During a recent dinner party, my wife casually emasculated me. She told our guests that if she were ever publically insulted by another man, the prospect of my leaping to her defence was laughable. To be fair, she did a service to the party, which had been a symphony of stifled yawns until our guests perked up at my unexpected shaming. They allowed me the dubious concession that I shouldn't be expected to fight for my wife's honour, because I would almost certainly be badly injured. For all the good this character assassination did for the life of the party, I can't pretend it didn't hurt.
It hurt because she had hit the mark. If my wife was under physical threat, I would like to think I would do whatever needed to protect her. But if a man - or a large adolescent boy - called her a bitch, for example, or threw something dirty at her, I would find it hard to respond in any other way than to pretend he hadn't. I just don't see how the benefit of conveying my disapproval could ever outweigh the risk of violence. Of all the potential horrors of a physical fight (dirty clothes, pain in the face), what I fear most is the awkwardness, the sheer normative no-man's land of brawling. I barely have the social repertoire for engaging in small talk with strangers, let alone providing a rationale for punching them. I fear I would say something terribly uncool, which is to say nothing of the risk of being wedgied or soiling myself.
I'm sure I'm not alone in this fear of fisticuffs ending in humiliation. Socrates and Gandhi preached and practised non-violence, even radical non-resistance, in the face of the greatest affronts to their rights. I share the world's narrative that this was at least partly because they were nice guys and probably both vegetarians. I am convinced, however, that an equally decisive factor in their philosophies of non-violence was an appreciation of the clumsy indignity of fighting in a toga.
Admittedly, I wouldn't need to start throwing punches the moment an adult or big teenaged boy called my wife a bitch: I could be assertive and use my words instead. But any response other than the servile avoidance of eye contact would be liable to end in violence. This would be so even if I were to provide a perfectly reasonable, respectful reply, something like:
"I don't like it when you say that. It hurts my wife's feelings. Yes, she can be a bit unpredictable at dinner parties, but 'bitch' is taking it too far."
I spent a lot of time crafting that response. Even so, I imagine the offender might reply with something along the lines of:
"She is a bitch, you bitchfucker."
See how quickly things can escalate? If he did call me a bitchfucker, I would be instantly mired in dispute; this despite my being an innocent bystander and the verbal assailant merely arriving at the logical conclusion of his initial appraisal of my wife, and my relationship with her. As I doubt either of us would have the time to argue indefinitely, I would have to pick a moment to undertake some kind of punch or kick or karate chop, or face the antagonist doing the same to me. It would be this very moment of starting the fight, however, which would be the most difficult.
Beginning any new physical activity is awkward. I taught myself to dance at a high school house party. I spent the first few hours of the party alone, silently urging myself onto the garage-cum-dancefloor, but felt an impenetrable threshold between the orderly existence I had eked out for myself, and that foreign realm of trunks and limbs moving about without compunction. Eventually, I gathered the courage when Sophie Ellis-Bextor's Murder on the Dance Floor started playing, as it was one of the most pleasant dance tracks of the day. Finding a poorly-lit spot in the corner of the dance floor, I held my hands in my pockets, whistled, and swayed my body back and forth to what felt like the rhythm.
The girls on the dance floor all stopped dancing to call me a fag. I noticed that I was the only boy dancing: the other boys were standing nearby and calling me a fag. The song's title, and its astonishingly well-enunciated lyrics, took on sudden and awful significance. To my further horror, I found it was just as difficult to stop dancing as it had been to start, so I continued to rock rigidly back and forth to the beat of my peers' taunts. My only consolation was that, with my hands in my pockets and my mouth occupied with whistling, I was able to refrain from crying until my mum picked me up and took me home.
Starting a fight is likely to be even harder. I will need all the weapons at my disposal and won't be able to hide my hands in my pockets, whistle effectively, or employ any of my favourite awkwardness-alleviating measures.
