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Catcalling, whistling and sexual harassment: it’s not a compliment

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Holly Kearl, writing in the Guardian today, has used the experience of Mexican television reporter Ines Sainz to open up a discussion about catcalling, whistling and sexual harassment (see WVoN story).

On entering the New York Jets football player’s locker room to conductinterviews, several players whistled and catcalled at her.

Sainz later said this made her feel very uncomfortable, and after the incident was made public, the Jets owner immediately apologised.

Kearl has conducted research into catcalling and whistling, amongst other forms of sexual harassment, and details the distress, depression, anger, self-objectification and low self-esteem that many women can experience as catcalling becomes a routine feature of their lives – and are anything but complimentary.

She cites masculinity scholars who have found that many men whistle at women in order to impress male friends, not to pay a compliment to the woman – she is an interchangeable pawn in a display of male bravado.

Other scholars have discussed the role that catcalling and whistling has in staking out male turf, reminding women that as such they are liable to be treated however men want.

Builders whistling and shouting as a woman walks past seems to be such a common practice that it becomes invisible and accepted, partly because women do not then discuss it.

One reason, Kearl says, that women do not talk about the harassment they experience on the streets or in bars is because women themselves are often blamed for encouraging catcalling with allegedly provocative dress.

Interestingly, Kearn points out that studies conducted in Yemen and Egypt show that many women experienced harassment regardless of their modest dress.

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