Catriona MacLennon: Use of power to get sex ensures equality a myth

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Auckland mayor Len Brown. Photo / Richard Robinson
Auckland mayor Len Brown. Photo / Richard Robinson

Powerful, older men caught having affairs with young, non-powerful women invariably say that the matter is a private one between them and their families.

It is not.

The reason is that the men have used their positions to obtain sex from the young women. This happens every day in New Zealand and all over the world.

It is a widespread pattern of behaviour which involves men exploiting women. Were it not for the man's office, the young woman would not be having sex with him.

The pervasiveness of the behaviour means that it is not isolated and private: it actually constitutes sexual harassment and discrimination.

Pressure on the young woman by the man may sometimes be subtle. At other times, it may be overt. The young woman may receive the message that she will get advancement if she provides sex - or that, if she does not provide sex, she will be denied promotion or punished in other ways.

We are all familiar with powerful men with repeat patterns of behaviour of inviting young women to dinner to "discuss your career". These men do not give similar invitations to men, or to older women who are new to the workforce.

Look at the legal profession, the business community, the media and other sectors - it is happening everywhere.

What these men are conveying to the young women is that it does not matter how qualified, intelligent or hard-working they are, their advancement remains dependent on providing sex to men.

This has been the case for thousands of years and each new example which becomes public reminds us that the position has not changed.

And so to Len Brown and Bevan Chuang.

Does Mr Brown seriously believe that Ms Chuang would have spent time with him if he had not been the mayor of Auckland ?

Her public statements make it clear that she was dazzled and flattered by the attention she received from a powerful man.

Mr Brown, like many other men, used his position to obtain sex from an attractive young woman.

A friend of mine applied for the same job at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki as did Bevan Chuang. My friend was unsuccessful in her application. Mr Brown wrote a reference for Ms Chuang, and she was given the position.

Mr Brown has said that he writes many references and that his endorsement of Ms Chuang would have been of little influence.

This is disingenuous.

The art gallery is owned by the Auckland Council and a reference from the mayor would inevitably be influential - even if this was only in a subtle manner.

That is exactly why so many people seek references from the mayor.

My friend is now left with the view that the time she spent on applying for the job was wasted as she never had a real chance of obtaining the position.

She believes that her qualifications and experience were irrelevant, as she did not have a personal connection with the mayor.

And that is the real harm from Mr Brown's behaviour. He is yet another man whose actions have demeaned women in the workplace.

His conduct brings back to working women all the times we have been subjected to both overt and subtle sexual harassment - all the unwanted physical attention as well as the verbal harassment.

I, as just one example, am reminded of the American academic who started stroking my leg with his foot as I asked him a complex question about Anzus during the course of an interview.

And of other more systemic and pervasive discrimination.

The gender pay gap and the woeful statistics recording the low numbers of female company directors, chief executives, law firm partners and judges tell women how far away we are from having equality in the workplace.

Men like Mr Brown tell us that we have even further to go.

To every powerful, older man out there who engages in this behaviour: remember that the young woman you are exploiting is another older man's daughter.

And, if you have daughters, how will you feel when one of them comes to you and tells you that she is being sexually harassed in the workplace?

Catriona MacLennan is an Auckland lawyer

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- NZ Herald

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