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MediaJune 27, 2017

Some thoughts on Alan Duff’s staggeringly terrible ‘female shriekers’ column


Unladylike shouting from Madeleine Chapman at Alan Duff’s Herald piece on ‘unfeminine’ women, Samoan cleaners and what makes a real Kiwi.

Alan Duff went to a bar and heard some women loudly laughing nearby and it made him angry. So he went home and wrote a column about why “unfeminine” women and television presenters aren’t real Kiwis and 78-year-old Samoan cleaners are. It’s an absolute mess, and not just because it contains the first use of the word “thence” in 40 years.

The column starts off fine, if fine means being only mildly misogynistic towards a group of women he’s never met because their laughs were shrill.

The physical effect of this aural assault on eardrums and thence brain could have been measured,” writes Duff, in the first of many sentences that kind of look like they make sense but really don’t. “This shouldn’t normally be a column subject if not for the questions it raises,” Duff continues, and then proceeds to not raise any of these supposed questions. Instead he turns his attention to television presenters because why the hell not. His main concern is that they’re too self-referential, they applaud themselves on air and enjoy their jobs too much. He’s addressing all television presenters but it becomes clear he means the women. For example:

Viewers being told the “EXCITING” news that their colleague has been voted – wait for it – “the hottest new presenter on television”. Problem: She is not hot.

Just quite attractive and of course smiles and laughs a lot. An awful lot.


The offensive, wholly unfeminine group of women. The preening presenters with their repeated emphasis and irritating – indeed, unwatchable – image-making. The complete lack of voice inflection, instead shouted and bellowed at. It is not who we are as Kiwis.

I hear Toby Manhire, a man, as the name suggests, laughing offensively loudly while reading the same column across the room. I consider for a moment writing a think-piece on why Toby Manhire is not a real Kiwi.

The new NZ Herald site layout makes it appear that the column ends there. No such luck. Instead, it continues below with a glorious paragraph that made me think maybe I really was reading a brand new article.

The 78-year-old Samoan cleaner in my friend’s apartment building, who is here this Saturday morning as I write this, is more typical [sic] Samoan and with it, one of us. Why? Because he’s modest and humble and is probably helping support family, as well being [sic] useful in his older years. He’s got a work ethic. No ego. He’s a Kiwi.


Who is this Samoan cleaner? Why is he still working at 78 years old? And what kind of weirdo stays in the apartment while the cleaner is there? My mum is Samoan and worked for many years as a cleaner. She was modest and humble and helped to support her family, and she never once laughed shrilly while the homeowner’s friend was writing a column nearby. According to Mr Duff, she’s a typical Samoan and a Kiwi. Hooray. But if you put my mum in a cafe with her sisters and a cup of tea, the shrieking laughter would melt Alan Duff’s ears and thence brain. Because wait a minute, you can be modest and hardworking AND have a loud laugh?

After this short detour into the life of a Samoan cleaner, Duff returns to his point which is … what exactly?

On the train to and from the first test, no groups of female shriekers, no egotists, constantly self-referencing. Just very exuberant Lions supporters (they were quiet on the train home) and humble Kiwi rugby fans excited about the game.

Ah yes, those famously meek rugby fans we all know and love.

To have a moment of relevant modesty …


… I’m often stopped in the street and no, not insulted – now that’s enough. Point made. What every one of these people has is that strong Kiwi handshake, of few words, just enough to convey the message, and move on. Leaving me feeling distinctly Kiwi, humbled, gratified.

In his dream world, Alan Duff will spend the rest of his days sitting on a train that’s heading for Eden Park but never arrives, instead passing by hot women who can’t be heard through the train windows.

What’s my drawn-out point? Maybe a demand to employ TV presenters who represent us, not just their egos and career aspirations. I’m suggesting it is unfeminine for a woman to laugh so hideously loudly, just as we squirm at the oafish man who laughs loudest at his own bad jokes.

These are two very separate points about two very separate non-issues. It’s hard to even address the ridiculousness of Duff’s statements without sighing into oblivion. Men shouldn’t laugh loudly at their own bad jokes. But women shouldn’t laugh loudly at all.

The rest of us should confide in a trusted friend what ails us emotionally, confess to nervousness in public, own up to social insecurities, even vanities and hang-ups, and be prepared to be told that being quiet always speaks volumes and modesty really is a virtue.

I think what Alan Duff is trying to say here, and throughout this scarcely comprehensible column, is that being quiet always speaks volumes and modesty really is a virtue UNLESS YOU’RE A BLOKE AT THE RUGBY OR A BLOKE WITH A FIRM HANDSHAKE OR A BLOKE WRITING A COLUMN ABOUT HOW WOMEN SHOULD BE QUIET.

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