There is a silly game that I often play with my stepdad, Lawrence. It is to do with tampons and periods, and specifically that old Tampax advert where someone “mistakes” a Tampax Compact for a sweet. You get the idea. It’s funny to me because of Lawrence’s squeamishness when it comes to anything to do with periods. My favourite thing to do is to shout, “Lawrence, I’M BLEEDING FROM MY WOMB!” at him until he runs out of the room with his fingers in his ears.
It’s funny to me because it’s quite bizarre that there is a generation that was taught to find periods so incredibly repulsive. Lawrence’s reaction to women’s bodily functions is in no way malicious, but it is a product of the way women – and their bodies – have been systematically “othered” by society. Men – especially men of his age, over 60 – were told that “women’s stuff” was not for them. They were taught to fear people on their periods and to stay well out of the whole thing. Something that Nick Knowles apparently took all too seriously last night on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
Knowles ignited a debate last night after refusing to pick up a pair of women’s knickers. Said knickers had been washed, ready to dry on the line and were lying on the ground right next to the DIY SOS star. Yet, Knowles didn’t pick them up and pop them on the line, because he just didn’t “feel comfortable handling…”. He couldn’t even say it. “Women’s knickers,” finished John Barrowman, who is also in the camp. Knowles then awkwardly asked Barrowman to pick up the underwear instead. “Er, it’s… wet. It needs drying,” he spluttered. “Would you hang it on the line?”
There are a few things to point out about this weird little exchange. The first is the obvious: that Knowles makes an assumption that it is OK for a gay man to pick up women’s pants, but not for him, a straight man – something Barrowman spoke out about. The connotations appear to be twofold: there’s the, clearly ignorant, stereotype that gay men are somehow innately more feminine, and an implication therefore that for a straight man to touch women’s knickers would be construed as overwhelmingly sexual. Unsurprisingly, the comments ignited a debate about homophobia.
The only thing that made it weird was Knowles. His oversexualisation of what is essentially a very boring task (is there anything less sexual than washing your bloomin’ pants?)
This is corroborated in the way Knowles talks about the knickers – the poor guy cannot even bring himself to say the word “knickers”, or even “pants” or “underwear”. Instead he says “it”, over and over again when referring to them. This is very strange. He seems scared of the knickers. “It’s just a piece of clothing!” cries Barrowman as he grabs the pants and hangs them up to dry. Knowles says he thinks it “might be inappropriate” for him to touch them. “It is no way inappropriate for any type of male to pick up a pair of women’s knickers to hang up on a washing line,” Barrowman says, like it’s the most natural thing in the world, because... it is.
The only thing that made it weird was Knowles. His oversexualisation of what is essentially a very boring task (is there anything less sexual than washing your bloomin’ pants?) is revealing about how men of a certain generation have been taught to view women. Again, I don’t think it’s malicious – although it did come along in the aftermath of him dismissing another contestant’s very valid concerns about the dinner he was cooking because it was her “time of the month” – but it is not “chivalrous” or “gentlemanly”, as Emily Atack, who owned the pants in question, concluded.
Rather, it’s a misconstrued demonstration of respect and it’s also an additional barrier between women and men. Pants aren’t scary. Tampons aren’t scary. Wombs and bleeding are natural, women need to wear underwear and, as has been pointed out on Twitter, as long as you’re not sniffing them, then helping a sister out by hanging up her pants is absolutely OK. OK?