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‘When did we become this?’ On sexual harassment and ‘innocent’ bystanders

Yesterday we published an account of how a group of teenage circus performers were subject to crude sexual remarks prior to the first Lions test in Auckland. The story prompted a huge reaction, including this response from Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Dr Jackie Blue.

Kiwi men, we need to have a talk.

Kiwi women are fed up. We’re fed up with being harassed and abused when we are spending time with our friends, doing our work, or going to a sports game.

We’re fed up with having to explain why men saying things like “but that’s not me” or “I’m not like that – I’m a dad/uncle/brother” doesn’t cut the mustard.

The problem is that whether you actively harass and abuse women or are a bystander when you see harassment and abuse happening – the result is still the same. A woman is still having to laugh off hideous comments, still walk with groups of friends to stay safe when it’s dark after a sports match, still practice the art of not responding or reacting to harassment just in case things escalate.

And to be honest, we shouldn’t have to.

This piece isn’t about hating on men and it’s not about hating on sports. It’s about how we are treating each other as human beings. It’s about what we stand for.

I don’t think any one of us will doubt that the Lions tour has been a success for New Zealand.

Tourists having a great time travelling our beautiful country in caravans, the hospitality industry reaping the rewards of visitors keen to eat and drink their way around our thriving cities, and kiwis enjoying playing host to foreign friends.

But it has also revealed once again, a dark underbelly.

I read The Spinoff piece about the experiences of a group of girls who, aged 13, 14, 15 and 16 years old, were subjected to sexual comments from a group of men as they performed circus acts along the Lions tour fan trail. Men who should have known better. This is just one example of what many women experience every day.

But here’s the thing. Taking out of the equation the guys who thought this sort of behaviour was appropriate and taking out the colour of the jersey worn by the abusers and harassers, there are still men who would have seen and heard that harassment and abuse and did nothing.

Not a single thing.

Didn’t say things like “I’d never do that – why are you?” or “I’m not going to stand by while you say that sort of thing to a young girl (or grown woman).”

And that’s the problem. If you don’t tell those guys to pull their heads in and stop saying vile things and treating women like objects rather than human beings, you are being complicit in their actions.

To the men asking on Facebook why the girls were allowed to perform where there would be intoxicated men in the first place – you are being complicit in their actions.

To those who cancelled the performance this weekend rather than finding an alternative option, despite the girls not doing anything wrong – you are being complicit in their actions.

Every person or group that made the girls the cause rather than the victims of this behaviour – you are being complicit in the actions of men who though it was okay to tell a 13 year old to “spread your legs wider” or ask her “how much for a hand job” as she performed circus tricks with her friends.

When did we become this?

We tell the world about how we were the first country to give women the vote, how we have had female prime ministers, how Kiwi women are valued and protected. And yet Kiwi women and girls can’t feel safe near a sports match.

Kiwi men: agree that being complicit in the actions of harassers and abusers is not what you are about. Agree that the next time you hear someone make inappropriate sexual comment to a woman or a girl you will stand up and say “Mate, that’s not on. Pull your head in.”

Agree that if this sort of behaviour is not what you’re about or how you would act, you’ll let your mates know it loud and clear.

Because as soon as you call out the behaviour, you send a clear message to fellow countrymen and foreign friends that harassing and abusing women isn’t what we are about. We don’t stand by and we certainly don’t accept it.


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