Last week John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, climbed in a cage in the studio of local radio station The Rock. The host asked Key to bend over and pick up a bar of soap. When Key obliged the host then hooted “You got a purty little mouth”.
There was an immediate outcry, especially from groups associated with sexual violence, along with the inevitable push-back from the government’s official and unofficial spin merchants. The Prime Minister is making fun of prison rape! Key didn’t know it was a rape joke! You don’t care about victims of sexual violence! You’re all too sensitive!
Lost in the rush to condemn, or excuse, the Prime Minister is the fact that that this isn’t technically a “rape joke”. While it references rape, the central core of the “gag” is not that sexual violence is hilarious, but that gay men are predators.
The dropped soap joke is typically made by straight men in all-male environments. That’s how it was presented to me the first time I heard it as a teen. There was no mention of prison then, just boys jostling each other in the gym changing room, warning me when I dropped something and picked it up that I shouldn’t do that around a certain boy because he was a “queer”. Considering that I knew that these same boys called me “homo” behind my back I imagine that if I hadn’t been there I would have been the one they were warning others about.
There is a reason commentators jumped on the rape-joke bandwagon. Just last month Key was righteously telling his opponents that they were protecting rapists by standing up for those imprisoned in an Australian detention centre. The inference was that, unlike them, he is a staunch defender of sexual assault victims. In fact, he has the white ribbon to prove it, being an Ambassador for anti-sexual violence charity the White Ribbon Trust.
There were demands that Key resign from that position. Some of them trotted out out male on female rape statistics. If at its heart this isn’t a male-rape joke then it’s even more definitely not a male-on-female rape joke. And even if it was a male-getting-raped joke, why would Key stand aside when the White Ribbon Trust’s aim is “to eliminate men’s violence towards women”. Sorry men who suffer sexual assaults and rape, apparently you don’t matter.
Those “defending the victims” almost exclusively trained their ire on Key, probably because along with unfairly accusing others of defending rapists he himself recently perpetrated an assault against a woman. It would be equally easy for me to berate Key for being part of a homophobic slam for he also has a history of these types of blunders. In 2012 he described a red shirt as “gay”. Then there was the time he minced down a runway modeling volunteer uniforms for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, complete with limp wrist and an explanation that he was getting in touch with his “metrosexual” side. Although metrosexual is officially deemed a mash up of metro and sexual it’s also an allusion to “homosexual” – describing a straight man who dresses and acts “gay”.
But even if he knew what he was doing in picking up that soap you can’t blame our Prime Minister for this stunt. Blame needs to go to the radio host and producers at The Rock. That radio station is well known for wolf-whistling to its target macho straight male audience, taking particular delight in being misogynistic and homophobic.
I’m sure The Rock thought it was all good fun. They’d probably describe me as “politically correct”. On this issue, however, I’m just the latter. I’m correct in asserting that the joke was on us perverted faggots. I know those are harsh words, Rock people, and you would never say them out loud but deep in your hearts that’s what you think of us.
We gays have made major political gains in the thirty years since I was a teenager and being warned about queers. In terms of prejudice, though, I often wonder if we’ve made any progress at all.
But even worse, we’re apparently also invisible. How else to explain why so many do-gooder rushed to condemn this “fun” and didn’t even realise who the real joke was on?
In ONE MILLION DOMS Dominic Sheehan comments about political stuff. Yes, the title is a parody of One Million Moms. Yes, he blames John Key for many things, just not this thing. No, he’s not being overly sensitive. No, he’s not outraged, just bemused.