Are wolf whistles and being objectified OK?

White Ribbon supporter Anna McMartin was asked to put pen to paper and respond to the idea that being objectified is ok, as outlined by the New Zealand Herald’s dating columnist. It’s incumbent on adults to ensure that the advice we present to our young men and women, is advice that does not harm anyone.

NZ Herald Dating columnist explains why she likes wolf whistles and being objectified. November 2020

Feeling sexy and desired, whatever that means to you, is pretty damn good. So I reckon Jana Hocking has a point. Me? I love a glossy lipstick and my knee high boots. And I’m a sucker for a bloke who appreciates my brain – then moves along to all the other parts of me. Each to their own.

Like Jana, my sense of humour sometimes raises eyebrows. Life experience has taught me to pause before I bust out my smuttier nuggets of comedy gold. I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say that there are some jokes you don’t want your ten year old repeating at their Catholic primary school.

But not every sexual conversation I’ve been part of has been funny, or comfortable, or wanted. And I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Here’s an example. I used to work in an organisation where a senior manager had a reputation. He was a toucher, an ogler, a teller of dirty jokes. The junior staff warned each other about him.

One day he sidled up to me, maneuvering himself between my desk and the shelf that separated me from the shop floor. Breathing heavily and leaning over me, he began to speak in hushed tones.

He’d tried this trick before: approached when there weren’t many workmates around, made a dirty joke, got an uncomfortable response. Worried he’d offended me, he’d turned to a male colleague. That colleague told him not to worry, that I’m a bogan with a sense of humour (guilty as charged). And that, apparently, made it OK.

So this second time, feeling like he had the green light, the senior manager moved his face towards mine. He murmured as he stared at me a story, about a woman who had propositioned him, the sex act she wanted to perform. I remember feeling skin-crawling revulsion.

Sometimes, you don’t know what to say. A frosty hate-stare just has to do. Later, when I’d gathered my thoughts, I turned to workmates. They said with resignation, that’s what he’s like. There’s no point complaining. He does it to all the young women. Maybe if you swear at him he’ll take his ‘jokes’ and go away.

And that’s the thing. The senior manager who leaned over me that day, he thought he was having a joke too. He couldn’t see – or maybe didn’t want to – that he was the only one laughing.

So what’s the difference between this senior manager’s jokes, and the bawdy fun that Jana has with her mates?

It’s pretty obvious, right? The difference is consent. If we’re mates, if we trust one another and know each others’ boundaries, then why not? Crack out the chardonnay and Metallica’s Black album: this bogan with a sense of humour will tell you smutty jokes until sundown.

But if that’s not the relationship we have, if that’s not OK for you, then I won’t. It’s not my business to decide what jokes you should laugh at. Instead, I’ll think how I can show my respect for you, just like I hope you’ll do for me. I’ll try to figure out the kind of stuff that makes you feel respected and valued.

‘Consent’ sounds like a very serious word, but making someone feel respected and valued is all it really boils down to. Over a spreadsheet at work, or between the sheets afterwards, consent feels pretty damn good.

Don’t think that consent sounds sexy or cool or fun? All I can say is this: just check out your gross, heavy-breathing, ‘joke’ telling colleague, leaning his female workmates’ desks.

Anna McMartin



This White Ribbon Day Challenge your #Outdated ideas or the #outdated concepts we’re sometimes pressured to conform to. We’ve all heard these phrases and this November we want to highlight behaviour that exemplifies healthy masculinity, and in doing so we will challenge the #Outdated. Healthy masculinity is about being kind, empathetic, finding peaceful resolutions to problems. It is about boys and men being confident in who they are without feeling pressure to be a certain type of boy/man. This campaign continues our focus on Respectful Relationships which are built on equality between women and men, the effective use of non-violent communication, flexible gender behaviour for men and women and respectful sexual relationships, which includes consent.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: