An object lesson in silencing women

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister screamed across the House that Labour and the Greens were backing rapists. Several MPs took offence, but the Speaker of the House ruled them out of order.

On Wednesday, women MPs took action. One by one, they stood to ask for an apology. Each of them said, “Mr Speaker, I have been a victim of sexual assault, and I take offence at the Prime Minister’s words.”

That’s what they tried to say. But one by one, the Speaker ruled them out of order, and one by one, they were thrown out of the House.

New Zealand female MPs thrown out of parliament after disclosing sexual assaults

You can watch the proceedings here.

All of it is chilling. A powerful man, presiding over the highest court in the country, silencing women who have been victims of assault, and ruling them out of order.

It’s all horrible, but perhaps the most horrible bit is when the Speaker starts cutting the microphone on women who are talking about being victims of sexual assault. Green MP Catherine Delahunty was only able to say, “Mr Speaker, as a victim of sexual assault…” before her microphone was cut. She was literally silenced.

Rape culture in action in our Parliament, promulgated by the Speaker. There are many reasons for people finding it easy to get away with rape and sexual assault in this country, many reasons for the on-going endorsement of rape culture. And one of them is because the most powerful and senior representatives of the ruling National party have made it possible.

I am filled with admiration for the brave women who stood up and talked about being victims of sexual assault, some of them for the first time ever in public. My eyes filled with tears as I watched women I know personally, women I spoke to just a few days ago, open themselves up to criticism and sniggers and sneers (we all know how rape culture keeps on working), because they will not stomach being told that they support rape.

Kia kaha, brave women from the Labour Party and from the Green Party.

Accusing the Labour Party of backing rapists is the latest tactic that the Speaker of the House is allowing to protect a Prime Minister who simply won’t fight for New Zealanders, who wants to pick and choose who he will act for as New Zealanders, and who is determined to make sure that the only New Zealanders he will look out for are the people who are convenient for him.

This Prime Minister has cut funding for rape and sexual assault services, because it’s a convenient way for him to balance his budget.

This Prime Minister has joked about rape and sexual assault, because it’s a convenient way for him to win votes.

This Prime Minister has used rape and sexual assault as a way to attack the opposition, because it’s a convenient way for him to cover up his inaction over New Zealanders being “detained” in Australian detention centres – jails by any other name.

Via the Speaker of the House, this Prime Minister has silenced women who have talked about being victims of sexual assault, because it’s convenient for him not to take any responsibility for his words and actions.

Everything because it’s convenient, and easy, and a quick way out. Too bad if there’s a principle that the Prime Minister might stand up for, something where he might finally take a stand. If it’s not easy, he won’t do it. He has all the moral fibre of blancmange.

Sure, he might be a nice bloke to have a beer with, but you wouldn’t want him beside you in the trenches, would you?

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9 Responses to An object lesson in silencing women

  1. Pingback: When survivors speak out | Boots Theory

  2. Stephen says:

    “An object lesson in silencing women”, “Rape culture in action in our Parliament”. Rubbish. Watch the video. Firstly, what John Key said was repulsive and he is a disgusting piece of crap for saying it. However, the debating chamber has rules – you can’t just get up and say anything you like at any time – even if you are a victim of sexual violence. MPs can not use a point of order to repeatedly bring up a matter the Speaker has already ruled on – even if you don’t like the ruling. This is a long standing rule and all the MPs know it very well. The MPs were warned that if they continue to do so they would be ejected. These MPs were not silenced by the Speaker, they silenced themselves in order to make a protest. They *knew* they would be ejected. They *wanted* to be ejected in order to make a protest. Woman are silenced in our society, but this is not an instance of it. We do have a rape culture in parts of this country and it *is* a very serious problem – but this is not an example of it.

  3. Ollie1 says:

    Of course you’re right “Stephen”, you’re a man…….

    • Deborah says:

      Whoever “Stephen” is, he has left a clearly false e-mail address. Apparently not willing to be accountable for the comments he makes. Sigh.

  4. Pingback: When survivors speak out « The Standard

  5. Bryan Houliston says:

    Deborah,
    I partly agree with Stephen’s argument. And I’ve included my actual email address, so perhaps you can respond.

    I agree there is a rape culture in this country. I read the article at the everydayfeminism link you included, and I agree that every one of those 25 examples is rape culture in action. I agree that Metiria Turei, Jan Logie, Poto Williams, Catherine Delahunty, Marama Davidson, and Claire Curran displayed courage in sharing that they’ve experienced sexual assault and family violence. I think that David Carter should have let Delahunty, Davidson, Curran, and Nanaia Mahuta and Megan Woods, complete their Points of Order without disabling their microphones.

    But Carter had little choice over ruling them out of order and, probably, in asking Davidson, Curran, and Woods to leave the House. As Stephen noted, there is a Speaker’s Ruling about MPs relitigating (to use Carter’s word) Speaker’s decisions, made by Labour’s Gerard Wall in 1985:
    “Members have a right and a duty to raise points of order when they feel that the House is acting outside its Standing Orders, but when a matter has already been the subject of a decision by the Chair that decision is final, and any attempt to subvert it or bring into question that decision is out of order…To persist in doing that, despite warning, makes it a highly disorderly procedure.” (1985, Vol. 465, p. 6737.)

    If you’d been Speaker in this situation what would you have done differently?

    • Malcolm says:

      I would have required the Prime Minister to withdraw and apologise.

    • Deborah says:

      Thanks for the actual e-mail address, Bryan. I generally try to stay out of the comments, ‘though I do read them, because I figure I’ve had my say already.

      What should the Speaker have done? Not pretended that he simply didn’t hear what the PM said, and not pretended that members of the opposition didn’t raise a point of order in good time. He simply compounded the problem by overruling the points of order and silencing women who were talking about having been sexually abused (which was a direct response to the PM telling them that they backed rapists).

      Having backed himself into a corner, perhaps the better course of action would have been to have heard each woman’s point-of-order in silence, and to at least allow her the opportunity to be heard. He could still have overruled the points of order, but at least there would have been a little more dignity to it.

      I think his irascible temper got the better of him. The Speaker needs to be a very calm person, or one who can approach her or his job with a calm sense of humour, and the capacity to use standing orders to reinforce her or his rulings, rather than just making stuff up on the fly.

  6. Nicky says:

    Do speakers always use “I” “I” “I”?

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