Bravo, Poppy Smart

I’ve been quite slow keeping up with the news this week, and one thing I did catch up on yesterday was Poppy Smart’s story.  If, like me, you hadn’t already heard about it, Poppy hit the headlines on Monday subsequent to a police report she made against a group of builders continually wolf-whistling at her on the way to work.  Outrage ignited amongst journalists and readers alike, the general reaction to Poppy’s story plummeting somewhere in between “shit happens, get over it”, and “feminism-gone-bonkers”.

Certain news publications chose to amplify their disapproval of Poppy’s behaviour by conveying the ordeal in a tone not far from ‘you’re the one causing all the problems here, dear.’  “Call for the wolf whistle police! Officers are alerted after ‘daily campaign’ by builders who stood in 23 year old’s way and said: ‘Morning love'”, wrote The Daily Mail on Monday.

Freelance journalist, Angela Epstein put forward that “there’s nothing nicer than an appreciative wolf-whistle from a passing male”, while writer Ray Connolly argued “if she didn’t like it, she should have gone the other way to work.

“A woman who can’t deal with a whistling man is not going to be able to deal with very much that this world is going to throw at her.”

Girls get beeped at, whistled at, life goes on.  Apparently, we’re supposed to find it flattering.  Oh, well, how silly we’ve all been!  Shame on us for being such frigid prudes – we need to let our hair down, and revel in a bit of cheap fun more often.

But what happened to Poppy wasn’t just an one-off – these builders’ went on with their routine every day for four solid weeks.  They would step out of the site as she went past, often shouting disrespectful comments about her body and appearance.

‘It was like clockwork,’ the 23-year-old said in the Mail yesterday.  ‘I got it every day.  It started off as wolf whistles and comments on my assets.  They would step out of the building site after I walked by and shout things about my bum.

‘Some days they wouldn’t try to speak to me — they’d just whistle and stare.”

Poppy says she was made to feel belittled, uncomfortable and objectified by her physicality, and she’s isn’t the one doing anything wrong.  So why exactly shouldn’t she have sought help?

If we have, in this country, the right and freedom to call the police if we feel it’s necessary, why exactly shouldn’t Poppy be able to exercise her right and her freedom to utilise their services?

And if we’re all so ‘Team Emma Watson’, fighting and pining for global gender equality, how exactly is that EVER to be attained if:

  1. Women are continually made to feel objectified by certain groups of men?
  2. Society then tells these women they are making a fuss over nothing, and more so, that they should be flattered by the attention?

The fantastic Laura Bates, founder of the hugely successful ‘Everyday Sexism Project’ went onto argue in her Guardian column this week that “wolf-whistling isn’t the story here – our reaction to sexual harassment is.”

Feminism-gone-bonkers? Being wolf-whistled at in the street is hardly worth making a fuss about with female sex-trafficking, rape and FGM to contrast it to. But what’s forgotten is that often to succeed in fighting the big issues, often there’s a lot of small issues to tackle first, much closer to home.

This is defined as the Broken Windows theory, and is neatly summed up in this excerpt from Caitlin Moran’s bestseller How To Be A Woman:

“In the Broken Windows theory, if a single broken window or an empty building is ignored and not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may break into the building and light fires, or become squatters.

Similarly, if we live in a climate where female pubic hair is considered distasteful, or famous and powerful women are constantly pilloried for being too fat or too thin, or badly dressed, then, eventually, people start breaking into women, and lighting fires in them. Women will get squatters. Clearly, this is not a welcome state of affairs. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wake up one morning and find a load of chancers in my lobby…

Personally, I feel the time has come for women to introduce their own Zero Tolerance policy on the Broken Windows issues in our lives – I want a Zero Tolerance policy on “All the Patriarchal Bullshit.” And the great thing about a Zero Tolerance policy on Patriarchal Broken Windows Bullshit is this: In the 21st century, we don’t need to march against size-zero models, risible pornography, lap-dancing clubs, and Botox. We don’t need to riot or go on hunger strikes. There’s no need to throw ourselves under a horse, or even a donkey.

We just need to look it in the eye, squarely, for a minute, and then start laughing at it.” – Caitlin Moran, How To Be a Woman.

Image source: theguardian.com 

Additional quote sources: The Daily Mail

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