Sex, Politics and Ethics

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No, I’m not slipping in a sly plug for The Eeks Trilogy – although if you find the title intriguing you’ll probably enjoy The Eeks Trilogy, now available in a single volume titled Goldiloxians.

But right now I’m having my say about the story that’s been hogging the front pages of Australian newspapers for a week or so (it seems longer) and shows no sign of abating. It’s about Barnaby Joyce, who is

  • Leader of the right-of-centre National Party, which represents the interests of the rural sector and is in government in coalition with the Liberal Party;
  • Deputy Prime Minister (a requirement of the coalition agreement);
  • Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources (to the dismay of environmentalists who see this as a conflict of interest);
  • Minister of Infrastructure and Transport (since December);
  • The centre of a storm surrounding an affair with a member of his staff who is now pregnant with his unborn child;
  • Consequently separated from his wife; and
  • In open verbal warfare with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The story is a gift that keeps on giving to the newsmongers because it irritates so many people for so many reasons.

First, there is a sexual morality issue. Barnaby has been an advocate of family values, invoking them in the recent debate about redefining ‘marriage’ to include same-sex couples. Barnaby was on the losing ‘No’ side of that debate.

Then there is the MeToo aspect. As Deputy PM, Barnaby was in a position of power over Vikki Campion, the humble Media Advisor who became his mistress. To some people this looks uncomfortably like a Harvey Weinstein situation.

Third, in a vain attempt to keep the affair quiet the mistress was transferred to the office of another National Party minister, in a high-paying job that was allegedly created especially for her.

There is Ministerial Code of Conduct that prohibits having one’s partner on the payroll. Barnaby is claiming that at the time of Vikki’s employment in his department she was not his ‘partner’. She was having sex with him, but was not actually and legally his partner as such. The PM has now made clear that the Code of Conduct will henceforth forbid sexual relations between ministers and their staff. This was immediately labelled the Bonk Ban.

To cap it all, it has emerged that Barnaby was staying rent-free in premises provided by a prominent National Party donor and commercial supplier of services to the Party.

In Australia we have a thing called ‘the pub test’. This sweeps away legal niceties that allow obvious rogues to hold up their hands in a gesture of supplication and say, “But I did nothing wrong!” Needless to say, Barnaby Joyce has failed the pub test on a Biblical scale in the eyes of all but his most one-eyed supporters.

One final comment from me… The story runs and runs because it gives sub-editors such wonderful opportunities for punny headlines. A photo of an obviously pregnant Vikki Campion was headlined ‘Bundle of Joyce’. Another headline over the Bonk Ban story referenced a campaign to ban poker (gambling) machines: ‘No Pokies’.

Sexual Harassment

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A week ago I was in Kyiv watching CNN, and the big news story was Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misbehaviour. Now I’m in the UK, and the big news story is male parliamentarians’ sexual misbehaviour. Brexit gets a mention too, but as a news story it’s not as sexy as… well, sexual misbehaviour.

There are some kinds of misbehaviour that have always been unacceptable, but there is merit in the claim that the boundary between unacceptable and acceptable has shifted a long way in a short time. For example, when I was a lad:

  • Men were expected to be the active initiators of any romantic/sexual activity. Failure to live up to that expectation signalled either lack of interest or homosexual inclination.
  • A woman’s first “No” was generally taken to mean “Try harder.”
  • Stolen kisses were thought to be romantic.
  • A slapped face was the standard punishment for a man who went too far.

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  • On the silver screen (chief source of moral guidance in those days) a woman’s initial resistance always gave way to eager melting into the aggressor’s arms.
  • Almost every American TV sitcom included the occasional episode where a wife was turned over her husband’s knee for a spanking – well-deserved and for her own good.
  • While not condoned, wife-beating (as domestic violence was called) was considered a fact of life that some women just had to live with. I’m not sure if it was technically a crime, but in the popular mind it wasn’t.

Against that backdrop it’s not surprising that many people – women as well as men – cannot take seriously the recent redefinition of ‘sexual harassment’ to include the accidental overhearing of off-colour jokes.

According to pollsters YouGov (as reported in The Week) there are big generational differences in how women perceive ‘sexual harassment’. When they polled women in the age groups 18-24 (A) and 55+ (B) they found:

  • 64% in group A and 15% in group B think wolf-whistling is sexual harassment.
  • 28% in group A and 11% in group B think commenting on a woman’s attractiveness is sexual harassment.

“But,” you may say, “what about a rich, powerful old man taking advantage of a powerless young woman who aspires to a career (such as politics or show business) to which she thinks the man can help her get access? Surely that’s sexual harassment pure and simple!”

I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but when a woman allows a man to have his way with her in the hope of pecuniary advantage it looks more like prostitution than victimhood. But I’m willing to hear contrary opinions.