Wolf-whistling: not flattered

// 27 January 2011

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According to an MSN story, women secretly love street harassment. Fiona H Halliday is exasperated

streetharassment.jpgSigning into MSN to read my email the other day, an annoying window popped up telling me what rubbish I could read on MSN. Doubtless these articles are mostly always nonsense, but I was shamefully intrigued by ‘Secrets girls don’t want guys to know’. I have no idea what I was expecting but what I found was absolutely incredible, and definitely not in a good way.

I had read no more than the first point before I was completely stunned and couldn’t believe what I was reading:

1.When we get whistled at in the street, we feel uncomfortable and we’ll always tut and roll our eyes. But we’re awesomely flattered and we’d be gutted if it stopped.

‘We’ of course, relates to women – and women are all the same, aren’t they? According to this story, women are formulaic and can be summed up in a few points which all relate to them being selfish little girls pining for male attention.

Perhaps I’m speaking out of turn when I disagree: I think that being wolf-whistled at by anyone in the street is degrading, annoying and humiliating. Doesn’t everybody have the right to walk down a street without being viewed as a piece of meat?

Those that argue that it’s a compliment ought to think about what is being complimented and why they value a random person’s perceived opinion.

In my experience, this usually occurs when I am walking alone and the wolf-whistler will be in a pack, surely an indication that the ritual is related to exerting a show of power to the rest of a group?

Tried reasoning with a wolf whistler? Tried ignoring them? Abuse tends to be the response.

I acknowledge that wolf-whistling is in itself a very tiny blip on the landscape of issues which serve to denote a patriarchal and sexist society; it can be ignored and you can let it go. However, it is the way in which the author presents women’s apparent appreciation of wolf-whistling that worries me. It is that old cliché of women say one thing, they mean another. Women say no, but they really mean yes. And that any male attention is and should be valued by women.

I’m aware that the analogy I am making is a little extreme, but surely the little things condoning that sort of attitude allow it to continue. This builds up and leads to disregarding women’s opinions and thus condone much bigger, obvious issues such as rape.

The ‘article’ in question is also an advert for match.com therefore obviously shouldn’t be taken seriously as a piece of journalism with integrity, in fact after reading the rest of the ‘points’ it could be viewed as quite an interesting parody and joke (although unfortunately I think it really is meant to read as being insightful). The problem is, as it was promoted on MSN, which has a massive audience due to the number of Hotmail users, it has been given a huge platform with which to parade this chauvinistic attitude towards women.

Photo of sign on a lamp post by a New York subway station, reading: “Do you think women like to be whistled at, groped, harassed and abused? Think again”, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license by airmoore

Comments From You

Blue-eyed // Posted 27 January 2011 at 3:47 pm

I recently got into a conversation with someone which started out with discussing whistling (I’d never actually met someone who didn’t think whistling at women was harassment before) and continued to whether or not approaching a woman on the street was acceptable.

I found it really interesting (also: annoying) that the man I was speaking to could not understand that women were not walking down the street for his entertainment and their right to walk down the street uninterrupted trumped his right to start a conversation with them.

Tripod // Posted 27 January 2011 at 3:54 pm

“It is that old cliché of women say one thing, they mean another. Women say no, but they really mean yes.”

That’s actually rather terrifying when you consider that it translates to a sexist society as the presumption that half the population act in wilful, permanent doublethink. WTF?

Jane // Posted 27 January 2011 at 3:55 pm

I complained to MSN Him last week about the sexism and patronising insults in this article (http://him.uk.msn.com/sex-and-dating/articles.aspx?cp-documentid=155889273) and got this response:

“Many thanks for taking the time to get in touch with us here at MSN Him about our recent piece, ‘The places where women outnumber men’. I am the editor of MSN Him and read your e-mail with concern. We received a huge amount of interest in this story and received a great deal of positive feedback but are extremely sorry to learn you were unhappy with some aspects of the content.

We use a wide range of freelancers to provide several editorial voices on the site and hope to reflect the different views of both writers and, more importantly, our audience. Whilst I do not agree with the author’s take on the subject, the piece was intended as a light-hearted take on statistics – an ordinarily dry subject – and an escapist ‘lift’ in the darker days of January. It was of course not intended to discriminate, nor demean any particular group.

