Fran O'Sullivan: Men's room talk no excuse this time round

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The comments of Willie Jackson and John Tamihere (above) prompted advertisers to quit their show. Photo / David White
The comments of Willie Jackson and John Tamihere (above) prompted advertisers to quit their show. Photo / David White

Talkback host John Tamihere claimed it was all just a matter of "West Auckland men's room talk" when he got into trouble for labelling Labour's female MPs "front-bums" back in 2005.

"It was just two blokes kicking a ball around at lunch," was how Tamihere tried to explain away the outrageous slurs against his female Labour colleagues (and others including Jews and gays) when they were published in an explicit Investigate Magazine article that ultimately cost the then Labour Cabinet minister his job.

At the time the Labour politician explained it away as a private conversation that certainly wasn't mean for public consumption.

Maybe it was more of that so-called "West Auckland men's room" attitude which led to Tamihere and his fellow RadioLive host and former Alliance MP Willie Jackson to make their deeply insensitive and hurtful comments during their interview with courageous 18-year old "Amy" when she spoke out against the "Roast Busters" Facebook bully boys - the self-proclaimed stupefiers of teenage girls and self-proclaimed proud rapists - on their talkback show this week.

But that's unfairly damning West Aucklanders when there is something more basic at stake.

Tamihere cannot pull the "it was supposed to be in private" excuse this time round. Tamihere and Jackson (let's also recall here how the latter wanted to bring convicted rapist and heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson out to his Manukau Urban Authority for a charity event) were certainly out in public this time.

So, let's just call it what it is: Misogyny.

The kind of attitude that is still deeply prevalent in some circles which says girls ask for it.

Like many - including the show's advertisers who have pulled their brand advertising as a protest against the comments - I was disgusted by the Neanderthal attitudes to young women when I listened to a playback of the tape before RadioLive's MediaWorks owners pulled it from their website.

There was no care at all in these men's voices when they interviewed "Amy". No understanding that "Amy" was trying to alert the public to the plight of these young teenage girls who had suffered from being "roasted" and "busted" on Facebook pages which should never have been allowed to exist in the first place.

No understanding either of the pressure that young teenage girls inevitably feel if they do gather up the courage to make a formal complaint to the police.

The police certainly haven't been listening.

We know that now through their failure to realise they already had a two-year-old complaint on their books when the scandal first broke open.

It's now fairly obvious that the force has learned few lessons from Margaret Bazley's inquiry into the Louise Nicholas affair.

But the big shame is that Tamihere and Jackson had the opportunity to show some compassion for these young teenage girls and give the "Roast Busters" the message that West Auckland and New Zealand at large will not tolerate them.

They failed.

It goes deeper.

Tamihere has been campaigning to once again return to Parliament as a Labour MP.

Labour are not going to select him again.

He is one of a bunch of Labour male MPs - past and present - who still hold deeply outdated attitudes towards women asserting their rights as equal decision-makers in New Zealand.

It's worth noting that when Helen Clark was Prime Minister she was the subject of vile smears over her sexuality; some of the most hateful coming from her own side of politics who were angry that a woman had achieved the top political heights in New Zealand.

They believed it was preference at work.

There was no way a woman could achieve such heights through her own ability was the mindset.

It is to Labour's credit that the party is trying to even the score when it comes to evening up gender representation in Parliament.

The party has faced down criticism from the usual media jocks who label such policies a "man ban".

Tamihere and Jackson have had their time in politics.

I'm not among those who feel they should be sacked for their comments.

But some reflection on how attitudes have changed since their glory days wouldn't be amiss.

- NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

Read more by Fran O'Sullivan

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