2017 rewind: Who has to apologise?

We’re into the top 5 most-read posts on Boots Theory in 2017. First up, we revisit the Metiria Turei story, and ask ourselves why so many people’s lasting impression is, “well she didn’t apologise, that’s what made it so bad.”

Originally published 3 October 2017.

An excellent piece by Maddie Holden at The Spinoff on the sexism of the 2017 election got me thinking. She writes:

Enter Metiria Turei. We’re all familiar with the story of her ousting from Parliament for a forgivable, decades-old mistake that shed light on the glaring deficiencies of our welfare system, but perhaps it’s not immediately apparent that her treatment related to her gender. It’s simply a matter of honesty and trust, we’ve been told, and charges of a racist, sexist double standard have been dismissed using fine-tooth comb analysis. It was her attitude, they said, and any MP who broke a law would be expected to pay with her otherwise flawless career in public service.

On the Sunday morning after election day I was on a panel for Radio NZ’s Sunday Morning, where the topic of Turei’s resignation came up. Fellow panelist Neil Miller said it “rankled” with many people he knew that Metiria Turei didn’t apologise, or appear contrite enough. Now, I stand by what I said then, i.e. “what the hell did she have to apologise for?” (weka at The Standard has helpfully transcribed some of my comments in this post, and here’s an awesome round-up of posts analysing the real reasons Turei resigned.)

But with the lens of Holden’s article, another thought struck me: the sexist double standards of apologies.

If you are a woman, especially a poor Māori woman, and you do something wrong out of the noblest of motives – providing for your child – let’s be honest: no apology would be enough. If you didn’t cry, it would be proof you weren’t sincere. If you did cry, it would be proof you were a weak feeeeeeemale and unfit for politics anyway. Whatever words you use, they will be found wanting; it’s all well and good to say sorry now, the talkback twerps would sneer, but why did you do it in the first place you awful bludger?

But if you’re a man? Well.

If you’re a man, you can shrug your shoulders and say “oh, those things I said weren’t actually my view, or even factually correct, soz.”

If you’re a man, you get to say “my lawyers told me it was okay” or “I reckon it’s pretty legal” and this does not in fact rule you out of being Prime Minister or Minister of Finance (but then, even blatantly lying about budget figures apparently doesn’t rule you out from being Minister of Finance).

If you’re a man, you get to say “oh well my life was just really hard back then when I physically assaulted my partner repeatedly” and pillars of the community will queue up to denounce anyone who doesn’t give you a second chance even when you continue to propagate violent rhetoric and label yourself the victim.

If you’re a man, you get to demean survivors of sexual assault live on air, refuse to take personal responsibility for it and get handed plum political roles while other people insist that we should just take it on faith that you’ve changed, even as you offer more non-apologies.

Hell, if you’re a man you can say “I’ve offered to apologise” when your government utterly screws up the handling of a sexual assault case and that’s somehow the end of the matter, and even if you subsequently refuse to apologise you get damning headlines like: “PM not keen on apology”.

Not.

Bloody.

KEEN?

Can you imagine it? Can you hear the shrieking that would have ensued if Metiria Turei had called a press conference, sniffled a bit and said “Look, I feel bad if anyone was offended, but I only offer apologies when there’s a serious reason for me to do so, I obviously never intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it was a long time ago and has been taken out of context”?

Because that’s all a man would have to do.

It may well “rankle” for some people that Metiria Turei never apologised, for something which requires no apology from anyone with a heart. But let’s not allow this to become the received wisdom, as though any apology would have satisfied the critics. They are not fair-minded even-handed assessors of a complex situation; they are hateful troll-monkeys who would always be able to find some reason to demonise a Māori woman whose true crime was surviving and challenging the status quo.

Who has to apologise?

An excellent piece by Maddie Holden at The Spinoff on the sexism of the 2017 election got me thinking. She writes:

Enter Metiria Turei. We’re all familiar with the story of her ousting from Parliament for a forgivable, decades-old mistake that shed light on the glaring deficiencies of our welfare system, but perhaps it’s not immediately apparent that her treatment related to her gender. It’s simply a matter of honesty and trust, we’ve been told, and charges of a racist, sexist double standard have been dismissed using fine-tooth comb analysis. It was her attitude, they said, and any MP who broke a law would be expected to pay with her otherwise flawless career in public service.

