John Key has his share of supporters over his repeated pulling of a waitress’s hair – Mike Hosking (surprise!) and the Minister for Women, to name but two examples. As Louise Upston, the Minister for Women, stated:
“As the Prime Minister has said his actions were intended to be light-hearted. It was never his intention to make her feel uncomfortable. He said that in hindsight it wasn’t appropriate, and that is why he apologised.”
Well, to my mind it’s harassment, pure and simple, and an abuse of a position of power. And to those staunch defenders of the PM, who speak of light-hearted tomfoolery and the like, I refer them to the following TEDx talk by Laura Bates, founder of the EverydaySexismProject.
John Key’s behaviour crossed a line, and he deserved to be called out for it. After all, attitudes and behaviours don’t change unless we call people out for transgressions. And when the story first broke, I doubt there were many people who didn’t cringe to themselves and think, “That’s more than a little weird. And slightly creepy.”
However, once the disbelief and laughter dies down – and much laughter was certainly had at Key’s expense – there’s the question of over-reaction. If the response from Key’s enemies is seen as over-the-top, Key becomes the victim.
When serial litigant Graham McCready (which is precisely how he was described on 3News last night) pops his head up to file a complaint, John Key gains a little sympathy.
When Winston Peters starts asking why police haven’t already charged Key with assault, people think things might be going a little too far.
When Herald and Stuff comment threads start labelling the Prime Minister a sexual deviant, people begin to tune out.
Now I’m not trying to minimise John Key’s behaviour. As I’ve said, I consider it harassment and an abuse of power. He’s become a laughing stock, which may well prove his political undoing in time – the first big crack in the armour.
Most importantly, the issue of harassment and sexism is being openly discussed across the country. Key has got it in the neck from The National Council of Women and the Human Rights Commissioner Jackie Blue, both of whom have had well-worded, reasoned contributions to the discussion.
Nonetheless, when the commentary goes beyond the reasoned, martyrs can be accidentally created.