Laurel Hubbard is a trailblazer

Laurel Hubbard has qualified to represent New Zealand at the next Olympics (whenever or wherever those happen) in women’s weightlifting.

Virtually no one would have paid any attention to this – weightlifting not being one of the three sports (cricket, netball, league) New Zealanders actually care about – if it weren’t for the fact Laurel Hubbard is a trans woman. The first, in fact, to qualify to compete at the Olympics, despite trans athletes being technically allowed to compete, under certain restrictions, since 2003.

Keep that in the back of your mind, yeah?

This is a tremendous achievement for her and if she’s in serious contention for a medal it’s great for New Zealand, right?

Except this is a pretty bad time to be a visible trans woman, and especially a visible trans woman in sports. What generously gets called “a debate” about trans women’s (never trans men’s, keep that in the back of your mind) participation in sport is nothing more or less than the wedge issue for organised transphobic activism, right after stirring up baseless moral panic about public bathrooms.

The farcical “arguments” offered are like most transphobia: rooted in bog-standard, basic sexism. You have to accept the idea that men are inherently faster, stronger, taller and more powerful than women; that testosterone is a magical wonder drug that confers superhuman powers on anyone who gets enough of it during puberty; that the chromosomes or genitals you’re born with are the primary factors determining if you’re good at sports or not.

The transphobia is also basic. It’s simply about insinuating, inferring and outright stating, from behind an army of newborn Twitter sockpuppet accounts, that trans women “are men” and for a trans woman to compete against cis women is thus “unfair”.

A picture is painted of a terrible world in which no cis woman ever wins any medals because trans women (dogwhistle: “cis men pretending to be trans to win all the medals”) “dominate” all the sports. Except … remember how trans athletes have been able to qualify for the Olympics since 2003? And it’s 2021? And Laurel Hubbard is the first?

So … where are all these cis men lining up to win all the medals if it’s so simple?

There is literally no basis for this fearmongering beyond that primary-school level, “boys have testosterone and that’s why they’re strong; girls have estrogen and that’s why they love babies” understanding of human biology. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is pretty much the opposite of any credible feminism.

So Hubbard’s achievement has been immediately framed in the context of that “debate”, and that’s incredibly sad and concerning. She and other trans women – and cis women who look “too butch” because that is an obvious side consequence of transphobic gender-policing – are literally put in danger by this rhetoric, not just denied the ability to live their lives to the fullest.

She is a trailblazer. She deserves to be counted among all the other people we hold up as Kiwi heroes because they overcame tremendous odds to be The First In The World, without the shadow of nasty, petty sneers and abuse from cowards who want to reduce womanhood to a quivering pair of ovaries, crying for the patriarchy to protect them.

And you know that they don’t even really care about sports, right?

He said/she said: Aaron Smith

Part one of a probably-eternal series where Rob and Stephanie each share their thoughts on a topical, annoying issue.

[Content note: discussion of assault and non-consent]

Rob says:

Oh for god’s sake rugby union. You just don’t get it do you? It’s not sex that’s the issue – even airport toilet sex – it’s misusing power and ignoring non-consent.

If anything this business with Aaron Smith shows you haven’t learned a thing. Regardless of how Jersey Shore consensual sex in an airport toilet is, it’s consensual.

And disciplining a consenting adult for having sex with another consenting adult is ridiculous.

Honestly, mistaking feminist (actually humanist) concern for abuse of power (ie what happened with the Chiefs) for some kind of Victorian prudishness only shows how dangerously out of touch and unqualified to provide role models to young men like my son, you are.

Maybe you should take a deep breath and have a cup of tea:

Stephanie says:

I started off yesterday, hearing about the Aaron Smith incident, rolling my eyes. Of course NZ Rugby was going to respond far more immediately and drastically to a dude having consensual sex in a public bathroom than they ever would to a group of players being accused of outright assault against a stripper.

But, you know. “Obviously it was silly of him to do that, what was he thinking?”

By the end of the day? I was saying “you have all the bathroom sex you like, mate.”

Because the headlines – WHAT THE WITNESS SAW! SMITH’S PARTNER ASKS FOR PRIVACY, HERE’S A PHOTO OF HER ON OUR FRONT PAGE! OUR CAMERAS INVESTIGATE THE TOILET IN QUESTION! HAVE YOU HEARD FAMOUS PEOPLE HAVING SEX? CONTACT OUR NEWSDESK – were so prurient and predatory that I felt like I’d been transported directly into the pages of the defunct News of the World.

Yes, it’s incredibly shit to misuse accommodations provided for people with disabilities. And if Smith were cheating on his partner at the time, it’s awful for her to have this played out in the media.

But you know what? As a nation, we’ve completely lost the right to cast aspersions on anyone else’s lack of judgement.

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]

Rugby culture does not have to be a toxic dump of bigotry

Sigh.

Chiefs players also hired a stripper on the night one of them was caught chanting a homophobic slur toward teammates.

Franchise bosses have confirmed a stripper was engaged by players for their post-season get-together at a Waikato hot pool and said he was “Very disappointed” and conceded the two incidents weren’t a good look for the professional sports franchise.

I agree. It’s not a “good look”. But not for any of the reasons Chiefs CEO Andrew Flexman thinks.

