There was one gag that would come up often in comedies made in the latter half of the 20th century which I never fully understood- the old lady yelling “masher!” at a man and beating him about the head with her purse.
It was hilarious to see a little granny beating a guy with her purse in such a slapstick manner, but the actual reference was lost on me until I read this article by Laura Donovan about "How Women Responded To Catcalling In The Past".
Laura references a book by Kerry Segrave called "Beware The Masher: Sexual Harassment In American Public Places 1880-1930" in her article, which defines a masher as a man who harasses, catcalls or otherwise makes unwanted sexual advances at women.
"just a plain cad. The first article in a gentleman's code is to show all respect to ladies. The masher ignores this unwritten law. He forces his attentions on women to whom he is a stranger ... A masher is a coward too, for he knows that an unescorted can only express her resentment by ignoring him."
The masher discussion is just as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago, but back then women were forced to take the matter into their own hands- by stabbing mashers with hatpins.
The term masher became synonymous with male harassers after it was used in an article describing an incident in which Leoti Blaker stabbed a masher with her hatpin on a New York City stagecoach:
Shortly after she sat down next to him, he kept inching closer to her even as she scooted away for personal space. When he curled his arm around her back, she stabbed him in the arm with her hatpin, maintaining a calm expression all the while. She did not react as the man screamed in pain, and he exited the stagecoach at the next stop.
Blaker added that a man would be "tarred and feathered for daring to insult a woman by such persistent actions" in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where she spent some of her younger years.
Now that catcalling and street harassment has become a hot button issue once again we should dust off that old chestnut of a word and start screaming "MASHER!" whenever