Celia Imrie's wolf-whistling comment misses the point

Mar 5, 2015 at 5:27 a.m. ET
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Celia Imrie is a fine, fine actress. But we're sorry — she's got it totally wrong about catcalling.

Speaking to Glamour magazine, the 62-year-old star of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel said: "I'm thrilled if I'm whistled at. Of course I am. People have become so moany. I mean, I'm not mad about being called love or dear, but I quite like darling. And really, lighten up everyone. There's enough horribleness in the world."

On the other hand, the award-winning Calendar Girls actress criticised shops for displaying "wall-to-wall pink" girls' clothes and said, "This whole thing of calling little girls 'princesses' is just so terribly wrong.

"Where are the tomboys of our generation? Why are people made to feel their genders so firmly from the beginning?" she asked.

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Well, for starters there are plenty of young tomboys out there (I'm the mum of one). But the thing is these little girls may be the very women who grow up to despise the catcalling Imrie thinks we should all "lighten up" about more than anyone.

The point is plenty of women don't like being catcalled. Some hate it. It makes them feel uncomfortable, objectified, even terrified.

Unfortunately, it seems that Imrie doesn't understand the wider implications of catcalling. During her interview with Glamour, which is published in the April issue of the magazine, she talks about growing up in "a generation that fought for women's rights" and that she thinks it's "outrageous that women are still paid less than men."

But catcalling and the gender pay gap are closely connected (along with, I would suggest, calling little girls "princesses" who don't want to be princesses and encouraging them to wear pink and play with dolls if that's not what they are naturally drawn towards).

By suggesting that women should stop complaining about catcalling we are reinforcing the notion that it's perfectly acceptable for a man to comment on a woman's body. Which contributes to the sexist belief that a woman should be valued, first and foremost, for the way she looks, while a man should be valued for how he acts and what he thinks.

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Those of us — women and men — who believe in gender equality need to keep telling everyone else that catcalling is not acceptable. It's the only way to be taken seriously about any issues concerning women's rights.

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