The wolf-whistle hypothesis: thoughts on sex appeal and disability.

Yesterday, I walked to my neighbour’s house.  I’d just reached the end of our driveway and turned to go up hers, when I heard a loud wolf whistle from across the village square.   I was sure it wouldn’t be for me.  I haven’t been wolf-whistled at since I started using walking sticks and crutches.  But when I looked around, I was the only person there and a man, standing opposite me, was staring at me.

Gosh, I thought.  This hasn’t happened for a while.  I’m out of practice. Should I be offended at this wolf-whistle?  Should I wave at this man and smile, or should I stick my nose in the air and carry on the ten metres to my friend’s house?  I started to walk on, and as I turned, I heard the man’s intake of breath and  I realised he’d only just clocked my walking stick.  ‘Oh god!’ he said.  ‘I’m really sorry.  I didn’t know you were..’ his voice trailed off, but he gestured at my limping and my walking stick, leaving the word ‘disabled’ hanging in the air instead.  ‘I wouldn’t have.. I mean, I didn’t want to.. Sorry’.

Clearly, the walking stick indicated to him that I am not quite the goddess he had first envisaged.  I ignored him and carried on to see my friend, but it got me thinking about how difficult it is for people to see beyond the crutches, or the walking stick, or the wheelchair, or whatever.  As soon as that man clocked the walking aid, I was no longer a sexual object, and became an object of – what?  Pity?  Repulsion? Irrelevance?

It reminds me of fellow hip blogger paper or dysplastic’s post about the way people infer different assumptions from the various mobility aids us ‘hippies’ use.  My experience has so much in common with hers.   At the moment, I’m lucky enough only to need my wheelchair for longer distances (around the supermarket for example, or at the airport or in a museum where lots of walking is involved).  So my wheelchair is currently languishing in a dilapidated barn in the grounds of our house.

Parked – for now..

Poor wheelchair, I should really take better care of it.  I will be needing it a lot more after my operation in (gasp) 9 days time.  But there have been times when I’ve been much more reliant on my spare wheels.  And the experience is never a fun one – although Irish is a great ‘pusher’ and does a mean wheelie!

If they see you in a wheelchair, people don’t wolf whistle.  In fact, they don’t look at you at all.  They try so hard not to look you in the eye.  In my experience, a wheelchair suggests more to observers than a physical disability.   They don’t even want to go there. If a carer is with me, people will talk to them instead (the ‘does she take sugar?’ paradox).  Some especially delightful people will point and snigger.  It’s not their fault.  They’re just lucky not to know any better.

Crutches are a different matter.  I am the owner of some rather lovely purple ergonomic crutches made by Kowsky.  They look quite cool.  It seems that ‘wearing’ crutches does not imply anything about my mental abilities.  Rather, crutches invite conversation. People at the bus stop / in work meetings will say ‘Oh dear! You poor thing! What have you done to yourself?’ and then look frightfully embarrassed when I say ‘Oh, I haven’t done anything, I was just born without proper hip sockets’.  They usually apologise – and I reassure them that they haven’t done anything wrong, that it’s fine, that I’ll be getting them fixed soon.

Why do my crutches say ‘temporary’?

So that leaves my walking stick.  A walking stick is in my view, the most useful mobility aid if you want people to notice you.  Old people use walking sticks.  That means that we associate walking sticks with infirmity, with degeneration.  People get out of my way if they see me using a walking stick (this can be very useful in crowded places actually).  When I use crutches, they assume it’s a temporary injury that doesn’t require quite so much consideration – a broken ankle, a torn hamstring, maybe.  But a stick means permanent physical impairment.  And permanence invites consideration – though not, as I realised yesterday, from wolf-whistlers (perhaps another bonus!).

Interestingly, this is different in the US.  Last year I visited Boston for a work conference, and strangers would come up to me in bookshops, in coffee shops, and openly express curiosity about my ‘cane’.  They wanted to know why I used it, and where I got it from.  They told me I didn’t look like I needed to use a walking aid because I was too young / slim / athletic looking.  I didn’t know how to take that at first.  I felt shy about discussing my mobility or lack thereof with total strangers.  But it felt quite nice not to be invisible.

Walking sticks (actually not ideal beach accessories)

There’s no getting away from the fact though, that walking sticks are excellent style crampers.  Nothing says ‘unsexy’ better.  And weirdly, so-called ‘sexy’ clothes look awful with a stick.  A fitted dress, a low cut top – completely canceled out by hospital issue metal with rubber feet.  It looks at best incongruous, and at worst like I’m trying too hard to be something I can’t be.

‘Don’t worry’ says Irish.  ‘I don’t care.  You’re as sexy as buggery’ (an unfortunate turn of phrase, has Irish).  Ah well. Irish is good at cheering me up.  It’s a good thing I don’t need a walking stick in bed.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

the yarn identity

Take a seat, grab some yarn, and tell me the first thing that comes to your mind.


Being happy in Devon with wonky hips


Youngish mum, wearing clothes.


For the little bits of nice, the small things in life and food that makes you smile


Knitting around Dublin - Updated every Monday

Emi 2 Hips

Life Happens When You Least Expect It... stories of living, loving, and life's adventures


Just another site


Brought to you by a reluctant hip blogger.

Destination Thrift

Bargains with no boundaries


Where vanity isn't a dirty word


Decent, honest student food (by a decent, honest student)

Sugar and Spice Baking

And all the yummy things we are making…


Journey through hip dysplasia - and life stuff


...knitting...survival...and the meaning of life.


Life really does go backwards at 40


Cards, crafts and other therapies...

%d bloggers like this: