I thought that a battle ax was a weapon used in medieval combat. That was until I heard someone refer to his wife as one when I was sixteen. More confused, I could not be. “Look son, I want to let you play basketball with your friend but it’s not just my decision. I have to talk to your mom. You did not get good grades and you know how much of a battle ax she can be”. What?
Yeah, and my re-edu-ma-cation was apparently just beginning. I also found out that society had developed a very lax meaning to the term ‘old lady’. I heard it from the mouths of men when describing women in their mid-thirties. More confounding, the women being described were their wives and girlfriends.
But wait, there’s more. Perhaps more of an awakening than the other two is the fact that men are marrying inanimate objects. How else to explain the use of the phrase ‘the wife’? Like, ‘the’ coffee mug or ‘the’ door mat. Shirley you jest, right? No, and don’t call me Shirley. I have heard it time and time again.
“Are we going to hit the links?”
“Let me just ask the wife”
Yep. We’ve all heard that so let’s not pretend that we haven’t.
My naïve (but not) introduction aside, what do these and other like phrases say about how we value women? Men will imply that battle ex is said as a joke, something to laugh off and push aside. And yet like most other things, there is a bit of truth that lies beneath their words, at least from their lens. Women have long been seen as the kill joy in relationships, both as spouse and parent. As such, the term battle ax was spawned to associate women with the heavy handed weapon.
When men describe ‘the wife’, it is almost always in conversation with someone about a situation that ‘the wife’ has some say over. What bothers me here is the implied control placed on the wife and the lack of courage displayed by the husband who finds it easier to pin things on ‘the wife’. Other examples that paint this picture:
“It looks like a good buy, I just need to let the wife know”
“You know the deal, I gotta talk to the boss first”
To the latter example, I replaced ‘the wife’ with ‘the boss’ but the point is still the same. These are phrases used to put control and blame on someone (‘the boss’, ‘the wife’) without putting a name to her. You see, putting a name would make it more personal and change the dynamic of the discussion. That would be too complicated for someone that just wants an out or just wants to vent their frustration. Doing this, of course, avoids any real conversation or culpability and enables the continuous view that women are the heavies.
Interestingly enough, I have not heard comparable descriptors of men. If we were going to level the playing field, might we be throwing around phrases like ‘lazy ass’, ‘old man’ and ‘the husband’?
“Look son, I know you want someone to play basketball with but you know how much of a lazy ass your father can be.”
What kind of reaction would that yield? Would men see this as a phrase to laugh off and push aside? Not likely. Digging deeper, since men have long been seen as the lazy ones in relationships, those that become complacent and find comfort in the couch, than lazy ass would seem to fit. In other words, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.
Of course, none of these phrases are appropriate and I would love to see them strickened from our verbal lexicons. And while I admit to hearing the term battle ax a lot less these days, the rest remain.