A glitch in the Matrix

 

I’m sure there are rational explanations for the hilarious similarities between John Key (or at least, his office) stating that there is “no factual basis” to his allegations that the Snowden documents are fabricated, and a Republican senator called John Kyl excusing his allegations against Planned Parenthood by saying it “was not intended to be a factual statement” – explanations which don’t involve all human life being a computer simulation occupying our brains while robots leech our neural activity for a power source.

But that’s not nearly as much fun.

As the late, lamented Terry Pratchett wrote in The Truth,

‘A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’

Some politicians have always dealt to people or organisations they don’t like by smearing them. It’s even easier in our ridiculously fast-paced media and online environment, where the damage is done almost immediately, and any retraction or fact-checking is left trying to catch up.

But the tide seems to be changing on Key. Whether it’s journalists (and bloggers) buying into the narrative of third-term arrogance and unconsciously reinforcing it, or whether the disastrous start to the year – Sabin’s resignation, the Northland by-election, Amanda Bailey, the unnamed Cabinet Minister with a brother facing sexual abuse charges – really is just that disastrous, Key’s shine isn’t as shiny as it once was.

Just look at how painstakingly the media are transcribing him now:

“Well, I hope not. I mean we live in a global world where you know all sorts of stories do actually go round the world in varying form. I mean I didn’t pick up any single newspaper in any country I was in and saw it. So, the fact that something goes round the internet is quite standard these days.”

Paraphrasing cannot save you now, John.

And journalists like Tova O’Brien are getting a lot less forgiving when Key brushes them off with non-answers, as in this report on the Cabinet Minister’s brother. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone goes full Ed-Miliband-on-striking-teachers on him. (Hope I didn’t blow your election chances, Ed.)

It’s hard for anyone to look credible when all their weasel words and nervous smirks are just being put out there, unfiltered. Even the clearest speaker can look like a numpty in such circumstances, and John Key – whether by nature or design – has never been the clearest speaker.

But is this the beginning of the end? Is the “honeymoon” finally over? God only knows, but I’m of a similar mind to @LewSOS. The end never comes swiftly. The polls never shift 10 points overnight on the basis of one story (or four). But he isn’t getting those free passes any more.

lew on key(Original tweets start here.)

Deborah Russell on Jane Austen, rape culture and John Key

Great feminist minds do think alike – back in January I posted a classic quote from Pride and Prejudice which shows just how entrenched the idea of “a woman says “no” when she means “yes” to lead men on” is in our culture.

The amazing Deborah Russell has used the same quote to highlight a slightly different issue: the way men don’t even bother assuming a woman is playing games; just refusing to hear the word “no” at all.

The connection to John Key’s sexual harassment of Amanda Bailey should be obvious – but head over to Deborah’s and read the whole thing. It can’t be said enough.

On John Key’s “fetish”

In the case of the Prime Minister and his habit of sexually harassing a young woman at her workplace, far too many people have instantly jumped on the “he has a ponytail fetish! LOL!” bandwagon (and even a few on the “I bet he’s a child abuser!” bandwagon).

This is simply inappropriate – and harmful. For a start, none of us know John Key well enough to say what floats his boat; for another, it’s a totally inaccurate definition of what a fetish is. Someone with a fetish is quite as capable as anyone else of understanding consent and the word “no”.

But the kicker for me is how this response casually erases the commonplace, everyday nature of sexual harassment.

When we see an unmistakable case of a man harassing a woman in her place of work, manipulating the power difference between them, it is far too easy to say “oh, he’s a deviant. He’s not normal. Normal people don’t do that.”

It’s a very common reaction. It leads to a huge number of rape myths – all rapists are scary scruffy thugs, not that nice young man, that doctor, that priest. It leads to the downplaying of violence when we refer to certain abusers and murderers as “pillars of the community”. It leads to the immediate cries of “Aspergers!” or “Insane!” when nice young white men from Good Families murder dozens of people.

We want to separate the world into group A: Those Terrible Freaks Who Abuse People and group B: Normal People Who Don’t Do Bad Things. We categorise some crimes as “not that big a deal” when the person doing it can be slotted into group B; we categorise people as group A when their offending is unquestionably over the line.

And so we end up making armchair diagnoses of John Key’s sexual predilections and even accusing him of horrific acts of sexual violence rather than owning the truth. Men sexually harass women all the time. Customers objectify wait staff all the time. Sexism is all around us. It is not the province of “freaks” and “deviants” and “those kinds of people”.

Perfectly ordinary men can be abusers. Perfectly chummy politicians can be harassers. Perfectly nice young men from good white families can commit terrible acts of violence. And plenty of women who have worked in hospitality can share identical stories of customers who thought it was hilarious to harass them.

I don’t know what turns John Key on. I don’t want to know. But the fact is that he has sexually harassed at least one woman in her workplace and showed absolutely zero genuine remorse for it. He’s still making excuses even as he “apologises”. And he’s not the first sexual harasser to do it. Not even the first senior New Zealand public servant to do it.

This is a story – at the moment – about one woman’s repeated experiences of harassment. A story which highlights our terrible attitudes around consent and power and gender and privilege.

Of course it’s much easier to make this about undermining John Key’s masculinity by implying he’s sexually dysfunctional. It’s far easier to slot him into group A and hurl accusations of even darker deeds than address the widespread, ever-present misogyny of our society.

But we should resist the impulse, and we can. Just like John Key should, and could, have kept his hands to himself instead of being a perfectly ordinary, abusive creep.

(It should go without saying but I will not publish any comments along the lines of “but he totally DOES have a fetish though!!!”)