News – On Wolf Whistling, Media Blitz & Sensationalism

We have had quite a busy month here at HollabackLDN. Along with the Government finally signing up to the European convention on domestic violence, came the most recent flurry of media interest in HollabackLDN, as increasing mentions of outlawing wolf-whistling drew more and more attention from the sensationalists.

While the media were overwhelmingly concerned with what they see as the  more ‘petty’ symptoms of street harassment, namely wolf-whistling, coverage was wide, and that can be no bad thing. In the space of a few days we appeared in four national newspapers, The Guardian, The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Sunday Telegraph and on a number of radio stations including BBC Radio 5live, BBC Wales, BBC Birmingham, SPIN Southwest and SPIN Dublin in Ireland, and Talk Radio Europe in Spain. The theme that rose again and again was the perceived threat to (predominantly male) freedom of speech, and the right to wolf-whistle. What we talk about is that wolf-whistling is part of a spectrum of behaviours that create certain environments or dictate patterns of behaviour for women, that are not acceptable. Think about the times you may have changed what you wear in order to try and avoid male attention, for example. We are not pro-censorship, we believe strongly in freedom of speech, but we believe also in a woman’s right to be free from objectification, free from sexual threat, and free from public humiliation.

HollabackLDN’s co-director Julia was quoted in the Guardian as saying, “If you want to tackle it, you tackle all of it – you say no to all forms of unwanted sexual harassment, that includes wolf-whistling, comments, everything”. Should there be any need for clarification; we are talking about addressing these issues, talking about them, understanding the dynamics and situations in which these behaviours are used, and making those behaviours socially unacceptable. We do not believe in the criminalisation of wolf-whistling, nor do we believe that it is realistic that such behaviours can be prosecuted. It seems that our media has taken a rather giant leap from not talking about the issues of sexist behaviours to talking about criminalising them. It’s not productive to suddenly outlaw behaviours which have for so long been acceptable in our society. The point of our campaign is to generate debate and to push to make sexist behaviours socially unacceptable.

More recently, we appeared in a great Radio 4 Programme ‘My Name is Not Hey Baby’, that aired last Tuesday night (17th April) and was repeated on Sunday 22nd. It can still be found here on iplayer. Bryony was interviewed and discussions that took place at our Hollaback workshop at Queen Mary University was also featured.

It’s always great for us to get press attention of any kind; it means that these issues are being discussed in the national media, and in most cases that we are being given a voice. It was only two years ago that we were told we’d never reach The Sun. This recent media blitz really stands to show how all the hard work of all the men and women who have stood up to talk about street harassment is not falling on deaf ears. Our main objective when we started was to get people talking, and we’ve certainly done that.

We have said this before, and we’ll say it again, and again and again: We are not talking about one incident on one day perpetrated by one person received by one person. We are talking about the collective consciousness of the thousands of people who suffer this harassment every day all over the city and all over the world. We are talking about the fact that any one person can receive incidents of these behaviours, 3, 5, 12 times a day.  The more we address that, the easier it will be to understand, the easier it will be to tackle it, the sooner we can eradicate it.


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