Workers turn to code as leers and wolf-whistles shown the door
Wolf-whistlers from building sites might seem long gone, but workers have developed a new code to alert each other to passing woman.
The classic "whit-woo" indicating a female passer-by is an industry no-no, with wolf-whistlers given warnings and moved to other sites.
But workers, who declined to be named because their contracts forbid them speaking to the media, have confirmed codes exist to communicate the presence of women walking past.
"We might yell something like, 'Wayne's at the gate'," one said. Another identified "Anyone got a spanner?" was their code. Another admitted a number from one to 10, used as a rating, was still common.
A worker in Christchurch's red zone said wolf-whistling was unaccpetable. "You're in public with the company banner on display, so it's not acceptable to objectify women. Working in the red zone you were isolated, so you were just a bunch of smelly, unshaven men. But now the cordon has shrunk and there are more people around, so you need to show you're more than a wolf-whistling, open-jawed idiot."
But there was still a hangover from the past. One site supervisor said the wolf- whistle was "part and parcel of the game" when he started 20 years ago. "It happens occasionally, but there's repercussions like a written warning, because you bring your firm into disrepute. Most guys will take a good look, but they stop short of the whistle."
Another worker, with almost 18 months in Christchurch's central city red zone, said the whistle might be silenced but it could not stop furtive glances. "I know there are a few women who miss those days, but I can assure them, they still get checked out."
Some sites run induction courses that include warnings about sexual harassment, and confirm ogling is forbidden. "Some guys just can't even be sent on those types of jobs," one worker said.
Fletchers chief executive of construction Graham Darlow said wolf-whistling came under the list of "stated behaviours" for its employees. "In the past four or five years there's been a move to include more women, so we will not tolerate abusive language. We've never actually said no whistling, but at the same time we brought down all the girlie posters in smoko rooms."
Naylor Love's Canterbury general manager Peter Lockhart said there was no specific "thou shalt not wolf-whistle" paragraph in its contracts. "But it's definitely implied. It's not the image Naylor Love wants. We've got a higher number of women on our staff, and we just don't tolerate it."
Research released by an English company this month found 75 per cent of tradesmen surveyed now found wolf- whistling sexist and chauvinistic.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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