But as loath as I am to initiate a fight, my wife tells me that there is a limit to the abuse she should have to endure before her husband intervenes. Moreover, I can't escape the fact that, unlike Socrates and Gandhi, I wear modern underpants. With comfortable and robust undergarments comes great responsibility. And in truth, my wife is worth it. For all her dinner party surprises, I plan for her to one day bear my young, and when Murder on the Dancefloor comes on the radio, she holds my hand and tells me she loves me and that everything is going to be OK.
Once I accepted the responsibility of protecting her honour, I began to rehearse the means of initiating hand-to-hand combat. I immediately ruled out the option of spontaneously and silently punching my opponent, as the recent media furore over coward punches would have me very reluctant to attack without some kind of warning. So I considered the following:
-Growling. I was initially quite taken by this option, as it evokes a primal, pre-verbal world in which social awkwardness doesn't apply. But a convincing growl would have to emerge organically. Now that I've planned it in advance, I would be self-conscious about the volume, tone and length of my growl. I imagine it would end up coming out like my words; hesitant, preceded by throat-clearing, and with the upward, questioning intonation of most Australians. A growl followed by a question mark is no growl at all; it's Scooby Doo.
-Displaying my fist to my opponent, then looking back and forth between my fist and my opponent, to make it clear that I plan to hit him with it. This sounds good, even gallant, in theory, but it would be difficult to find the right moment to transition from displaying the fist, to hitting my opponent. What's worse, warning him of the punch would be doing him a favour, and it would be such a horrid descent from that fleeting moment of camaraderie into outright aggression.
-Saying, 'Would you like to go me, c*#$!?' I have seen other Australian men initiate fights in this way, so people could not fairly accuse me of failing to follow social norms. But c*#$ is controversial, if not inherently misogynistic. I can't even bring myself to type it, so I doubt I could say it to a stranger. My wife would certainly be offended by its use, even if in the service of her honour.
I considered a few other initiatory phrases:
-'I will now hit you for what you said.'
-'Prepare to be punched.'
-'I hate you!'
-'You'll see what happens to bully boys who tease my wife.'
-'I love my wife very much!'
-'There's nothing wrong with Sophie Ellis-Bextor!'
Each had their strengths, obviously, but not one seemed to strike the right balance between my temperament and the demands of the situation.
I spent an entire day at home brainstorming the appropriate way to start a fight. I desperately invoked the spirits of Socrates and Gandhi. If they were to ever have just had enough, and decided to risk the prospect of public up-toga action by punching someone, what would they have said? I meditated on the question for some time, channelling these intellectual and moral giants. I waited and I waited for inspiration. It was a gruelling and seemingly fruitless endeavour. In despair, I was about to call my wife and tell her that she deserved better than me, but that I would never forget her and that we would always have Sophie Ellis-Bextor, when I found myself shouting, 'Enough is enough!' and realised instantly I had found my battle cry.
The more I reflected on it, the more I saw that 'Enough is enough!' is the perfect way to let a man or large adolescent boy know that you are about to punch him to defend your wife's honour. It is factually accurate, or at the very least, unfalsifiable. It would be a logical fallacy of staggering proportions for your opponent to argue that enough is not enough. 'Enough is enough!' also conveys a sense that the punch you are about to throw is only loosely of your own volition, but really a natural consequence of what a terrible person they've been for calling an innocent woman a bitch, and her innocent husband a bitchfucker. Finally, 'Enough is enough!' evokes a courageous stand for honourable principles, so even if you are badly beaten, it will be as a heroic dissident, not as a pathetic little man who can't protect his wife.
If I did say 'Enough is enough', and my antagonist failed to desist, enough really would be enough. I would probably start with a sideways karate chop to the nose and just hope that whatever happened, my wife would be proud of me.
How to Defend Your Wife's Honour:
-Avoid punching people unless you are physically strong and socially skilled, as fights are fraught with both physical and conversational pitfalls
-As an aside, it is probably best to discuss with your wife in advance what you are comfortable talking about at dinner parties
-If she insists on having her honour defended, shout, 'Enough is enough!' before attacking a man or large adolescent boy
-Karate chops are underutilised in Western street fights, and may therefore be the last thing your opponent expects