At Auckland’s Big Gay Out, in a surreal moment, John Key claimed he would “definitely win” a game of beer pong against Labour leader David Cunliffe. “Wouldn’t be any doubt about it,” the PM said.
David Cunliffe responded in kind, claiming “I could, I’m sure – if the moment arose – drink him under the table. I have body mass on my side.”
Obviously these are two off the cuff remarks. Neither Cunliffe or Key, if asked, would condone drunkenness. But, really, challenging each other to a drinking competition? For those you who do not know what beer pong is, here you go [TRIGGER WARNING]:
In the video we have all of the symbols of rape culture: costumes, cleavage, strippers, female objectification, racist flags (the Confederates flag), aggressive male sexuality, homoeroticism and bad beer.
John Key was playing this drinking game and used it as an opportunity to have a go at David Cunliffe. Just stop and read that again: the Head of State felt comfortable exhibiting his alpha male credentials over the Leader of the Opposition through the media using a game whose sole aim is public drunkenness. And the Leader of the Opposition was comfortable enough with the discussion that he responds in kind.
Could you imagine Helen Clark saying this? What about Jim Bolger? Maybe David Lange in the Oxford Debate? Perhaps Keith Holyoake? Would the media have asked the question in the first place?
The answer to all of those is ‘no’. The reasons are manifold, but I suggest can be distilled down to the gravitas and self-respect of the individuals I have named and, more importantly, the advances of feminism over the past 40 years which have asked us to question the kind of society we want to create. Perhaps thirty years ago these games and such remarks were considered amusing larrikin behaviour in boys’ schools and in rugby teams. But it is a horrifying thought to think that it has somehow become appropriate again in the leadership of our country to pull out their dicks and wave them at each other.
Can you sense the deliberate attempt to drain feminism of its vitality? The new feminism of sexual freedom that looks like pornography and is symbolised by Playboy symbols on car seat covers? The new feminism encouraging girls to behave badly like the boys that is displayed in fuzzy phone videos of violent attacks at girls schools? The reluctance of New Zealand women to call themselves feminists? The rampant individualism of women in power?
There is a backlash against the gains made by feminism since the 1970s in Aotearoa NZ. Since our current government has been in place, there seems to have been a strategy to reverse some the gains made for women under the guise of politically reconnecting with the average voter, who it seems is a white, middle age male.
Firstly Helen Clark was consistently portrayed as mannish and suspiciously lacking children by the National Party in opposition and her government’s policies as beholden to homosexuals and feminists. Since then, the women in Cabinet have been used by John Key as his sleeper cell in their attack on policies for families and women such as removing the support of the DPB and other benefits, forcing women back to work, reducing funding to womens’ refuges, the weak response to alcohol harm, the reduction in legal aid availability and failing to respond to domestic violence and child poverty (see the Salvation Army’s State of the Nation report). All of these disproportionately affect women.
Then outside the inner circle, in the commentators, blogs and social media that support the current government have got increasingly nasty over the past six years about women. The apologist behaviour on display during the Roastbusters scandal, the rabid and threatening comments on the blogs and posts of well-known women, the assumed right to talk about how Metiria Turei dresses; all points on a map that points to the rise of a dangerous and perverted hyper-masculinity.
Beer pong is just a game. Key and Cunliffe just made off the cuff remarks. But games like this and remarks by leaders at this level condone a society that promotes a self-centred masculinity in our sons and diminishes the voices of our daughters.