Pass Me the Sugar, Sweetie!

Why do we refer to one another as Dessert?

Joanne Harris, one of my favourite authors – despite the fact that her public rants about this, that and the price of fish, go so far against the grain of my Law of Attraction beliefs that they are sometimes impossible to read – has another bee in her bonnet!

This time it’s a bit of a honey bee. And it’s about the way ‘men refer to women as food’.

*You can read her short but very sweet (for it is loaded with saccharine-based evidence) blog post here.*

I tweeted Joanne, because I wanted some clarification. You see in this household, my husband and I BOTH refer to each other (privately, and probably a little too often publicly) as ‘Sweetie’. Always have done, probably always will do. We just never use one another’s full names. Perhaps that’s because they are long and laborious. Perhaps it’s because we feel like we’re being taken back to childhood reprimands when one or the other of us uses our elongated titles? Hey, I don’t know. But the fact is, Joanne’s declaration seemed, well, frankly, a little bit off kilter to me.

But she did come back, with this explanation:

“Different dynamic. What people call each other in a loving relationship is very different to random blokes shouting it at you in the street.”

Aha. She had more than a point, for sure.

I guess it’s just been quite a while since I was referred to as a ‘nice slice of Bakewell Tart’ by a group of builders… or any other lone males… or males en-masse, in stereotypical union, or not.

And thank God for that.

However, call me an odd-ball, but I do actually think of my book characters, male AND female, in terms of food. Who am I kidding? I think of many actual people in terms of food – okay, more accurately, CAKE.

For cake has personality, masculine as well as feminine. It really does. And perhaps it was Harry Eastwood’s gorgeous and equally gorgeously titled cookbook, ‘Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache,’ which reassured me I was far from alone. In it, Harry does the very opposite, anthropomorphising her cake so it feels like we are quite literally baking real people, with stunning effect.

Yet cake is sweet. And this is the very thing Joanne is pleading (with men in particular) to stop calling women; to stop referring to them as any variety of treacly, syrupy, stevia-based ‘goodies’ via their language; to stop implying the female of the species are to be consumed.

But is it so very strange after all to use the sweet reference point of a Battenburg… or a Jaffa Cake… or a Flapjack… or a Shortbread… or a collapsed Souffle when it comes to crediting characters with their traits, or remarking upon their appearances? I do it all throughout ‘Oh What A Pavlova!’, my debut novel, and I certainly don’t go sparingly on the guys:

“It was then that I realised I had my arms around a croque-em-bouche, a rich tower of haute couture, the height of which was simply too majestic for a girl like me to scale.”

“I sometimes wondered how I could ever have mistaken Daniel for Black Forest Gateau when we’d first met. He was Marble Cake through and through; tumultuous, twisted, and wholly unpredictable.”

Even Joanne herself touches upon this in at least one of her books, with a baby resembling a melon. And others sporting raisin-like eyes or doughy skin.

Of course, I am no match for her quick quips, writing talent, or wit. And she would probably set me straight by telling me that none of these are quite as ‘consumable’ as, well, a tarte. And that’s fair enough.

I guess all I am trying to say in a very going-off-at-tangents-roundabout-kind-of-a-way is: why not get playful with our language and sweeten things up? As long as we are not crossing politically incorrect lines (including being downright sexist), that goes without saying. But do we really need to go as far as to ban men from referring to women as anything remotely dusted with icing sugar? If that’s the case then writers like myself – who just have to get their foodie fixes into their novels by hook or by crook – will end up with rather lopsided tales where only the men are being likened to brioche or ice cream flavours or cocktails.

And in that case – and going completely off the foodie subject (just for five minutes) – I’d hate to witness Joanne hop on a West Country bus, where, okay, not so much ‘Sweetie’, but ‘My Luvvie’ would be order of the day from any number of male (and female) bus drivers, token offering of Clotted Cream Fudge sometimes even thrown into the mix. Because they’re friendly. Not friendly as in expecting to bag themselves a date, but friendly as in kind, considerate, nice.

Life can be as serious as we like, or, indeed, we can choose not to rise to the unavoidable stereotypes of our language, give as good as we get if we’re a woman on the receiving end of too much saccharine talk, and fling some of these references back at the men to even out the score. But one thing IS for sure: when we fight it, we only attract more of it.

I mean, what woman hasn’t referred to a guy as a ‘total and utter bloody donut’ anyway?

Food (even the sweet stuff) can make a wonderful reference point in our writing. It’s human nature after all to give everything a benchmark, to make analogies. We couldn’t stop it if we tried. But when we invent too many unnecessary rules, that’s when the wonder is extracted from creation, the plug pulled on our inspiration… and we spend our days walking on egg shells.

Far better we bounce on Victoria Sponge!

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