It was not me.

Yesterday the Herald published an op ed that started out with the following:

“I was asking an American professor a complicated question about Anzus in a university lecture theatre when he started stroking my leg.

I could hardly believe what was happening. I was doing my work and expected to be taken seriously as a journalist. By contrast, his actions not only showed his belief that women’s bodies were his personal play thing – his behaviour also demonstrated his contempt for me in a work capacity. It was obvious he had not been listening to my question as his mind was focused on when the right moment would be to physically assault me.”

Now, I do not know if this incident is true, much less that it occurred at a NZ university. If it is true then it was abhorrent behaviour on the part of the academic involved. But I can state categorically for the record that I am not the “American professor” in question. Not only do I not recall the name of the person making the allegation but I have never been approached by anyone regarding ANZUS. Nor have I stroked anyone’s leg in a professional setting. So count me out of the list of likely suspects.

Readers may think it odd that I feel compelled to defend myself in this way. But as one of the very few (former) American professors in NZ who also lectured and writes about international relations, foreign policy and comparative politics, the light of suspicion has already been cast my way. Given that in the past I have been accused of being a racist, Islamophobe, Zionist and an assortment of other unsavoury things, I am therefore quick to defend my good name from any insinuations of misconduct, harassment or unethical behaviour.

That is the problem with non-specific allegations of wrong-doing–whatever the righteousness of the point being made, they tar the innocent as well as the guilty with the same brush.

13 thoughts on “It was not me.

  1. Yet John Key has escaped being judged on his recent repeated and unwanted assaults on a young woman. Victim blaming has commenced. Now men know that they can get away with sexist assault, right from the prime minister down, things will get worse and I blame men and many women for this appalling attack on women’s rights.
    Anyone now voting for this government of MPs tarred by condoning Key’s actions (and laughably Minister for Women, Louise Upston, included) has compromised our legal process and our already weakened equality of women with men. They have certainly, if unwittingly, condoned this professor’s behaviour.

  2. I agree J.

    The fact that so many people do not see the problem with Key’s behaviour and think that this is much fuss about nothing indicates to me that a very deep seated casual sexism and misogyny permeates NZ culture. I have seen it in both academia and in the volunteer organisations that I used to be a member of, and allowing crepes like Bob Jones to make little of the matter in the leading daily newspaper just underscores the depth of the problem. Even so, until now I never would have believed that it is so pervasive.

    Although the choice of outlet that the victim of Key’s unwanted attentions opted to publish her account in was lamentable (because it immediately raised the suspicion of a political agenda behind her complaint), I do not think that she was politically motivated.

    I am afraid that this is an uphill struggle when people like Upston and Collins prefer to be partisan rather than defend a woman’s right to not be harassed.

  3. I agree that the choice of outlet was used against her, but I’d love to know who/where else she could have approached and been allowed to tell her story without it being hijacked. Your site?

    In politics it would seem that personal futures are more important than ethical decision-making by women and men; in that these politicians are equal, Marilyn Waring being my only courageous historic light in that murk.

  4. Ha ha, T,

    I knew that someone would bite. When the term was used in reference to me it was used as an epithet. As in “racist zionist prof hates Muslims.”

    Having said that I am not a big fan of Zionists.

  5. J:

    I also wondered why she did not approach a more mainstream outlet. It would be a shame if she did and got rebuffed or was told to spin her story in a particular way.

  6. “Although the choice of outlet that the victim of Key’s unwanted attentions opted to publish her account in was lamentable…”

    I beg to disagree there Pablo. Sure, it laid her open to accusations of political motivation (and I agree there were none) but I think she may have instinctively appreciated that the MSM could not be trusted to let her tell her story in her own words. They would have approached the usual right-leaning pseudo experts for comment, and the young woman would have found herself being dragged through a wringer. I believe she was correct to approach a left-leaning media outlet who treated her with the deference and respect due to her and who seem to have given her the right advice. She did a very brave thing.

  7. Interesting point Anne.

    I believe that the very correct way that blog handled her story was due to Selwyn Manning, the power behind the throne and a voice of occasional reason on it. I very much doubt that had Selwyn not been involved that it would have been treated with the decorum that it received.

    I believe that one of Selwyn’s other news outlets, say, would have been a better outlet, but am glad that his discerning hand was apparently in the mix in any event.

  8. ” a very deep seated casual sexism and misogyny permeates NZ culture”

    Damn right Pablo

    As a fellow American in NZ I am really unhappy about the casual sexism of Kiwi so-called “culture”. While we Americans may not be perfect it is pretty clear to me that had this crepe tried it on on an American student in an American college he would be facing disciplinary charges and probably criminal charges too.

  9. Comanaut:

    I agree.

    I had to laugh at your phony email address. At least you were upfront about it.

  10. I do agree the non-specific nature of the allegation (added to by the fact there are only a very limited number of American professors in New Zealand who teach international relations/foreign policy) tars the innocent as well as the guilty, and in this case will create a cloud of suspicion on the few American lecturers who teach in this field. MacLennan should have named the offender or atleast given reasons for not doing so.

    Regarding John Key and sexism in New Zealand (a broader topic) I don’t agree that he has escaped judgement. He has to his credit apologized twice, first with two bottles of wine, and after through the media. And almost every newspaper has rightly condemned his actions as reprehensible in their editorials. Having not been to America I do not know the scale of the sexism in American culture. However there was a famous catcalling video in New York last year, and when a similar video was done in Auckland revealed no catcalling so atleast we can safely say that catcalling is much less of an issue in New Zealand (asuming New York and Auckland are representative of the wider countries). Catcalling is obviously not the only form of sexism, but I would like to seeevidence that sexism or misogyny in New Zealand is much worse than in America before you attack my country this way

  11. @O’Kane: Yes, that’s right

    Circle the wagons

    Did it ever occur to you that the real issue here is the innocent American professors who will be accused unjustly, not your injured national pride? You remind me of the Africans who defend genital mutilation because “foreigners can’t understand our culture”.

    Maybe you Kiwis could learn a bit of humility in the face of outside criticism from Americans, as well as some strategies to deal with sexism

  12. Nicholas:

    The video from the US was filmed in NYC and shows Latin and African-American men doing the catcalling. There was definite urban cultural component to it that is not transferable to large parts of the country.

    I have lived here since 1997 and have been involved in volunteer organisations (surf lifesaving and first response) as well as the years spent in NZ academia. My first-hand impressions from these associations, as selective as they may be, is that sexism is pervasive. Perhaps you travel in different circles.

    Whether Key apologised or not is immaterial. He should not have put his hands on the waitress in the first place, and doing so as the highest elected official in the country was mind-boggling arrogant, stupid or both. That people continue to try and defend or downplay his behaviour as horseplay etc. is indicative of the mindset that I have mentioned above. His actions may not have been sexual in nature (and that is debatable when it comes to a fetish), but it certainly was sexist.

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