HE wasn’t anything special physically, possibly even under par – but that could just have been his scruffy garage work uniform. Perhaps he scrubbed up ok in a suit at a mate’s wedding, or even after a shit, a shower and a shave, as blokes are wont to say.
But I would never make an ‘out loud’ judgement specifically directed at him to let he and everyone else within earshot know what I thought of his appearance – beau or bogan.
That would be rude, bullying, arrogant – lord knows I’ve tried to model behavioural traits that contradict these to my two daughters.
I didn’t know the first thing about his personality. He could be someone my mother would love, or a fraudster, or very sensitive about being thrust into the spotlight. So me making an ‘out loud’ physical judgement would only be telling part of his story, a story I didn’t know intimately enough to tell accurately. And it would limit him to one thing only – his appearance. And we all know that’s only skin deep and changeable, depending on the day, the mood, the circumstance, the lighting for gawd’s sake.
So why do some men (or women) find it necessary and acceptable to let a woman (or man), usually a complete stranger, know they look above par…attractive…hot…to them, personally, in a way that also sends a clear message to others with ears in the area?
And are there times, in this politically correct age, when the controversial wolf whistle is acceptable behaviour?
If I’m honest, hearing a stranger wolf whistle me when I was in my mid-teens was sort of thrilling…I may have felt differently had I seen the source of this admiration. It usually came from a passing car. Probably driven by a balding married man with middle-age spread; or a pimply late teen with P Plates on the floor beside a clinking crowd of empty stubbies. The beer bottles, not the shorts…
Somehow in my salad days, those whistles gave me an idea I looked acceptable in a public sense. That I wasn’t embarrassing myself with how I presented my very ordinary appearance. It wasn’t until years later that I realised the wolf whistle said more about the whistler than the whistle-ee. Perhaps those early ‘commenters’ had an inappropriate thing for young girls. **My skin has actually grown legs and is crawling all over itself!**
Inevitably, after a few years of sustained ‘comment’ I began to lose confidence, avoid or fear certain situations and cringe to my very core – my initial thrill had briefly turned to anger before nestling in plain old dread and humiliation.
I was 41-years-old before I stood up for myself, by standing up to my wolf whistler. My daughters were so proud!
As I arrived at my place of work, where I was a senior manager, I would park in the nominated car bay and start the 20m walk to my office’s back door. It was double the distance to the front door and in the rain, it felt triple that on those dark whistle-laden days.
As I made my way to the closest entry point of my workplace, I had to walk up to and past the open roller door of a neighbouring auto mechanic business. Men often stood in the communal access way, having smoko. I would nod and smile politely in greeting. It would be rude not to given I was walking straight past them in a relatively confined space.
This was all very normal and acceptable. Until. The wolf whistle. My eyes dropped straight to the bitumen as I walked more efficiently than ever to the door, willing it to be unlocked so I wouldn’t have to navigate my key into its sticky innards. The relief once I got inside that door was immense. It was a one-off. Incident over.
But no. It became an almost daily occurrence over about two weeks. And the whistler wasn’t shy. He would lean against the outside wall and blatantly make his comment as I came within metres of him. By this time I was worrying about it on the drive to work, I’d shared the story with a couple of close workmates, girlfriends, even my daughters. We all thought this bloke was an absolute tool.
It was making me miserable. I started to ditch the heels and wear flats, hoping to look less ‘womanly’, more homely, or at least less like the siren he thought he should activate.
One morning though, I was in a bad mood, some incident at home, and I was still stewing over it on the drive to work. The perfect storm. My dander was already up.
So I just let him have it, in my own understated, direct fashion.
As the whistle came, I surprised myself by changing direction and heading straight for him.
“Why do you do that?” I asked.
“I thought you liked it,” came his stuttering reply.
“No. I don’t like it at all. It makes me feel really embarrassed. Could you please not do it,” I stated.
“I’m really sorry. I won’t do it again. Sorry,” he blustered, visually shrinking before me.
“That’s ok,” I said, before propelling myself towards my destination and victory!
It never happened again and I’ve shared this story a few times, mainly as a way to subtly let men know women don’t appreciate being singled out with a wolf whistle and to let other women, particularly younger ones, know it’s important to step up sometimes, and say what you really think, without overreacting.
Everyone has agreed with me that this sort of wolf whistle is inappropriate. Except for one person. A former colleague, an English woman in her early 60s who said women should take it as a compliment, and that it was harmless. She said English men often did it and that they weren’t afraid to show their feelings or their appreciation of an attractive woman, unlike Australian men, who were more interested in their cars. While that sounds like a great theory, anecdotally, that is rarely how we are left feeling.
I can think of times I’ve wolf whistled my girlfriends quietly, but in a public forum, like when I’ve discovered them in the same aisle at the supermarket. And the look on their face is always one of embarrassment-slash-annoyance, until they see me. Then we smile and hug. This might be the only time it’s acceptable – among very real friends. When we know the whole story.