The idea that Paul Henry, Max Key and co are ‘just saying what all guys are thinking’.
Published by the Spinoff ( www.thespinoff.co.nz ) Tuesday 1 November 2016.
Men, it’s time to call a meeting. The agenda? Actually choosing not to mouth off about titties and pussies and riding women, writes Michele A’Court.
I’d like to think there’s a men’s meeting going on somewhere with someone in charge making an important speech. “Fellers, look, you can have your fun and, sure, we all make mistakes. But just calm the fuck down, would you, on the public displays of douchiness – you’re making us all look bad.”
Because with every step forward – men speaking out against family violence, corporations endorsing policies of inclusion, the Icelandic government pledging to close the gender pay gap by 2020, your partner doing shit around the house without making a song and dance about it – just when you think, “We’re getting somewhere!” some numb-nut grabs you by the pussy and pushes us all 50 steps back.
Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a lady-version of The Truman Show – surrounded by good souls who are into fancy shit like consent, and listening, and kindness, and being respectful. We have grown-up conversations about Syria and climate change and medicinal marijuana and TV shows and music and the Dakota Access Pipeline and we drink a bit, and you forget – or can’t even imagine – that there are people out there talking about whether someone’s “titties” are more Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage.
It’s my own fault, I guess. I don’t listen to talkback and I rarely read the comments. I don’t want to look at people in the biscuit aisle at the supermarket and wonder if they’re the person I just heard talking about Muslims and/or solo mums in a way that’s less than elevating.
And so – let’s do this chronologically – Trump was shocking to me. Less what he has said, than the barrage of people defending it as locker-room banter. Really? You guys have a private world where this is OK? Is that really what happens when women aren’t there? Well, fuck me with an orange toupee. I’m going to look at you all a little differently for a while.
And then along comes Max Key with his “real men ride women”. Though it was mostly his Dad’s response that infuriated me – the old diminish-and-dismiss one-two: “Clearly he didn’t mean to make the sort of comment that he made in the way he did, but he fully takes responsibility for it. I’ve told him it’s not appropriate, he’s apologised and assured me he won’t do it again.”
Look, we all love our kids – that’s our job – but that whole first sentence is patently bullshit. A) Max actually said it with his very own voice; B) it’s four words so sod-all wiggle room for getting anything round the wrong way and misrepresenting his intent; C) Max, apparently alone in the car, videoed himself shouting it at the cyclists, then D) hit stop and save on the recording; and E) satisfied with its content, uploaded it to the internet. That was exactly the sort of comment he meant to make. If he’d fucked it up, doubtless he would have driven round the block, come up behind the cyclists one more time and given himself a Take 2.
And then Paul Henry. Again, it’s not what he said that shocked me. Blah blah genius, blah blah hate people. Up until the bit about his fellow diner, my response would have been a solid, “Meh.” And I guess it’s not even that a grown man goes into a lengthy lunchtime riff about breasts that bothers me – now that I’ve seen behind the cyclorama on The Ms Truman Show, I’m getting to grips with the idea that #notallmen are like the pleasant male humans I know personally.
As I’ve said somewhere else, it was the restaurant equivalent of shouting unwarranted commentary from a passing car at a woman trying to go about her day. Whether she heard him or not (maybe she zipped up her jacket because she was suddenly sitting in a draft) he had reduced her to an object for his judgement over quite some period of time. Long enough to ascribe geographical descriptions and ponder the effects of future motherhood on their terrain.
But there are two things that properly get on my own personal tits about this. First, that Henry thought this was appropriate for a news and current affairs host to say in a mainstream media interview. That you can commentate publicly about a real human person’s “titties” one minute, and ask probing questions about the housing crisis, or sexual violence, or an industrial dispute the next. Without your viewers wondering whether your interviewee has, in your expert and well-documented opinion, boobs that owe their provenance to Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage.
And secondly, what annoyed me was not being able to dismiss the “titties” rant as the attitude and behaviour of an outlier. “Paul Henry just says out loud what everyone else is thinking!” Are you? Seriously? And here was me thinking he was saying what other people were too smart to think in the first place and/or too well-mannered to keep to them-fucking-selves. Because it is seriously not helping.
And look, just a brief mention of Anthony Weiner. If that needy little dude’s dick-pics end up being the schlong that breaks the camel’s back and delivers Donald “No-one respects women more than I do” Trump to the Whitehouse, I’m walking off The Ms Truman Show set once and for all.
I like to have people of substance to look up to. Journalists and broadcasters and politicians who are smarter than me, and also kind, and who have a bigger vision than me – but who have me (or someone like us) in mind when they ask their questions or make their decisions. So on a flagship news and current affairs show, I’d like to go, “That guy – he represents me and asks questions on my behalf because he cares about people like me.”
Without wanting to go all Hobson’s Pledge on your arse and get nostalgic for “God Save the Queen” at the movies, wouldn’t it be great to have more men of character and quality just, like, deliberately choosing to not talk about titties and pussies and riding women, or even just using their elevated position to punch up, rather than down.
Because I think it would be in all of our interests to get to a place where, when someone said something offensive about women, our first reaction was not to say, “Well, you know … That’s what men are like.” Someone really should call that meeting.