Tolerating wolf-whistling is the ‘broken windows’ of sexism
Tolerating wolf-whistling, is just one aspect of a male-coded society. Cultural expectations are built on the small actions of everyday life, so we need make sure those are right first.
Tolerating wolf-whistling has a generational divide. Older women think we younger women should keep our heads down and move on. We should get on with dealing with things that matter, the important things in life. Street harassment is an equal opportunity engager and impacts women of all backgrounds, sizes, shapes, race and cultures, although it does display ageism. There is a definite bias towards younger women. Women generally under the age of 40 think it’s a pain, because usually we are the ones who are being harassed on a daily basis as we go about our business and not older women. Tolerating wolf-whistling is the broken window of sexism. It is the thin end of a very long wedge.
Calling out and outlawing even the small things lays firm ground rules and changes cultural expectations. This is why we need to do the same with wolf-whistling.
THE BROKEN WINDOWS THEORY
The broken windows theory is a criminological theory that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes. The theory thus suggests that policing methods that target minor crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and fare evasion help to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes.
In 1984 New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) began a five-year program to eradicate graffiti based on this programme and was followed by a similar initiative in London. Former US police commissioner Bill Bratton told The Sun newspaper that his “zero tolerance approach for low-level ‘disorder’ including graffiti, prostitution and fare-dodging in 1990s New York led to serious crime numbers plunging.”
THIN END OF THE WEDGE
Tolerating wolf-whistling is exactly the same thing. It’s an acceptance that on the streets certain types of behaviour are harmless. They think younger women who are normally the main targets should turn a deaf ear. Not only that but when they do complain, they are criticised for what they wear. Accepting this practise normalises a way of acting. It suggests that it’s OK for men to publicly show that they find a woman sexually attractive based on her appearance and body language. This encourages the harassment of girls and women and endorses unacceptable behaviour.
It is this behaviour that is so deeply embedded in our cultures that many, even women, think it’s OK. 85% of girls in the US report some type of street harassment before they have left High School. So the older women who think we should get over it – how do they feel for their daughters? Do they think they should toughen up too? This is the very way in which unacceptable behaviour passes from one generation to another. We grin and bear it like our elders and internalise our discomfort.