Do Whistling Wolves Bite?

Are lamppost Lotharios a menace — or merely amusing in a corny way? The psychologists, who don’t get whistled at, aren’t alarmed

RAY GARDNER February 1 1949

Do Whistling Wolves Bite?

Are lamppost Lotharios a menace — or merely amusing in a corny way? The psychologists, who don’t get whistled at, aren’t alarmed

RAY GARDNER February 1 1949

Do Whistling Wolves Bite?

Are lamppost Lotharios a menace — or merely amusing in a corny way? The psychologists, who don’t get whistled at, aren’t alarmed


ONCE UPON a time the wolf was merely a four-legged animal that went after Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. But in this fifth decade of the 20th century the term is more often applied to the questing male with the low whistle and the high-speed line who isn’t interested in anyone’s grandmother. As such, the wolf has become a symbol of considerable social significance, a key to the study of our changing sex customs.

Breathes there a man with soul so dead who has never been called a wolf? Probably not, for after the serviceman left the wolf at our door we took him in and almost made a pet of him. We’re inclined to call the young wolf “cute,” treat the older wolf, at the worst, as a harmless joke.

What does this good-natured toleration of wolfing signify? Does it mean that our sex behavior standards are sinking dangerously low? Or, on the other hand, is it a welcome sign that we are taking a more frank and healthy—if also boisterous— attitude toward sex?

Those experts who make it their business to decide whether we are on the shortest road to hell— the psychologists, sociologists, boys’ counselors, social workers, and teachers—agree that our tendency to tolerate the wolf is a sign that our sex standards are changing. But they disagree on whether or not the change is for the better.

They say that our sex customs are constantly changing and that the modern variety of wolf is a product of this evolution. He has had many predecessors, each one usually a trifle more bold than the last, and each a representative of the changing standards of his time.

The “masher” of the 90’s and the early 1900’s has his place in the genealogy of the wolf, says Prof. J. D. Ketchum of the psychology department of University of Toronto. “He was dressed to kill and gave a wicked look out of the comer of his eye,” Prof. Ketchum recalls. “That wicked look has descended today to the whistle. The end in view is the same for both. The wolf is mofe bold than the masher and that has come about through a much more frank acceptance of what is the end result of these approaches.”

In the 20’s the wolf

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Do Whistling Wolves Bite?

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went about in sheik’s clothing. He was the Latin lover who slicked down his hair and gave a sickly impersonation of Valentino.

Going further back, the man who made the ladies duck behind their parasols was the man who made googoo eyes. In Houston, Tex., there still exists a civic ordinance prohibiting the making of goo-goo eyes, and in 1944 a wolf was fined for violating it!

Who Called Him That?

A boys’ counselor sums up with this observation: “The wolf is just the sheik or the masher dressed in the Bold Look and ready to give out with the Bold Leer.”

But the Rev. Murray A. Cayley, instructor in social relations at the Rochester Institute of Technology, says they are infantile, undisciplined and lazy. Further on in this article he’ll tell you why.

How the wolf got his name is anyone’s guess. Standard dictionaries nearly all define the word, as applied to man, as “a fierce, rapacious or destructive person,” an indication that the word sprang from a quite legitimate source. In American slang the word has long been associated with sex as a synonym for all sorts of sex pervert and lascivious male. The phrase “to see a wolf”—meaning to be seduced— was a colloquialism in 19th-century England. It is only since the United States entry in World War II that wolf has assumed its present meaning.

The experts are agreed that just as the modern wolf is bolder than most of his predecessors, he is also more common. A Montreal dancing teacher, Helen Reddy, said recently at the completion of five years and 17,000 miles in the arms of hundreds of males: “Not all men are wolves—just the healthy ones.”

The subspecies of wolf also seem to be without limit, ranging all the way from the high-school boy whose whistle is worse than his bite to the predatory wolf who operates complete with etchings and highly dishonorable intentions.

Hank, a 29-year-old RCAF veteran and fourth-year student at University of Toronto, has in mind the latter type of wolf when he says, “A wolf is a guy who goes out after one thing. Another type of wolf is personified by Hank himself. Sometimes he and his male friends “honk” at girls they pass on the street, giving one “honk” to a girl adjudged “fair,” two to one considered “good,” three for “excellent” and four for “outstanding.”

In high-school circles there are at least two kinds of wolf, in the opinion of Dr. Seeley, a sociologist with the National Committee for Mental Hy-

giene, and the high-school girl uses the word in two alternate senses.

“One is the type of boy whom she considers to be harmless, who gives her public recognition with a whistle, without going beyond the limit she is willing to tolerate,” he says. “The other type is the boy who -from her point of view is actually a physical danger. He is the boy who wants to do more than just kiss her good night.”

The wolf may be many things to many people, but one thing he is not is a sex degenerate, a molester of women who goes beyond the law. If the wolf does get rough there are all kinds of legal traps to ensnare him. If he uses obscene language or obstructs a woman on the street, the police can pounce on him. The charge in one case would be using profane language in a public place; in the other, the charge would be one of incommoding. If he touches a woman, perhaps to stop her, he may face a charge of common assault. If he goes further, pushes her or becomes violent, the charge may be indecent assault. There are enough laws, then, to curb the man who does more than whistle and becomes a serious annoyance. When in doubt, the cop’s trump card is vagrancy, a charge that actually does cover a multitude of sins. The whistler, however, is quite within the law and the worst that can happen to him is that the cop on the beat might ask him to move along.

Watch the Quiet Ones

When subjected to the vivisection of the psychologist and sociologists, the wolf is seen in two sharply contrasting lights. He is seen as a healthy symptom of a new and more honest approach to sex. Or he is seen as just the opposite, as a sign of increasing licentiousness.

Dr. Reva Cerstein, well known Toronto psychologist, is a champion of the wolf “who doesn’t go too far” because, she says, “He is a healthy symptom, for •wolfing is, after all, merely an honest expression of how a man feels toward a woman.”

To her it is a way of “breaking away from many of the taboos which complicate and harm normal boy and girl relations.”

“The fact that wolfing is carried on and is tolerated by women (I think most girls consider it a compliment to be whistled at) shows a desire on the part of both sexes to openly express their feelings toward one another,” she contends.

The wolf, then, may be okay as a symbol, but what if he quits symbolizing and goes into action? Is he dangerous? Not often, says Dr. Gerstein, because he’s so obvious.

“You know where you stand with a wolf, as you do with any person who calls a spade a spade,” she says. “The strong silent type who keeps you guessing is the man who needs watching.”

Dr. Seeley agrees that the wolf is a

pretty harmless sort of critter. He says, in effect, that the heavy kidder, who is the type of man most often called a wolf, is the person who is most unlikely to have any startling secrets to tell Dr. Kinsey.

“It is actually true,” he says, “that adults who go in for heavy kidding and talk a good deal in terms of action are certainly not sexual athletes. It is doubtful if they are even sexually adequate.”

To him the wolf’s fast line is a verbal substitute for real sex behavior.

In the same way, he believes the junior wolf who operates on the highschool campus “appeases the natural sex urge by this ritual play of wolfing” and possibly finds in wolfing a protection against carrying out seduction.

Dr. Seeley thinks there is little danger of the boy who whistles today graduating to seduction tomorrow. He contends that there are two alternate types of boy wolf, the whistler and the potential seducer, and that the one is not a stage in the development of the other.

The lone wolf is the one to be most wary of, in the view of Prof. Ketchum. He explains the most common, acceptable kind of wolfing as essentially a part of a group behavior pattern. The lone wolf is the one who does not conform to this pattern. He is not well-integrated in the group and so refuses to accept the unwritten rules for sex conduct observed by the majority.

Vulgar But Not Harmful

Adolescent wolfing is just a device a boy employs to fluster through his first encounters with the opposite sex, Prof. Ketchum says. It takes courage for a boy to make his first sally into this unknown territory so he joins with the gang in whistling at girls and together they find the necessary courage. There is the added satisfaction that this qualifies him for membership in the gang.

“Wolfing allows youngsters to do something in the sex field and develop sex-consciousness without doing anything that may be considered dangerous,” he says.

When the Army took up wolfing, Prof. Ketchum explains, it was a regression to adolescence, as are most things which happen in a military unit. The Army also helped sanctify wolfing. “Even a straitlaced prohibitionist is apt to smile at a soldier out on a tear,” he says in explanation of why we looked tolerantly on the wolf in uniform.

Our postwar acceptance of wolfing is another matter. It signifies that our attitude toward sex is changing, but not, as some people may believe, that our inhibitions are disappearing altogether. They never disappear, says Prof. Ketchum, they only change.

In the 20’s, the era of “flaming youth,” when the wolf of the day put on his raccoon coat and climbed into a rumble seat with a flask of gin and his best girl, we experienced one change. Now we are experiencing another.

“Over the past 10 years especially,” says Prof. Ketchum, “girls have been drawing up new rules as to what is permitted and what is not. The point where they draw the line may be more advanced than where their grandmothers and mothers drew it, but the fact remains they do draw a line.”

A Toronto junior high-school principal, Len Chellew, describes wolfing as being vulgar hut not particularly harmful. He links it with the desire by some adolescents to be “big shots.” “Some boys,” he says, “whistle and make passes as much to maintain^their positions as big shots as they do to satisfy any sex drives.” The boy who drives his father’s car to school to impress the

girls is indulging in a form of wolfing which might' best be discouraged, says Mr. Chellew.

Classes in human relations during which the students discuss almost every phase of human behavior are among the most popular classes at Mr. Chellew’s school in Forest Hill. Before term’s end wolfing will most likely be a topic for discussion. Mr. Chellew is confident the students will frown on it, agree it’s vulgar and causes embarrassment to both the hoy and girl involved.

The violent antiwolfists, who look upon wolfing as “free enterprise applied to sex,” blast the wolf as a “shady, infantile and lazy character.”

Reverend Murray A. Cayley, instructor in social relations at the Rochester Institute of Technology, scorns the theory that wolfism is an honest expression of man’s natural interest in women and therefore is a healthy symptom.

