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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Street Harassment: wolf whistles and the call of the wild?

In order to feel better about myself, there are lots of things I choose to do. Have a bath. Listen to B*Witched in an attitude of serene defiance and tastelessness. Bother my cat. The list is long, but 'Walk down the street with random men shouting at me' doesn't even figure in the top ten. In fact, it's conspicuous by its absence, even if you get to the barrel-scrapings of life-affirming cod psychology.

I don't walk down the street to boost my self esteem. I walk down the street because I have places to be, I'm generally late and parkour takes more core strength than I will ever have. I can't be that unusual in this, surely? 

Well, with news this week that after a month of harassment, a woman finally snapped and reported a bunch of wolf-whistlers to the police, it would seem that I'm not.

Predictably enough, this decision has not won her universal support. Apparently, some of us just don't speak cat-callese. We should be complimented that someone has taken the time out of their day to make a verbal note of our facial expression / make a suggestive hand gesture / rate our anatomy. Perfectly sensible women sigh wistfully and hark back to the days when they, too, were the recipients of random anatomical praise.

To me, this is really sad. To say that you miss being catcalled implies that you feel a large portion of your worth can be assessed by a half-second glance in the street. Moreover, it implies that you feel this worth diminishes with age and experience. I don't want the women I know to rely on the shouts of strangers in order to feel beautiful.

A wee while ago, I was waiting at a bus stop after an evening out with my friends. Taking up quite a lot of space at this bus stop was a very drunk man. He quickly embarked on a self-appointed mission to raise my self esteem. He told me I was beautiful, that I was a very nice lady. He didn't insult me, or threaten me, or cast aspersions on the credibility of B*Witched as musical artists. But he was LOUD, he invaded my personal space, and he followed me when I tried to back off. I don't think anyone has ever been quite so happy to get on a number 14 bus as I was when the doors eventually hissed open. 

I was quite clearly uncomfortable with the way he was talking to me, and therein lies the rub. In every social interaction, your intention is just 50% of the story. The other 50% lies in the reaction that you get. If you are making someone uncomfortable, you can tell them they are wrong to be uncomfortable with banter, or you can stop doing the thing. Considering other people's feelings before you talk is basic, bambi-level stuff but it still works. I'm not arguing for a world where cat-calling is banned. I'm arguing for a world where Thumper would be happy to walk / hop the streets, where we think of all the humans around us as real people with stories of their own. Stories that might not be enhanced by 'getting your tits out for the lads.' 

For those who want to 'prove their masculinity', there is DIY. For those who want the affirmation of strangers, there's instagram. But these streets are made for walking*, and hopefully one day that's where we'll be. 

I really hoped I could have a post about cat-calling without this pretty furry face sneaking in, but, y'know, I'm weak. 
What do you think? Do wolf whistles make you wild, or do they make you think 'I am not a wolf.'?

*and driving, I suppose.

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