Times have changed. Even a wolf-whistle is no longer acceptable

PUBLISHED: 20:54 11 October 2018 | UPDATED: 20:54 11 October 2018

Wolf-whistling - harmless fun or borderline sexual abuse?

Wolf-whistling - harmless fun or borderline sexual abuse?


Is a wolf whistle or flippant comment really a grossly inappropriate act? Nick Conrad says we need to rethink what was once playful banter

We should all be shocked by a survey published this week highlighting the level of abuse that young girls are experiencing.

I was particularly horrified by the age at which this abuse is happening. A young woman on my radio show this week told how she would run home, aged 12, from school because older men would shout lewd remarks towards her. I was horrified!

The charity Plan International says two out of three girls between 14 and 21 have been sexually harassed in public. There is no excuse for this behaviour, however what is truly shocking - a good proportion of the victims had been wearing school uniform at the time of the abuse. Do we need to get better at calling out this cruel and nasty behaviour? Overwhelmingly interaction to my show appeared to suggest the age was the defining factor. Surprisingly, whilst you condemned woolf-whistling a youngster, (quite right too) you lot are far more tolerant if it happens to an older women?

I condemned this behaviour. I’m not just being politically correct. Catcalling is derogatory and out dated. However I was surprisingly met with two critics. My wife was wolf-whistled by some lads in a flatbed truck whilst putting the kids in the car in Overstrand last week. She claimed she was thrilled. My mother-in-law (jokingly) claimed she had been hanging around building sites for years in the hope of being complimented by the shrill sound of a builder’s pursed lips. Maybe with age you become a little more resilient to the jibes, but for the women in my life, tolerance shouldn’t excuse those who act in this way.

So is age key here? That was the common view from listeners to my BBC Radio Norfolk breakfast show. Many wanted to question what constitutes abuse. Is a wolf whistle or flippant comment really a grossly inappropriate act? Can we really class this as violence? On the face of it I agree that it appears ludicrous to even compare a remark or catcall with the abhorrent crimes filed under ‘sexual abuse.’ But campaigners make a compelling case in arguing the acceptance of one can create a culture where the other becomes, sadly, more prevalent. So I disagree with both my wife and mother-in-law and think we should refrain from such guttural behaviour.

I have never wolf-whistled at a woman. Why would you? I accept this was once seen as acceptable and complimentary, however times change. But this works two ways…

At a party I attended recently I was involved in a jovial conversation with a group of women. One middle-aged friend became very animated when discussing the ‘hunk’ Tom Hardy’s appearance on CBeebies. The film star had been on the TV channel reading ‘Bedtime Story.’

“Oooh if he stepped over my threshold he wouldn’t get out alive…” My excited friend remarked. This comment drew hearty chuckles. I laughed, and then groaned. Any man saying this would be roundly chastised.

I wasn’t offended.

I understood the context. Maybe the time has come for a truly equal playing field – women and men equally careful of what we are prepared to say? Maybe we should challenge our behaviour. I love a bawdy joke, a raunchy raconteur or a vulgar anecdote…but I’m now more careful about where, and with whom I indulge.

A caller recently told how he became embroiled in a heated debate with his wife after he complimented a female friend on her dress. Another claimed he was chastised for holding a door open for a woman. I’m irritated that chivalry can be dressed up as chauvinism? I don’t hold the door open for women. I hold the door open for women and men. I want to assist someone regardless of their gender.

Sexism and sexual abuse is destructive and regressive behaviour. It has a real impact on victims, shattering confidence with a potentially long-term impact. The fact this is happening in our formative years can be hugely problematic. Misogyny is the enemy of man. Misandry is equally destructive. I concede we live in an age where over-sensitivity has stifled debate and restricted previously liberated thinkers. This worries me having witnessed people becoming tongue-tied, too frightened to appear out of kilter with the vox populi.

However the oral red-tape is hopefully eroding the causal sexism and unwanted and never warranted lecherous behaviour of a handful of dinosaurs who still believe it’s their right to vent their ‘appreciation’ of the opposite sex with racy remarks and tasteless taunts- or worse - wandering hands. And I count men and women in the description above.

We’ve come on leaps and bounds since the 1960s. By challenging prejudice we slowly move towards a time where the colour of someone’s skin, sexuality, nationality, faith or gender should never be a barrier to their success. We should all be happy to make sacrifices and modify our behaviour in the pursuit of what once appeared an almost utopian goal.

Times have changed and I largely rejoice in this.

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