Now the men aren't allowed wink at us

Patricia Feehily

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Patricia Feehily

Now the men aren't allowed wink at us

A NOD is as good as a wink to a blind horse, or so we always thought. But it’s a brave man indeed who would dare to wink at a woman now for fear of arousing the ire of the feminists or of sending the object of the wink into a state of deep distress for which extensive counselling might well have to be prescribed.

Anyone would think that we really are the weaker sex, the way we sometimes carry on. By all accounts, a wink could nearly floor us now so fragile have we become.

Winking, more often than not, is undoubtedly a flirtatious gesture, but it’s hardly a crime. Yet people are no longer prepared to risk a wink in case the message might be interpreted as an unprovoked attack on a vulnerable woman, or man for that matter.

Now, before I delve into the art of winking, let me say that I don’t, in any way, want to diminish the trauma of sexual harassment suffered by women either at work or in any other sphere of life, but I don’t think that a wink ever harmed anyone. If it’s an unwelcome gesture, then all you have to do is to glare at the perpetrator. Better still, you could ignore it.

But while on the subject of sexual harassment, I do think that actress Catherine Deneuve had a pertinent point in her attempt to rein in the extremists of the ‘#me too’ campaign. Some of us, believe it or not, would still prefer to deal more directly with inappropriate behaviour by returning it with even less appropriate behaviour - like a good old smack in the face. We’re not as fragile as we look and surely we’ve now gone beyond the stage of thinking that we have to curry favour with a male boss if we want to climb the ladder. Anyway, who would even want to climb a ladder with a predator at their heels?

The relentless advance of political correctness, however, means that the wink is in danger of being wiped permanently off the face of mankind. I have an uneasy feeling that if we don’t stop hounding the opposite sex they won’t even look at us anymore, not to talk of winking at us, and life won’t ever again be as colourful or as friendly.

This week’s column, if you haven’t already guessed, is not about sexual harassment at all. It’s purely about winking, a subject that has always fascinated me, maybe because I come from the nod and wink generation of political skulduggery, and from a time when we all spoke, or at least understood, what Kavanagh so charmingly described as, ‘the wink-and-elbow language of delight’.

Shakespeare used the wink in several of his plays, most notably in ‘A Winter’s Tale’, but I’m not learned enough to be able to tell you whether it was in the context of flirting or conspiracy. All I’m saying is that the wink has a definite literary pedigree.

Unfortunately, winking, especially at a member of the opposite sex, is now every bit as politically incorrect as the wolf whistle, and maybe even more dangerous. It’s certainly a long time since anyone winked at ME, which I thought had more to do with the ageing process than with the arrival of political correctness or the evolution of more subtle forms of non-verbal communication. Not that there was ever anything subtle about the wink. Any time anyone ever winked at me in the past, I felt like a conspirator and blushed so furiously that even the winker himself became visibly alarmed. Then last week I got a message from an old school friend telling that a recent column had evoked fond memories for him, but he thought that I had exaggerated some of the detail. Me exaggerate? Never! My memory has a life of its own: that’s all.

Anyway, I texted back to say thanks and concluded with an emoji I found on the phone which I thought was a smiley face, but which, when I finally viewed it with my specs on, was actually a most sinister looking winking face.

“What the hell was that?” he texted back.

“A Ballistic missile,” I was tempted to reply. It was the first time I had ever winked at anyone and even if it was completely accidental and purely technological, I wasn’t one bit happy with the rebuff.

I don’t know when humans first started winking at each other, if it wasn’t when Eve handed the apple to Adam. All I know is that is takes a certain amount of facial muscle control to produce a convincing wink.

There’s a lot more to the gesture than blinking one eye rapidly or slowly as the case may be. You have to be very careful to ensure that one side of your mouth doesn’t open involuntarily at the same time, making you look like Popeye on a particularly good spinach day, as happened once to Barrack Obama.

Some people can’t do it at all: others can’t stop doing it – or at least they couldn’t stop until now, when winking is being socially frowned upon. Admittedly, it was already going out of fashion a decade ago when George Bush threw protocol to the winds and winked at the Queen, who apparently was not a bit amused. If Donald Trump did that now, he’d be impeached, if not guillotined.

In China, winking is considered highly offensive and nobody has been able to tell me why, but it has nothing to do with political correctness. In Canada it’s considered a sign of friendship and bonhomie – so long as the recipient isn’t a vulnerable female. Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny had a reputation for winking even though he just crinkled his eyes when he smiled. Dev, on the other hand, managed to keep a straight face through one of the most notorious ‘nod and wink’ periods of our history.

Now, it looks as if we’re all going to have to face life and whatever it may throw at us without even batting an eyelid.