I used to smell constantly of garlic.

This wasn't another of Mum's brilliant homeopathic remedies for curing my adolescent sweating problem (that was reserved for such effective substances like salty orange juice and strapping banana peel to my underarms).

It was because when I was in Melbourne I used to live behind an Italian restaurant. In fact, I lived on a street of Italian restaurants. And when you walked down the street you could guarantee two things: one, you saw enough bromance to make Magic Mike Three: When In Rome; and two, you were heckled.

Hawkers barricaded the pavement three deep, sweating out Playboy cologne and testosterone, and they called you everything ("Ciao Bella!" "Don't walk away gorgeous - you're breaking my heart!" "You're a V8!"). They would offer you anything to get you to spend money with them - garlic bread, marriage, and (once) a rap performance complete with illustrative grunting. But you could guarantee that whatever the offer, you would be doused in flattery.


Their mixture of flirting, cat-calling and hard selling was hilarious. Well, I thought it was hilarious. My friend thought it was, "f***ing sexist bullshit!"

You can imagine how guilty that made me feel for enjoying it.

So I did the internal audit that all modern women do in a similar situation. I asked "am I wrong in liking this?" And as far as I can tell, I'm not.

See, the reason I like being heckled is that it's a chance to banter with someone. And more importantly, it's a chance to be subversive.

Firstly, most conversations we have are pleasantly mindless. You can get through most social situations by saying anything modern is progressive, anything old is regressive and anything that Norway does is the solution. It doesn't require a lot of mental energy to have your everyday conversations. But when someone heckles you, it's a challenge that requires immediate mental gymnastics.

What are you going to say? Can you be funny? Can you be sassy? Can you be quick? Prove it! Dance, seal, dance! It's such a thrill to see if you can respond to the social challenge laid down when someone heckles you.

But it's more than that. For me, it's a chance to be unexpected. And in doing so, I'm giving sexism a tiny middle finger.

When I was younger and was heckled, I used to just put my head down and ignore it. On the odd occasion I found it flattering and used to toss my head and stick out my bum. However, on the whole I just used to scurry past while they laughed. But after a few years of doing this, I grew irritated at how predictable it was. I was either being vain or scared - both of which were standard responses for being heckled. I was confirming everything the hecklers expected me to do.

Then one time I was stopped in the street by a balding, crucifix-wearing Italian man who said, "Bella, where have you been my entire life?" Without thinking, I responded, "I've been waiting for you, bello, you're late!" His surprised expression was so priceless that I told him I'd just had his mother on the phone for an hour complaining about our misbehaving children.

And that's when I realised that I should banter with them.

From then onwards I said anything, as long as it was funny. ("Bella, you look a million dollars!" "Guess you can't afford me then, hey?") If I could crack a smile from them, then it didn't matter whether it was sexy, sassy or just silly. Because when you're funny, they stop, take another look at you and smile. They weren't expecting you to say anything. But now you're saying that you're up for a joke.

Of course, when they're laughing with you, you've got the upper hand. And there's nothing quite so satisfying as flipping the situation out of the control of someone who thinks they're directing it.

But it's also showing these dudes that they're not going to just stereotype me as a vain floozy or a surly bitch. If you can be funny you can break the mould of what they expect.

And if we're laughing together, then we're equal.