“It is also natural interest for man to desire ownership of property,” he says. “Getting it by shady means is not. honest or healthy.

“Wolfism is a short-cut technique typical of the immature and undisciplined personality. I am well aware that many spiritual panhandlers seek to share the privileges of society without accepting its responsibilities. That is typical of the wolf personality. I know of nothing really great in life that is not achieved without a high degree of personal discipline.”

Neither will Mr. Cayley accept the proposition that whistling is a safety valve, a substitute for seduction.

“The whistle, which might, be termed a mating call, is an attempt at substituting something for an intelligent and our socialized approach to courtship,” he argues.

“The wolf sees a skirt which is particularly revealing, whistles or toots his horn. If he discovers when in front of the girl that she is ugly, he does any one of a number of ungracious things and speeds away.

“It all appeals to the wolf’s infantile desire to escape proven social patterns. We have become absorbed by a philosophy of laissez-faire. This leads almost without exception to techniques of escape from responsibility, which wolfing certainly is.”

A Wolf’s Mother Speaks

Another who frowns back at the wolf is Captain Mary Webb, a Salvation Army social worker whose opinions are backed by years of experience in helping wayward girls. For one thing, she says, street-corner wolfing is not chivalrous. For another, our carefree acceptance of it is an indication that our youth has become too sophisticated and flippant in its attitude toward sex. This she blames on the movies, radio and popular novels which have glamourized sex.

The church should rally a general attack on the movies, radio and book publishers, says Captain Webb. So far, in her view, the church has been too silent or, when it has spoken, too prosaic. (Two ministers interviewed at her suggestion could see no harm in wolfing. Said one, Rev. Ray McCleary of Toronto’s Woodgreen Community Centre: “The wolf? Oh, he’s nothing, just what we used to call the killerdiller.”)

The police lean toward the camp of the antiwolfists. Street-corner wolfing might be okay, say the police, if it stopped at whistling, but too often it doesn’t. The chief constable of a large eastern city claims these lamppost Lotharios think nothing of propositioning a strange girl as she passes a crowd of them. “Our constables have orders to keep ’em moving, they’re

definitely a menace,” the chief says.

The wolf has been given his innings. What about his victims? Do they like to be whistled at? Do they consider it a compliment that offsets the indignity of his advance?

Some say they like, some say they don’t, but most prefer to keep the wolf guessing.

A Toronto matron, herself the mother of three wolves and a daughter who is wolfed, says the girls love it. “The wolf whistle is a way of saying, ‘Oh, aren’t you lovely,’ ” she claims.

Gladys, a receptionist in a doctor’s office, who appears more attractive than is generally considered to be legal, finds she enjoys it—in retrospect.

“You feel sort of funny inside when you’re wolfed by a crowd of boys on the street,” says Gladys. “It makes you feel self-conscious and just a little cheap. But that passes off, and darned if it isn’t nice to have been noticed.”

What Do the Girls Say?

A group of girls who are probably exposed to more men than are any others in the land are the smartly uniformed streetcar guides employed by the Toronto Transportation Commission. They get plenty of requests for dates during a day’s work, but once they explain company rules forbid them to accept dates on the job the wolves usually draw in their fangs.

“It breaks the monotony,” explains one attractive TTC girl. “Most of the fellows who go by our corner in trucks or cabs whistle or wave and we shout ‘Hi ya’ back. Undignified? Not on your life! Just friendly.”

Girls in their 20’s seem to adopt two different attitudes toward the wolf, depending on his age.

Mildred, an attractive store clerk, puts it this way: “If a bunch of young kids whistle at me, I often smile back or make some crack. They take it in good fun, they know a smile is as far as it goes. But if older fellows do it, I freeze up. You can’t afford to give them any encouragement. Still I don’t mind it. Not every girl is pretty enough to be whistled at.”

Mary, a 17-year-old high-school girl, thinks Mildred flatters herself. “Gosh, it’s no compliment to me,” she says. “Nowadays the boys will whistle at anything.”

But lest the wolf get overconfident, he should be warned there are plenty of girls who are determined to keep him away from their door. They’re ready to fend him off with a hatpin or a good right-cross to the nose.

Esther, a secretary, is one of them. At the mention of the word “wolf,” Esther screws up a tiny, well-manicured fist and says, vehemently: “I’d like to punch every one of them on the nose!” The wolf has an even more violent effect on Irene, a dress shop salesgirl whose very good looks are likely to have a still more violent effect on a good many males, wolves or otherwise. Irene huffs and she puffs and blows the wolf down with this cyclonic comment: “The wolf is either conceited or cowardly, or probably both. When he whistles at a girl, he thinks she’s pleased. That is conceit. When he tries to pick her up with a whistle and a fast line, it’s because he hasn’t the courage to approach girls properly and under the proper circumstances. That’s when he’s cowardly.”

Isabel, Irene’s attractive girl friend, agrees the wolf will never win any medals for courage. Says she: “The whistler’s not a wolf, he’s a weasel.”

If the wolf insists on prowling, after that, his best bet is to whistle at goodlooking psychologists only. For the psychologist, not the blonde, is the wolf’s best friend. ★