I will convey your disappointment to the writer and will look again at our commissioning and editorial procedures to see where improvements can be made in light of your concerns.”

Alexandria Web // Posted 27 January 2011 at 4:16 pm

@Jane, that’s pretty much a copy pasted response, I’ve had that a few times so I stopped bothering.

I have to not read MSN, because everytime I do I want to punch the screen, they’re so damn sexist.

It’s not just in the relationships section ever, try reading the gaming section, they seem to think video games are a guy thing.

They did an article on games that will ruin you relationships a while back and the only time women were mentioned were as the nagging partner trying to stop her boy toy playing games all day *facepalm*

Jane // Posted 27 January 2011 at 4:20 pm

@AW Oh (sighs). Thanks for letting me know. I didn’t think I was special or had got through to them, just hoped someone had read my email. That whole website is unacceptable, though. ‘The 8 Best Ways to Dump Your Girlfriend’, ‘Why Men Are Better Than Women’ etc etc.

Cheryll // Posted 27 January 2011 at 4:58 pm

That MSN story got it spot on, didn’t it? Yes indeed. Because I was oh-so-flattered the time I had to beg that dude to stop following me. And OF COURSE I was pleased when one guy said to his friends “look at the size of ’em puppies” while staring at my chest. And I was absolutely *thrilled* with the guy with the who said “fat pu**y gyal” to me as I walked down the street. That gross-ness I felt afterwards REALLY made my day, and the fact that those words were a compliment in his eyes made it all the more special. Yep, I would SO be “gutted” if all of that stopped – who wouldn’t be?

sohcahtoa // Posted 27 January 2011 at 7:31 pm

I’ve spent a lot of time recently in France, where there is also a big problem (as in most places). But while there is open harrassment and various horror stories of people being followed home etc., what I’ve found to be more common is a come-on delivered in a normal tone of voice by a man to a woman he happens to walk past, or a muttered sexist/obscene comment by someone in the street. Arguably, wolf-whistling, by being loud and drawing attention towards itself, tries to seem amusing and not too serious (as I’m sure it seems to those who do it). But when men harrass women so routinely (and subtly – if you turned round and shouted at them no one would know why) I dread to think what that says about gender relations.

The Nerd // Posted 27 January 2011 at 7:44 pm

I recall when this MSN PoS came out a year ago. I wrote a line-item response to it, and renamed it to the more appropriate title: 53 “facts” this woman invented in order to help her story make the front page of MSN.

Kelly // Posted 28 January 2011 at 7:07 am

There’s NEVER been a time where there’s no misogyny on the MSN homepage.

seriously MSN home is so fricken woman-hating. . really wish I didn’t have hotmail accounts.

sianushka // Posted 28 January 2011 at 9:09 am

i got shouted at by some guys on my way to work this morning. my stony face and fury was of course actually me twirling my hair in delight and fluttering my eyelashes going ‘ooh! aren’t i pretty! aren’t i a lovely object’.

it certainly wasn’t me feeling degraded, humiliated and absolutely fucking furious.

Vicky // Posted 28 January 2011 at 12:27 pm

Several years ago, as I was waiting to cross the street, I caught sight of two guys approaching from the corner of my eye. For some reason I felt immediately uncomfortable. I don’t know why. I told myself to calm down: “Here are two ordinary passers-by, what are you worried about?” As they passed me, one of them reached out, squeezed my backside two or three times appraisingly, said, “You’ve got a good bum there, love,” and carried on chatting to his friend, as though squeezing an underage teenage girl’s backside is a part of his everyday routine. I was frozen. I didn’t know what to say, what to do. I just stood gawping after them. The man who had groped me turned round, saw me watching, and grinned back, apparently under the impression that I was about to swoon with delight at the experience. I felt horrible for the rest of the day. I couldn’t get the sensation of his hands off me. I felt disgusting.

Wolf-whistles are in the same category. They may not be physically invasive, but they convey the same spirit: “I have got the right to judge you on your sex appeal and you should be flattered to get my good opinion.” Even worse are the car horn fanfares and the obscene ‘flatteries’ yelled from car windows. They make me feel seriously intimidated.

Fiona H Halliday // Posted 28 January 2011 at 6:14 pm

@Tripod…just to clarify, I wasn’t agreeing with the cliche. And I think you’ve got it spot on, it is terrifying.

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