A great few days for sexism in New Zealand

Team, I can’t.

But who needs feminism any more? Let’s just lean in, amirite?

If you haven’t been keeping a keen eye on the ongoing

I’m talking about this headline:

revenge-headline

And the perpetual nudge-nudge joking tabloid tone taken in almost every headline about Colin Craig’s sexual harassment of a person who worked for him – “Colin Craig’s love poem!!! More love letters to press secretary revealed!!! Details of explicit text read in court!!!”

And then there was this (thank God once again for The Spinoff’s cutting snark):

Good news: The Chiefs scandal didn’t really even happen!!!

… There was an apparently rigorous investigation into the events of the evening conducted by the general counsel of New Zealand Rugby – a guy who loves his job and has been on the NZR team for over a decade. Which means that one branch of New Zealand Rugby investigated another branch of New Zealand Rugby and found that everything was basically okay.

This is a little bit like Colonel Sanders being put in change of an inquiry into the 11 secret herbs and spices and pronouncing them delicious. At a press conference today three blokes delivered the verdict: everything is fine, none of it really happened and wow isn’t fried chicken the best.

Look, ladies, it’s easy to stay out of trouble in New Zealand. Just don’t break up with men, don’t work for men, don’t call out men for assaulting you, and generally just don’t be in the vicinity of men. Especially if they’re someone you know, someone you loved, someone you worked for or a team of someones celebrated as the peak specimens of your country’s masculine prowess.

Now let’s all get back to overcoming sexism by asking for payrises. Or alternatively, listen to some good angry music.

[Content note: sexual violence]

Women of #nzpol: still fighting rape culture in 2016

The women-of-#nzpol roundup is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

incredibles misandry

Well, 2016 is definitely not going to be the year we stop blaming young women for being sexually assaulted. The Herald kicked things off with this column – and yes, it’s by a woman, which doesn’t make it any less sexist – which says in part:

I have a huge concern for the way in which young women behave in relationship to alcohol. While I am one of the first to stand up and say that women have the right to be safe (and have in fact spent many years working in that area), with rights come responsibilities.

simpsons marge grinding teeth

The women of NZ Twitter were less that impressed.

(Click through for the whole series of tweets from @pikelet)

And a response from the amazing Emily:

Because this is one of those issues which so readily gets dismissed as “oversensitive women who can’t handle criticism”, a few words from the Men’s Auxiliary.

Newsflash: Men aren’t wolves

One of the weird paradoxes of patriarchy is the idea that on the one hand, men are naturally the dominant group in society because they’re more rational, have bigger brains, control their emotions better, and make more sensible decisions and life choices; and on the other, women must dress “modestly”, act “respectably” and take all kinds of “preventative” measures against sexual harassment and violence because men are literally incapable of stopping themselves from being abusive to women.

It’s beautifully highlighted by this article about a man getting very defensive after the woman he and his mates had been harassing on a daily basis for a month reported them to the police. (For the love of your brains, do not read the comments.)

If you break down Ian Merrett’s excuses for his boorish behaviour, there’s the More Rational, Bigger Brains, Less Emotional excuses:

“We stopped doing it … it’s not worth getting into trouble over some silly little girl. I don’t know why she complained, she must be thinking things above her station.” Because that’s not demeaning at all!

“I have wolf-whistled so many girls … and never had a complaint before … But I’ve got a girlfriend so need to be careful what I say.” Because women are cuh-RAY-zee and fly totally off the handle when you brag to the media about how many women you’ve “snogged” after sexually harassing them.

And then there’s the Literally Incapable of Controlling Myself excuses.

“I didn’t even see her face” … but I wolf-whistled at her anyway, which means it couldn’t “possibly be sexual harassment” because when you’re objectifying a person based purely on their gender it’s, um, something else.

If Ms Smart walks past them again and is “lucky” “she will get wolf-whistled again” … even though they “stopped doing it” after the police told them about the complaint.

So to sum up the wisdom of Mr Merrett:

  • wolf-whistling is just a natural reflex triggered by the vague presence of a woman
  • but they can stop doing it as long as someone in uniform is telling them not to
  • except they won’t
  • but it’s a total compliment anyway to have someone’s subconscious brain-spasm react to your existence
  • and you shouldn’t feel objectified just because the vague shape of your body is sufficient to trigger pushy sexual vocalisations. That would be thinking above your station.

And they say it’s feminists who think men are animals …

Mils Muliaina, rape culture, and sharpening my pitchfork

The news that a former All Black had been arrested in connection with a sexual assault case did not surprise me in the slightest.

It cannot surprise anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to professional sports. Whether it’s rugby, league, soccer, the NFL, it’s seems there’s never a week without a player, a group of players, or an entire team being accused, and sometimes convicted, of assault or rape.

There are almost no details of the charges against Muliaina so far. But that hasn’t stopped people rushing to pre-judge the case.

And no, I don’t mean me and my merry band of evil Twitter feminists.

This is the thing with high-profile rape and assault cases: you don’t actually see people saying “oh he definitely did it” (unless, you know, he admits to doing stuff which is quite clearly rape). But you might see people pointing out that this kind of thing happens a lot. And you might see people like me pointing out that the rate of false reports is very low. Or that the public response is usually antagonistic towards victims. And that this antagonism makes it incredibly difficult for other victims to step forward.

