To date, the Prime Minister’s defence of why he repeatedly touched a waitress over months and months and months was that he ‘misread’ the situation.
I think we are all gracious enough to give the PM the benefit of the doubt. Reaching out and pulling the ponytail of a waitress at a cafe is the sort of stupid arrogant thing that privileged males do as a ‘joke’. Such ‘jokes’ are technically an assault, but in the interests of giving the PM as much grace as we can, I suppose we could agree that he ‘misread’ the situation the first time he touched her without consent.
His ‘I misread the situation’ defence gives him a free pass on the first time he touched her, but how on earth does the Prime Minister explain at least the other 9 times he touched the waitress?
Again, giving John Key the benefit of the doubt, let’s run through the times he touched and the responses one would give when you heard he had touched her.
FIRST TIME – Ok, the PM has clearly misread the situation. Let’s apologise and remind him how it’s technically an assault.
SECOND TIME – What? Why did he touch her twice? Remind the PM that it’s assault and talk about the power issues at play here. He’s the PM, she’s a waitress. Draw pictures if you have to.
THIRD TIME – Is he on the spectrum or something? What the bloody hell is he doing? There’s ‘misreading a situation’ and then there’s holding the map upside down. He’s not misreading a situation now, he’s totally not comprehending the situation.
FOURTH TIME – He’s touched her 4 times? For the love of God, someone take him aside and explain how creepy and harassing this is now becoming.
FIFTH TIME – Does he want to get sacked or something? What on earth is going on? Can someone get him off Candy Crush and Facebook private message him that this needs urgent attention and that he’ll have to postpone listening to some beats while chilling with Max to go through issues of consent and power dynamics. Let’s throw in a basic feminism class and explain how primary school children are taught not to touch.
SIXTH TIME – Is he stoned? Is he turning up to the cafe just after 4.20pm each day? Is this the problem? Someone tie his hands behind his back every time he goes into this bloody cafe!
SEVENTH TIME – Start looking for a new Press Secretary.
EIGHTH TIME – Start measuring for new furniture for when he has to clear out his office.
NINTH TIME – Maybe we could tell people he really is a shape changing lizard alien?
TENTH TIME – We ran out of excuses at about the third time.
Beyond the extraordinary amount of times the PM did this, let’s remind ourselves exactly how Key responded every time he was around the Waitress, and you decide if his actions are misreading the situation or sadistically playing power games with someone he saw as a plaything?
- I didn’t respond positively to his ‘gesture’, in fact I didn’t address his behaviour at all, besides an unimpressed expression
- Despite my obvious annoyance I didn’t comment on his behaviour. It then happened yet again when he next visited the cafe and again I didn’t respond verbally, but everything about my body language screamed I DON’T LIKE THAT.
- I began to avoid interacting with him where possible, if he entered when another staff member was also present I would promptly make myself busy somewhere else, I would ask someone to take the beverages or food to his table so I didn’t have to. I kept my distance when I could. It seemed as though the more I disliked it and made myself absent the more fun it became for him, the more he enjoyed the challenge of approaching from behind me, unsuspected.
- the game continued. He would come up behind me when I was at the ordering terminal, tug on my hair and then pretend that his wife, Bronagh, had done it (much to her embarrassment), and she would tell him to stop it. As he rounded the corner behind me he commented “that’s a very tantalising ponytail”.
- he approached me from behind, security personnel by his side, as I stood with my back to him filling water glasses, and he pulled my hair before once again pointing the blame at Bronagh. I couldn’t believe it, he was still persisting and by now he had definitely got the message that I was not enjoying it – that seemed to be why he was enjoying it so damn much. It had really crossed the line by this point and I didn’t need to tell him to stop because now Bronagh herself was already telling him to stop what he was doing, and not for the first time I might add. I exclaimed “Really?!!”, to my manager beside me, and shot him a look of utter disbelief and frustration.
- I told his security that I was sick of having my hair pulled and one day I’ll snap and i’ll punch him in the face. I hoped that maybe they’d tell him that enough’s enough and it’s time to draw it to an end. I posted on the National Party and the John Key Facebook pages a message along the lines of “Stop pulling my hair – I don’t like it!”. Maybe between social media and his security buddies and my body language and his wife’s advice he might finally get the message?
- Despite my best efforts to avoid the situation, without literally running away, he just couldn’t help himself and still attempted, from directly in front of me, to reach around behind me in search of my hair, as he walked by. That was too much, even for me. I had remained professional for absolutely as long as I could and this time I put my hand out in front of me, a barrier between John and myself, and I said “No! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” as I wagged my finger at him and he reluctantly backed away. During this visit he said to my manager “she really doesn’t like me pulling her ponytail?” and she responded “well, …no!”. He then asked her my name and later, as he passed by me upon leaving, he spoke my name, just that one word, as if a duel like acknowledgement, a standoff.
- As he approached me he thought it would be fitting to raise his hands high and make scary, suspense sound effects, like the music from the movie Jaws that we all know so well, and still gestured as if to reach behind me. As he towered overhead I slunk down, cringing, whilst Bronagh told him to “leave the poor girl alone”. I looked him in the eye and asked “is it self defence, with your security here, if I have to physically stop you from touching me?” and he countered, with a smile, “defence against what?”. He then changed the topic to the settling of his account and bid me politely farewell, but, as he motioned to leave and I turned towards the computer, he couldn’t resist that satisfying tug and once again he pulled my hair.
- As he made his way out the door I said after him “Please STOP or I will actually hit you soon!”. He’d made it clear that he just didn’t care. I had made a scene, I had told his security, his wife had told him, I was getting pretty close to physically stopping him given half the chance, and he still didn’t care. Everybody knew that I didn’t like it, I really didn’t like it. I felt powerless and tormented and I stepped out the back and I cried frustrated tears.
The PM tells us he’s the most casual Prime Minister NZ has ever had, and claims ‘it’s a tactile world’. Well ‘casual’ and ‘tactile’ is fine if you are a relaxed 2 year old, it’s not the type of traits you want in a Prime Minister.
This is about a man with huge power bullying and harassing a female worker with almost no power. Tens of thousands of a workers go to work each week putting up with harassment and bullying. The lack of a unionised workforce means the precarious position many workers exist in have no power to complain to their owners about the touching from a rich and powerful client.
This is the 21st Century, surely in NZ, the place where women fought for the vote first, a worker can go to work and not have to put up with being touched by the rich and powerful?
Key’s ‘I misread the situation’ is bullshit. He knew exactly what he was doing. This wasn’t horseplay, this was harassment.