Before my wife and I swapped roles and my wife went back to work, she wrote a weekly column about family life for one of Britain’s biggest selling women’s weekly magazines. Every Monday, I’m going to go through her archives and reproduce one of her ramblings on my blog.
This week’s theme: I need is some random sexual attention…
At first glance you might not think I have much in common with the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones. They are filthy-rich Hollywood stars who live a red-carpet life of glitz and glamour. I, on the other hand, have a hefty overdraft, live in a flat and lead a muddy-carpet life of cooking and cleaning.
But, on closer inspection, it turns out there is something I share with Jennifer, Renee and Catherine – and it is a very important something.
This year, we all turn 40.
It is defining moment. Forty, we are told, is when life begins. And yet I am beginning to think it is when most ordinary women – Jennifer and co, you are excused – disappear off the face of the earth.
How do I know this? Well, the other day I walked past a group of builders and…nothing happened.
I waited for the wolf-whistles, the staring, the shouts of “Oi Dah-ling, you don’t get many of them to the pound” but they didn’t utter a single sound. In fact, they barely looked up from their newspapers. Clearly, they clocked the furrows on my brow, the sag in my jeans and the grey strands in my hair and thought: “Nah!”
In my twenties and early thirties, I’d have been delighted at this lack of random sexual attention. Back then, I found being wolf-whistled in the street pretty irritating. It didn’t make me feel degraded or send me running home in tears but it just felt a bit pointless. How was I supposed to respond? Whistle back? Say thank you? Strip naked and dance on the roof of the nearest car?
Well, ten years later, let me tell you I’ve changed my mind. At soon-to-be 40, I realise there are worse things than being appreciated as a sexually attractive being by a complete stranger. Try being ignored for starters.
You see, it’s not just the workmen on their scaffolding who have begun cold-shouldering me. Doors once held open now go crash in my face. Waiters who used to engage me in cheeky banter now spill coffee in my lap. And even the delivery man who might have indulged in a bit of flirty chat once upon a time is now more interested in talking about my arthritic knee.
“It’s as though I’m becoming invisible,” I said to my friend Tracey who is 26 and stunning. “And it’s getting me down.”
“Count yourself lucky,” she huffed. “I’m fed up with strange men staring at my cleavage and gawping at me when they think I can’t see them! What woman wants to be thought of as a sexual object?”
Er, that would be me.
Why? Well, because I’m 40, for goodness sake – not dead! I’m not ready to be human wallpaper, to fade into the background of life just because I’m knocking on a bit. When I’m out with Tracey and my other 20 and 30-something friends, I’m the one who ends up minding the coats while they are besieged by admirers. On the school run, it is the gym bunnies sporting toned bods along with their baby buggies who attract all the admiring looks while we oldies exchange weary glances.
It’s just not fair. Beneath the wrinkles I am still that 23-year-old stunner who once, with a casual flick of the hair, caused a man to swerve his car off the road and hit a bin.
Heady days! Unfortunately, you tend not to appreciate them until they’re gone forever. And then it’s downhill to the zimmer frame.
“Just you wait till you stop turning heads,” I said to Tracey. “One day you’ll be glad that someone once thought you were a sexual object.”
And that day may come sooner rather than later if moves by building firm Wimpey are rolled out across the country. It has banned its workers in Bristol from wolf-whistling, claiming it is “out of place in the 21st century”.
Workers were told that: ‘Savvy and sophisticated women won’t stand for being whistled at by builders.”
What a load of rubbish!
Some of us – especially we forty-somethings who are both savvy and sophisticated, thank you very much – would kill for a wink and a whistle. Far from being creepy or perverted, it simply says: You look great!
It is about as sexist and out-of-touch as the Diet Coke advert in which a group of women ogle a half-naked builder. It’s harmless and it makes us smile, something we are in need of more now than ever.
Appreciating the finer points of a member of the opposite sex is life-affirming. We are, after all, sexual beings, and the idea that we should or even could stop admiring someone’s physical beauty is ludicrous. Whatever political correctness tells us, there are few things in life that do your heart good like being given the glad eye by a member of the opposite sex. I’m not talking about being groped or stalked or harassed. I’m talking about that little bit of attention that puts a smile on your face and a spring in your step and makes you feel that even after 40 years and three kids you’ve still got ‘it’.
Many younger women say they appreciate a wolf-whistle too. In a survey carried out by BBC Radio 1Xtra half of the women polled were flattered by it and some had even gone out on a date as a result.
This is what some of them said:
“It gives me a lift, and makes me feel attractive.”
“When you’re in bad mood … it is a good way of boosting your confidence again.”
“If I look good I want to be told. When you pass a good looking guy…. you hear them whistle; that keeps me going for the rest of the week.”
We don’t need a stranger in the street to tell us we’re capable, clever and dynamic. We know that much already. But we do like to be told we’re attractive because we care about looking good. If we didn’t, the beauty business in this country wouldn’t be worth a massive £4 billion a year.
We care. And when we get to an age when bits of us start heading south – and, tragically, also east and west – we care even more because whether you’re a mum on the school run or a Hollywood star on the red carpet, everyone wants to be appreciated. So, given a choice of being whistled at or blanked on my 40th birthday, I know which I’d go for.
No doubt my Hollywood sisters, Catherine, Jennifer and Renee, will be spending their Big 4-0s lapping up the adulation of strangers at parties and premieres. As for me, I’ll be hanging about by the cement mixers, trying to look ravishing.
So, all you brickies, chippies and white van men out there: FYI, my birthday is March 31st so go on, do me a favour and give me some random sexual attention. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean it. I’ll make my day. Heck, it might even make my year!