A 21st century tale
By Eve’s Rib
6: THE WORM TURNS
Leo spent the next day scrubbing, ironing, washing and hoovering. The house had never been so clean. At lunchtime he watched an old movie set in Edwardian times. He liked watching the women tottering anxiously in their picturesque gowns — they were quaint, decorative, and unthreatening, and he felt a tug in his heart for that manly world. At one point there was a hunting party, and the women were fluttering at the back in their white frocks, offering a giggling ripple of applause as their strapping menfolk roared off shots at startled wildfowl. It made a nice change: it was hardly possible to see a woman on TV any more without her behaving like some oestrogen-fuelled Bruce Willis. The images of strong women and inadequate men which at one time had seemed a reasonable response to centuries of sexism had become mainstream, even compulsory. When the film was over the next programme confronted him with a man in a polka-dot shirtwaister brightly explaining how to cook a sponge.
How did they tear us down? he wondered with a nostalgic tug. Men used to be grandiose and heroic. And now we pull on our slips, zip up our dresses and hurry out to take in the washing, puzzled and confused at what’s happened to us. Why didn’t we stop it?
Failing to find an answer, he went shopping and made Gina’s favourite chicken roast in gorgonzola sauce.
When Gina came home he was darning a little hole in her jeans pocket — a skill she had taught him and subsequently refused to practice herself. He didn’t know she had arrived until he felt her lean over from behind and put her hands on his shoulders.
“My little househusband,” she laughed. She was smiling, and looking at him with patronising affection. Oh, she knows, thought Leo bitterly; she knows she’s got me where she wants me.
Gina wrapped her arms tightly around him. “God, Leo, I am so sorry for being such a tyrannical bitch yesterday,” she groaned. “I had such a stressful day at work, you see. It was terribly unfair. Do you forgive me?”
“Yeah, yeah, forget it.”
“Because I had a much better day today.” She sat down tentatively on the sofa beside him. “The reps from ClareCo were in the office today. You know, this company that is so important? We’ve arranged to have dinner.”
“At my place,” Gina went on. “Here. In three weeks. They’re looking forward to your cooking. I thought maybe...” All of a sudden she was shy and coy like a little girl, reverting to a more familiar Gina that he had known when they first met. How charming she could be! “The thing is, Leo, these are very important women who may be about to negotiate a merger with my company. If I play my cards right, I could double my salary. This dinner is business. What I was wondering...”
Whatever had come over her? She was creeping up to something almost apologetically.
“If you want me to cook, I’ll cook.”
“No, it’s more than that. I have to prove myself.”
“I’m sure you will, Gina, you’re a top employee.”
She sighed. “OK, I’ll be blunt. This is a test, Leo. These are powerful women who employ hundreds of people. They’ll want to see that I’m in charge in my own house — that my husband knows who wears the trousers. So it means I’d be very grateful if you would wear a dress. Oh,” she added hastily, “don’t be scandalised! It’s just for that evening!”
“Eh?” said Leo. “What’s this?”
“I’m sorry, I know it’s not your thing, but this is a special event, you know? It has to be done properly.”
Leo remembered Trigger’s inimitable warning: Once you let them castrate you, you’ll never get your balls back. He realised that he had been fearing this moment for months.
“Aw, I dunno, sweetheart, you’re good enough to win them over without that sort of thing. You know it’s bloody embarrassing for a bloke...”
“Not nowadays it isn’t. Quite the opposite. Come on, you might enjoy it.”
“No way, Gina, forget it.”
She sat back and frowned coldly. “Thanks a lot! I have one of the most important events of my career and want to make it a success, and you won’t even help me by a change of clothes. As if you don’t see men in dresses every time you go down the high street these days!”
“Gina, I know, but I ain’t bloody Brian —”
“Who pays the rent round here? Who pays the bills? Who keeps you very comfortably, thank you very much?”
Leo hesitated. It did seem ungrateful.
“It’s just for one evening, or so,” Gina pleaded. “I need you to support me in my career. Didn’t I make sacrifices when you were working? They won’t be able to resist you. You’re my secret weapon — my good little househusband.”
God, let this conversation end! “Let me think about it, love, all right? Let’s just leave it for a bit.”
An hour later Gina went out to the pub, and Leo looked up to find her pulling her coat on in the doorway, gazing at him and grinning broadly. Of course, he thought wrathfully as she disappeared down the road. She’s certain I’ll give in. Men cheerfully defer and make do. They don’t complain. He remembered his own diffidence yesterday when Gina was behaving like a despot, and felt ashamed of himself. There was only one thing to do. He rang Trigger.
“Fuck me!” said Trigger when Leo explained. “The world’s going mad, mate! You’ve got to nip this thing in the bud. What’s her bloody job to you? She’s earning plenty already. You’ve got your pride to think of.”
“I’ve got three weeks, Trig, and I dunno how I’m going to get out of it.”
“Come to Men Matter,” Trigger urged him. “We’ve got a great speaker this Saturday. Clyde Rock. He’s a leader of the men’s movement in Canada. You will hear no shit from that man.”