Key’s real attitude to women is showing

He did such a good job during the campaign, but the mask is slipping.

In what world is it reasonable to investigate an allegation of serious sexual harassment by speaking only to the person said to have done the harassing and, on the basis alone, deciding that it didn’t happen and saying publicly that you “accepted [his] version of events“?

In what world is it reasonable to say that if you’re given evidence of sexual harassment you’ll give it straight to the media?

In John Key’s world apparently: where the old boys’ club is strong and a leader sides with his men no matter what. Well at least until the political math tells him otherwise.

In case anyone’s missing the nuance: Key has told the media he believes the woman in question is a liar and has threatened to publicly humiliate her if she doesn’t back down. All without even trying to talk to her, all on the word of his good old mate Richard Worth whose unpleasant track record Key is well aware of. Nice eh?

24 thoughts on “Key’s real attitude to women is showing

  1. I’m pretty sure Key was applying the—contentious—convention that Ministers are taken at their word. It stinks, and it got Helen Clark into no end of trouble when she was PM, and it will get Key into trouble as well.

    That said, I’m being pretty careful not to interpret adherence to this convention as a sign of anything other than political inexperience, and certainly I’m not reading anything from it into Key’s attitude toward women.

  2. BK Drinkwater,

    Maybe he was applying that convention when he believed Worth, although I would question whether the convention actually requires Key to wear blinkers and make incompetent decisions.

    His public statements, however, are more than simply a convention, are you defending them and/or saying they don’t show a deeply engrained sexism?

  3. I’ll have to have a think about this.

    Key’s remarks on CloseUp tonight are at least consistent with my interpretation. There, he basically explains why he didn’t sack Worth weeks ago over the matter Phil Goff brought to his attention.

    It’s clear that Key didn’t have the information he needed back then. He had an allegation, but wasn’t even aware of the corroborating evidence, which only came to light today. (Precisely when Goff and Key learned of the phone records etc is the big question here.) In those circumstances, there was little he could do but take the Minister—who was “adamant”—at his word.

    I’m pretty sure that’s all Key’s saying here; if there is deeply-ingrained sexism, these remarks don’t show it. At least not to me.

    That said, I can respect your interpretation without necessarily agreeing with it.

  4. Anita:

    Are you saying that Key would have done something different if the National Minister had been female and the Labour complainer, male? Until the complainer was willing to front up with actual evidence, this was just a he said, she said situation and Key was right to take the word of his minister over that of a Labour party loyalist. I certainly would have, regardless of the genders of the two parties.

    I think you are reading far too much into this. The only sexist here is Worth.

  5. MacDoctor,

    1) Yes, I do believe Key’s public statements would have been different if the genders were reversed.

    2) Would the hypothetical you have asked for evidence and/or to speak to the woman? Key didn’t.

    3) Do you think that Key’s public statements linked in my post show an acceptable attitude to the investigation, nature and gravity of sexual harassment?

  6. BK Drinkwater,

    1) Key doesn’t appear to have sought evidence from the woman (by his own account of his actions)

    2) Do you think that Key’s public statements linked in my post show an acceptable attitude to the investigation, nature and gravity of sexual harassment?

  7. I think John Key’s ‘attitude’ towards women is probably better represented by the ‘women’ in his cabinet he defends against unfounded and mischevious allegations, such as Paula Bennett, or ‘women’ he chooses to endorse such as Christine Rankin, despite pseudo-witch-finders, as much as his recent decision to cauterise a proven serial womaniser from his cabinet. I’d suggest, (but don’t know, as I have not asked him) that his ‘attitude’ towards women is about the same as most middle-aged long-term married men with a daughter and a son.
    So, that being the case, you are going to need some pretty wide facilities if it is an ‘attitude’ you are seeking to alter, regardless of your own ‘attitude’ about the ‘attitude’ you have unilaterally decided to accuse John Key of holding.
    Why not try a bit of credit where it is due.

  8. Anita, let’s not forgot the woman is Indian so Key must also be racist.

  9. It seems we do ‘need to know’ after all. ’Politico is refreshing in respect of Pablo’s detailed analysis and insistence on using accurate terms-i.e. rightists with authoritarian tendencies are not necessarily Facists, quite correct. However Pablo is the quality contributor so far. It is tiresome to see repetition of 90s style UK trotskyite contrarist writing styles here. “Why I support Spankin’ Rankin” and “Why we don’t need to know” being prime examples.

  10. It all got rather buried under the Bain verdict. Key has done nothing wrong, except for acting with clarity and fairness.

  11. jcuknz writes,

    I think you are unfairly gunning for John Key in this thread.

    Do you?

    I think his public statements show an unacceptable attitude to the investigation, nature and gravity of sexual harassment. Don’t you?

