Rachel Rounds (pictured) says a generation of women will be encouraged to fall into victimhood and ready to be traumatised by harmless comments
By Rachel Rounds
Walking with a female friend in Oxford, aged 22, I can clearly remember a man shouting from his car window: ‘Oi, nice arse, love.’
It was 1993 and I called myself a feminist, but far from feeling belittled or harassed, I was flattered. And, without a thought, I did a twirl on the pavement, laughed out loud and shouted back: ‘Cheers, mate.’
It never crossed my mind that I had been degraded in any way. Yet according to MPs Harriet Harman and Caroline Nokes, the law should change so that men like him face criminal charges for what they call ‘sexualised abuse’.
As someone who was abused as a teenager, I agree no schoolgirl should be subjected to sexual harassment of any kind. But as an adult who can handle herself? How dare they patronise me.
We are not a bunch of wallflowers, yet by criminalising men’s antics they are encouraging a generation of women to fall into victimhood, ready to be traumatised by harmless comments.
Far from punishing men for their behaviour, they imply women are weak, pathetic and incapable of standing up to them.
To my mind, it’s obvious men catcall because they see it as ‘banter’. I have yet to encounter a lone male wolf-whistling without other men around him: men need an audience to give them courage and make it work.
It’s a laugh; it brightens their day — and mine. At 50, I consider a wolf-whistle to be a compliment.
Why must women be made to feel like victims?
Only the other day, at a drive-in Covid testing centre, a man told me I had gorgeous hair and was ‘beautiful’. My eight-year-old son said: ‘Mummy, that man was flirting with you,’ to which I laughed aloud and replied: ‘Your mother may be old but she’s still got it, son.’
I am also quite capable of giving as good as I get. In my 30s, I recall walking past a group of men in a London park and one calling out: ‘Fancy a s**g?’ I shouted back: ‘In your dreams, sunshine.’ I can’t say I was flattered or amused, but I wouldn’t have dreamt of reporting him to the police. I didn’t need to, as my response elicited howls of laughter from the bloke’s mates.
There is reverse sexism going on with Harman and Nokes. Women ‘catcall’, too. Will they be arrested?
As for criminalising such behaviour, haven’t the police got enough to do without detaining men for showing off to their mates? Let’s focus on what matters — like the low rate of convictions for rape and sexual abuse — and stop turning us all into snowflakes.
Liz Hodgkinson (pictured) claims the practice will start to die out if catcallers are prosecuted
By Liz Hodgkinson
These days, thank goodness, I’m too old to be catcalled or sexually harassed in the street, but it used to happen a lot when I was younger.
‘You want to wear your skirts a bit shorter, Miss!’ was a common cry from passing motorists, accompanied by loud guffaws, when I walked along in a mini. How hilarious.
Then, just after my divorce, I was living alone and some truly terrible chaps rented next door. Before long, they began calling out to me in the street, making remarks such as: ‘Oh, posh, she’s had her hair done.’
Once when I was wearing a summer blouse, one pointed and said: ‘I can see your nipples.’ I reported them to the letting agent for insulting behaviour, but nothing happened, until they were eventually evicted.
In the meantime, I felt intimidated living alone next door. If I could have reported them to the police, I would have done.
At best, such behaviour is unpleasant and, at worst, downright scary, especially if you are young. So I back the cross-party campaign to make catcalling a criminal offence.
As one might expect, every time there is a move to outlaw street sexual harassment of women, there are cries of: ‘Come on, where’s your sense of humour, love?’
And then there are the predictable counter-arguments suggesting that if you don’t want to attract remarks, you shouldn’t wear short skirts or low-cut tops. But it is nobody’s business but yours what you wear.
Harmless fun? No, it’s ugly verbal violence
The truth is, nobody is ‘asking’ for crude comments, and we need to banish the idea that it is all harmless fun. On the contrary, the men who make these remarks are trying to assert their superiority and make you feel nervous, foolish and afraid.
There is another point of view, voiced by some women, that you should worry when the wolf-whistles stop, as that means you have become invisible and no longer desirable.
To them I say: ‘Grow up!’ Why would you want to seem desirable to a stranger who sees you as only a momentary object of titillation?
Of course, it would be impossible to prosecute every catcaller as, if in a car, they will have sped away fast. But if even one catcaller is prosecuted and held up to public ridicule, the practice will start to die out.
In France, where catcalling was outlawed in 2018, police have powers to issue on-the-spot fines of up to 750 euros. In the first year, more than 700 men were fined.
Let us follow suit. For today’s young women, like my teenage granddaughters, it will be a big step forward if they never have to put up with the kind of verbal violence that blighted my generation.