To be wolf whistled is not about you.

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On the radio this morning I heard the news that two
young girls in New Delhi, one fourteen years old and the other fifteen, were
found in their village hanged from a tree after they had been gang raped. 
It’s hard to understand the minds of men who could do such a thing to two young girls.  
I refuse simply to dismiss it as a function of the culture of New Delhi with its high incidence of sexual assault on women, in a place where women are considered inferior, and of no intrinsic value in the
eyes of men, except as commodities. 
It puts me in mind of an article I read recently where a
young woman in America, Estelle Tang describes her experience of being wolf whistled and
worse still of having her bottom slapped as she ran through a park during one
of her exercise routines.  
Her first
impulse was to run back home and hide herself away. 
Here in Australia, one of my daughters reports a similar
experience.  She was jogging along
a shared cyclist/pedestrian path when a man came up behind her on his
bicycle.  Before she could register
what was happening, as he overtook her, he leaned down from his bike and slapped
her hard on the bum.  He then looked
back at her with a leer as he rode away. 
She was left mortified, ashamed and enraged all rolled into one.  
Her impulse, too, was to hide.  She stopped jogging and took herself
home.
What is it then with these men, that they see fit to
invade another’s personal space with such careless disregard.
Before I heard the news of the two girls in New Delhi, I
had a conversation with my youngest daughter.  We had talked about these things before, about how strange it is that
when I was young, some forty years ago, I considered a man’s wolf whistle to be a
compliment, however uncomfortable it made me feel.
‘How can that be a compliment,’ my daughter said.  ‘To be wolf whistled is not about
you.  It’s not even about
your body.  It’s about the fact
that you’re a woman.  A woman walks down the street and certain men believe it’s fine to pass judgment on her without so
much as an invitation.’
I’ve begun to re-think my reading of The First Stone,
Helen Garner’s book about two young women at Ormond College at the University of
Melbourne who went to the police after one of the masters at the college
had fondled the breasts of one of the girls.  
In the book, Helen Garner in her usual
brilliant writing style, ponders her own reaction to these two women’s response
to what had happened. 
After I readit, I was left with a sense that
Garner believed the two young women had over reacted.  And I was then inclined to agree with her.  They should have taken it less
seriously, brushed it aside perhaps.  
I cannot do justice to the book here, but I recognise my own
re-think.  
We must not brush these
things aside.  They are the tip of
the iceberg, the thin edge of the edge. 
I wonder whether Helen Garner is re-thinking it, too. 
These events, the brutal murder of two school age girls in
New Delhi – though whether they were at school, able to get an education, I do
not know –  and the assaults on
young women in Melbourne, Australia, in America and elsewhere, are on a
continuum. 
And then I worry for the men who live in a world in which
such behavior is almost expected. 
How are they to rise against it?
Once again I find myself wishing I were a man.  I’d start up a campaign to get the men
thinking. 
I recognize there are many men who respect and love women and
who are appalled at all this domestic violence and sexual assault.  What can they do to stop this? 
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3 Comments on To be wolf whistled is not about you.

  1. Jim Murdoch
    May 31, 2014 at 11:06 am (3 years ago)

    I don’t think I’ve ever wolf-whistled at anyone. The bird does but I didn’t teach him; he came to us that way and I have to say his sense of timing is wonderful and often a cause of much hilarity especially when he puts on his what-did-I-do? face straight afterwards. Sometimes when he does it I’ll respond and we have a wee exchange which can be fun for a bit but he usually starts improvising and heads off in directions I can only dream of following.

    The objectification of women is a thorny subject and it’s easy to make men the bad guys. I wrote a poem about this a while back:

          I Spy

          You shouldn't look at women's chests;
                 they mind if you look.
          They know you can see
                 but you're not supposed to look.

          But you're allowed to notice;
                 they expect you to notice.

          It's hard to see why you can't look
                 at what you've just seen
                 but those are the rules
                 even though they don't make sense.

          21 October 1997

    My personal experience with women is that I usually get it wrong. I don’t pay attention to them when they want me to and do when they’re not interested. At least I did. Now I’m happily married and glad I don’t have to contend with any of that. If I have one failing it’s that I developed the habit—picked up from my last wife—of calling all women ‘pet’. Only one has ever objected and I stopped but it made me feel bad because no offence was intended; I actually thought I was being affectionate. And, of course, you’re probably going to say: But how can you feel affectionate toward all women? And the answer is very simple: That’s my default setting. You have to work hard for me not to like you.

    Violence I don’t get. I’ve been in fights—hard to grow up in Scotland without getting into a brawl or two—but I’ve only ever defended myself, never set out to hurt anyone and I was brought up to believe that you never hit a girl. So, yes, my dad was sexist but only up to a point. Rape is just one of those things that I don’t get. I understand the mechanics but I don’t get it. I understand why people would do it but I don’t understand how they could do it. Education’s the only answer. People have to become like me where they simply cannot comprehend such an act. I know there are places on this planet where people used to eat other people. I know it happened but I don’t get it. That’s how people need to think about rape, as something that savages used to do.

    Reply
  2. Joanne Noragon
    May 31, 2014 at 1:21 pm (3 years ago)

    My fourteen year old granddaughter had a job last summer at a local family farm with three selling seasons: day lilies, pumpkins and Christmas trees. At the end of the Christmas season I learned she'd been initiated as the best new employee by being put through the tree bailer, a device that puts netting around the tree to compress it. My granddaughter was not raised to understand that is wrong and two years with me has not undone thirteen with her mother. Still working on her self esteem.
    I told the farm owner it could not happen again to any new employee or my granddaughter would not be able to work there. So, my granddaughter is looking for a new job. I've quietly let it be known why she is no longer at the farm, but in this old, six generation community no one seems to object except me, the "foreigner" who arrived thirty years ago. I hope a rising tide of outrage sweeps over this country, but I don't see it starting in this village.

    Reply
  3. Kath Lockett
    June 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm (3 years ago)

    My daughter was appalled at a male classmate who, after she told him for 'joking' about a girl's 'non-existent chest', retorted, "That's what guys do. Get over it."

    I felt a combination of pride at Sapphire's anger and sadness that her classmate felt that his response was an acceptable one.

    Reply

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