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[Janie when Joe implies she is old]: "Naw, Ah ain’t no young gal no mo’ but den Ah ain’t no old woman neither. Ah reckon Ah looks mah age too. But Ah’m uh woman every inch of me, and Ah know it. Dat’s uh whole lot more’n you kin say. You big-bellies round here and put out a lot of brag, but ‘tain’t nothin’ to it but yo’ big voice. Humph! Talkin’ ‘bout me lookin’ old! When you pull down yo’ britches, you look lak de change uh life." (7.22)
Both Joe and Janie try to get under each other’s skin by attacking each other’s sexuality. Joe, by suggesting Janie has become an old hag, implies that she has lost her characteristic beauty. Janie retorts by directly insulting Joe’s manhood and stripping him of his pride in front of his peers.
Then Joe Starks realized all the meanings and his vanity bled like a flood. Janie had robbed him of his illusion of irresistible maleness that all men cherish, which was terrible. The thing that Saul’s daughter had done to David. But Janie had done worse, she had cast down his empty armor before men and they had laughed, would keep on laughing. When he paraded his possessions hereafter, they would not consider the two together. They’d look with envy at the things and pity the man that owned them. When he sat in judgment it would be the same. Good-for-nothing’s like Dave and Lum and Jim wouldn’t change place with him. For what can excuse a man in the eyes of other men for lack of strength? Raggedy-behind squirts of sixteen and seventeen would be giving him their merciless pity out of their eyes while their mouths said something humble. There was nothing to do in life anymore. Ambition was useless. And the cruel deceit of Janie! Making all that show of humbleness and scorning him all the time! Laughing at him, and now putting the town up to do the same. (7.27)
Janie’s verbal assault on Joe’s manhood is perceived by him as castration, both physically and socially. Because men in this novel associate their sexual prowess with their reputation and worth as a human being, Joe is devastated by Janie’s comment. Interestingly, Janie doesn’t seem to be so diminished by Joe’s nasty comments. This seems to indicate that men care more about their reputations than women. Now, Joe not only refuses to have sex with Janie but also withdraws from society, choosing rather to live alone than be mocked by his peers.
Why must Joe be so mad with her for making him look small when he did it to her all the time? (8.1)
Janie recognizes and laments an unfair double standard: men always put down women and expect them to take it while the reverse does not hold true; women cannot possibly insult their men without drastic and often public consequences. There is a sexual double meaning here, with "small" meaning both Joe’s reputation and his actual manhood.