    I think it matters that our Prime Minister displays those attitudes: when he does that he says that it’s an ok way for people to respond to sexual harassment, and it isn’t.

  12. Sorry Anita :-) but obviously I do not, particularly after reading Cactus Kate’s informative piece, coupled with the Kiwiblog piece about the other woman this morning. I think John Key’s cautious approach and actions in the matter is appropriate. I think the feminists are getting a little too wound up, which is an unfortunate par for the course with extremists.

  13. John Key is definitely piggy in the middle with so many conflicting reports and suggestions coming forth as time passes. I return to your original thread as to why do we need to know. It is unfortunate that there are so many people involved, so publically. Though I guess becuase of the publicity we have access to numerous opinions /information relating to the matter which might not have surfaced if the matter wasn’t being so widely aired … so I can see argument both for and against your earlier stand about the ‘need to know’. It is an unfortunate messy business. So my sympathy is for piggy.

  14. Hi Anita. I’ve given this some thought over the last few days.

    It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that there was a substantial breakdown in communication between Goff and Key. Key seems to have been unaware of the corroborating evidence to support the allegation (and Goff seems to have been—until recently—confused over just what evidence there was—text messages and phone logs, but no e-mails); he therefore had little recourse but to follow convention and take the Minister at his word. I imagine Key would have wanted to drop the knife on Worth back then, but without the verification of the messages, there would have been no way he could. It really sucks for the complainant: formally taking the Minister at his word can be construed as not believing the complainant—though these are not the same things.

    I still don’t think Key’s revealed a lax attitude about sexual harassment. In the interviews you link, he’s mainly trying to outline a sequence of events. He’s scrupulous in not commenting on the actual substance, presumably for fear of being seen to interfere with the police investigation. This is why he’s not taking the opportunity to “show an acceptable attitude”; and why there’s nothing here to say whether his attitude’s acceptable or not.

    It would be extraordinary to me if Key didn’t take this all very seriously indeed: he was at Merryl Lynch when the big fracas there was brewing.

    Thanks very much for making me think. I’m not sure we’re quite seeing eye-to-eye here, but reasonable people can disagree. I think it’s that I’m not willing to read quite so much into the interviews as you. It is possible that I have partisan blinkers.

  15. BK Drinkwater,

    Yep, clearly a messy miscommunication thing happening between Goff and Key. We could discuss whether it’s the result of people communicating in poor faith, but I don’t think we need to.

    Key may be taking the sexual harassment aspect seriously (I hope he is) and privately acting appropriately (again, I hope he his) but the way he’s communicating to the public about it is, to my eyes, unacceptable and reinforces damaging misconceptions about sexual harassment.

    Do you think it was acceptable to say that if he was given evidence he would give it straight to the media?

    Do you think it was acceptable for him to simply say “I accepted Dr Worth’s version of events.” without appearing to have made any effort to talk to the woman about it?

    Both of those statements tell the public at large that our Prime Minister believes in a particular way of addressing sexual harassment complaints, and IMO it’s a bad way which reinforces many of the structures that allow sexual harassment to continue.

    If a CE receives a sexual harassment complaint second-hand (which they almost always are) by a receptionist against a General Manger Key appears to be saying it would be acceptable for the CE to ask his GM “did you do it?” and if the answer is “no” then all he should do is accept it. If the issue is raised again it would acceptable to blame the receptionist for not providing evidence to begin (although the CE never asked for it) and to say that he wants the evidence so that it can be forwarded around the organisation for everyone to read.

    Clearly this would be an appalling process for the CE to undertake. Whatever process Key undertook, that is the process he seems to be saying is the right one, and he says it as the leader of the country.

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  17. Thanks Anita. I think we’re in about 80% agreement here, so I’ll keep this as short as I can.

    I think saying he’d take evidence “straight to the media” was a silly thing to say. (Doesn’t Key retract this in the interview you linked?) It can only dissuade victims from coming forward. But to say anything else will be construed in bad faith by political opponents: they’ll say it’s tantamount to “I’ll cover up any evidence”. So you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Should Key have sought an interview with the complainant? Again, not easy. There is no situation so stressful that a Prime Ministerial summons can’t make things much worse. It’s a minefield. How do you conduct such a meeting without unintentionally intimidating the complainant? (And besides, I’ve read nothing to suggest that Goff even offered to arrange a meeting before this week.)

    Investigating sexual-harassment allegations is pathologically difficult at the best of times, and doing it in politics—in the full public eye—is harder still: getting the balance right between openness (important for public accountability reasons) and discretion (important so as not to make things worse for victims/complainants—or, on rare occasions, people falsely accused—) is well-nigh impossible.

