Yes, it actually is sexist

Another woman has chimed in with her opinion that John Key’s “Hurley’s hot” comments weren’t sexist. Rebecca Barry thinks that while the comments were undignified and inappropriate, they were sexist. After all, she says, is it really sexist for a man to find a woman attractive? Well no, is isn’t necessarily. As far as I know, the criticism of this incident hasn’t actually been criticising the fact that Key finds women attractive. Guess what? Lots of people find other people attractive. Lots of people also dicuss it with their friends, or have a joke about it. But this isn’t a guy calling Liz Hurley a hottie over a beer with his mate; this is our Prime Minister discussing the hotness of celebs on a public radio show that he was taking part in in his role as Prime Minister.

The sexist thing is not that he finds a woman attractive- as a feminist I’m certainly not trying to ban men from being attracted to women, or any one person from being attracted to another- the sexist thing is that we have this kind of culture where it’s being framed as blokey and normal to go on public radio in your role as head of the country and talk about the appearance of women you don’t even know. A culture where women’s looks are a legitimate topic of general conversation, and a culture where trying to portray oneself as a typical, average guy involves talking about the appearance of women. What he did was sexist becuse he was creating a image of what it is to be a “normal” guy, and this revolved around rating the hotness of various women. If he had said “what does this have to do with anything?”, that would be opting out of participating in a sexist culture. But he opted in.

Barry herself also engages in some delightful sexist judgement while defending Key’s “non-sexism”: she says that Angelina Jolie has used her sexuality to advance her career, and uses this as an excuse for being able to judge her on her looks.

She also says “the s word” to refer to sexism, implying somehow that allegations of sexism are gigantic and damaging, and that saying something is sexism is a massive call to make.

She also reinforces this idea that the comments were all in harmless fun: Key chatted about his celeb crushes in a “casual, blokesy setting”. This again reminds us that chatting about women is a way to be a man, to perform masculinity and to show people you’re a typical down-to-earth bloke.

She also talks about the Anna Faris/street harrassment situation in this charming way

Then there was the case of actress Anna Faris, who told a US chat show host that two separate carloads of Kiwi men yelled sexual obscenities at her while she was in New Zealand.Most Kiwis are polite but it didn’t surprise me that a pretty blonde, walking alone along the street, experienced such charming hospitality.

Am I the only one who hears “well, she’s super hot, is anyone surprised she was cat-called??” in that statement? Because that’s what it sounds like.

Rebecca Barry also describes the world now as “post-feminist”, which I have an issue with, because clearly -given the size and strength of the feminist movement that I’m a part of, at least- feminism is still alive and kicking.

And, to round it all off, she gives us some examples of the big, bad real sexism to make the point that those things sound a lot more sexist than John Key calling some actress hot. Well, the thing about sexism is that it can manifest in lots of ways -big or small-, and more than one indicent of it can happenĀ  at any given time. Shocking, I know. Just because there is other sexism happening, and some of it is bigger and more obvious, does not mean we get to give the small things a free pass. And the thing about the John Key situation that Barry seems not to have grasped is that it isn’t just about “calling some actress hot”: it’s about bigger and more harmful things, and a bigger and more harmful sexist culture.


  1. stef says:

    And he was doing so on a radio show with a person who committed domestic violence. Double laugh…

    • steph says:

      That was Rebecca Barry’s one sort of vague concession: oh, well, the forum was really inappropriate..but the thing he did was fine on it’s own!

      Yeah, the forum is part of the problem. We have this mentality that not only is it ok to talk about women like that in public, but it’s still ok even if that “in public” is on a radio show with a domestic abuser. I guess it would probs be beyond the grasps of Rebecca Barry and John Key that this all -including the forum- is tied up in this kind of rape culture/sexist culture mentality.

  2. McRad says:

    Key also said he’d like to be Tiger Woods for the truckload of money and “the other benefits too”. I’m guessing he’s talking about the adultery and not the golf? Luckily we have a level playing field in New Zealand society and his wife feels confident enough to state her preferences in much the same way as our lovable scamp of a Prime Minister –