real life

"I always thought wolf whistles were harmless, but I'm starting to change my mind."

Is a wolf-whistle harassment?

So asked One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts this week on RN Drive.

“Some girls think that’s wonderful. They smile,” he told host Patricia Karvalas. “Others are offended.”

The 61-year-old former coal miner was swiftly torn down by the Twitterati who would not stand for such a statement.


And I felt a bit guilty about all the palaver because, unpopular opinion… I don’t mind the odd wolf-whistle.

I’ve always put it down to a bit of harmless nothing.

In fact, the last time it happened, it made me laugh. It was a sun-whittled tradie with a face like a leather baseball mitt, and it put a spring in my step, and the fleeting thought in my head of, ‘I’ve still got it’ *snaps fingers*.


I wouldn’t call it “wonderful”, though.

I’m not exactly stopping at construction sites to find out which man it was who whistled at me so I can give him my number. I’m not flagging down men who honk their shitty car horns at me, yelling, “Stop! Come back! DATE me, you lady-killer!” I’m not asking the old boss who slapped my arse in a bar whether he will meet my parents, and I’m not exactly picking out engagement rings with a man in a nightclub who stuck his hand up my dress.

I’m just saying, a whistle? Meh. I’ve had worse.

I took to the streets of Melbourne to ask as many women as I could what their experiences were. And I have to say; I had underestimated the effect.


I spoke to women across ages, ethnicities, body shapes and sizes. One hundred percent of women said they had been wolf-whistled at some point in their life, and almost ALL of them said the same thing: it was disgusting. They felt violated, embarrassed, self-conscious, disrespected and humiliated.

One told me she was an early bloomer and had been wolf-whistled since she was 14. Another said it never happens when she’s with her husband; as soon as he’s gone, it’s on. A petite, bright student told told me optimistically, “It’s not too bad in Melbourne. In Brisbane, I got it a couple of times a week!”

Only two women thought it was fine, harmless, funny. One of them was 82. The other in her late fifties.

What that says, I don’t know — perhaps that I’m an oblivious old lady who just wants a bit of a laugh and a slight ego boost. But more likely that our tolerance for casual sexist behaviour has plummeted, and we’ve had enough of it.

Is a wolf whistle harassment? We asked women on the streets of Melbourne. (iStock)

It made me rethink it entirely. And it led to me this excellent podcast episode of This American Life, about stories of people who decide to rethink the way they've been doing things.

Eleanor Gordon-Smith was an Aussie reporter who decided to confront a man who catcalled her and figure out why he did it, and see if she could get him to stop. It took 120 minutes of conversation to get him to agree to not harass women anymore. Oof.

The other thing I learned, which I've never thought about before, was the word itself. It's from the slang use of the word "wolf", meaning a man who gives unwanted sexual attention to women. Which seems entirely unfair to the animal species — they've done nothing wrong here.

Perhaps we need to reframe the name of it; in the same way a "king hit" has become a "coward punch", could the wolf-whistle do with a rename?

The Sleazoo?

The Jerk-Siren?

The Flute Of A Tiny Peen?

Or my favourite — the Dick Squeak.


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