    Almost precisely because of situations like this, the convention that Ministers be taken at their word was adopted—with the understanding that there are dire consequences for Ministers who lie.

    I think the investigation process sucked. Your example shows why. Depressingly, I also think it was the only process available to Key.

    Where we’re certainly agreed: the way all of this has been communicated to the public is dreadful. Obviously, I don’t think Key is deliberately reinforcing damaging misconceptions about sexual harassment—he’d be horrified to learn he is—, but I think it is happening. Yet… I’m trying to think about how this should have been handled, and what should have been said. I’m honestly struggling.

  18. Anita the analogy to a corporate environment is not totally appropriate. Firstly they wouldn’t have this splashed all over the media, secondly there wouldn’t be political motivations – actually there could be and if there were then the CE would likely find it appropriate to avoid a rush to judgement and take time to find out who all the players are and what the evidence is, just like Key has done.
    It is becoming clearer that the women involved in these incidents are not necessarily ‘victims’. The rush to accuse is a major impediment for anyone, Goff is guilty of it (and probably contriving this situation forhis political gain) as are many who lean to the left so far. Fools (and Phils) rush in where angels fear to tread. Are you familiar with the Duke University mens La Crosse team fiasco? The parallels are startling.

  19. Just to be more clear on the parallels – the accused were all white males from wealthy families, the accuser was a less wealthy, not white female. Her accusations were suspect from the start and the evidence soon mounted that the boys weren’t guilty of what she had alleged, although they had still behaved like spoilt rich kids (hiring a stripper for a party for example). The faculty at Duke, the Dean and the Durham DA all pre-judged them on the basis they were rich white males behaving badly. While they were guilty of that, they weren’t guilty of the crimes alleged by the accuser.
    Just because Worth is a white male (I don’t know how wealthy but let’s concede he HAD an amount of power) who behaved like a boor, it does not automatically follow that the women are without blame or that their accusations can be taken at face value.
    Without the full facts coming out people should not ‘rush to accuse’. Key appears to have taken this attitude and (IMO) it is the correct attitude.

  20. BK Drinkwater,

    Obviously, I don’t think Key is deliberately reinforcing damaging misconceptions about sexual harassment

    Yeah, I don’t think it’s deliberate either, but i’m not sure that’s better. We seem to have two options:

    1) John Key is aware of the issues around sexual harassment, power and gender. He is willing to use expressing ugly attitudes as a political tactic.

    2) John Key is unaware of the issues around sexual harassment, power and gender. He expresses ugly attitudes without awareness because they’re his attitudes.

    Which would you rather was true?

  21. You may or may not be shocked to learn that I don’t see it that way.

    I’ve argued at length—to the point of hijacking the thread, for which I apologize—that Key had to conduct these investigations and public statements under near-impossible constraints; that between these constraints—incomplete information, the Cabinet convention that presumes Ministers speak the truth, and the competing necessities of sensitivity to the complainant and public openness, and in criminal matters, the presumption of innocence—, Key’s options were reduced to a singular path.

    Once bound to that path, Key’s views on the issues around sexual harassment, power and gender could have little bearing on the forced course of action (including what he could and couldn’t say in public statements). It is therefore not possible to divine these views with any accuracy from his handling of this matter.

    So I’m sorry Anita, I just can’t see the ugly attitudes in what Key’s saying here; the ugliness is in the constraint structure he was forced to operate under (in particular, the presumption of Ministerial truthfulness, which becomes a major liability when Ministers lie).

    # # #

    I’ve had another listen to the interview. I’m more convinced than before of the following:

    (1): Key is stepping over himself to avoid giving public voice to a presumption of guilt. A lot of the apparent insensitivity (“if they’re there”) to the complainant has its origin there.

    (2): Key sounds very frustrated that he hadn’t already seen the messages. (My interpretation: it was not clear to Key a month ago that the messages were available to him.) His call to make the messages public stems either from this frustration, or a belief that Goff is/was sitting on them. He retracts this call—which was never intended as a threat to the complainant—when pressed on the matter.

  22. Didn’t Key say that he Goff told him the evidence existed?

    It seems to me that at this stage no one wanted it to become public. We don’t know what Key told his staff to do but all they did do was talk to Worth and get his denial.

    Once they had that denial is that what they went back to Goff with, or did they say that the issue had been settled such that Worth would desist or something like that?

    It was only since Key let it out that Worth had denied the claims that the complainant has offered to make the evidence available. This suggests that it would have been available earlier if asked for to rebut a denial, does it not?

    If Key’s investigation had had that evidence to confront Worth with, (and this would still have been out of the public sphere) Worth would have had the opportunity to sign his promised affidavit.

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