As Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli fights misogyny, Anand Venkateswaran shops for repartee.

How did Marion Bartoli win the women’s title in Wimbledon? Talent? Or determination and hard work, perhaps? Not even close. She was, according to BBC news presenter John Inverdale, compensating for her lack of looks!

Before Bartoli could take off her tennis shoes to throw at him, Inverdale’s phone imploded under the avalanche of rage from sports fans, women, men, and a chimpanzee who’d figured out how to tweet. Bartoli’s response had dignity and pose, but here’s to some firepower —

Not now. Not ever

If you’re in the mood for knock outs, look for Julia Gillard vs Tony Abbot on YouTube. In the Left corner is Gillard — never been married, doesn’t want children, doesn’t believe in God. And even without those three reservoirs of political rhetoric, she’s Australia’s Prime Minister. The opponent is the Leader of Opposition. Fight. Tony jabs with a typically misogynistic remark. And Gillard, over the next 15 minutes, quotes Tony’s own words and flattens him. In other words, she yanks off his gloves and pummels him with them, beginning with the left hook: “I won’t be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now. Not ever!”

Almost like a man

Edna Ferber was an American novelist and playwright. Her novel, So Big, won the Pulitzer. One would think a string of Broadway hits and bestsellers would do well enough as conversation starters, but not for Noel Coward. Known for his chic and in no small measure, for his cheek, Coward stared at Ferber’s suit and commented, “You look almost like a man.” Years on, we’re not sure if the misogyny bothered Ferber, or the dullness of Coward’s barb, but she swatted it away with a withering, “So do you.” Fencing isn’t for everyone.

Ask a woman

While the everyday girl might throw a punch at the nearest misogynistic face, Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, swung her handbag at ‘Men’ and connected soundly. While her bio is full of quotable quotes, each one saturated with vim, few come close to this classic: “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”

Six inches short

Sania Mirza is easily among the biggest sport icons in India. Grass or clay, she went farther than any of her countrywomen. So it was only fitting that she got an Arjuna Award, a Padma Shree, and a Fatwa. Her on-court fashion earned her that last distinction. For the most part, the Grand-Slam winner parried the controversy away, but when talk about her figure-hugging clothes got too tight, she retorted: “As long as I am winning, people shouldn’t care if my skirt is six inches long or six feet long.” A winner of a repartee.

Freedom? Whose?

While some comebacks put you down, some can lift you up, as Subramania Bharati, firebrand poet in Tamil, found out in Calcutta. There, he met Sister Nivedita, no snowball herself when it came to social reform. When she inquired after Bharati’s wife, the moustached man said, “I don’t take my wife outside. She wouldn’t understand.” Nivedita thundered, “How can one half of a society win freedom when it enslaves the other half?” The rest, as they say, is women’s emancipation history.


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