Is it OK to call someone a ‘big girl’s blouse’?

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Media caption“Call an election, you great big girl’s blouse”

Boris Johnson called Jeremy Corbyn a “great big girl’s blouse” in Parliament on Wednesday. In response, a reporter tried to present the Labour leader with a pink floral shirt outside his home on Thursday morning.

But where does the phrase come from and do critics have a point in branding it a sexist slur?

On the Urban Dictionary the definition of a “big girl’s blouse” is “a wimpy, emasculated and weak man” who complains too much.

On Twitter, Mr Johnson has been called a “misogynistic womble” for using the “outdated” phrase – and has been accused of “diminishing political discourse with gendered bravado“.

Some members of the LGBT community have said the phrase was “more homophobic than straight-up sexist”.

But others felt the critics were “trying too hard to find mud to sling” and urged people to focus on “things that really matter” – such as resolving the Brexit impasse.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Mr Corbyn’s aide prevented a journalist from the Sun from handing him a vibrant blouse outside his home

According to Google Ngrams – which shows trends of phrases in a corpus of books as far back as the year 1800 – the phrase began to be used by the British in the 1970s.

Historian and author Catherine Curzon said she believes the phrase garnered popularity after it was adopted by actor Hylda Baker in the sitcom Nearest and Dearest in the late 1960s.

“I believe [Baker] said it to a man who was wimping out of something,” Ms Curzon said. “It became a bit of a catchphrase… something that she’d trot out and she’d get a big laugh,” she said.

“Some of the things that were catchphrases, you probably wouldn’t put in a modern comedy,” Ms Curzon added. “I think it is sexist in that way anything associated with a girl is insulting by implication – such as ‘you fight like a girl’, or ‘you run like a girl’.”

Image copyright TGA mobility
Image caption Dr Hannah Barham-Brown says social media can be a good tool for calling out offensive comments

Dr Hannah Barham-Brown, a member of the Women’s Equality Party, said Mr Johnson’s comments were “emblematic of the fact that we’ve been systemically ignored throughout the Brexit debate”.

She drew attention to a study by Women for a People’s Vote which suggested 90% of speaking time in three Parliamentary debates on Brexit had been taken up by men.

“While the prime minister might just think ‘big girl’s blouse’ is a funny jibe, and others may agree, I think actually it’s symptomatic of a far darker, systematic ignoring of women,” she said.

Dr Barham-Brown has launched the hashtag #BigGirlsBlouse on Twitter to encourage people to share achievements they have made while wearing a “big girl’s blouse”.

“We need to be calling comments like this out more,” she said.

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