Sexual harassment is not just a problem for Ines Sainz | Holly Kearl | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

Sexual harassment is not just a problem for Ines Sainz

When a sports reporter was catcalled in a players’ locker room, she experienced what all women have and no woman should

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TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz said on her Twitter account she felt ‘very uncomfortable!’ at a Jets practice Saturday where players catcalled her in the locker room. Photograph: AP Photo/Ross D Franklin

Last weekend, when Mexican television reporter Ines Sainz and her male colleagues entered the New York Jets football players’ locker room to conduct interviews, several players whistled and catcalled at her. After the incident became public, the Jets owner appropriately apologised, but a number of commentators, bloggers and individuals discussing it on and offline are defending the Jets players’ behaviour.

Like most people in our society, they still think it is fine and socially acceptable for men to whistle at female strangers, especially if they are conventionally attractive and especially if their male friends are watching, condoning it. As someone who has been the target of scores of whistles from male strangers, and as a researcher of whistles and catcalls, I argue that it isn’t fine, it shouldn’t be social acceptable, and that it must end.

Why? Because most women, like Sainz, who said it made her feel “very uncomfortable”, do not like it.

In a 2008 informal international survey I conducted for my book, most of the women were very clear on this. Only 8% of the 811 participants felt flattered, while 25% felt insulted, 40% felt angry, and 62% felt annoyed.

Context, of course, contributes to the variation in how women feel, as do several other factors. According to my study, some of these factors included the number of times men had whistled at women (the more it happened, the angrier women were), the level of risk harassers posed (women were more likely to be flattered if they felt safe), and whether the woman was a survivor of assault or a bad harassment experience (survivors did not like it). Additionally, women who support conforming to traditional gender roles are more likely to feel flattered by whistling, while women who support women’s rights usually feel it is demeaning, according to sociologist Carol Brooks Gardner’s research.

Regardless of these differences, whistling not only needlessly breaks all women’s train of thought and can make them pause to evaluate their safety; it could contribute to long-term body image and mental health issues. A 2008 study conducted by psychologists at Rutgers University in New Jersey found that young women who experienced high volumes of whistling and catcalls engaged in self-objectification and were consequently susceptible to eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. Clearly, these are undesirable outcomes.

And while movies, music videos and even stock photos would lead you to believe that whistling and catcalls are something that only happens to “hot” women like Sainz, it’s a near-universal experience for women. One hundred percent of women surveyed in studies conducted in Indianapolis and the California Bay Area reported experiencing public harassment by men, with whistling being a common form. In my 2008 survey, 94% of the 811 women had experienced whistling and over one third said they experience it monthly. Its commonality is invisible in part because most women don’t talk about it.

One reason women don’t talk about it is because so many people blame the incidence on a specific style of dress. A woman might chastise herself, as certain commentators have criticised Sainz, for being guilty of wearing tight-fitting, provocative clothing. But harassers are men who whistle at women no matter how they dress. Studies conducted in Yemen and Egypt showed that, regardless of dressing modestly or wearing a veil, a majority of women had experienced whistles, catcalls and worse from men in public spaces. As women around the world know, even school uniforms, work clothes and winter coats do not stop all whistles and catcalls.

But wait, you may be saying, whistling and catcalls are just compliments. Really?

In the documentary War Zone, when men who whistled or catcalled women were asked how they would feel if male strangers did that to their sisters, daughters, mothers, girlfriends and wives, nearly all were upset by the idea. They did not want women they respected treated that way.

Masculinity scholars, including Michael Kimmel, Jackson Katz and Hugo Schwyzer, have found that many men who whistle at women do it to impress their male friends and to prove their masculinity, not to pay a compliment to the woman. The woman is simply an interchangeable pawn; it’s not about her.

I wonder, had Sainz entered a locker room where only one man was present, would he have whistled at her?

Additionally, Martha Langelan, Cheryl Benard and Edith Schlaffer, researchers of sexual harassment, found that some men whistle or catcall women as a form of intimidation to remind women they are on men’s turf – whether that is the street or the locker room – and men can treat women however they want.

