It’s been a strange week. First, we have a ‘converted’ gay guy, confessing that he’s looking for the girl of his dreams on national television (ladies, do yourselves a favour and lock up your daughters), which obviously got the whole country’s knickers in a monumental twist. Outrage poured in from all quarters and rightly so, given that gay conversion therapy has been illegal since 2016 and the airing of such views is seen as dangerous for vulnerable audiences. But chestnut of the week must surely go to the latest news regarding the hefty fine and prison sentence, stipulated by law for the grievous offence of what I’ve dubbed as ‘catcalling with a hint of sexual innuendo thrown in’.
As reported by illum.com.mt in its reportage of the 24th October, catcalling a person with disparaging language, can be construed as sexual harassment and now carries a maximum fine of €10,000 and a prison sentence of two years. For many of us who had our formative years in the Seventies and Eighties, this latest development can seem quite mind-boggling. Eradicating all kinds of sexual harassment is a step in the right direction, of course, but any woman, myself included, who has spent the best part of half a century on God’s good earth, knows that being on the receiving end of ‘haw’ ġisem’ or ‘haw’ lily’ doesn’t really measure up on the list of sexual offences women have to endure every day.
As an independent woman who has always earned her own money, can order her own whisky and can argue any given subject on any given day, a catcall or wolf whistle is the very least of my worries. Perhaps you can argue that a middle-aged woman my age does not elicit this kind of behaviour and you’d probably be right. But before I’m burnt at the stake of political correctness, let me just say that my younger self knows a thing or two about sexual harassment and it’s not as pretty or tame as ‘haw’ ġisem’. What I do worry about is that this kind of overbearing response, to any behaviour which so much as hints as having a sexual connotation, will give rise to a culture which encourages women to believe that men are stupid, moronic creatures who are the enemy. Is this what we want? Is this what equality looks like?
But you might also argue that we must start somewhere and if we do not nip harassment in its mildest form at the bud, this behaviour can only escalate. True that, but when the degradation of women is well alive and kicking; in the workplace, in the media and sadly in some homes, this is only a Band-Aid solution to an age-old cancerous growth and one which will not amount to anything. Women have been harassed for decades on end without the perpetrator ever resorting to ‘disparaging’ comments. We all have had, at some point in our lives, some unfortunate encounter with some lecherous perv, who without resorting to sexist comments made you feel exposed and embarrassed. What are we to do with those? How many women are being emotionally degraded and abused even as you read this, in their very own homes by their very own partners? Being called ‘haw’ ġisem’ does not even begin to compare.
What about context? Is getting ‘haw’ lily’ when you’re going about your business on the same level as sexual assault? I don’t think so. For one thing there’s the issue of intention. I think that especially for men of my generation, this was nothing more than a way of showing appreciation for a pretty girl, a way to while away the time. I truly don’t believe that this type of catcalling amounts to anything sinister at all and harshly penalising this kind of behaviour is way over the top. Whatever next? Will a comment saying that your Facebook profile picture is ‘beautiful’, be soon considered as a lewd statement and the offender should be dragged to the law courts? Shall we have to lower our eyes whenever we see an attractive person approaching, in case he or she wrongly perceives our intentions and we might have assault on our minds?
However, what is really worrying in this whole enchilada is the fact that this type of fascism is making a parody of the real hardships of those women who have to endure sexual harassment and worse on a daily basis. Is this how championing women’s rights looks like? Is this how we intend to tackle this malady? Dragging an innocent bystander whose only crime was a surge in hormones and a big mouth to the law courts, while the very real perpetrators flourish, is in its way quite a perversion of justice. Would it not be much better if we can be grown-ups and instead of trivialising such a serious issue as sexual harassment, tackle the real sexual offences instead?