Perhaps it is my age (how did I become nearer to forty than thirty?), but I am no longer a victim of "street harassment". I can't remember the last time a builder wolf whistled me, or a white van man "flattered" my behind. Don't get me wrong, I am not upset that I no longer have to think on my feet as to how to react to such unsolicited "compliments" as I shall call them, but I just hadn't realised I was no longer subject of such attention.
It was at a recent talk I went to with a friend as part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, entitled 'Young Women's Guide to Life' featuring Guardian columnists and renowned feminists Hadley Freeman and Sali Hughes that got me thinking. I was expecting to be brainwashed with anti-men jokes and bombarded by their hatred of the fashion industry, but instead I was left pondering as to one, when my behind lost its appeal and two, how we respond to compliments both wanted and unwanted, negative and positive and from both men and women in today's world and politically correct climate.
Towards the end of the talk the floor was opened up and two young women wanted Sali and Hadley's opinion on how to deal with what they referred to as "street harassment". Their answer was loud and clear – if you feel safe and its daylight, give them a mouthful if it's late and dark, just ignore it. But in addition to this, Sali then told us to go home and write a blog post about it.
When I used to be shouted at on the street by men, you wouldn't go home and tell the world online to feel better about the situation. Flattered or insulted, you just dealt with it there and then and moved on. But today, social media and in particular Twitter, has opened up a whole new world of opinions where publically shouting back is what we do. In the case of such male attention, then no harm done. But dislike a celebrity's latest hair cut or disagree with a politician... bad-mouth them on Twitter without a thought for their feelings.
Now I am all for standing up for your rights and having an opinion, but have we gone too far in voicing these opinions at the expense of others? And then in responding to such comments, are we simply dignifying the insults and giving them credibility? Where do we draw the line? Whatever happened to "if you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say it"?
And on the flipside, what about how we handle the "nice" compliments and compliments from other women in particular? How many times has a girlfriend told you how lovely your hair looked only for you to reply, "oh it is so in need of a cut it looks awful" or "but what about my skin. I have bags up to my eyeballs". Sali put it well: "Compliments are like medicine. We don't want to take them, but they are good for our health." Give us an insult and we are told to shout back, pay us a compliment and we turn it into a negative. And how many times do we apologise for ourselves. Hadley called it "self deprecating Torrets".
So my friend and I made a pact. We will both compliment each other and accept said compliments graciously. We also agreed that we can do without the wolf whistles, and console ourselves with the fact that recent sexual harassment legislation could well be a contributory factor to our bottoms disappearance from men's radars, rather than our age...