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.

DUKE: I have questions

[Content note: sexism, transphobia]

I am not outraged, offended, nor trying to censor FREEZEPEACH when it comes to TVNZ’s newly-announced channel, DUKE.

I’m just … puzzled.

I’m puzzled about whether this is a Man Channel or not.

When first announced, though yet unnamed, TVNZ’s marketing was entirely clear:

TVNZ announces new free-to-air channel aimed specifically at men

The channel’s content has been specifically chosen to resonate with a male audience, after market analysis indicated male viewers were seeking “more distinctive content”.

But then you look at the lineup of shows, including Agent Carter, Gotham and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, all shows celebrated for diverse interesting casts and complex storytelling and critique of traditional male-focused storytelling – and you think, “in what way is this a lineup skewed towards men?”

But then they told us it was called DUKE and everyone went “okay so it sounds like a slang term for shit combined with a Lynx deodorant fragrance, pretty manly.” And TV One referred to the new channel as their “little brother”.

But then they insisted via Twitter that this was all a misunderstanding and of course girls would be allowed in the clubhouse.

And then they rolled out the hilarious transphobic advertising.

duke transphobia

See, it’s funny because they aggressively marketed themselves as a channel for men and then people thought this was excluding women but then someone made a joke about forcing people to live as the wrong gender which is hilarious because lol trans people.

So it’s a man channel for manly men, and my thoughts when TVNZ first announced it seem pretty on the nose:

I’m puzzled as to who the heck thought this was a good idea.

Although Alex Casey of The Spinoff has some great suggestions.

I’m puzzled about the weird naivete of TVNZ’s market researchers.

That first announcement was just weird – apparently men are looking for “more distinctive content” than women, who presumably like bland boring pap content.

Then there’s this defence of DUKE’s targeting from Jeff Latch of TVNZ:

“When you look at all of the big networks, they’re all female focused, female-skewed.”

“This one swings the other way,” he said.

“TV2 has a female-to-male ratio of about 60:40, TVOne and TV3 are at about 55:45 whereas Prime, aside from events like the Rugby World Cup, is more 50:50.”

I am not a social scientist but good gravy there are problems with this line of “reasoning”. Like the fact women are a majority of the population, and we’re a demographic more likely to be at home during the day watching TV because of patriarchy.

It doesn’t follow at all that this means current TV content is deliberately “skewed” towards women viewers. Has TVNZ really created an entirely new channel because a couple of dudes in focus groups complained that they were sick of their girlfriend watching The Bachelor all the time?

I’m puzzled by how massively they missed the point.

Here’s the thing. Free-to-air TV is struggling around the world, for many reasons, including illegal downloading and legal streaming services. But people do still watch TV. On the exact same day TVNZ announced they were launching a Man Channel I was whining on Twitter because I nearly missed the latest episode of Supergirl on TV2 due to crummy advertising and a MySky botch.

You know what’s going to drive me to download shows? When I miss them on free-to-air because you don’t make it easy for me to know what’s on. Or when you don’t show them at all.

Look at the “distinctive content” TVNZ was seeking for DUKE. Look at NFL, professional wrestling, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Gotham, Agent Carter (I’m ignoring the ridiculous men-with-heavy-machinery offerings because I already fill that need with Gold Rush). First off, this is basically a channel designed for me and we all know I’m a rabid man-hating feminist.

Secondly … this is exactly the kind of content our free-to-air channels should have been showing for years but haven’t. Sorry for the overuse of italics, but I could’ve told TVNZ that this was the kind of content they needed to be showing off the top of my head.

It’s so easy to blame streaming and downloads, but the fact is that free-to-air primetime TV in New Zealand has been, in recent years, a quagmire of cooking shows, cooking shows, renovation shows, terrible NZ knockoffs of American dating shows, cooking shows, terrible NZ knockoffs of American talent shows which we pioneered in the first place, renovation shows, and endless reruns of Friends, The Simpsons, and Everybody Loves Raymond.

Gosh, why would people switch off that magnificent bounty?

Now you offer cutting-edge comedy, massive pop culture icons, and previously-unavailable sports events … and you bloody ruin it by playing juvenile “ew girls are gross, we need to hide in our man-caves watching man-shows with our man-friends” games?

alison brie argh

TVNZ, my darling. You didn’t need to market DUKE as “a channel for manly men with their distinctive man interests”. You just need to tell people “Hey! Here are a bunch of sports you love, which have never been free-to-air. Here’s a selection of premium TV shows at a minimal delay from their US broadcast, which you’ll put up with for the convenience of not having to find a good torrent or canvass Twitter to figure out which streaming service has it.”

Here’s my dilemma. DUKE may well be a success, despite its erratic and confusing marketing, because it contains good content. Which will just reinforce this ridiculous idea that in 2016, we need to cling to a black-and-white gender binary to sell products.

I want to be optimistic though. Maybe they’ll pull a season-2 “replace the main actor and introduce a cute child character” rebrand at some point and DUKE will become TVNZ Awesome or something like that.

I will be wanting a cut, though.

(Please note: Not all men have penises, not everyone with a penis is a man, gender isn’t a binary, and that’s the entire problem!)