Great Britain

Why Thomas Markle should stop calling Prince Harry ‘whipped’

Thomas Markle continues to excel when it comes to dignity and sensitivity, as he calls on Prince Harry to “man up”, and jokingly challenges the “candy-ass” royal to a duel. It falls into the “who would win in a fight between a lion and a bear?” category – mighty physical standoffs dreamed up by deranged minds. The kindest thing to do would be to leave him to his duelling imaginings.

But just one quick thing before we go: Markle calls Harry “whipped”, which is usually used as a contraction of “pussy-whipped”. It is not the first time Harry has had this term levelled at him. In an extraordinary graphic worthy of an incel thread on Reddit, the campaign group Leave.EU showed Harry on all fours. Meghan is holding him by a pair reins, and has a high heel on his back for maximum 70s soft-porn effect (the way Facebook warriors seem to like; nobody knows why).

If there’s one thing I hate more than misogynist imagery, it is lazy misogynist imagery. Believed to originate in the late 60s, “pussy-whipped” describes a man so controlled by lust that his wife can make him do whatever she wants, with the threat of denying him sex.

The second, Lysistrata-inspired, element has more or less dropped away, and now the phrase can apply to anyone who appears controlled by a female partner, although “control” can mean simple things, such as “listening to”, or “thinking about”. It is reminiscent of the phrase “wide-on” for female arousal: it repurposes phallic imagery (the hard-on), and, as a result, is not at all vivid or descriptive of the thing it is trying to evoke.

There are plenty of images you could use for the awesome and irresistible power of the vagina, but the whip isn’t one of them. In the patriarchy’s darkest moments, the worst it conceived was teeth up there (known as vagina dentata), not actual tendrils.

So you have a sloppy, subpar metaphor that conjures not the marital power-dynamic but the sloppy, subpar characters of the kind of people for whom the metaphor appeals; people to whom all relationships are zero-sum; always a winner and a loser. If the woman wins, the natural order has been disturbed and the intimacy of equals can only occur between bros. Whatever duel Markle has in mind, I doubt he would win one of words.