Look But Shut Up

“What’re you looking at?” ~ Madonna

Or, as defined by my dictionary

Look (vb): to turn one’s eyes toward something or in some direction in order to see, to                         glance or gaze


Personally I am a fan of a polite wolf-whistle. I probably shouldn’t be but I am. If you don’t think such a thing exists, then spend 2 – 3 weeks with me and you will change your mind. Those I tend to acknowledge with a wave. An aggressive honking on the horn, however, will always be ignored by me. I know from bitter experience that if you reply with a “fuck off, you Neanderthalic toe-brained cunt” or something similar. the guy behind the wheel will find this hilarious and drive on smugly, leaving you impotent with rage.

From having had stuff shouted at me in the street averaging, at a guess, at about once a week since I was about 14, I have started to grade it in my head. A polite wolf-whistle, an appreciative “hello, sexy” they make me smile. I won’t give you the time of day if you do it but I don’t mind smiling as I carry on about my business. Aforementioned aggressive honking, comments about my ass, they all get ignored. But there are increasingly sexually abusive and aggressive things that are said and done, in my direction and to women in general, and they infuriate me.

I’ll give you an example: whilst walking home recently I noticed a slightly built young female walking towards to me. She was dressed in skinny jeans, some sort of puffa jacket with a dark headscarf & a pair of headphones in. It was dark so I couldn’t see her features clearly but she could have been anything from a composed 14 year old to a young looking woman in her twenties.

But the reason I noticed her was because of the noise following her. There were four young men further up the street all shouting after her. Their shouts initially were “hey sexy / tell us your name / you’re fine” Then as she didn’t respond they developed into “Look at that arse / I’d like to smack it / I’d like to smack her / I’d like to rugby tackle her to the floor”

What. The. Fuck.

When did “I’d like to rugby tackle her to the floor” become an acceptable thing to say about anyone, let alone a woman walking down the street?

Now, I’d love to say that this was an isolated incident but it isn’t. I know women who get solicited for sex by random men whilst grocery shopping on a Saturday afternoon. I know women for whom having “cunt / bitch / slag / whore” shouted at them is a such a regular occurrence that they barely register it.

And that’s awful. It is a form of abuse or harassment; how desensitised do you get to notice to not even know that it is happening.

I once had a guy call me a slut, straight in my face, when I was walking through town during my lunch hour. It upset me so much I went straight back to the office, into the toilets, and cried. I even uttered the horrible words “but my skirt isn’t even that short” A good friend set me straight by pointing out that I could be wearing hot pants and a bikini top; my outfit was nothing to do with his comments. How you dress does not make you a slut. Why he said it I don’t know, but it was over 15 years ago and I remember it all in vivid detail.

It was upsetting, it was horrible, and I, like many women, have suffered more since. It affects your confidence, it makes you cry, it makes you think twice about what to wear when you go out (shouldn’t but does), it makes you question your own safety. And all because some people think paying sexually obscene “compliments” is funny; some people get off on randomly insulting and humiliating women.

If you think these things are ‘funny’ or just done ‘for a laugh’ then ask yourself this: how would you feel if this happened to your mother, your lover, your child? Because chances are it already has.

We don’t live in Minority Report so as yet you can’t get arrested for what you think. I can understand the mentality of seeing an attractive woman and thinking in passing what you might like to do with her. I can’t understand shouting in her face as she walks by what you think of her or what you would like to do to her. I don’t want to stop people thinking, I like to make people think. But some thoughts really should just stay in the head. Let’s have a little respect, please.

Interested in your thoughts, as always, so please drop me a line on a comment box-shaped postcard.



8 thoughts on “Look But Shut Up

  1. The comments you report (or even wolf whistles & things at the lower end of the scale!), if they cause concern or distress, should be considered gender-based hate incidents (and the comments you report would, I would suggest, be very close to being a crime under s5 Public Order Act 1986!!)

    Society needs to recognise that these sorts of things are examples of hostility & not the “admiration” that at first glance they might appear to be!

    • I know what you are saying. I felt uneasy adding the wolf-whistle bit in at the start but it is all part and parcel of it. Something I think I will address in a future blog.

      I do think these things are getting worse though. But is very hard at times, especially as in the incident I described, to take a stand against it.

      Hopefully at least writing this is a starting point, for me as well as anyone reading, to think more about these issues.

  2. I think your piece describes neatly the problem with even ‘polite’ wolf whistles – that if ignored, or replied to negatively, they soon turn to rudeness and frequently aggression. I think your piece also shows how this behaviour doesn’t have much to do with a guy appreciating how nice and attractive you are, it’s about getting you to do what he wants, about getting you to notice him, pay him the attention he thinks he deserves. I write all this with a low rumble of ‘dyke’, ‘feminazi’, ‘pc brigade’, ‘radfem’ going on in my subconcious, because I haven’t been able to shake that off, either, for just wanting to go about my everyday life without comment or even being noticed.

    • As a friend of mine has said on Twitter, she had a guy tell her she had a hot arse then when she asked him to leave her alone he called her am ugly fat slag who should be grateful.

      And it’s wrong that you have those terms in your head, as it’s wrong as I say in the piece for these things make us doubt & question ourselves, just for wanting to be ourselves and do our stuff.

  3. Compliments are great. A year ago a teenage girl came up to me in the street and said “excuse me, but I love your hair.” It made my week, let alone my day! Similarly, a man I didn’t know saying I had a lovely smile had me walking on air. Nobody can object to that: it’s said with no ulterior motive just to make you feel better. But crude comments, honking horns, sexual putdowns are purely done to elevate the person making the comment, not to make the recipient feel better. They’re upsetting, and can be threatening or frightening. A year ago I moved seats to sit next to a woman on her own on the tube being harassed by a man. As I left the tube, he got off too and followed me up the escalator muttering threats under his breath. I was terrified. Thankfully a man who had also been in the carriage walked me to my bus stop and waited until my bus came, for which I was grateful.

    • It’s the balance that is getting skewed, I think. There are genuine compliments out there, as your experiences show. But such a lot of nastiness. Think we all need to be a bit more aware.

  4. There’s an awfully big change in culture and attitudes required and very little evidence of it happening, sadly. I hear 18-21 year old lads come out with the most appalling things at our rugby club, and I’ve no hesitation in telling them what I think of them, but its like fighting a forest fire with a water pistol at times. I’m very sorry you have to put up with this kind of shit.

    • Thank you. It is nice from hear from people, especially guys, who try to counteract these attitudes. Though it is sometimes like the trials of Sisyphus!
      And I wish these incidents were isolated but the more I have heard since writing this shows this has been a problem for a long time and is going nowhere.

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