Like when he tweeted an offer to buy a Harpers Bazaar model some clothes, and she responded, “thanks, but I don’t need clothes as much as you need press.” Or when he asked the British Prime Minister about shoes and baking on the telly last week, because the British PM isn’t a man. The broad public response was STFU, you ridiculous anachronism.
But what happens when an international treasure, beloved by everyone from Sherpas to Patsy Stone clones, comes out with something best described as pre-feminist? To be wolf-whistled at, Joanna Lumley told the Mirror, is a compliment. Translating the wolf whistle into man-words –— “Cor, you look alright darlin” — everyone’s favourite jolly good egg asked what on earth is wrong with this, why everyone is so easily offended these days, and how we have all become “sensitive flowers”. Back in the Sixties, she says, models suffered all kinds of sexist insults from their photographers, but “you kind of got on with it, it didn’t upset you.”
Perhaps the clue is in the word ‘Sixties’. That decade when the Pill existed, but feminism didn’t. Nor equality legislation — men could be perfectly hideous to women, even goddesses like Lumley — and nobody minded at all. Apart from the women, obviously, but they didn’t count — they “got on with it.” What else could they do, other than have nervous breakdowns everytime they left the house? (And, I imagine, quite a few if you stayed home). When fabulous women come out with dated statements, it’s unlikely they are channelling Donald Trump. Age is a factor. If I were 70 and someone wolf-whistled at me, I’d rip off my clothes and do a hoochie-mama shimmy for them, before dropping dead of a surprise-induced heart attack. Older women are invisible. When you’re 70 and female it’s a ‘compliment’ if someone even sees you, never mind wolf whistles.
But I suspect our favourite animal rights campaigner was not just referring to septuagenarians. The message seems to be that women need to man up, to stop minding. Actually, we don’t. Not anymore. Not by a long shot. Wolf whistling — a male group activity generally directed at lone women — might be a lark if you’re an old bird, tough as nails, but it’s bloody horrible if you’re young, or slightly post-young. It’s at best embarrassing, at worst intimidating.
Even if it rolls off you because you are unflappable, it still transforms you from human being to sexualised object of a stranger’s momentary desire, and in public too. It is not ‘banter’, it is not ‘light hearted’. It’s cowardly and deeply unsexy, and if someone wolf whistled my daughter – or son – I would eviscerate the whistler on the spot. Redirect your sexual approval appropriately – we have the apps, chaps. Do your ‘complimenting’ on Tinder.