I’m sure we’d all like to think that New Zealand has evolved its attitudes towards women since Katherine Mansfield’s patriarchal, colonial society where feminism was seen as a restorative experience only existing as a reaction to the patriarchy, rather than a movement in and of itself. While I’m not trying to be dramatic, I think it’s important to remember the role feminism has played in New Zealand since these early times. And sure, we can vote, we have equal rights, we can all marry who ever we want, but although laws have changed dramatically, I’m learning that attitudes are still lagging behind.
I live in a very small town, where even the cultural minority play into this idea of prescribed societal norms. I know an older Maori man who refers to effeminate males as ‘faggots with purses’, and seems to have a cultural bias against Asians – who make up a lot of the tourist population here. Being different, in any way, here means you’re either frowned upon or, in my case, treated as a novelty, rather than just another human, capable of sharing the same experiences, feelings, and goals as any ‘normal’ Kiwi. Being a female with black hair, tattoos, and piercings makes me stand out in a way either draws criticism or makes people feel drawn to me as some kind of novelty. Like accepting me for who I am counter balances any and all other biases. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive having come from spending the last two years in the ethnic and cultural melting pot that makes London one of the most exciting cities in the world, but I know that a majority of what I see here is archaic and contrary to the progressive nature that New Zealand tends to pride itself on in the media. It’s hard, and because I know I’m not here for the long haul, I ignore it, and just try to accept that everyone’s background makes them different to me. I like to be open-minded and unfortunately sometimes that means accepting flaws such as these. But sometimes it goes too far.
On Saturday night I had the gross displeasure of becoming the target for 3 increasingly intoxicated males. Things started off innocently enough with Asshole A and Asshole B who were giving me a bit of grief which I initially perceived as (and most probably was intended as) just a bit of light banter. I can hold my own in these situations. However, as the night went on, my experience with Asshole A and Asshole B became more and more negative. Asshole A requested a cocktail from me, which I couldn’t make due to the liquor laws and regulations requiring I stay under 30ml of alcohol, a fact I very simply explained to him. But, rather than respecting the fact that I had said no, he continued to berate me, assuring me that he wouldn’t tell my boss if I broke the rules, just this once of course. That alone is indicative of the out-dated attitudes that run rampant in small town New Zealand (and I’m sure in plenty of other places too). It’s an unwavering assumption that there must be some male around somewhere who I have to answer to; I couldn’t possibly be the manager – my tits and rapid mood swings are sure to get in the way. While I did politely bring this up with him, I felt it wasn’t worth my time taking a stand just yet. Nevertheless, my “outburst” prompted the accusation that I was “so angry … why are you so angry? … just smile for me”. If only I weren’t at work …….
For the most part I managed to avoid Asshole A and Asshole B. They were quick to ridicule my choice of tattoos and piercings, but it all remained harmless, albeit extremely annoying, and pretty rude, banter. That was until Asshole C, heretofore known as A Most Disgusting Man (AMDM for short) joined them. Early 40s, pot-bellied, flashing his money around and betting big on the horses, AMDM locked onto the youth of Asshole A and Asshole B and decided to show them what being a real man was all about.
Some background on AMDM before I divulge the reasons he garnered this nickname. I first met AMDM on Thursday night, when he joined a regular customer for drinks and a punt at the TAB. His friend, the regular customer, was a nice chap with a good sense of humour who I had dealt with on previous occasions. By proxy I had assumed AMDM was similarly affable. Which he was in the beginning. My only interaction with him being once every couple of hours when he would come to the bar to order a double vodka with Red Bull, and a Jim Beam RTD for his friend. Outside the chat required for the exchange of money for booze, nothing was said between us. AMDM and friend placed $150 bets a piece on various races throughout the evening, but didn’t appear to be getting any returns on their investments. They were the last to leave on Thursday night, full of drunken promises to return the next day to try their best at seducing lady luck again. Which they did. And their night played out much the same way as it had the night before. Nothing of note happened, except for AMDM making an enemy out of one of my male colleagues for reasons which remain unclear, and I heard, from my colleague who took AMDM home in the courtesy van, that he tried very, very hard to entice a young English girl to join him in his hotel room where (oh my! Lucky her!) he had a whole bottle of vodka. She politely declined.
So on Saturday night, when they both showed up again, I paid them little attention – after all, I had other annoyances to deal with.
As we all know, alcohol has a tendency to change people’s behaviour, for better or worse. I know that after a couple of beers, I become a lot chattier, and after a few more I just won’t shut up. Alcohol can give people confidence, and in the case of AMDM, alcohol makes your masculine confidence soar and compete with other, younger males, to prove how strong your game is, and how masterful you are at seducing the opposite sex (homosexuality is seemingly unheard of in this town).
