On Wolf Whistles & Safety

The safety of women seems to be the topic du jour at the moment, so I thought I’d take things away from You Know What and look instead that something else that has been in my timeline today.

Paris Lees has a regular gig these days doing columns for Vice.com. She’s slowly learning to navigate the difficult world of being a controversial journalist. Her latest column is all about wolf whistles and catcalls, which she says she enjoys receiving.

This has drawn quite a bit of ire from other women. Even trans-friendly feminists such as Sian Norris from Bristol were unhappy. I can definitely see Sian’s point, and I’ve been thinking about this a bit today in my odd few lucid moments.

As I have probably said before, I’ve never suffered from sexual harassment in person (online is entirely another matter, my photo is good). At my age I don’t expect that to change. But, when I was much younger, I might have welcomed it. Why? Because I thought it would have made me feel more safe, not less.

You see, when you are first in transition, and having to navigate the world on your own as a woman, the one thing you totally dread is being spotted as a “tr*nny” and beaten up, or worse. I still get abuse yelled at me in the street, but it is rare — maybe once or twice a year. Being older has helped make me invisible. No one expects me to be pretty any more.

When I was younger, had I got wolf-whistled, I would probably have taken it as a sign that I was “passing” well, that I looked like any other woman, and was therefore safe from a violent mob. It would have been validation, of a kind.

I should note that I have no idea what’s going on in Paris’s head. This is my personal experience I’m relating here, not hers. [Update: And besides her article quotes several cis women who also enjoy the attention.]

All of which seemed to me like a reasonable summation of the situation, until, quite by chance, I spotted this article on Autostraddle by a trans woman who is young and pretty, and who is finding out just how scary sexual harassment can be.

So yeah, sorry Paris, love. You might be able to handle it. You have, after all, been through a lot in your life. But not everyone can. And the problem is that if some of us like it and welcome it, it is going to happen to everyone, because the guys aren’t going to know who likes it and who doesn’t. Then we’ll get the whole, “you led me on” and “you dressed like you were asking for it” nonsense. Better not to encourage it, I think, no matter how good it might make us feel.

Lesson of the day: there is no better training for being a feminist than gender transition from male to female.

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4 Responses to On Wolf Whistles & Safety

  1. Antiqueight says:

    It certainly gives a great perspective on it all.

    I have been both pleased by and threatened by catcalls and whistles – like so much, context is everything. When in doubt, don’t.

  2. Erica says:

    Nice, thought-provoking piece, as always.

  3. Farah says:

    A good post. I think for anyone who comes late into their “looks” there is that moment of gratification (I was in my twenties), but it soon fades.

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