Some 27 years ago, back when I was young and even more reckless, I was assigned a piece for Flare called "Confessions of a Sex Object.'' Then deputy editor Rona Maynard, who would go on to helm Chatelaine through the late 90s and beyond, asked me to write about what it was like to be traffic-stopping gorgeous.
She wanted it in the first person, bless her.
As flattering as that was, I still interviewed other women who I thought were stunningly sexy, including my then-CBC colleague Katie Malloch and a couple of Playboy playmates who were in town for a boat show or something like that.
To me, it was not women who were being exploited by Playboy, I wrote, but the men who were paying a premium price to gawk at their airbrushed images. The two centerfolds were making a very nice living off their looks, thank you very much. I also noted that, if I walked by a construction site and the men didn't hoot and holler, it was a bad looks day.
Letters poured in from feminist readers who took great exception to my views, and were outraged that Flare, which was then much less of a pure style mag, would stoop to publish such trash. How dare I condone the objectifying of women?
I wonder how that story would play out now. Probably a lot easier. But those were different times, when feminists were still struggling to get equal rights for women in the workplace -- and in the law.
There was a movement. There was movement. Now?
Anyway, here's the thing. Last week in the U.K., a major construction company banned its workers from whistling at women.
Leading construction firm George Wimpey announced today that it was to ban its workers from wolf whistling over fears the “outdated tradition” could put women off visiting their sites in search of property.
Sales and marketing director Richard Goad said he made the decision following a conversation with a female friend who had been whistled at by builders while visiting another site.
“She said it made her feel uncomfortable and embarrassed,” said Mr Goad. “I know lots of women don’t mind it – my wife is thrilled if she gets a whistle, and she’s not happy about me bringing this measure in – but it does make many women feel uncomfortable.
"If you went into a car showroom, you wouldn’t expect to be whistled at or to have that kind of attention directed at you, - why should you when looking at a new home?”
The edict was issued to workmen in the Bristol area at nine am this morning, and has been received well according to Goad. “They have been angered in the past by wolf whistles at their partners, so they understand why we have introduced this measure,” he said.
This is not another example of political correctness gone mad, however, insists Goad. “It is not a case of being PC”, he said. “We are simply trying to look at the overall picture - we are selling homes, we’re a shop in effect, our building sites are our shop windows – it doesn’t do to make people feel uncomfortable when you’re trying to sell something.”
So, this is purely an economic decision -- and has little or less to do with decorum or respecting women.
This British writer welcomes the ban.
You walk out of work, and stride down the road, not even conscious of your gender, just thinking your own busy thoughts. Then a builder turns round. And there it comes: the long, swooping two-note innuendo, half-cocky, half-ironic, wholly irritating. That put YOU in your place, didn't it? Suddenly you're not a person any more – and you're definitely not an executive. You're a bit of fluff, a walk-on bint in a Sixties sex comedy. You thought you had dressed for work, for comfort, for style. Silly you! You'd dressed for the delectation of the paunchy man with the hard hat and the dirty overalls.
You think about retaliating. Maybe you could jovially tell him to keep his eyes on his drill/shovel/cement mixer? A mistake; he'd only turn it into some kind of double entendre. (Trust me: builders can make brickbats without straw.) You could stamp your foot and swear at him, but that would be (a) evidence of "no sense of humour" and (b) to use Mr Blair's phrase for Israel's response to Palestine, totally disproportionate. So there's nothing for it. You simply have to smile and pass by. You overhear him mumble to his mate: "See? They like it."
No, we don't. We tolerate it, and then we grow older, and navvies' silence starts to feel like an insult. You can't win. The whole damn thing is an annoyance.
The truth is, I miss the wolf whistles of my younger years -- although I admit I still get the once over from older men on the Danforth.
Mind you, they're Greek. They probably look every woman over.