To get my attention, AMDM started referring to me as “oi big boobs”. Every time he said this, I shook my head in his direction and refused to serve him. Since living in this small town, I have considered my experience as one of a social anthropologist, documenting my experiences living in a cultural wasteland that lauds masculinity and rugby, and shuns diversity and minorities; anything ‘other’ than a “normal Kiwi lifestyle”. Setting myself as ‘other’ to this kind of culture is the only thing that allows me to feel OK about having to leave my life in London behind. So the three men at the end of bar kind of fascinated me initially, and I hung around the glass washer a lot in order to overhear their banal, chauvinistic conversations. Of which there were plenty, mainly stemming from the bragging rights AMDM seemed to think he was entitled to with every sexual experience he’d ever had. As it turned out, Asshole A, Asshole B, and AMDM had all slept with the same woman. She was “a good girl” and had a pussy “like Vietnam”, whatever that was supposed to mean. Keep in mind that these were three Kiwi males, all under the age of 45 who had never been to Vietnam, and I assume had no relevant experience, or knowledge, of the war that had begun in the 1960s. But they all corralled each other into telling more and more explicit stories of their dominance over various sexual partners, their egos fluctuating depending on whose story was better. AMDM was always quick to one-up the stories told by Asshole A and Asshole B, his language and descriptions becoming more and more lewd. The way he was talking about women was disgusting to say the least. But it turns out this was just a warm up.
AMDM was quick to tell Asshole A and Asshole B about how much pussy there was in the bar the night before, calling on one of my colleagues to back him up on this fact. And said colleague (always one to please) was quick to assure these men that yes, in fact there was a lot of pussy in the bar the night before, so there’s every chance they’ll show up tonight. Fingers crossed, yeah? My colleague did make quick feminist defence statement, assuring the three men that even if the women weren’t attractive, they did have great personalities (I know this seems a very tongue-in-cheek response, but I believe he didn’t mean it as such) but they weren’t interested in their personalities, telling my colleague “hah, that doesn’t mean anything! What we want to know is if they had vaginas? Did they have vaginas???”. Laughs and high fives all round.
It was at this point the three men once again focused their attention on me, or more specifically, the size of my bust. Not surprisingly, every attempt I made at rebuffing them or just generally standing up for myself by telling them how inappropriate they were being was met by accusations that I was a bitch, or I needed to “chill out”. Because god forbid a woman stand up for herself when being heckled by three increasingly aggressive men. I should be forever grateful to be paid attention by such charming, willing, and sexually capable males.
I spent a lot of Saturday night gawking at Asshole A, Asshole B, and AMDM in disbelief. Did they not have mothers, sisters, grandmothers? Did they not understand the derogatory, and downright offensive way in which they were talking about the opposite sex? I know for a fact that AMDM had a young daughter. Did this not give him some parental protectiveness against the predatory way in which he was speaking? The fact that the answer to this question was clearly no gave me considerable pause. It made me wonder what his reaction would be if, in a few years, a group of males were talking about his daughter in the same way. Would he defend her? Would he protect her? I would like to think he would, as all fathers feel protective of their baby girls (as all men, in an ideal world, should feel like protecting females), but by the way he was acting, his daughter would grow up to have some serious trust issues towards men.
While AMDM’s comments towards women was the most obviously disgusting and outwardly chauvinistic way in which he portrayed the general feeling of small town New Zealand males, it was his obliviousness towards the women around him that affected me the most. I’m not, in any way, excusing the things he said (because of course he’s not the first man to express these opinions while in the company of other men), it was the fact that there were plenty of women around who had every opportunity to overhear the things he was saying, and he never blinked an eye. It just never occurred to him that what he was saying could cause offence. It was as though he thought that his self-confessed ability and dominance over women was a quality that women actually found attractive. Like the louder he talked about how he would “destroy” any women he slept with made the idea of a night in the sack with him wholly appealing. It’s this exact attitude that I think founds the basis of rape culture. This idea that a male’s attention is a reward for a female. Like having sex with a man is a privilege for a woman; like any woman should be grateful that a man would talk about her with his friends. And obviously that most of all, a man has the right to assert his dominance over a woman without fear of retribution.
The worst was yet to come.
The pub emptied out considerably once the rugby game we were broadcasting had finished. As is the case every weekend, the rugby crowd dispersed and an hour or so later the young crowd who had spent the last few hours ‘pre-loading’ at their own homes descended upon the pub for what we call ’round two’. This is where AMDM found his real audience.
Surrounded and encouraged not only by Asshole A and Asshole B, but by a gaggle of young, eager males, AMDM got out his cellphone, and proceeded to call his wife (?!?). It was 11pm, and I assume she was in bed, having put their child in bed hours before. His side of the conversation went as follows:
“Hey baby, what are you doing?”
