Joanna Lumley suggests women should accept wolf-whistling as a compliment in a recent interview with the Daily Mirror. The 70 year old actor, campaigner and former model also claims people were less easily offended in the 60's and made of sterner stuff. She went on to share her experiences as a young model.
When I was modelling photographers were much ruder, they'd say 'You look frightful, what's the matter with you?' 'You look podgy, you look fat as a pig'
It was good-natured banter, you kind of got on with it, it didn't upset you.
Social media users have been swift to respond to Lumley's comments. Where some agree and see wolf-whistling as harmless and acceptable many feel there is no place for it in modern society.
Joanna Lumley, the epitome of age defying beauty, is now absolutely fabulously expressing archaic views belonging to another time and place.
In the 1960s women's right to the vote was less than half a century old, the Sexual Discrimination and Employment Equality Acts didn't exist, and doctors could only prescribe the contraceptive pill to married women.
Women weren't less easily offended or made of sterner stuff in the 60's, they simply didn't have a choice.
Lumley defended wolf-whistlers stating
They're saying 'Cor you look all right, darlin.' What's wrong with that?
Well for a start you might find yourself guilty of an offence and charged by Nottinghamshire Police who recently expanded hate crime categories to include misogynistic incidents. The force has handled over 30 cases in five months, since the re-classification, and has led to another 15 forces considering following Nottinghamshire's lead on this.
Casual harassment in the form of wolf-whistling, cat-calling and other misogynistic incidents is an everyday occurrence for many women and girls. Trivialising the impact this has on victims allows perpetrators to continue unabated. Where women like Lumley growing up with this in the 60s, learned to grit their teeth, brush it off, or just accept it as banter a new generation of women are no longer prepared to be subjected to this behaviour.
We really need to address the myth wolf-whistling is a way of complimenting women, and we should be grateful for this attention. What modern day empowered woman welcomes or seeks endorsement from a random male stranger on the street that they Look all right darlin? The occasional woman, who insists she feels flattered or uplifted by a cheeky little wolf-whistle, points to a fragile self-esteem and one reliant on external validation.
We are in danger of failing to recognise the influence these archaic attitudes are having on a new generation. Many young girls are absorbing the message that their worth is linked to physical appearance, as evidenced by several recent reports revealing worrying increases in mental health issues. The explanation for these findings include social media pressure on girls to look a certain way, be pretty and have the ideal body.
Let's get this straight. Wolf-whistling is not designed to flatter women, it's about power and control. Fail to respond to a wolf-whistler and most women will recognise what happens next. From cries of Alright love or Give us a smile to Miserable bitch a woman who attempts to ignore unwanted attention is failing to play the game, be grateful and submit to a male's advances. See where this is heading?
The problem with casual harassment, like wolf-whistling, is that it can easily escalate. When young girls and women are the target of wolf-whistling by groups of men the situation becomes even more alarming, humiliating and sometimes frightening. Women who feel intimidated by this attention are torn; knowing failure to acknowledge a wolf-whistler risks inviting further comment, but fearing a response could be construed as encouragement. At the very least women, against their will, often reward wolf-whistlers by blushing and looking flustered. If a woman is lucky the smug whistler is pacified, having achieved a reaction of sorts, which is what this power play is all about.
Women have every right to walk our streets freely without comment, but all too often we are sharply reminded where control lies. Wear the wrong outfit, you're asking for it. Travel alone late at night, what did you expect. Wolf whistling, just be grateful it isn't worse sweetie.
Joanna Lumley is warmly referred to as a national treasure. She is as absolutely fabulous at 70 as she was in her 20's modelling heydays, but in 2016 society no longer dismisses You look fat as a pig as banter, and enlightened women do not confuse wolf-whistling with flattery.