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The wolf-whistle and the police

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf-whistle?

You may already have heard the news story about a 23-year-old woman who called the police after being wolf-whistled at by builders each time she walked past their building site. When I first read the headlines, my thought was ‘Silly cow, wasting police time! That is what builders do!’ I mean, suggestive whistling can be associated with them as much as strong tea and builders’ bum! One of the builders involved even commented later that wolf-whistling is “just part and parcel of the job” and that he only meant to pay her a compliment.

I found it hard to believe that someone would even think of reporting this to the police. However, I was even more amazed to learn that they had actually attended the ‘crime scene’ to question the men responsible and give them a caution. I would have thought that this woman would have got no further than being told curtly on the phone that the police had more important situations to deal with. There is a bit more to this story than first meets the eye though. The woman considered herself to have been sexually harassed by the builders, thereby putting a more serious angle on her complaint. As well as being regularly wolf-whistled at, she had also had to endure some ‘disrespectful comments’ from them. One had allegedly even blocked her way in order to speak to her face to face. She compared the overall experience to being racially abused because it made her feel so humiliated. Is she over-reacting or does she have a point?

Harassment or harmless fun?

Opinions online are very much divided on whether wolf-whistling counts as sexual harassment or not. Some women have said that it is a form of it because it makes them feel very uncomfortable. Others have said that it is not because they are flattered by the compliment. Some older women have even said that they would love to be wolf-whistled at again and that young women should appreciate it while they still can!

Personally, I am on the fence. When I approach evidence of a presence of builders, such as scaffolding and a skip, I often feel a sense of foreboding in anticipation of potential wolf-whistling and leering. Their attention can definitely feel intimidating sometimes, so I will react to them by giving them an annoyed stare. Secretly though, I have to admit that a part of me feels pleased that they think I look sexy! If I am continuing to make the effort to stay in shape and dress nicely, I darn well want a bit of recognition and appreciation! If I get ignored, despite feeling somewhat relieved, I find myself feeling a bit disappointed and question whether this girl has still ‘got it!’

Up until only recently, I always thought of a wolf-whistle as being merely a compliment. Although I am now more aware of the objectification issue, I will give men the benefit of the doubt and still take it as one. If builders do intend whistles to be compliments, I would even go as far as to say that they are in the same league as a woman’s friend or male colleague telling her that she is attractive or sexy. The only real difference is the fact that the random man on the street is a stranger. But then, this is probably why wolf-whistling can be perceived by some as objectifying women. If we have not already formed a relationship with the man in question, it gives the impression that he is thinking of us purely in a sexual way and mentally undressing us as we walk by. This is not helped by the fact that this particular type of whistle can often sound quite vulgar and come across as being a bit neanderthal-like.

In any case, people can tend to generally feel offended if they are expected to respond to non-verbal noises such as whistling and finger-clicking. Maybe some of us women would feel less offended by a builder’s attention if he verbally told us that we look nice instead! What women does not enjoy being politely complimented?

I kind of get the feeling from the Internet that younger women are a lot more likely to be offended by wolf-whistling than older women. Society’s view about the objectification of women is much stronger than it used to be. This means that younger women are likely to be influenced by it more than women like me, who are over 30.

I grew up in a time where people appeared to accept objectifying women as a part of social normality. Even if I suspect that the occasional wolf-whistle I get is more about objectifying me and less about complimenting me, I do not overly concern myself about it. I guess I must still have a lot of that nineties mindset!

The media asks ‘Should wolf-whistling be made a crime?’

In my opinion, no. Britain’s police forces are already stretched due to the budget cuts. It would obviously waste a lot more of their precious time if they had many more cases like this to deal with. People get intimidated and bullied all the time but they find other ways to deal with the issue. If I called out the police every time someone intimidates me in my job, they would get no other work done! Also, as this issue is currently something that is not offensive to every woman, it would be a bit unfair for some men to be punished for their behaviour while others get off scot-free.

Furthermore, where would we draw the line with sexual harassment if relatively harmless wolf-whistling were to be classed as a criminal offence? Would we also feel obliged to call the old bill if we get unwanted attention from a drunk guy in a bar or hear a flirty comment from a work colleague? In that case, someone like an ex-work colleague of mine who often playfully called me ‘sexy tits’ would probably find himself sewing mailbags for five years!

I have noticed a decline of whistling and comments to women in recent years though. Some men are probably more cautious about doing it these days because they know that they are more likely to get a negative reaction. Therefore, I believe that it could eventually phase out and disappear by itself over time. In the meantime, surely it is not serious enough to involve the law.

A poll by The Mirror newspaper asked if its readers would call the police over a wolf-whistle.

9% said yes. 91% said no. 

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