The excuses are rolling out already. 1: he was set up for this so it’s Not His Fault and 2: Can’t You Take A Joke?
Yes, the PM was set up for this, but that’s a hollow excuse. This is the man who has horsed around for years, pulling pony tails and doing embarrassing interviews and always doing his damndest to convince people that he’s just one of the blokes. He can hardly complain now if the blokes take him at face value and involve him in yet another jokey-blokey event. He’s even been known to make dubious rape jokes, so he can’t even really complain about the content of this particular “joke”. So yes, a set-up, but the set-up has come as much from the PM as from the radio shock jocks who sprung it on him. And let’s remember exactly who held the power in that room. Here’s a hint: it might just have been the man with the bodyguards and the legal power and the constitutional power and the social power to say, “No!” and be believed.
As for the old, old favourite of bullies everywhere: can’t you take a joke? There’s a reason why this is the centre square on anti-feminist bingo. It’s because it’s the excuse that people always retreat to when their obnoxious behaviour is called out.
Good humour is edgy and subversive. It mocks established power groups, and prompts us to think in new ways about the world.
The “humour” from the PM and the radio jocks was the exact reverse of that. It punched down, laughing at victims, and making a joke out of rape. This in the same week that the Law Commission has released a major review of the law around sexual violence, urging us to change our understanding of how the law should operate. And what does the PM do? Make a joke.
Our PM simply doesn’t think that sexual violence is a serious matter. We can see that in the cuts to funding, the refusal to follow through on promises, the “teasing” of vulnerable women, the use of rape-talk as a device to attack the opposition, the refusal to allow women to speak about sexual assault in Parliament.
If the PM wants to engage in blokey cringey behaviour, well, that’s on him. What I really mind is the lack of action around sexual violence, and the trivialising of sexual violence. Joke all you want, Mr Key, but please, do some serious work as well.
I was part of a panel discussion covering some of these points on Newstalk ZB, with Jack Tame and Michelle Boag.