The Sunday Post: Give a Little Whistle

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by Petunia Winegum on May 3, 2015

Many associate the beginning of spring with the first call of the first cuckoo. I myself use a less bucolic method. For me, the season has officially arrived when I receive my first abuse from a passing vehicle, and spring came to my wintry landscape with the year’s most sustained bout of sunshine so far a couple of weeks ago. The abuse can vary from that traditional old chestnut – ‘Get yer ‘air cut!’ – to the relatively recent, but increasingly popular – ‘Weirdo!’

For those of you who have never met me or have yet to come across the odd post in which a snapshot from Petunia’s family album has been excavated, let us just say Phil Mitchell is not my visual role model – more a bit of Bowie with a bit of Wilde (Oscar, not Marty) and a little bit of Faces-era Rod. I’ve endured numerous forms of abuse from strangers since my adolescence, usually of the verbal variety, though there has been the odd occasion when I’ve been spat at from the window of a van as well as had the odd inanimate object hurled in my direction. Not that I would ever do such a thing, but were I to tweet an image of a parked white van it wouldn’t be to sneer at the ‘lower orders’; it’d be more of a helpful guide as to the kind of transport driven by the men that give me the most grief when out and about. Equally, casual appliance of the word ‘Chav’ in my case is a legitimate counter-insult rather than a middle-class put-down, as Mr Chav and I occupy roughly the same social demographic, unlike broadsheet working-class heroes who have patronisingly adopted it as a badge of solidarity with the kind of guys they haven’t lived next door to for the best part of thirty years.

I am not a lifter of shirts and I have no friends by the name of Dorothy, yet virtually all of my closest companions over the past twenty years have been women – only a tiny percentage of whom I have shared a bed with. A lot of men go through life without ever experiencing a platonic relationship with a member of the opposite sex that they’re not immediately related to; every close contact with a non-family woman tends to be sexually based, hence they often only ever see women in that particular context. Since my twenties, I’ve always easily bonded with women, possibly because there are certain things we’ve shared that many men don’t share with them, such as receiving uncomplimentary comments from strangers, ones related solely to appearance.

Some of the abuse I’ve had has been born of confusion; prior to my acquisition of Victorian whiskers, I was often mistaken for a girl – something I actually took as a compliment, always regarding myself as a bit of an Elephant Man re my physiognomy. A wolf-whistle would be the first instinctive reaction of the motorist fuelled by testosterone, and the second his error dawned the sudden shadow hanging over his masculinity would provoke a Tourette’s-like reversal of the favourable opinion previously expressed. It’s not nice, and I have to admit it can deflate your spirits a little; but I’ve no desire to have my experience recognised as an official ‘hate crime’. I accept there are a lot of wankers out there who resent the fact that I’m happier standing out from the crowd than blending into it when they lack the bottle to do so. And you do need bottle to put up with this shit year after year; but I am what I am and that’s that. The rough comes with the smooth and that’s the way of the world.

Therefore, when I hear of some ludicrous attempts to make the wolf-whistle a criminal offence because one case of persistent harrassment has been picked up by the incurable campaigners, I cannot help being cynical. And I come to this conclusion from an angle that a lot of men wouldn’t, so this is not a misogynist diatribe at all. My female friends are all gutsy broads – and they wouldn’t take that description as an insult; they apply it to themselves. Their reading habits cover more than fashion and food; they talk about topics other than shoes, clothes, cosmetics and babies; in fact, they cannot abide women who talk about nothing else. They are a long way from shrinking violets. Think Janis Joplin rather than Katie Melua. One of my female friends recently attended a hen weekend with a bunch of ‘girly’ types (not her types at all) and said it was one of the most tedious experiences of her life; she says that a bunch of women in a room together need an injection of male company to liven things up. Otherwise, the conversations are as dull as an after-dinner speech by Michael Fallon. At one point, she told me the C-word slipped out of her potty mouth and tumbleweed blew past; the fact that it did vindicated her stance.

Intelligent, sexy, witty women who laugh at ‘Carry On’ movies and abhor the Disney Princess as much as they do the serial litigators are, I suspect, greater in number than those who try to persuade each other (and the rest of society) that theirs is the true voice of the sisterhood. My female friends would call themselves feminists, but so twisted and mangled has that word become over the past ten years that it has lost the context they and I would use it in; in terms of equality, there’s no question we’re on the same level. It’s not even an issue. And should some stranger grab a piece of their anatomy, he’d be taking outrageous liberties and would be deserving of a slap – and, believe me, they’d lay him flat-out. But they would leave it at that, dispensing rough justice and not involving the legal profession. And if a wolf-whistle is rape, then I’ve been buggered more times than I’ve buggered.

There was recently a video that appeared online in which a hidden camera trailed a po-faced martyr walking down a street in New York, one who took silent offence at every comment she received on her journey. If all the comments had been vulgar and obscene, fair enough; but the majority were complimentary or merely wishing her good morning. Not that she regarded them as such; she was too busy playing the victim. It looked like a really cheap and dispiriting version of the promo for the Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ and was a narcissistic exercise in humourless propaganda. By contrast, a couple of weeks back, one of my female friends was wearing a short skirt in a supermarket and the guy on the check-out told her she had a lovely pair of legs. When she recounted this to me, the pleasure she derived from a well-meaning compliment was evident on her countenance. She didn’t tell me the tale as though she was recalling being sexually abused by an uncle as a six-year-old.

At what point does sexism become empowerment? If a woman bares her breasts for a charity campaign online, how is she any different from a page 3 girl? The motivation may differ, but the end result is identical. A man who simply wants to look at a pair of tits won’t care that one photograph is paying the rent and the other is raising money for breast cancer. Anyone who knows ‘The IT Crowd’ will remember when laddish layabout Roy was poised to shoot a nude charity calendar of sexy young office girls and his female colleague Jen declared it to be ‘sexist’; when told by her boss that her job was on the line should the calendar not sell, she changed tack and told Roy such a calendar would actually be ‘empowering’. Fair-weather feminism indeed.

I have heard many times in the last few years that not all the female battles have been won. If the battles that remain are based around bloody wolf-whistles, then I think the battles have been won, and what we’re seeing now is an attempt to make the irrelevant and innocuous important because there’s nothing left to fight for. You, so-called social media feminists, are stuck with the crumbs leftover from the feast that was held before you were born. You missed being crushed by the king’s horse and burning your bra – tough; I missed Swinging London and the Regency. Get over it and grow up. You’re making your sex a laughing-stock, and the loudest laughs are emanating from your older sisters, my kind of women – real women.

© Petunia Winegum

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