On the Sunday morning after election day I was on a panel for Radio NZ’s Sunday Morning, where the topic of Turei’s resignation came up. Fellow panelist Neil Miller said it “rankled” with many people he knew that Metiria Turei didn’t apologise, or appear contrite enough. Now, I stand by what I said then, i.e. “what the hell did she have to apologise for?”(weka at The Standard has helpfully transcribed some of my comments in this post, and here’s an awesome round-up of posts analysing the real reasons Turei resigned.)

But with the lens of Holden’s article, another thought struck me: the sexist double standards of apologies.

If you are a woman, especially a poor Māori woman, and you do something wrong out of the noblest of motives – providing for your child – let’s be honest: no apology would be enough. If you didn’t cry, it would be proof you weren’t sincere. If you did cry, it would be proof you were a weak feeeeeeemale and unfit for politics anyway. Whatever words you use, they will be found wanting; it’s all well and good to say sorry now, the talkback twerps would sneer, but why did you do it in the first place you awful bludger?

But if you’re a man? Well.

If you’re a man, you can shrug your shoulders and say “oh, those things I said weren’t actually my view, or even factually correct, soz.”

If you’re a man, you get to say “my lawyers told me it was okay” or “I reckon it’s pretty legal” and this does not in fact rule you out of being Prime Minister or Minister of Finance (but then, even blatantly lying about budget figures apparently doesn’t rule you out from being Minister of Finance).

If you’re a man, you get to say “oh well my life was just really hard back then when I physically assaulted my partner repeatedly” and pillars of the community will queue up to denounce anyone who doesn’t give you a second chance even when you continue to propagate violent rhetoric and label yourself the victim.

If you’re a man, you get to demean survivors of sexual assault live on air, refuse to take personal responsibility for it and get handed plum political roles while other people insist that we should just take it on faith that you’ve changed, even as you offer more non-apologies.

Hell, if you’re a man you can say “I’ve offered to apologise” when your government utterly screws up the handling of a sexual assault case and that’s somehow the end of the matter, and even if you subsequently refuse to apologise you get damning headlines like: “PM not keen on apology”.

Not.

Bloody.

KEEN?

Can you imagine it? Can you hear the shrieking that would have ensued if Metiria Turei had called a press conference, sniffled a bit and said “Look, I feel bad if anyone was offended, but I only offer apologies when there’s a serious reason for me to do so, I obviously never intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it was a long time ago and has been taken out of context”?

Because that’s all a man would have to do.

It may well “rankle” for some people that Metiria Turei never apologised, for something which requires no apology from anyone with a heart. But let’s not allow this to become the received wisdom, as though any apology would have satisfied the critics. They are not fair-minded even-handed assessors of a complex situation; they are hateful troll-monkeys who would always be able to find some reason to demonise a Māori woman whose true crime was surviving and challenging the status quo.

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.

Women of #nzpol Twitter roundup: THAT Tony Veitch post

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

first wives you don't own me

I already posted yesterday on why Tony Veitch remains a danger to all women – because he directly, deliberately encourages a culture which doesn’t take violence seriously and erases his own horrific actions.

So here’s a perspective that – outside feministy Twitterati circles – we don’t get to hear a lot. There’s plenty of mainstream space for people like Tony Veitch to make excuses. There’s almost none for recognising exactly what personal impact this has on women.

https://twitter.com/Dovil/status/656224811543191552

And this post from the amazing Emily is recommended reading.

Women (and all oppressed people) have to live their lives with the constant background knowledge that they can be targets of violence. Not just from strangers in dark alleyways. From our family and partners and friends. And not only can we be targets of violence: the violence against us will be downplayed or completely erased. We will be gaslighted. Our abusers won’t just get let off the hook: they will be praised and promoted and guaranteed their old job back just as soon as the “fuss” dies down.

When we see “12 people you know follow Veitchy On Sport” it’s more than a simple fact. It’s an unconscious threat: these are people you know and love and trust, who you cannot rely on if someone hurts you.

It sounds ridiculous, if you’re not living with it. It sounds hysterical. It sounds paranoid. And we get to the heart of the issue: women are not trusted to tell the truth. Women are not trusted to report their own experience. So of course it doesn’t matter when women are hurt. How would you even know it really happened?

If Tony Veitch says he “had to rebuild his life after a horrible relationship”, who’s going to let facts get in the way? Not us.