What did she expect?

The facts are this: a young woman went to Rhythm & Vines. A young man there decided to grope her. She fought back. It was caught on video. And then the victim-blaming began.

(I’m linking to Newhub’s coverage of this, despite their BLOODY AUTOPLAYING VIDEOS, because their headline was one of the better ones, even if their Twitter account flubbed it).

Many will rush to object to my description of the events, because I’ve missed out the one factor that seems to have made this newsworthy: the woman in question wasn’t wearing a shirt at the time.

To them I say: poppycock.

Wearing a shirt has never been protection from assault. Wearing a full-length tracksuit or a burqa or a nun’s habit or probably even a spacesuit has never stopped men from choosing to touch women without their consent – consider Jen Brockman’s art exhibit, “What Were You Wearing?” (content note: discussion of specifics of sexual assault) which displays everything from bikinis to sports uniforms to businesswear, all worn by survivors of sexual assault, none serving as protection.

I’ve seen a lot of people condemn the young man, but add: “what did she expect?”

I can only guess: she expected to go out and have a good time. She expected grown men to be able to control where they put their hands. She expected to be treated like a human being with personal space and boundaries and the right to exist in public without harassment.

None of that should be unthinkable in New Zealand in 2018.

She probably didn’t expect a major New Zealand newspaper to publish the sneering criticisms of her made by Gable Tostee, an abusive Australian dickhead who was, at the very least, closely implicated in the death of another young woman and who has, at a minimum, acted like an unrepentant skidmark ever since avoiding any consequences for that.

But then nobody outside the Kardashian family should really have to worry about shoddy clickbait journalism before they leave the house in the morning.

What interests me in people’s responses is the line some draw, separating the assault committed against this young woman – obviously it’s terrible, he shouldn’t have done that, tut tut tut – and their own pearl-clutching disapproval of her attire, or lack of it.

“She should have covered up, though,” they say.

“She should try doing that in Dubai,” they sneer.

What did she expect, after all?

These are standard responses to any news about a woman being assaulted or harassed, especially in public. What they fail to understand – and get very indignant when you point it out – is there’s no line separating his actions and their criticism. There’s a line connecting them.

No man ever woke up one day and decided to pull a set of toxic, predatory attitudes towards women’s bodies out of thin air. No person ever had a lightbulb go off over their head and thought, “You know, actually I should just grab strangers without asking first, that sounds like fun.” We are products of our environments, and our attitudes and reflexes are products of the attitudes and messages we encounter in society. That’s basic psychology, sociology, anthropology and life.

Our attitudes to women’s public nudity (or public frivolity, or public breathing) and sexual assault boil down to some very basic principles:

  1. Women are fair game, especially if they’re acting “improperly” (drinking alcohol, wearing revealing or no clothing).
  2. Men cannot control their own actions.
  3. Therefore, women must take steps to ensure men don’t act in abusive or violent ways.

People don’t want to see it. They protest: “I’m not saying she’s to blame, but whatdidsheexpectwouldhappen?” and “Of course he shouldn’t have grabbed her, but sheshouldhavecoveredherselfupinpublic!” The condemnation is almost reflexive. “I wouldn’t have dressed like that,” they declare, as though the patriarchy will reward them with safety.

But there’s no wall insulating the criticisms levelled against this woman (or any woman). They have clear implications, and demonstrable impact on broader society. When you say, “what did she expect” or “she should have covered herself up” the obvious, only sensible meaning is: she should have expected assault and changed her behaviour – covered herself up – to avoid it. Which means in turn: it was her fault for not avoiding it.

Women hear this, every day. And as many as 91% of sexual assaults are never reported to the Police. Coincidence? Apparently.

Men hear this too. And what do we expect them to do if they’re told every day, “you don’t have to have impulse control, women should manage your behaviour for you”? If they see a guy get smacked for groping a woman and all of Facebook tells them, “well the problem is she wasn’t dressed properly”?

It would still be assault if she’d been dressed “properly”. “Properly dressed” women are assaulted every day. Because there’s always another reason why he couldn’t stop himself, and another thing she should have done to stop him.

The person responsible for assault is the person who commits assault. And this guy committed assault. And he could have stopped himself. And it is our job, as members of the society he lives in, to send that message.

And stop treating walking garbage heaps like Gable Tostee as celebrities.

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:


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?