"We may tut and scowl and whisper obscenities under our breath when men wolf-whistle in our direction — but secretly we love it."
So claims Martha De Lacey, writing for the "Femail" section of the Daily Mail. (For reference, other articles in the "Femail" column include "Bring on the 'Mansie'," "Are sex buddies EVER a good idea?" and "The Celebrity Chindex." Clearly, I have much to learn about the real issues facing contemporary women.) She goes on to explain that 72% of people will start off the new year feeling bad about their weight, "according to research," but that "around 85% of dieters will be motivated by a simple and sincere compliment, with 66% enjoying someone asking 'have you lost weight?', and 53% believing that someone saying 'you look great' helps keep things on track."
But here's the kicker: "a good old-fashioned wolf-whistle will encourage 38% of us to stick to our weight-loss plans, with 54% of people polled saying they love receiving one."
Oh, good old-fashioned wolf-whistles. How I've missed them, in this age where you can't even hit a woman in the head with your penis or pour M&Ms down a female employee's shirt without getting into trouble.
At first, it was unclear to me who exactly the whistler in question was meant to be. A friend? An enemy? A frenemy who wants to tempt me away from the gym? A Looney Tunes character? All seemed possible.
Luckily, the Daily Mail provided me with a handy stock photo illustration.
So there you go, I guess.
While I was (and am) highly tempted to just snark endlessly at any article that implies that the wolf-whistle is the highest form of flattery, I realized that it might not be Ms. De Lacey's fault that she made such a ludicrous-sounding claim. Rather, her "researchers" are to blame.
The "research" she cites comes to her via XLS-Medical Fat Binder. Who or what is XLS-Medical Fat Binder, you may ask? Well, apart from being a crack team of researchers who appear to take their social science cues from Parks and Recreation when it comes to coining terms like "compl-insult," or "a compliment intended as an insult," the good folk at XLS-Medical Fat Binder are the purveyors of a weight-loss product which is "clinically proven and naturally derived." My, my. That certainly means a lot, since we know how closely regulated the weight loss supplement industry is.
The other two "experts" cited in the article, dietitian Helen Bond and celebrity fitness trainer Elise Lindsay, appear to be ... well, who would have thought. They're associated with XLS-Medical Fat Binder too! But don't worry. Elise Lindsay is "regularly quoted in the media," which we all know means "has the necessary social science training to understand what the impacts of street harassment are on women across the globe."
Perhaps it's unfair of me to pick on what's obviously meant to be a "trend" piece rather than a work of investigative journalism, but sadly this isn't a problem confined to the Daily Mail. And nowhere is the trend towards bad science and pointless claim-making more evident than in the "women's sections" of newspapers — which seem, oddly enough, to align with "trend stories." (Don't even get me started on this recent New York Times "debate" about whether or not women should wear makeup.) As more and more "research" is funded privately in the "free market," particularly in the world of medical research, and fewer and fewer journalists have the necessary training or time to fact-check their sources, the Daily Mail may soon be featuring stories like "Pink pens easier for women to use, study finds," or "Eating an all-meat diet makes women less annoyingly fragile." Oh, wait.
Not only are articles like De Lacey's obviously based on completely biased sources of information, but they contradict the experiential knowledge of people who live in the real world. Just today, a friend of mine shared the following piece on Facebook, entitled "A Letter To The Guy Who Harassed Me Outside The Bar." The piece is obviously and explicitly anecdotal, but it serves as a nice counterpoint to the assertion that secretly, women really love being whistled at. Making these egregiously generalized claims about gender relations based on unsubstantiated "research" provided by a weight loss drug manufacturer is insulting to your readers, male and female.
And so, dear Daily Mail, when it comes to writing about women (or anything, really), pseudo-science isn't your friend, or even your frenemy, and suggesting that any thinking person might believe this garbage isn't a compl-insult. It's just insulting.