What do an influential advertising executive, an elite rugby team and a leading defense lawyer all have in common? Sadly, they all share an archaic and disturbing attitude towards gender.
It’s been an extraordinary week in New Zealand in which we have been forced to confront the outdated attitudes towards gender that continue to pervade the many tiers of our society.
Advertising, sport and the legal profession all wield great influence over our culture and this week we have seen a shocking mindset that permeates all three.
No, the debate is not over.
On Wednesday, highly influential Kiwi advertising executive Kevin Roberts resigned from his leadership position at Saatchi & Saatchi after sexist comments about women in advertising.
It was disturbing to learn that a man in his position, at one of the global giants in advertising, spends no time on the issue of gender diversity because “the f..ing debate is over” and believes the lack of women in leadership roles is not a “problem”.
Kevin Roberts outed himself as being completely out of touch with reality. When around 90% of the top jobs in advertising are still held by men, despite women making up around half of the industry, the debate is clearly not over.
‘No’ means ‘No’
This week we learnt of allegations from a stripper who says members of the Chiefs rugby team touched her inappropriately at a party, despite her repeatedly and forcefully saying “no”.
Let’s be clear, if these allegations are true, they amount to sexual assault. For elite sportsmen to be allegedly engaged in criminal sexual behaviour is highly disturbing. These are role models for young children all over the country, what message does it send to them?
Equally disturbing was the wider organisational response to the allegations. Chiefs CEO Andrew Flexman was forced to apologise after he said the woman’s “standing in the community and culpability is not beyond reproach.” While Margaret Comer, a spokeswoman from a major sponsor of the Chiefs, said the woman made herself a target when she chose to take her clothes off, “Don’t take your clothes off, stand in a room of young 20-25-year-old men and not expect something to be annoying, because you’ve said no.”
What a shameful way to respond to these very serious allegations. Taking your clothes off is not a license to touch and dismissing the allegations because of the woman’s profession is a disgrace.
Around the same time, we also saw a disturbing defense put forward by the lawyer representing cricketer Scott Kuggeleijn, whose trial ended on Wednesday with a hung jury.
Defense lawyer Philip Morgan, QC, suggested in his closing statement that the cricketer acted as any other man would when he tried to have sex with a woman after she had earlier said “no”.
“If I said to you that 100 men who have been in that situation and tried again you would have a forest of hands. There’s nothing horrible about that, it’s just a reflection of life and really what was Scott Kuggeleijn other than one of these men,” Mr Morgan told the jury.
Mr Morgan’s comments are offensive to both genders and reinforce a social pressure upon women to have sex against their will. If it is true that 100 men may have acted in the same way Scott Kuggeleijn is alleged, we need to address this very serious issue of consent. When a woman says ‘no’, it means no. There is no excuse that can justify ignoring that word.
Each of these examples would have been disturbing on their own, taken together they are a true wake up call. NCWNZ believes the reasons for gender inequality are entrenched in our culture. We need to drive cultural change and hold New Zealand accountable for its progress to achieve equality. We need to tackle this problem at its root cause and take a long, hard look at our language and attitudes towards gender. We need to stop it at the start.