TESSA KATE HOGG 21/08/2012
Ahh the wolf whistle. The mating call of tradies. It’s as kiwi as a late night pie, sausage sizzle fundraisers, mint sauce with your Sunday roast. That bit of cheeky banter as you bypass the building site may not be new, but it seems some construction companies are taking it seriously and likely lads are being told to button it or risk their jobs.
The wolf whistle has been under the media spotlight recently both home and abroad. In the US, a construction billboard caused a stir which lead to online petition, an official statement of apology and the removal of the sign. The sign had read: “We apologize for the whistling construction workers, but man you look good!”
Here in Godzone, according to Beck Eleven of the Sunday Star Times, workers are turning to code to get away with their antics following warnings from employers. While there might not be “thou shalt not wolf whistle” paragraphs in their employment contracts, employers like Peter Lockhart of Naylor Love (fantastic name) were cracking down on the practice, “we just don’t tolerate it”.
Wolves get a bit of a bad rep; destined to be the baddie in all Disney stories, they’re always hungry and can’t be too picky about when the next meal comes along. Apparently it all started when naval lads needed to alert each other to on-shore eye candy. The whistler sounded approval; they were hungry… like the wolf. But things have really come on since those days…
It’s not just women that get the whistle treatment. Boats, BBQs, boy’s toys, anything sufficiently desirable to the kiwi bloke might make the cut. The wolf whistle has also proven a favourite call of the cougar when showing her approval of a new stud in the environment.
These days it might not be a whistle per se, “we might yell out one of the guy’s names or number, it’s more about getting the girl to look and embarrassing the other guys”. But the appreciation of a good looking (l)ass is ingrained in the culture says Wellington builder Mick: “we would probably all flock to the window, it’s a bloke’s world, but it’s not meant to be offensive, most girls would know it’s pretty harmless”.
It does seem that there is many a fan of the innocent banter. Rather than take offense, one Wellington professional commented: “I think it’s great. There’s a certain age where it’s flattering, like being asked for ID at the supermarket”. She’s not alone; according to a recent UK survey 8 of 10 women enjoy being paid a compliment, even if it is from a stranger.
This guy might not draw too many complaints from his targets..
However, it does seem to come down to whether it’s cheeky or creepy, “there’s a fine line” says Victoria University student Grace Blanks. “It depends on the guy and the situation. But if you walk past a building site, it’s meant to be a bit funny, a bit appreciative, it’s meant to be a compliment”. Wellington receptionist Caitlin MacMurray agrees: “it depends, if I can see them and they look around my age, and cheeky then it’s alright”. Another noted: “there is definitely a difference between the nice way and a nasty way though.”
Despite the advocates, it seems the wolf whistle may have had its day. Back in 2008, UK’s leading building firm Wimpey banned all workers from whistling, claiming it was outdated and off-putting to the “savvy and sophisticated” female house-hunter. All name jokes aside, it seems Kiwi employers are following Wimpey’s lead and even if it’s not explicitly said, workers like Mick are showing (some) self-restraint in their pursuit of the babe on the street: “you wouldn’t yell anything crude, as far as I know there’s no policy against it but it is common sense.. you’re working on sites with the construction company’s name all over it, you wouldn’t put the companies name in jeopardy.”
The line the employer takes on this matter depends on how they want to be seen. According to employment law expert Barbara Buckett: “there’s a presumption on a construction site that you are a certain type of worker, a red blooded kiwi bloke – the work force is changing though and many employers might want to get away from this.” She notes that: “sometimes it can look unprofessional, other times it’s all in good humour”.
There is no doubt this behaviour is deeply ingrained in the culture, “it stems from the top, if the culture is there then it’s more likely that often the lads will be influenced by management” says Barbara. So the first port of call is having a good look at the culture on site. Then it pays to have your policy and employment agreements as clear as possible. While there may be nothing wrong with the odd whistle, it can be one of those floodgate situations where allowing wolf-whistling opens the gates to much worse. Buckett Law’s policy kits might be just the ticket to get your lads in line. Whether you’re dealing with a wolf pack or a lone wolf, sex and the construction site, it’s an explosive combination.