What’s a guy supposed to do to grab a woman’s attention? Almost every female in my survey said interactions like a hello, smile or small talk about non-sexual topics made them feel happy, flattered or neutral. You’ll find it’s surprisingly easy to make that first step toward making the world a more respectful place.

If you’re like me and want the next generation of girls to grow up in a society where they are valued and respected, routine blatant objectification of women from male strangers – including whistling – must end.

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Sexual harassment is not just a problem for Ines Sainz | Holly Kearl

This article was published on
guardian.co.uk
at 15.44 BST on Friday 17 September 2010.
It was last modified at 15.47 BST on Friday 17 September 2010.

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Comments in chronological order (Total 340 comments)

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    Shopon

    17 September 2010 3:51PM

    Why was a woman allowed to enter a men’s changing room at all? Would a man have been allowed into a women’s changing area?

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    Birdyboy

    17 September 2010 3:55PM

    I don’t know, do you not think maybe women need to grow a thicker skin about such things? Should a women really have been going into a mens changing room? I for one would not dream of say going into a woman’s changing room to interview a woman’s rugby team, I’d be torn apart.

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    Timsimmons

    17 September 2010 3:56PM

    The key words here are “locker room”, what would have happened if a male entered a girls changing room? The locale seems somewhat wrong…

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    Psalmist

    17 September 2010 3:58PM

    If a female of any kind goes into a room full of naked men she can expect ribaldry.

    Not to do so is plain dim and to complain is risible and self important.

  • Media_httpstaticguimc_fvdsj


    HerrEMott

    17 September 2010 3:58PM

    Studies conducted in Yemen and Egypt showed that, regardless of dressing modestly or wearing a veil, a majority of women had experienced whistles, catcalls and worse from men in public spaces.

    In Egypt and Yemen? These surveys are relevant to the UK and USA are they?

  • Media_httpstaticguimc_mwait


    BeaverLasVegas

    17 September 2010 3:58PM

    Masculinity scholars, including Michael Kimmel, Jackson Katz and Hugo Schwyzer, have found that many men who whistle at women do it to impress their male friends and to prove their masculinity, not to pay a compliment to the woman. The woman is simply an interchangeable pawn; it’s not about her.

    Can I have a job as a “masculinity scholar”? It sounds like money for old rope.

    Whistling is one of those occupational hazards women have to deal with. It’s a bit tiresome. But you say it “must end”, as if it were child poverty or paedophilia. It’s a bit like demanding an end to moustaches or men who dance badly at weddings. It’s not going to happen.

  • Media_httpstaticguimc_mwait


    Humza

    17 September 2010 3:59PM

    Masculinity scholars? Really? An attractive woman is surprised with whistling because she’s walked into a NFL locker room full of roided up naked men, swigging back Gatorade and shots of pure testosterone? Really?

    My girlfriend has been whistled at (I wasn’t there) and I felt angry, she obviously felt worse, but the main reason men do this is because…….

    They ain’t tappin’ it. This should segue nicely into the anti-wanking article posted earlier.

  • Media_httpstaticguimc_mwait


    Birdyboy

    17 September 2010 3:59PM

    How many articles does the Guardian commission that basically complain about, or slag of men and their behavior?

    Then how many articles does the Guardian commission that basically complain about, or slag of women and their behavior?

    Is this what we call feminist equity?

  • Media_httpresourcegui_oepjd

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    TheException

    17 September 2010 3:59PM

    Oh, how true, but it’s an uphill struggle, as anyone who listened to BBC Woman’s Hour yesterday will know – listen here to catch Brendan O’ Neill’s earnest protestations that the right to shout sexual comments at strangers is vital freedom of speech.

