Wolf-whistle builders answer their critics: Jojo Moyes meets working men silenced by a union because of their public attitude to women

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The Independent Online
TREVOR, 58, hoisted up his jeans, adjusted his hard hat, and grinned at his two co-workers. 'Yeah, I wolf-whistle . . . I always have. It makes a girl feel much better. Makes her walk better - sort of trot up a bit - doesn't it?'

Trevor, it appears, is one of a dying breed - the wolf-whistling builder. It is people like him who George Henderson, national secretary of the construction arm of the TGWU, was addressing this week when he urged Britain's 300,000 building workers to silence their wolf-whistles and lewd comments - as traditional on some building sites as visible bottom cleavage.

'For some people, the whole thing may seem to be just a joke. But it is no joke for women who have to endure unacceptable behaviour from men who delude themselves that they are paying a compliment to the victims of their unwanted attention,' said Mr Henderson.

Curiously, there was not a murmur to be heard in the City of London yesterday, in spite of the stream of secretaries in skirts passing between the back-to-back building sites that constitute the Square Mile.

Was it just the cold weather? Graham, 32, on the Laing site in Bevis Marks, said he 'couldn't be bothered. Besides, my wife doesn't like it when people do it to her. She thinks they're taking the mickey or something.'

Many of the sites were silent, he added, because police manning the nearby security barricades had warned builders against shouting at female office workers.

Other builders, questioned on their own, agreed with Mike, 35, from Co Mayo, who described whistling as 'a bit out of date - a bit adolescent, really'. Eyeing his fellow workers across the street as they afforded only the briefest glance to a passing group of giggling women, he said only 10 of the 200 or so construction workers on the Balfour Beatty site in Farringdon Road were persistent offenders.

'They're just trying to be macho. But if you had a few women hanging out of that office block there and they started whistling at one of these men on his own . . . well, he wouldn't have a lot to say for himself, would he?'

Despite the convincing rhetoric, this apparent shift towards politically correct construction work was not backed up by the experiences of female office workers.

Tracey Gunyon, 25, has to walk past the Square Mile sites every day. And every day, she said, she attracted some comment - none of which she welcomed. 'You just feel like turning round and sticking a rude sign up,' she said. 'I've been known to say the odd few words back. If it happened the other way around those blokes would turn and run in the opposite direction.'

Anita Roe, 26, was also used to the catcalls, but tried to ignore them. 'It's worse back at the office to be honest,' she shrugged. Both denied that they felt any better for the attention.

But back on the Balfour Beatty site, Trevor, egged on by his mates, was still insisting that women welcomed his comments. 'They like it. I do it to any woman. Usually young girls with mini-skirts and all that. Yeah, I've heard of those recommendations, but no union would ever stop me whistling. Or shouting.'

Had he ever been whistled at? Trevor looked a little stunned by this possibility. 'In 58 years I've never once been whistled at. I don't think I'd like it. No, I don't think so. I don't know. I suppose I might . . .'

(Photograph omitted)