We’ll probably say those two words which are a red rag to a misogynist bull, “rape culture” – which is really nothing more than a way of summing up all the above.

We don’t say a thing about Mils Muliaina, whether he’s guilty or innocent.

But we’re obviously the people doing the pre-judging of the case.

Not the people who say the accused is “a gentleman and a family man” but the complainant is “probably a gold-digger”. Not the journalist in the story linked above who talks about what a “great job” Muliaina has done. Not the people who accuse feminists of “getting out their pitchforks”.

Before we even know the slightest detail, the framing has already begun. He’s a hero. No one could possibly believe he’d do it. He’s a great man. Everyone likes him. Pillar of the community. Role model for young men. There’s got to be an explanation for this, and the only credibly one involves him being completely innocent. There are clearly two sides to every story (and we will only discuss his one!)

And the unnamed, unknown complainant is at best written off, and at worst already being castigated as a villain intent on bringing Our Man Mils down.

Maybe this is mistaken identity. Maybe this is a mix-up. Maybe Mils Muliaina is as pure as the driven snow, and maybe this is the incredibly rare case of a malicious false complaint.

It’s far too early, and we know far too little, to say yet.

So why are so many people – people on his side – already jumping to conclusions?

The constant threat

[Content note: sexual assault, victim-blaming, Julian Assange]

With the news that Julian Assange will now be questioned in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he’s taken refuge since 2012 after Swedish prosecutors tried to question him over allegations he sexually assaulted two women, we’re having the same debate we’ve always had. Whether it’s Assange, or Roman Polanski, or another Super Rugby team, it’s the same thing again and again. On the one side, women, feminists and their allies, talking about the attitudes and messages which ring loud in our society: that this woman is untrustworthy, this man is being persecuted, this assault wasn’t really a crime. On the other, typically, a lot of men and their allies saying we’re overreacting, those messages don’t really exist, you’re just playing the victim.

It’s bloody exhausting on the feminists’ side, to be honest. On the one hand there’s trying to explain, simply and above all unemotionally, things which are staring us all right in the face. How else do we explain a country where Tony Veitch still gets work? Where sportsmen accused of rape get sympathetic front covers on “women’s” magazines? Where supporters of Graham Capill sincerely argued that his sexual attacks on girls under the age of 12 weren’t that bad because they didn’t meet the “biblical definition” of rape? Where a survivor is painted as a political opportunist because she criticises the government’s mishandling of her case and happens to vote Green?

Those could just be a hell of a lot of coincidences, I guess; a number of perfectly random cases where the narrative about him versus her versus whose fault was it and who should we believe stacks up identically, every time.

But time and again we see an avalanche of excuses and weasel-words and outright attacks against complainants. In the case of Assange, the complainants can’t be trusted because they’re CIA plants. Assange is only being accused because of political persecution. The ideas that help people to redefine “rape” into meaninglessness – that you can’t really withdraw consent post-penetration, or that consenting to sex one night means you must still want it the next, or that you can’t really be a victim of sexual assault if you don’t report it to the police within five minutes and act appropriately traumatized – are all getting a lot of play.

I’m tired of having this same argument over and over. But more than that, I’m tired of trying to make people see that they’re part of the problem.

On the one hand we have the horrific levels of sexual and family violence in our society. It’s estimated that one in four women in NZ will experience sexual violence or abuse in their lifetimes.

Knowing that is enough to make me, as a woman, worry for my safety. It’s not paranoia when they are out to get you, and it’s not hysteria to be aware of the stark reality of sexual violence.

But beyond the simple statistics there’s the threat.

Susan Brownmiller shocked – and continues to shock – people with her definition of rape, in Against Our Will, as “nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”

The word “conscious” I quibble with. But “process of intimidation” keeping women “in a state of fear”? There’s something in that.

What else can we call it when every article or post or discussion about sexual violence is met with a rush of the exact same responses from a dozen quarters: that’s not really rape, that was a set-up, it’s her fault, we can’t believe her, he can’t be a rapist?

How is a woman not meant to feel intimidated, threatened, and downright unsafe, when her society makes it very, very clear that the only “just” way to deal with accusations of rape is to distrust and interrogate the victim?

There’s a concept called “microaggressions“. Microaggressions aren’t out-and-out cases of discrimination and oppression. They’re the tiny, needling things that happen every day which emphasise that you’re an outsider, a less-important human being, whether that’s because of your gender or ethnicity etc. They don’t “hurt” in the way that being physically attacked hurts, or “harm” in the way being denied housing or a vote or a job harms. But they are an ever-present reminder of the fact that if real harm were to befall you, your society wouldn’t really care, and would find ways to erase that harm from the record.

These conversations we have, about Assange or Polanski or whoever, these instances where people come together to reiterate all those lies about sexual violence, they’re an ever-present reminder that you could be raped – and it could be by someone you know, in your own home, while you were wearing your muckiest tracksuit, on video – and you would be doubted.

I say I get tired of trying to make people see how they’re part of the problem. When it gets pretty bleak, I find myself wondering if they do see it – they just don’t care. Because they don’t have to. They don’t live under the constant threat, not of real violence, but of the total disregard for your welfare or safety. And they don’t care that their behaviour drives women out of the spaces they inhabit. Some of them see it as a bonus.

I applaud the people who have been fighting in this latest round of the Assange discussion. I haven’t got the spoons to bang my head against that brick wall this time, hoping a few more flakes will shake loose.