I got wolf-whistled last night as I walked home from my swim at the nearby pool. The almost full moon lent a silver hue to the gloaming, and I had that sense of peace that comes with the contented tiredness of a body well exercised; loose-limbed, relaxed and pleasantly alert – movements fluid as water.
The day’s heat exuded from the ground beneath my feet and the warm night enfolded me. I inhaled deeply, savouring the moment. Anticipating reaching home, and the claim three small children make on a parent even whilst sleeping (tidying away toys, picking up clothes, preparing to do it all again tomorrow), I’d just wished the walk could go on forever when it happened. A motorbike roared past and the cheeky whistle hung in the air as the bike sped away behind me.
Two things sprang to mind: first – the egotistical yet self-deprecating flush of “YessssssStillGotIt!!!”, then, the realisation that it was my first ever wolf-whistle in Canada. It reminded me of some observations I made when we hadn’t been in the country long and the very buildings I’d just come from were being constructed.
Back in those early days I retained my British response to the sound of a car-horn when on foot. Fresh off the plane and still relatively friendless, I assumed it was some perv eyeing me up and pointedly ignored it. Without wheels of my own for the first year it took me a while to discover most Canadian cars automatically beep when they’re locked. That explained why it always seemed to happen in car parks… anyway, I digress.
Summers are hot and humid here in Southern Ontario. Short shorts and spaghetti-strap tops are so ubiquitous as to be unremarkable. Bare legs and arms are everywhere. Some carry it off better than others but it’s a safe bet that those in their teens and twenties, lean and lithe with seemingly endless limbs, positively radiate the athletic beauty and potential of youth. Put more prosaically, Canada has no shortage of drive-by eye-candy in the summer months.
So imagine my surprise when, on my many suburban walks (no car, remember?) I never saw drivers beep or heckle. Brits among you will be all too familiar with the helplessly potent male known as “White Van Man”, and I put the courteous silence down to the lack of that species here – dingy, aggressively-driven Ford Transits were conspicuous in their absence. But what I thought to be the nearest Canadian equivalent – the haulage drivers in their imposing 52ft tractor-trailers, or the delivery drivers cruising with the doors open in their Purolator & UPS trucks – were surprisingly composed too. It seemed Canadian males were less inclined to objectify women, or at the very least, least less likely to advertise it.
The real test came when work commenced on the Abilities Centre. The 125,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility meant a huge construction site lay a little way down the road from us.
Construction sites mean construction workers and depending on the kind of gal you are a scenario like this will either be like water off a duck’s back, or will strike you with fear and dread and a sudden desire to divert your usual route. All my life I’ve hated passing construction sites, stiffening at the first sign my approach has been clocked as one orange-jacketed half-brain elbows his mate so they can ogle in concert. But it’s when you get within earshot that the Teflon mindset is really tested, that’s when they start yelling,
“Show us yer tits”, “Lovely knockers!”
“Ow’s abaaht a quick flash fer the lads?”
I’ve never figured out the reason for this performance – whether they’re significantly mentally challenged to believe that women are flooded with wanton sexual desire and instantly crave a date, “What’s yer number, daaahlin’?” or whether they’re demonstrating to their peer-group just how fixedly they can cause a girl to stare straight ahead and blank them. I must be missing something, mustn’t I?
Eventually the day came when I found myself on the far side of the construction site obliged to pass by to get home. Workers swarmed over the steel frame, toiling in the hot sun like ants around their queen. I took a deep breath and forged ahead, facing forward but sneaking sidelong glances from behind my sunglasses. I walked purposefully, every sinew tensed, anticipating the first indication they’d clocked fresh meat. But it never came. Everyone continued working regardless.
After my initial skepticism – spent tensely awaiting the jeers/leers, believing the delay to be some new kind of torture – the relief was empowering. I stood taller; there was no need to project a smaller target or hunch over to shield my body from a lascivious gaze. Free from the hindrance of looks and judgments I felt a rush of heartfelt thankfulness towards these men whose dignity and respect meant I was spared the humiliation of being reduced to something less than human, to a mere sexual object.
There are few better indications something’s wrong than a feeling of intense gratitude for something that should be yours by right. That I’d learnt to expect such derogatory treatment is a stain on our society that many still refuse to see. I’m glad to report the average Canadian man isn’t so blinkered.