Debating current affairs

Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Earwax and the royal bum it's sexism at work

19 comments
He gets an apology, she’s ridiculed... two revealing incidents in high places produce opposite reactions

The Duchess of Cambridge's Australian wardrobe malfunction made world headlines. Photo / AP
The Duchess of Cambridge's Australian wardrobe malfunction made world headlines. Photo / AP

What is it with those Middleton women and their bottoms? First it was Pippa stealing the show at the royal wedding in that clinging Alexander McQueen dress.

Her supposedly perfect bottom transformed her overnight from Home Counties social climber to international multi-media sensation and earned Her Royal Pertness a spot on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people on the planet.

Since that high point, the fascination with Pippa's rear seems to have receded. Despite gouging a 400,000 ($788,000) advance out of Penguin for a book on party planning, she doesn't appear to have parlayed her celebrity into a meaningful career.

But now sister Kate has reignited the world's obsession with the Middleton derriere. While the Duchess of Cambridge managed to cope with everything windy Wellington could throw at her hemline, a pesky gust of Aussie wind provided an alert photographer with what Chris Cairns might call "full disclosure".

The photograph was published by the German paper Bild, perhaps as payback for Kate's father-in-law Prince Charles likening Russia's sinister and adventurist President Vladimir Putin to a former German leader.

As if having her backside plastered across the world-wide web wasn't bad enough, the Duchess then had to put up with sniggering speculation that she'd been on official duty sans underwear. Those who leapt to this conclusion may lack familiarity with modern underwear design, an entry-level requirement for paparazzi and photo editors, one would have thought.

But while the rest of the world was contemplating Kate's hindquarters, New Zealanders were struggling to get their heads around the confronting spectacle of John Banks appearing to eat his ear wax.

TV3 landed in hot water for showing the footage on the 6 o'clock news. As I understand it, Justice Edwin Wylie didn't have any personal objection to a defendant eating ear wax in his courtroom. His concern was that TV3's treatment of the footage was used "out of context" and exposed Banks to "ridicule and derision".

Leaving aside the question of what was the context for Banks' behaviour, I wonder if the decision to make a song and dance about TV3's airing of the footage was entirely sensible.

An immediate consequence was that the incident was brought to the notice of an audience many times larger than that which tunes into 3 News. The story was picked up by news outlets on the other side of the world, thereby exposing the whole country to ridicule and derision.

The Daily Mail headline was "TV station apologises after filming New Zealand MP picking his ear and EATING [their capitals] it during trial for electoral fraud".

And while TV3 admitted error, it's hard to fault the rationale behind its decision to air the footage: that it had no fair-trial implications and Banks "has been in the public eye for a considerable number of years and could easily be described as a robust individual who would not be impacted by this footage".

Indeed. We're not talking about a nonentity or a shrinking violet. We're talking about John Banks MP, Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, two-term mayor of our largest city, former Cabinet minister and someone who has displayed a sometimes unseemly relish for controversy and conflict during his years in public life.

Thus we have two people in an unwelcome media spotlight, but there the similarity ends. The Duchess was exposed, if not to ridicule and derision then certainly to leering scrutiny because she couldn't control the elements. As King Canute demonstrated a thousand years ago, even royalty can't do that.

The MP chose to do something not normally done in company, in a very public setting in which he was the centre of attention.

She has to grimace and bear it; he gets the backing of the law and an apology.

Feminists would probably argue that this is a textbook case of the patriarchy in action. The blameless woman is sexualised and diminished, her essentially decorative function dwelt upon and rubbed in.

The man, who made himself a figure of fun, is protected by the system. They'd have a point.

Kate will resent the intrusiveness but in the grand scheme of things she can count herself lucky. If she lived in Pakistan, by now she would have died in Pakistan, stoned to death by her own family (minus Pippa, of course).

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 26 Oct 2014 00:42:01 Processing Time: 587ms