“I’m at the pub but when I get back home on Monday I’m gonna destroy you and fill your asshole”
“Yeah you’d like that wouldn’t you? Don’t you love it when I’m the big man?”
This man, in his 40s, with a young daughter, deemed it appropriate, nay, necessary, to call his life partner and speak to her, with an audience she was unaware of, and divulge the details of their personal, sexual relationship. I couldn’t help but think that his attitude reflected the idea that sex is something that belongs to men, and that women are merely vessels through which a male’s sexual prowess is realised.
Meanwhile a group of 7 males surrounded him and guffawed at the way it seemed he so clearly dominated her. As his feathers puffed up, he told his young proteges what a “good girl” his wife was, and how she would do anything he told her to. I’m sure he felt like the biggest man in the pub. His perceived dominance over his wife was lauded as an end goal for males everywhere; play the field until you find a woman who will accept her role as your own personal sex slave. I found myself worrying about what kind of a role model AMDM was to these young, susceptible males, the oldest of whom couldn’t have been more than 23. But also, if this was the type of man that they were looking up to, then what did that say about the future of feminism in small town New Zealand?
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But at the same time I guess it didn’t shock me as much as it should. Sadly I’ve come to expect this kind of behaviour from the male patrons in the pub. Although AMDM was surely the most disgusting man I had come across so far, this attitude towards woman was one I had noticed as rampant. From explicit and obvious disrespect, to a general, learned ignorance of women, small town New Zealand is a hot bed of sexism. Even when men don’t realise they’re being offensive – in itself disrespectful because they’re unable to even consider the opposite sex.
AMDM eventually left the bar after being cut off from buying alcohol. It wasn’t so much that he was overly intoxicated, I just think we all got sick of hearing his booming voice over all other conversations in the pub. As bartenders, we reserve that right. I quietly rejoiced and got on with slowly cleaning down the bar. It wasn’t until half an hour later, when I went outside to see if anyone needed a ride home in the courtesy van, that I realised he was still there – he had just found a new audience, one that was 50% female. I could only imagine what stories he had been entertaining them with. Because the pub was closing, I asked if anyone needed a ride home as a way of getting rid of them. I would have given AMDM a ride home if he’d needed, after all it is a part of my job, but instead of answering my question in a productive manner, he replied,
“did you ask if I wanted a ride home or a ride at home?”
I ignored him and looked to the others sitting at the table, asking my question again, as no one else seemed to hear me. They shook their heads no, and AMDM figured I hadn’t heard him the first time,
“did I want a ride home or a ride at home?”
I looked him in the eye with a scowl on my face, turned around and walked back inside, happy to have an excuse not to take him home if he needed.
When I had to go outside again to take one of the indoor punters home, AMDM tried again!
“before I wasn’t sure if you were offering me a ride home, or a ride at home”
No one laughed, and at this point I had had enough so I turned to him and told him that he was the most disgusting man I had ever met. He recoiled, confused as to why a woman would think such a thing of him, this God among men. Wounded, he turned back to his table mates and said to them,
“shit, what’s her problem?”.
And thus ended my interaction with A Most Disgusting Man. He squirreled off into the darkness, back to his lonely hotel room where the only company he would have that night would be his bottle of vodka, like some sad cliche. I’ll bet he fell asleep with porn on the tele and his dick in his hand, only to awaken the next morning to wonder what the hell happened last night.
It’s hard to imagine any progression in terms of feminism in this part of the country. Everyone seems very set in their ways, and it’s become apparent that even the women aren’t bothered by it, chalking it up to the old adage, ‘boys will be boys’. Just last night I watched as one of the young girls who can’t be older than 20, coyly scolded an out-of-towner for trying to put his hand up her skirt in plain view of other patrons. She was suitably bashful, but offered no further retribution to him. Her reaction must have left him thinking that he was in with a chance. Her youth, and the fact the she grew up in this town, plays a part in her willingness to accept this kind of behaviour. Of course, I don’t really know her intentions, but it just seemed sad to me, that she felt it was OK for a man to touch her without her permission. But that’s just the way it is here.
Despite all this, honestly the most disappointing part was the reaction from my two male coworkers, who mainly seemed annoyed by my refusal to deal with these customers, rather than understanding what an uncomfortable experience I was having. I was told to just ignore them and get on with my job. My right to stand up for myself was not only denied by two men I thought were my friends, but it was ridiculed, and plainly dismissed as just a part of the accepted experience of a female working behind the bar. I have never felt so unsupported.
I’ve always had a desire for equal rights of the sexes, as all woman, or people, should, but have never labelled myself a feminist. Living in small town New Zealand has changed that for me though. Now, I proudly call myself a feminist because shit, someone’s gotta be – even if it means being labelled the local lesbian, I’ll proudly wave that flag.