Why wolf whistling shouldn't be a crime

May 1, 2015 at 8:52 a.m. ET
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Wolf whistling is a hot topic right now due to 23-year-old Poppy Smart. The young woman reported a group of builders to the police after being continuously wolf whistled at (amongst other things) for several weeks.

The police took it seriously and the building firm was questioned in what is believed to be the first time police have investigated wolf whistling as a potential crime.

Miss Smart, a digital marketing coordinator, secretly filmed the men whistling at her one morning and handed the video to West Mercia Police, who contacted Worcester-based Fimeca Building and Maintenance and questioned them on suspicion of sexual harassment, reported The Telegraph.

"I wouldn't go up to someone and comment on their race to them; it is the same as sexism and it is rife," said Miss Smart. "It went on for a month. They would actually come out of the building site at the time I walked down the road… When it got so bad I even considered changing my route to work but thought 'why should I do that?'"

"People say it is only wolf whistling but women shouldn't have to deal with it,” she went on. "I think more women should speak out about this behaviour — maybe it will make people think twice. Imagine hearing someone speaking that way to your sister, mother, wife or daughter."

It's reported that the contractors in question were given official warnings by the firm and the investigation was dropped when Miss Smart said she was satisfied with the way the matter had been dealt with internally.

More: Celia Imrie's comment on wolf whistling totally misses the point

I remember feeling uncomfortable in my teenage and student years whenever a guy wolf whistled at me. It doesn't happen so much these days — perhaps because men aren't particularly interested in a thirty-something woman chasing an errant four-year-old down the street or rushing to her car, red-faced and in sweaty gym gear. But if it ever does I tend to react with nothing more than slight surprise and amusement. I don't want to be wolf whistled at, like Loose Women's Coleen Nolan, who finds it sad that builders "don't even look up" any more when she walks past. Many viewers agreed with her that it's flattering to be whistled at by a stranger, while others have accused her of endorsing sexual harassment against women. The mere fact that opinion is so divided on this matter proves that wolf whistling is the perfect example of the fine line between appreciation and intimidation.

I'm absolutely, 100 percent, no-doubts-about-it, a feminist. Unapologetically. I believe in equal rights for men and women. I believe that nobody, male or female, should be subjected to harassment or intimidation by another person, male or female.

I don't believe that wolf whistling, on its own, as an isolated incident, should be considered a crime. However if we're talking about more than the occasional whistle from the top of the scaffolding that's a different story. Clearly this was Miss Smart's experience. She says the men shouted "offensive" comments at her and one stepped in front of her on the pavement one day, blocking her way. She endured this for an entire month before reporting it to the police, which she was right to do.

Even though I don't think wolf whistling should be a crime nor do I brush it off as harmless fun. It's definitely mindless, often insulting, and at the very least a pain in the ass. The key to stopping behaviour like this is to teach boys from a young age that even minor examples of everyday sexism can make women feel humiliated and insulted. We all learn from example.

Ultimately we have to recognise that in most cases a wolf-whistling builder doesn't intend to harm or harass. He probably thinks it's funny or he's acting like the big guy in front of his mates. This man — however annoying, ignorant or ill-educated he may be — shouldn't be treated like a criminal. Some men will feel compelled to whistle at an attractive woman in what they see as a completely non-threatening kind of way, just as some women will nudge their friends and giggle when they spot a hot guy on the street, with absolutely no intention of making him feel like a piece of meat.

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