Y’all know Sir Bob Jones, right? He is that white baby boomer and property tycoon who thinks his racist, sexist opinions are the last word on everything. But I guess in today’s world, millions of dollars buys you the luxury of being completely divorced from reality and not having to give a shit about 99 percent of the world. Last year he even wrote a piece stating that a liveable wage was a “privilege” not a basic human right. After all, being able to afford the necessities of life like food is a luxury of the rich, right? Well, he is at it again. A few weeks back he wrote a piece on #Ponytailgate for the New Zealand Herald, and it was bad. Really bad. This is how he started off his editorial ‘Why I think Ponygate is nonsense’:
News broke that the Prime Minister, presumably exercising a perk of office, had seemingly hurled a coffee-shop waitress to the floor, then not once but twice, and regardless of his accompanying wife’s feelings let alone those of the other patrons, their children, two sensitive pet dogs and a wheel-chaired granny, violently had his way with her. Then emerging triumphantly from under the table wearing her knickers on his head, he’d searched around for fresh victims, before launching salivating and naked into the street in a quest for fresh flesh to commit his vile corruptions on.
Bob’s #Ponytailgate parody might just take the cake for minimising language use. John Key repeatedly pulled the ponytail of a young waitress named Amanda Bailey over the course of several months. Ms Bailey has already laid a sexual harassment complaint and is talking to Unite Union about further actions she might be able to take over the Prime Minister’s unwanted physical contact and harassment. Bob downplayed a very serious event that served to minimise a young woman’s agency and right to bodily autonomy and likely led to her feeling powerless and humiliated. So Bob, a powerful and rich male, decided to heap further humiliation on her as punishment for speaking out.
Obviously John Key did not rape or violently attack Amanda, as Bob pointed out so, no big deal right? It’s not like casual sexism – the daily harassment that women face both at work and on the streets as well as the unwanted touching of their bodies as playthings or objects – helps to create rape culture and fuel a male-centric society that teaches men to hate women and to believe that sex is their entitlement? Apparently we, as women, should be thankful for any male attention we get no matter how degrading, abusive or bullying.
Casual sexism makes women an accessory to male fantasies and desires and robs them of their agency. As Laurie Penny wrote in her book Unspeakable Things: sex, lies and revolution, “Be a good girl. Smile and make people feel comfortable; accept low pay, long hours the occasional grope in the corridor[…]”
Sir Bob Jones believes what he calls the “media beat-up” over John Key harassing a young, low-paid waitress is no big deal. In his mind, it’s worthy of ridicule and minimisation – but what happened to this waitress is part of a much bigger social problem. Plus it’s important to note that this is not the first time John Key has behaved in sexist ways that contribute to rape culture – this is something that Sir Bob fails to understand.
When news broke that the Roast Busters men had been getting underage girls intoxicated and raping them, Key barely took the matter seriously, saying “these boys just need to grow up”. He said it as if entrenched, engrained, sexist, violent behaviour is something boys just grow out of. As if this behaviour is not part of a cultural construct that we as a society need to disrupt and collectively stand against. John Key is living proof that “boys” don’t just grow out of sexist behaviour, if #Ponytailgate is anything to go by!
Bob’s good mate John Key has gone on to state that his constant yanking on a young woman’s ponytail was not sexist, because he says he would have yanked on a male waiter’s ponytail too. Thank God we have Pākehā men around to tell us what is and is not sexist, because it is an encoded male right to tell us how to feel about issues that deeply and structurally affect women. That shit never gets old. I find it very hard to believe Key would have called a male’s ponytail “tantalising” as he sidled close enough to wrap his fingers around it and then yank on it. Don’t you?
It doesn’t matter where anyone falls on the gender expression spectrum, no one has the right to touch another person’s body without their permission. I guess Key missed this human-rights memo?
Oh, and speaking of basic human rights, Bob lambasted what he called the “Children’s Commission and Women’s Affairs” for standing up to Key. I think Bob meant the National Council of Women since Sue McCabe, Chief Executive of this council, wrote a widely shared open letter to John Key in an attempt to raise awareness that Key’s sexist and bullying behaviour was part of a much bigger social problem. But who needs journalistic accuracy when you are as rich as Bob? He wrote:
Come to think of it, having an interest in the classics, I dutifully give my 7-year-old daughter’s ponytail the occasional tug. That incestuous confession should excite diverse madwomen from the Human Rights mob, Children’s Commission and Women’s Affairs, all utterly unnecessary agencies which greatly irritate everyone at the long-suffering taxpayer’s expense.
Laurie Penny went on to point out in Unspeakable Things, that “rebellion is always riskier when you are a girl” – after all, “sanity is socially determined”. Labelling women who stand up for human rights, who are unprepared to remain silent when they witness and endure injustice, discrimination, unfairness and yes, casual and structural sexism, as “madwomen” is a polemic argument and is drenched in coded sexism. Women who stand up for their rights and gender equality have been labelled as “mad” and “bad” throughout history.
Many of the Suffragettes were incarcerated, force feed when they went on hunger strikes following the refusal of Suffragettes to be regonised as political prisoners – all because they demanded that women should have the democratic right to vote. In Victorian England when women “rebelled against Victorian domesticity, [they] risked being declared insane and committed to an asylum. This was usually at her husband’s or father’s request.” This is stated on the United Kingdom’s Science Museum website. And when Gregory Corso – a key member of the beat movement in the 1970s – was asked why there were so few women among what Laurie called “the half-mad, celebrated, drug taking, sexually experimental Beat writers of the 1950s ,” he responded,
There were women, they were there, I knew them, their families put them in institutions, they were given electric shock. In the 50s if you were male you could rebel, but if you were female your families had you locked up.
Sir Bob Jones is a depressing example of just how far we have not come. He may believe that taxpayers do not want to pay for human, children’s, and women’s rights commissions and councils, but what I as a citizen of Aotearoa want more than anything is for my taxes to be spent on organisations and non-profits that hold those in power to account – that protect the disenfranchised, vulnerable, and the marginalised!
In times of economic hardship, I want my taxes to go to those struggling below the poverty line (a group which is vastly overrepresented by our indigenous people, women and children) and to people who need welfare and a helping hand, not to sending troops to war or on a useless, expensive flag referendum. And perhaps most of all, I’d like my tax money to go towards funding media that is for and by the 99 percent. As Amy Goodman wrote, a media that “lets people speak for themselves”. Because if we can shift the conversation, we can begin to shift perception and that’s how change takes hold – the Occupy Movement is powerful proof of this. Although obviously that’s probably not something either Bob or John want happening.
I am sure Sir Bob Jones and the many other white male pundits such as Mike Hosking (who has also criticised Amanda Bailey for standing up to workplace injustice) would rather women sit down like good girls and do as they are told and never make a fuss about the horrific violence so many women face in this country. I am sure they would all rather we said nothing about unfair gender-based work discrimination and pay gaps, and for us not to call John Key out on his obviously sexist and harassing behaviour – because speaking out against the powerful committing injustices against the powerless? Well, this is how power is kept in check. But if we, the silent majority, remain silent and do nothing, those who have power get to keep it, and they get to reign uninhibited.
In the words of Meret Oppenhiem, one of the few female Surrealists to make it into the history books, wrote, “Nobody gives you freedom, you have to take it”. And that’s the last thing the powerful want us to do.