the presenter went from objective to subjective very quickly, acting less as a mediator and more as a cat among the pigeons. The headline wasn’t: ‘Is it okay to call a women “love”?’ but ‘Why is it not okay to call women “love”?’ Oh yes, and LBC is a phone-in channel. (Okay, maybe there was a bit of rant left). The presenter of this phone-in ‘discussion’ persistently repeated that he did not understand why it’s not okay to use the term ‘love’ when addressing a woman. Multiple phone-ins from women and men alike decided that it is okay but is entirely dependent on the context in which the word is used. For example, is someone were to say ‘Can I get you a cup of tea, love?’ that would be fine, but if someone had the audacity to say ‘Alright love, calm down’, that would be very much not okay. (Tangent alert: do you remember that Esure advert from back in the day, “Calm down dear it’s a commercial”? Watch it again now. Let’s just say I’m glad it was beyond me back then). So far, I’m on board with what the radio is saying to me… then the presenter shows himself up again. Addressing the callers who say that ‘love’ can be construed as sexist in certain situations, he says: “Okay so you’ve said that it is sexist but no one is telling me why it’s sexist. I don’t see anything wrong with it!” I should probably say here that this presenter is ‘posh’ and hails from the south of England. He claimed that because his parents were from Lancashire or somewhere (I was too annoyed by this point to really listen to what he had to say) he could use the term just as it’s used in the North, namely as a term of endearment. Now it was time to rub salt in the wound as he decided that he should explain himself; he said ‘love’ and ‘mate’ were the equivalent appellations for men and women (see above example but replace ‘love’ with ‘mate’). Initially, I was on board with the idea as mate can be friendly, but also incredibly provocative when used in certain situations. What does the presenter say next? “But then how come ‘mate’ isn’t seen as sexist? How are they different?!” At this point I’m quite ready to turn off the radio — I’m more annoyed at the presenter’s ignorance than the actual topic of conversation (can you guess?). I am yelling at the radio. “The difference is, is that you wouldn’t catch the men who use these terms, calling other men ‘love’ or women ‘mate’!” Maybe I wasn’t too articulate in my anger but the gist is there: the word ‘love’ is unavoidably gendered in these kinds of scenarios. Eventually the discussion became sensible again — using the term ‘love’ seemed to be generational. The older callers (up to 84 years old, female) agreed that ‘love’ was simply a term of endearment, used to express kindness towards people whose name you don’t know. Younger callers argued that ‘love’ can be patronising, even when used in a friendly context. At this point, the presenter piped up and said something actually quite intelligent: that it can be patronising, and directly so in the most literal sense — you take on the stance of a ‘patron’ or paternalistic figure by calling someone ‘love’; you assume authority over them. This got me thinking again about the generational divide: an elderly man may indeed call another male ‘love’. I’ve heard it time and again, mostly to youngsters, and this is the idea of the paternal at play again. At this point we seem to have some full circle. Elderly people saying ‘love’ in a friendly context is simply that — friendly. If an elderly person said it in a hostile context it would be more likely to come across as patronising than rude. “Show us yer tits, love!” Now there’s another example of where ‘love’ is explicitly gendered. Could you really argue that ‘love’ is directly equivalent to ‘mate’ in that sentence? I don’t think so, somehow. Pause and think who you’re addressing next time you use a term of ‘endearment’ and if you get it wrong, just go with ‘babe’. Nothing could go wrong there, right?

Author: Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

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