Elizabeth Day: Elizabeth Day, My life sounds like Adele’s album

Make-up: Nicky Weir using Vieve. Hair: Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes management using Drybar. Dress, Lisou. Jewellery, Tilly Sveaas

Nicky Weir uses Vieve for make-up. Sven Bayerbach is Carol Hayes’ hairdresser using Drybar. Lisou. Jewellery: Tilly Veaas 

In my 20s and 30, I was struck by a strange cultural phenomenon. One night, I was at dinner with several men and women. The group would have dinner together and share gossip, thoughts, and information about the current events. I may also make jokes during this time. Although I knew it was a great joke, nobody heard.

Then, a few seconds later, a man – and it was always a man – would repeat exactly the same joke I’d made. He’d be greeted with a guffawing round of appreciative laughter. His head would be patted. He’d be loudly applauded for his humour and quick wit. He would be silently groaning over his chicken paillard.

I’ve got a name for these men. They are the ‘he-peaters’. I had one ex that did it all to me. If he reads this, he’ll recognise himself immediately because it got so bad that I began to pick him up on it – politely, of course, and under my breath so as not to embarrass him. As if to make a scene, I tried to alleviate his discomfort but omitted my own.

He’d repeat what I said then be applauded for it 

Women of certain ages have learned to keep peace and behave in this manner. Don’t kick up a fuss in case you trigger a man’s anger and that anger is directed at you. My friend and fellow writer Caroline O’Donoghue said to me recently that she suspected the reason so many women are labelled ‘passive aggressive’ is because our real fury has had to be diverted away from its intended target for fear of provoking male rage. It reminded me of that Margaret Atwood quote: ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’

If you think I’m losing a sense of proportion here, rest assured that I know what I’m talking about. The squalls and unpredictable anger of my he-peating ex were often overwhelming. This was something I struggled to predict and avoided. There have been many instances of men wreaking havoc on women and leading to fatalities, as well as some very sad cases in the papers.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that a he-peater is in the same category as a sexual offender or murderer. And yet there is a sense, isn’t there, in which women denying their own voice so that men can have theirs has created an environment of toxic male entitlement?

Because he-peating isn’t the sole preserve of a matey dinner table. This happens all across America, in schools and offices. The he-peater takes a woman’s answer, idea or strategy, and will repeat it louder and take all credit.

Thankfully, it’s begun to happen less to me. Perhaps I’ve grown in confidence. Perhaps I’ve started having dinner with fewer sexists. I wonder if any presumptive he-peater finds it hard to believe that he might appear in my column.

The other thing that’s changed is that these days I always call it out when I see it. Not in a meek, apologetic voice, but with a direct, clearly enunciated, ‘I just said that and you simply repeated it.’ Most men will laugh it off. Few will apologize. I wonder if it’s because, in the spirit of continued condescension, they think somehow they’ve done me a favour?

Whatever the reason, it’s not good enough. If you witness it happen to you or someone you care about, please let me know. It’s time to press pause on the he-peat button.


This week I’m…

ListeningThe Dropout podcast, which tracks the trials of Elizabeth Holmes (disgraced chief executive at health-tech company)

AccessorizingJones Road is Bobbi Brown’s new eyeshadow brand, Just a Sec. 

 ReadingBecky Brown compiles Blitz Spirit: fascinating Mass Observation Archive diary from the homefront.