Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wolf Whistles

This post by Mo Rocca is all about construction walkers no longer whistling at women in New York city, according to Rocca. The post asks whether women miss those wolf whistles.

Read the comments. Whenever people tell me that this culture is all feminized and that feminazis are in power I take a look at some place like those comments. What you might notice from them is that the discussion proceeds mostly on the terms the initial post set out, terms which specify the attention the construction workers give women as wholly innocent, admiring and complimentary. If women don't like this attention they are either hairy-legged feminazis who wouldn't get wolf whistles in the first place or past their sell-by-date.

I'm exaggerating slightly, because that's the only way to point out what the post does. For instance, Rocca sets the scene by defining construction worker attention as something deeply historic, as a lovely little aspect of our culture which is fast fading away and is it not a pity? There is no attempt to distinguish nice attention from not-so-nice attention, no attempt to ask who has the power of initiative in these little incidents, no questions about the times when a woman might not want the attention of men she doesn't even know. And naturally nothing about that idea that the men feel entitled to publicly comment on women's bodies, because that's how it is.

Well, as a woman who has experienced these historical customs, let me say that it can be fucking annoying. When I go out to get a tooth filled I don't really want to worry about the fact that the dentist's office is right next to a construction site, a site from which men yelled at my friend jogging: "Look at those tits bouncing!" Knowing this means either walking the long way around or bracing oneself for the unwelcome attention.

I walked by the site because I was late for the appointment. I got the attention I feared and then got aggressive attention because "I didn't smile." An "arrogant bitch" I was. So not only did the workers feel entitled to comment on my body, even my response to that comment was predefined.

That was an example of the kind of attention that is annoying and irritating. There is also attention that is quite nice, but that's usually just a pleasant smile or something similar. Then there is the "attention" which consists of walking past a group of men on an otherwise deserted street. Many women feel fear at that "attention".

I wish Rocca had paid a little more attention on the nuances of wolf whistles or even just the meaning of such whistles or their more common verbal alternatives. Is it that the construction workers admire the woman? Or is it that they are dissecting her body parts and expect to be applauded for it?