What is wrong with these people?
Yesterday my wife took Boris, Norris and Doris the half-a-mile walk to the local school and came back feeling nervous and intimidated. In the course of the ten-minute return journey three van-loads of men had tooted their horns, jeered, wolf-whistled and generally harassed her.
It is a normal road, in a normal town, and she was dressed quite normally; it's not as though she was go-go dancing in the middle of the road in order to seek attention; she simply wanted to drop the kids to school.
Now don't get me wrong - I am not saying that in some other-worldly state I do not notice the aesthetic delights that cross my path; nor even that when the view is particularly stunning I haven't gazed in admiration for longer than was necessary, or right. Without such inclinations, the history of the human race would indeed have been a short one.
However, I am saying that, that although the first thing that happens when you see a person is that you receive a visual image of them, to which you instinctively react; the fact is that they are a person, who deserves to be treated with the dignity and respect that this entails. To physically and verbally respond to someone only the basis of the visual, and not engage with any other aspect of their humanity; is to demean oneself in the very act of seeking to demean the other.
As a student I did various dodgy jobs, including spending a summer labouring. One of the worst jobs was digging trenches for cable TV. I have sat in the inevitable white-van, alongside colleagues leering and shouting out of the windows as we have driven around the town. Curiously, my refusal to do the same, was not understood as a moral conviction - but that I was being, 'posh'. I also thought that some of the worst offenders were those least comfortable doing it, but most anxious to impress with this pathetic macho-bravado; as it gained the status of a right of passage.
So how should my wife react next week when the white-van driving Neanderthals shout and leer? Should she ignore them and hope that the kids don't ask? Should she pretend she hasn't heard? Should she give up walking, and drive to the school? Or should she do what she would like to do and stick two fingers up at them and shout, "depart ye henceforth!" or something with more obvious biological implications. Would this serve to preserve her dignity by making it clear that this behaviour is neither welcomed, nor acceptable? Or could it invoke the violent response that lurks threateningly beneath the harassment, from a culture that objectifies people as nothing more than sexual?