SO, TALKING OF the pursuit of impossible dreams, which is all anybody ever is talking about, I tried to probe the special relationship this week but emerged – as is often the way when you probe any relationship – even more bewildered. I simply wanted to know this: would an average American person know what I meant if I used the phrase “spunky biscuit”? Now, before we go any further, I should issue advance warning of mild vulgarity and sexual content, although I must admit that didn’t worry me when I threw the question out to my Twitter timeline. I just assumed it would make British people, especially those of a certain vintage and probably of a certain gender, snigger and, indeed, it did. The one direct response I had from an expatriate American of my acquaintance hazarded a guess: does it mean, she wondered, a scone with verve?
Well, alas not – and, just in case this causes further confusion, let me explain to American readers that the little cake we Brits call a scone and eat with jam (ie, jelly) and clotted cream (I think your nearest equivalent might be something called heavy cream, though that could also be something scientific and nuclear, for all I know) is your biscuit. Meanwhile, our biscuit is your cookie. I think. We’ll leave eggplants for another day, although then again, maybe not, because there’s a limit to how interesting these I-say-tomato discussions can be, and I think I’ve found it.
In any case, let’s not put off the hideous truth for a moment longer: spunky biscuit is a game in which a group of men masturbate onto a biscuit and the last man to, erm, contribute has to eat that very biscuit. As I understand it, he is referred to as having “lost” the game, which I find somewhat mystifying, for surely he has won? At least, that’s the only logical conclusion most heterosexual women could come to, having spent so very much of their lives being assured that such a canapé would be the ne plus ultra of delicacies.
Perhaps encouragingly for the future of culture, a previous tweet I wrote on the same day concerning the arrival of an 1178-page book about The Byrds – the first volume, by the way – attracted more attention. But it left me none the wiser about the prevalence of the phrase. Various responses did nothing to help: the suggestion, for example, that if an American man admitted to knowledge of both word and deed, he had probably attended the English boarding-school Eton. Most disorientating were several British men who professed complete ignorance. Later, a man who I know IRL (just showing off! I recently discovered that IRL stands for In Real Life, in other words “actually know”, not just “type in direction of”) put it to me that those chaps knew perfectly well what it meant but had hoped I might be lured into chatting on the internet about masturbation. For goodness’ sake! Has the world gone mad?
So, the whole spunky biscuit thing got us nowhere, really. But far more pressingly, why had I been asking in the first place?
It was actually because I suddenly realised how much of my life in social media was spent watching men arguing with one another, and how little I understood of it. And how little I understand of why I do it. For example, the other day I became exceptionally briefly drawn into a mild quarrel, between a group of female journalists, about the quality and relevance of women’s magazines. It quickly seemed to me like one of those arguments that had everyone all riled up before it had even started, including me, and consequently had little chance of going anywhere interesting. So I bowed out after about five minutes and my impression is that everyone else did too.
Now. This is surely not generalisable from. It seems wildly unlikely that there are not, in internet forums and, indeed, IRL, crowds of women slugging it out to the death, debating frankly and furiously about anything and everything. But I don’t appear to be that fascinated by them – or, at least, not in short-form. On social media sites that encourage a little more length, in fact, I think I’m fairly gender-blind: I’ll watch a good scrap between anybody; sometimes I’ll even join in and attempt to land a punch myself.
But that quick-fire stuff, the trading of insults and the apparently limitless capacity to make your point, over and over again, the puffed-up rage, the umbrage both mock and authentic, the mad marshalling of evidence, the unembarrassability about filling screen after screen with your opinions… Well, there’s nothing, I suspect, hardwired in the genes that makes this a male rather than a female pastime. And it’s probably just as much in evidence across the gender divide both on and offline. But apparently there’s something in me that will happily sit for hours and watch two fighting cocks strut around the arena; something which I think is related to the fact that I prefer the combatants to be arguing over a subject I’m either a) relatively ill-informed about or b) utterly indifferent to. What that level of detachment produces – whether I’m sitting ringside at a debate about the future of the British political left (ill-informed) or a showdown between two food writers (indifferent) – is a pleasurable ambiguity. What I am delightedly unsure of is the relative likelihood of two outcomes. Is the level of friction so serious that one or other of the participants will suddenly disappear from the screen, hail a cab, arrive at the other’s house and punch him in the mouth? IRL? Or will all that happen, but with punching replaced by cracking open a beer?
Is it hatred, or is it courtship? Am I obsessed with the alien unstoppability of male aggression, or enchanted by the clandestine nature of male friendship? Am I simply the intended audience for a display of power and, therefore, a tremendously naive patsy? Or is my penchant for hanging on every angry word simply a pathetic inability to come to terms with being locked out of the love-in?
Incidentally, I’m proud of none of this. Decades spent railing against men watching women mud wrestle, or play beach volleyball in hotpants, and we come to this.
Wow. Stop press. I notice that in the time I’ve spent writing this piece, an organisation called OUTLAW SEXISM has followed me on Twitter. I’m thrilled. They must know a thing or two about this stuff. If they don’t immediately try to OUTLAW ME for my unacceptable views, I might actually learn something.