Last week I had an altercation with the builders next door.
They have been around for the past few months, sorting out the near derelict house, working almost round the clock. Nice guys, Matt and I have chatted with them about the progress of work and the state the place was in before.
But last week as I put my bike back in the shed, one of the builders wolf whistled me from his perch high up on the scaffolding. I went by my general rule of thumb for moments like these, which is to not under any circumstances make eye contact, and then retreat quick, feeling ashamed and a bit scared.
Inside with a cup of tea I had some time to reflect.
I thought about recent situations I have been in where men seemed to think it was okay to make some kind of a comment on my body.
Like the time I was cycling and 3 teenagers also on bikes came alongside me and shouted out what they thought about my body and what they would like to do with it.
Or two years ago when I was walking early one morning through a short tunnel and a man coming in the opposite direction waited until I was passing him and then dropped his trousers and watched for my response as I fled. I have no doubt that in a slightly more deserted setting it could have been much worse.
This in turn got me thinking about the best part of ten years ago where during my gap year at Bible College I was berated by a fellow student who decided to take it upon himself to educate me about where I was going wrong with my clothes and how I was causing him and others to stumble.
It’s worth knowing that at this point aged 18, I was slender and bouncy with naturally big boobs, which I found primarily annoying as they got in the way of important things like tree climbing.
At the time I was also largely unaware of the harmful rhetoric, which exists in the church regarding the female body and its effect on our brothers. This was a rude awakening for me.
And you know what? I responded to him with concern and understanding and tried to make changes to my wardrobe to accommodate what he had said. My impressionable heart was hurt and I understood myself to be in the wrong.
But I was not in the wrong.
Over the years, I have been struck by the breast conundrum; I have realised that I have come to deeply dislike them for being so obvious. Despite dressing them every which way, they still make their presence known.
My conclusion is that there are some parts of our bodies we cannot hide (aka the bits that stick out, our faces, etc) and even if we could, I am no longer convinced that the way men respond to my body has anything at all to do with me.
It struck me how unfair it is that collectively these men felt completely justified in signalling their approval - or their disapproval, of how I look according to their own agenda. Whether I turned them on, seemed fair game or simply didn’t fit into their box of how a Christian woman should look.
So back to the builders next door.
The next time I passed them, I nodded hello and continued on my way. As I reached the end of the passage there was yet another wolf whistle.
Something in me snapped.
I strode back to where they were lounging against the wall and I made eye contact, there was no escape, (although one of them actually tried to hide round the side of the house!) I asked them for what I should have demanded all of my life – that they treat me with some respect. I told them how it made me feel when they commented on my body like that and I made it clear that there would be consequences if it were to happen again. I didn’t leave until I had the nod of ascent from both of them that they understood.
It felt like a victory.
You see I had never before felt able to state my case, rather feeling paralysed by fear and guilt. But this time I knew that I needed to make a stand.
Because violence against women in this world is a terrible and horribly real thing and if we want to combat it, even in a small way then it has to begin with something as seemingly insignificant as a wolf whistle.