Tea-swilling, wolf-whistling builders have long formed a part of the British national character. Now feminists are urging “harassed” women to strike back – with one woman even going so far as to report a team of builders to the police for repeatedly whistling their compliments, comparing the actions to racial slurs.
Poppy Smart, 23, from Worcester told the Times that she had been forced to run the gauntlet of “disrespectful” comments on her way to work. Eventually she decided that she could stand it no longer and took to recording the men on her mobile phone to gain evidence to hand to the police.
“It went on for a month. I had to walk that way to work and it got so bad that they would actually come out of the building site at the time I walked down the road,” she said.
“I often had my earphones in but I could still hear the whistling over it. They would say comments too but luckily I couldn’t hear them.
“It got so bad that I filmed it on my phone. I eventually contacted the building company and the police on the same day when it got so bad.”
Matters came to a head when one of them men blocked her path, and said “morning love.” Poppy said the encounter made her feel that her “personal space” had been invaded as she was forced to interact with him against her wishes.
“He didn’t touch me but it was incredibly intimidating. I’m quite a nervous person and this has made my anxiety worse,” she said.
“People say it is only wolf-whistling but women shouldn’t have to deal with it. I wouldn’t go up to someone and comment on their race to them, it is the same as sexism and it is rife. I considered changing my route to work but thought: ‘Why should I do that?’
“I think more women should speak out about this behaviour — maybe it will make people think twice.”
Her comments were supported by Sarah Green, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, who insisted that wolf-whistling was “sexual harassment”.
“Sexual harassment in the street is too often regarded as trivial when the reality is that many women feel humiliated, insulted and sometimes intimidated by it,” she said.
“These feelings can linger long after the perpetrator has forgotten the incident. Men who respect women do not do it. What we need is for men and women looking on to let the harassers know that it’s not OK.”
West Mercia police have investigated the builders over a possible offense of harassment or public disorder. They said that they had talked to the director of the building company by phone, and that Ms Smart was happy for them not to take any further action.
But a spokesman for the company involved has insisted that his employees were not responsible, saying “If police had bothered to look at the CCTV they would have seen it was not our guys. They were not even working on the day she claims she had the encounter on the pavement. If anyone says any different we will get our solicitors on to them.”
Britain has repeatedly opposed European plans to make wolf-whistling a sexual offense. David Cameron said “We have harassment laws in this country. We are not proposing to criminalise wolf-whistling,” after the Council of Europe tried to make the UK adopt laws which would see “verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” becoming an offense.