Because the problem is not, in fact, “the Chiefs hired a stripper.” Hiring a stripper, taboo and saucy as it may seem, is a very common, dare one say “normal” part of Western culture.

The problem is that the Chiefs hired a stripper, then crossed her professional and personal boundaries – and yes, those boundaries are still valid, even more valid, for sex workers.

And there’s a wider problem, but it’s not “the Chiefs hired a stripper, which is embarrassing and unprofessional, the very same night Michael Allardice was a homophobic git to his teammates, which got bad headlines.”

The wider problem is that the Chiefs in particular, and our rugby culture in general, has been (once again) exposed as a hotbed of sexism, homophobia, and small-minded bigotry.

What we’re dealing with here is the concept of toxic masculinity. No, it doesn’t mean “all masculinity is toxic” or “all men are sexist pigs”; it’s a very specific set of assumptions and attitudes which are incredibly harmful to everyone in a society. A few completely random examples of these attitudes are:

  • Real Men are heterosexual.
  • Real Men are sexually aggressive.
  • The worst thing that could happen to a Real Man is for someone to think he’s weak. Or gay.
  • Therefore, a Real Man will treat women, especially sex workers, as objects rather than human beings.
  • And also deflect attention and undermine other men by implying they’re gay, especially if they engage in non-strictly-masculine behaviour.

selena gomez just saying

Now, people may say “oh, nobody at the Chiefs intended to reinforce awful narrow-minded notions about women, masculinity, sex work and sexuality” but those people need to re-read the excuse Andrew Flexman came up with to excuse his players’ obnoxious behaviour:

But Flexman strongly denied the allegations of improper behaviour, saying the franchise had independent witnesses who saw nothing untoward toward the woman.

“You have got to remember this is one person’s accusation and her standing in the community and culpability is not beyond reproach,” Flexman said.

“Her standing in the community is not beyond reproach.” On what basis does he make this judgement call? Well, obviously. She’s a stripper. Not a real human being who can be trusted to say whether or not her professional and personal boundaries were transgressed.

It’s the basic sexual double standard. Women who strip for money? Deviant, unworthy of protection or dignity. The men who pay money to watch a woman strip? Phwoar, yeah, red-blooded, pure testosterone, etc.

Men who use homophobic slurs and abuse sex workers? Especially when they’re rugby-playing men? Well, look, obviously it’s not a good look or anything but obviously nothing serious happened. They were just doing what Real Men do.

You can see this whole attitude reflected in the article. “Chiefs in hot water” – not “Chiefs players disgrace themselves”. Why? “Over stripper fracas”. Not “Over acting like pigs.” Not “By assaulting a sex worker.” This headline practically screams, “this is not a serious story.” Its subtext is simple: sure, yes, the PC Brigade are going to complain but there’s no big story here, it’s just a little PR boo-boo.

Still, maybe we should hold judgement until that well-known arbiter of sexism in sport, unrepentant convicted abuser Tony Veitch, gives us his two cents on the matter.

Like the headline says: our rugby culture does not have to be a toxic pool of radioactive misogyny and homophobia. It is entirely possible to enjoy sport, or play sport, as a competitive athletic endeavour of teamwork and skill and not act like a pack of vicious insecure bullies. Men don’t have to prove they’re Real Men through aggressively signalling “I AM A PERFECTLY NORMAL HETEROSEXUAL” by groping sex workers and shouting homophobic slurs.

There’s no such thing as one true model of A Real Man.

But if there were, it wouldn’t look like Andrew Flexman or his sad little rugby team.

Tony Veitch isn’t repentant, he’s making it worse

[Content note: discuss of intimate partner violence and apologism]

Tony Veitch, noted violent unremorseful dude, had a piece on his unremorse published in the Herald on Mother’s Day, for editorial reasons I cannot fathom. I haven’t read the piece. The reactions I saw online told me everything I needed to know and I wasn’t going to subject my brain to it, nor reward the Herald with a pageview.

There is only one thing I ever need to hear from Tony Veitch. It’s a simple enough thing: an acknowledgement of what he did, and a commitment to change. This piece doesn’t do that. It makes it worse.

https://twitter.com/Don_Rowe/status/729152333792223232

When Tony Veitch “acknowledges what he’s done” but only to make it all about HIS suffering and HIS experience, he makes it worse.

When he pretends it was “just one time”, he makes it worse.

When he keeps demanding a second chance or a fair go but NEVER shows genuine, unqualified remorse for his abusiveness, he makes it worse.

When Tony Veitch as a famous dude in sports entertainment does NOTHING to educate men or challenge our culture of violence, HE MAKES IT WORSE.

There are things men can do to really challenge family violence in New Zealand. Tony Veitch has done none of these things. Because every single time, it’s all about Tony Veitch.

The reality is this: Tony Veitch was, and remains, a danger to women.

~

Steve Dunne, the father of Kristin Dunne-Powell, has also commented on the Herald piece.

If you have used violence and want to change, there’s a list of agencies who can help on the It’s Not OK website. There’s also ideas about how to work to stop violence in sports communities.

If you’re in Wellington and have engaged in sexually harmful behaviour and want to change, talk to WellStop.