(First published in the Dominion Post, September 16.)
I’ve never cared much for David Cunliffe, but I felt some sympathy for him back in 2014 when, as Labour Party leader, he made his apology for being a man.
Cunliffe copped a lot of stick for that. According to some commentators, the howls of condemnation were a factor in Labour’s decision to dump him as leader.
But really, what was so wrong about what he said? Cunliffe was talking about sexual abuse and family violence, which he correctly described as being overwhelmingly perpetrated by men. He talked about the “deep-seated sexism” still prevalent in New Zealand.
Okay, he may have been trying to ingratiate himself with the feminist lobby. But if he was saying that he sometimes felt ashamed when he saw how other men behaved … well, I do, too.
Example one: Bill Cosby. He could have occupied a place of honour in American entertainment history as the first black male to play a leading role in a prime-time TV series (I Spy). Instead he will be remembered for accusations that he was a serial sexual assaulter of attractive young women.
The evidence against Cosby is compelling. He thought those women were fair game and relied on his star appeal to draw them into his web.
Example two: Roger Ailes. Ailes, the former boss of Fox News, is a fat old man. It’s hard to imagine any woman finding him sexually attractive. But he’s a powerful fat old man, and he used his power to try to get women into bed with him.
Ailes pressed news anchor Gretchen Carlson to have sex with him and when she refused, he sabotaged her career. He called her a man-hater who needed to learn how to “get on with the boys”. But the former Miss America bit back and Ailes ended up being fired by Fox News, which paid Carlson $US20 million (a preposterous sum, but that’s America for you) in compensation.
Example three: The Chiefs. The Hamilton-based Super Rugby team would surely recognise the phrase “getting on with the boys”. Being one of the boys is a familiar phenomenon in male sport. It’s an excuse for never having to grow up and for boorish behaviour under the guise of a primitive ritual known as male bonding.
The Chiefs were being boys when they had their “Mad Monday” at Okoroire Springs Hotel and invited a stripper whom they allegedly pawed and sexually propositioned.
You probably thought, as I did, that rugby players acting like dogs on heat were something from the 1970s. Apparently not.
Mind you, Scarlette the stripper isn’t blameless. In fact she’s part of the problem. By buying into that leering, blokey male culture, she encourages men to regard women as playthings for their pleasure.
You have to wonder where the past few decades have gone. Feminism was supposed to make men aware of women’s right to be treated with respect, but somewhere along the line things went badly askew.
Which brings me to example four: The infamous Roast Busters. Bad behaviour by older men might be explained as the result of lingering attitudes from an era when people knew no better, but here were male teenagers from middle-class Auckland suburbs playing out the same ugly old pattern.
Oh, I almost forgot Colin Craig. If evidence in recent defamation proceedings is to be believed, even gawky, supposedly pious family men can’t help pressing their attentions on women when the adrenalin of politics gives them delusions of sexual irresistibility.
The sense of male sexual entitlement is endemic. Many of us know of women who have been raped and remained silent. They may not have been bashed into submission, but they were raped nonetheless.
In a newspaper column earlier this year, the singer Lizzie Marvelly graphically described the sexual harassment she had endured from men in the music business. She said it was like a cancer in the industry.
I admit I don’t understand this. What possible pleasure can a man get from having sex with a woman who makes it plain she doesn’t want it and isn’t enjoying it?
If sex is supposed to be about the mutual giving of pleasure between consenting partners, then sex as a result of coercion isn’t sex at all. The feminists are right on this point: it’s really about men enjoying power over women.
So yes, when I read about sexual predators, I’m ashamed too. I may not be responsible for what these men did, but that doesn’t stop me feeling tarnished by association.