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Looking back on a total shitter of a week for women in New Zealand

Alex Casey and Leah Damm recap the hellish events for women in New Zealand last week, including the Kuggeleijn case, The Chiefs’ behaviour and the curious case of Kevin Roberts.

Last week sent an incredibly scary sexist snowball through the country, trampling all of the women in New Zealand in its mighty wake. In less than five days, we were reminded that many people in this country still see our ambition as non-existent, our word as ignorable and our bodies as not our own. We’re hardly the first women to see the common ground between these events, so if you see us on the street and we aren’t smiling, it’s because we are one more news story away from going full Furiosa in Mad Max. Don’t test us.

We kicked the week off with Kevin Roberts rubbing his chin and musing about how much women love their comfy hidey holes squashed together beneath the glass ceiling. It’s good for warmth, and makes it a lot easier for all our girly chit chat about how much we hate achieving.

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An older white male ad executive at Saatchi and Saatchi, Roberts reckoned that women don’t actually have ambition – we prefer it on the lower rungs of the career ladder. Closer to the kitchen that way innit. Robert has since stood down, but whether or not he has actually ever spoken to a woman in his life remains to be seen.

And then there was the Kuggeleijn rape case, a story consistently framed as the poor professional cricketer whose ‘life hung in the balance’ as he awaited the verdict on whether or not he was guilty of raping a woman the morning after a night of drinking. Consent has become a point of contention in the case, the papers said, including what seem like some innovative re-interpretations of the word “no”.

Defence lawyer Philip Morgan QC asked the alleged victim if, when she told him ‘no’, if she may have meant a “light-hearted” no, or like a “not now” no. You know that kind, like a giggly, hilarious, flirty ‘ha ha please don’t rape me’ kind of no. The lesson seems to be this: it’s not a question of whether or not a woman says no, so much as whether the woman really meant it, which we can only assume means if she was able to deliver it with the right amount of Meryl Streep Oscar bait gravitas despite being in a traumatic situation over which she had no control.

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The woman was also grilled about the moment she told Kuggeleijn that she was on the pill, and if she recognised that doing so in those circumstances communicated that she wanted to have sex with him. There’s no word on whether any such contraception-as-consent theorem applies to any man who has ever told his mates that he has a condom in his wallet. Meanwhile, how embarrassing for the rest of us who, in talking about the pill to our friends, doctors or anyone offering us a glass of grapefruit juice, were incidentally telling them that we wanted to do the sex with them. Blush factor 10.

What it basically boils down to, at the end of the day, went the message from the defence, is that Kuggeleijn simply acted as any red-blooded male would do. “I suggest if I said to you that 100 men who have been in that situation and tried again, you would have a forest of hands.” Even if he is just trying to defend his client, it sounds like Morgan has an even lower expectation of the typical Kiwi bloke than we do.

The questioning from this lawyer must have made the experience even more horrific for the woman on the stand, as well as countless other women seeing the trial unfold in disbelief. And here’s the kicker: it might have just worked. The result was a hung jury and an apology from the judge to Kuggeleijn for the inconvenience. Think about that for a second. A jury of twelve people, it seems, couldn’t agree on whether the alleged victim’s ‘no’ actually meant ‘yes’.

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Could this possibly hint at why it is estimated that of every 100 sexual abuse crimes, only 10 are reported? And of those 10 reported assaults, only three make it to court? And of those three cases that make it to court, only one will get a conviction?

Speaking of red-blooded males just being loveable sporting larrikins, it’s probably time to talk about The Chiefs. This is a group of professional rugby players, frequently placed on a pedestal as representatives of our national sport – even adopting indigenous imagery, branding, and ‘mana’ – who are alleged to have groped, licked, thrown gravel at and short-changed a woman they hired as a stripper for their end of season celebrations.

After the woman Scarlette bravely spoke out publicly about her experience, a lavish amount of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, boys-will-be-boys hellfire has spewed forth, first and foremost from Chiefs CEO Andrew Flexman, and soon backed up by mobs of online commenters. Even Phil Goff grapevined in at one point and said that she shouldn’t have been in such a ‘dangerous’ situation without a bodyguard. Cheers for that Phil.

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Perhaps the deepest burn of all came from Margaret Comer, not only a certified woman but also a standing member of the Waikato Women’s Refuge board, who asked “if a woman takes her clothes off and walks around in a group of men, what are we supposed to do if one of them tries to touch her?” It’s a grim state of affairs when rape culture in New Zealand has seeped all the way to a figurehead for the Women’s Refuge. The call is coming from inside the house and there’s simply no escaping.

For the millionth head-banging goddamn time: it should not be up to women, stripper or not, to do their best to make sure you don’t touch, lick and throw stuff at them. That’s your problem, not theirs. If you can’t comply, maybe go sit in a corner and stare at the wall like a Magic Eye until you are ready to see women as equal humans who demand the same respect afforded to the average All Black. Better yet, maybe just avoid people altogether if you really can’t help but touch, lick and throw gravel at them.

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 27: The Chiefs team during a moment's silence before kickoff as a mark of respect for the Fiji cyclone victims, the 185 lives lost in the Christchurch earthquake five years ago, and Crusaders board member Nick Patterson, who died earlier in February, prior to the round one Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs at AMI Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Photo by Getty Images

So that was a solid five days of pure shit for the state of women in this country. Perhaps it’s sign of progress that we’re even able to have these conversations and induce PR-engineered apologies (or even resignations) from the likes of Comer, the Chiefs, and Roberts. But a cooler thing would be if they never said the things in the first place, that their ideas were never even entertained by a culture still drenched in bad sexist ideas.

Because it’s 2016 and yet here we are, still talking about antiquated ideas on the ‘natural’ brutishness of men, and the ‘happy’ woman content with the proverbial glass ceiling. These are the ideas that are snugly nestled in the minds of politicians, Women’s Refuge board members, senior executives and national ambassadors.

Is it really such a big ask to expect these people at the top of their respective fields with all manner of power and influence, maybe try listening to women before speaking about us, touching us, or having sex with us? No?

Is that like a ‘yes’ no or a ‘not now’ no?


Further commentary from The Spinoff on these stories:

Michele A’Court: Stop saying dumb shit, and other top tips for all the Kevins of the world

Alex Casey: It’s 2016 and a rugby exec just found out that strippers are people too

Duncan Greive: Rugby has a giant problem. So why are its most powerful voices silent?

Jane Cherrington: We need to talk about Kevin

And please listen to Alex Casey’s very essential On the Rag podcast

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