    Still, no doubt the usual crowd will be out to inform us all why this is true, and soem men can’t help using women as props for their own low self-esteem, and racist comments are worse than misogynystic ones because men are just trying to be nice, etc., etc…

  • Media_httpstaticguimc_mwait


    OfficeEd

    17 September 2010 4:00PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

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    billysbar

    17 September 2010 4:01PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

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    Raffiruse

    17 September 2010 4:02PM

    Last time I walked in to the womens changing room I didn’t receive a very warm welcome either, I found the situation very uncomfortable.

  • Media_httpstaticguimc_mwait


    tehjonny

    17 September 2010 4:02PM

    It isn’t necessarily nice for the woman in question, and generally the men in question should have known better.

    However, the end paragraph ruins the whole piece. If you want to grow up ‘valued and respected’ just for being a woman, you’ve got a shock coming your way. You have to earn those things. The reality is, women objectify men every bit as much as we do to you. It is how we show attraction to strangers, because we know nothing of their personality.

    Women need to be careful – many men are close to just switching off completely. You make it far too difficult and are in the main completely unapproachable.

  • Media_httpstaticguimc_mwait


    graftonway

    17 September 2010 4:02PM

    The key words here are “locker room”, what would have happened if a male entered a girls changing room? The locale seems somewhat wrong…

    I was once thrown out of a charity shop for peeping behind the curtain of the changing cubicle. Political correctness gone mad…

  • Media_httpresourcegui_oepjd

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    samuelpalin

    17 September 2010 4:02PM

    In the documentary War Zone, when men who whistled or catcalled women were asked how they would feel if male strangers did that to their sisters, daughters, mothers, girlfriends and wives, nearly all were upset by the idea. They did not want women they respected treated that way.

    I agree with most of the article but I’m not sure I buy this. I think you might be upset if someone said they wanted to screw your sister, even if you say it (‘say it’) in a complimentary way to someone else. It’s not that you are degrading the other person; it’s just that you don’t want to hear that about people you love platonically or familially. (Did I just make up a word?)

    Why was a woman allowed to enter a men’s changing room at all? Would a man have been allowed into a women’s changing area?

    You don’t think they invite news reporters into the locker rooms of the opposite gender? Are you living in the nineteenth century?

  • Media_httpstaticguimc_yvnic


    billysbar

    17 September 2010 4:02PM

    Studies conducted in Yemen and Egypt showed that, regardless of dressing modestly or wearing a veil, a majority of women had experienced whistles, catcalls and worse from men in public spaces.

    Cor, would you look at the eyelashes on her!

  • Media_httpresourcegui_oepjd

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    TheException

    17 September 2010 4:03PM

    Birdyboy

    How many articles does the Guardian commission that basically complain about, or slag of men and their behavior?

    Then how many articles does the Guardian commission that basically complain about, or slag of women and their behavior?

    Is this what we call feminist equity?

    No. It’s what we call pointing out the inequality that still exists.

    And the article isn’t about “men and their behaviour” – its target is some men, and their abusive behaviour.

    But I think you knew that, didn’t you?

  • Media_httpstaticguimc_mwait


    TheotherWay

    17 September 2010 4:04PM

    ” Last weekend, when Mexican television reporter Ines Sainz and her male colleagues entered the New York Jets football players’ locker room to conduct interviews, several players whistled and catcalled at her. After the incident became public, the Jets owner appropriately apologised, but a number of commentators, bloggers and individuals discussing it on and offline are defending the Jets players’ behaviour.

    Like most people in our society, they still think it is fine and socially acceptable for men to whistle at female strangers, especially if they are conventionally attractive and especially if their male friends are watching, condoning it. As someone who has been the target of scores of whistles from male strangers, and as a researcher of whistles and catcalls, I argue that it isn’t fine, it shouldn’t be social acceptable, and that it must end”

    The judicial decision that opened the men’s locker rooms to reporters of both gender is a wrong headed one. Presence of females in the male locker room offends dignity and privacy of men. What is reported in the article above is the direct consequence of that. Bringing gender wars into it is extending the frontiers of the sex wars into the wrong place.

    Would Ms Kearl be equally advocating the “rights” of men walking i

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