After an hour or so of chatting, drinking and having the odd dance, T. asked me why all the men were standing in one area (where the drinks were) while all the women were sitting down in another. She also wondered why after I'd introduced her to my old mates none of them addressed any remarks to her, barely looking at her, just sneaking the odd surreptitious look. My brother's partner said she'd had the same experience.
I really hadn't noticed. The behaviour seemed normal to me in this context. But I realised it was highly unusual in other contexts - that of university or London, for instance.
But why? I joked that they were probably scared I'd punch them if they showed too much interest in my missus. But then, I reflected later, was there some truth in this light-hearted remark?
I began to speculate anthropologically. Might it be that, consciously or otherwise, women in this arena were perceived as highly sexual and potentially very promiscuous beings? Men, on the other hand, might be perceived as constantly on the hunt for sex, a perennial mission which was usually uppermost in their minds.
As a consequence, for a male to interact with an attached female in full view of her partner could likely be construed as a sexual challenge and an act of great disrespect. And the fear would be that showing an interest, with all that implied, would provoke violent retaliation. So men generally didn't dare address the female half of a couple.
Probably patronising bollocks. Perhaps my friends were just shy? Perhaps it was an understandable reaction to a pretty, and obviously well-educated and posh outsider? But then why the clearly visible sexual segregation that would have been there with or without the presence of the female strangers? In any event, my wife still sometimes makes mention of the Cotswold Taleban.