First published on Saturday the 6th of August, 2016, this piece comes in at number 30 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2016.
I was 7-years-old when I became a Chiefs fan. A scrappy little girl with a big mouth, I would wear my oversized Chiefs jersey to the Rotorua International Stadium, where I’d scream myself hoarse for my favourite team.
This week is the first time since then that I’ve been ashamed to be a Chiefs fan.
My beloved team has always been about heart. In the early days, our performance was decidedly average for more seasons than I’d like to remember, but our men were gutsy and good. They gave back to the community. They made a little girl feel like it was the coolest thing in the world to be a rugby fan.
When I heard the news that members of my team had been accused of manhandling a woman who was simply trying to do her job, my heart sank. This, after reports surfaced of anti-gay slurs apparently used in ignorance by a reserve player. I felt sick.
Quickly, the woman’s profession became the focus of the story. It is a sad reflection of our society, but when a stripper speaks out in the media about alleged sexual harassment or abuse, the public backlash will almost inevitably be vile.
Strippers, like many of the women engaged in erotic industries, often suffer at the coalface of our society’s slut/stud dichotomy. Like the [disgusting and incorrect] assumption that prostitutes “can’t be raped”, widely held ideas about strippers are similarly depressing. The most common and disturbing myth seems to be that women who take their clothes off and perform for men are “asking for it”, despite the well known rule that patrons can look, but they can’t touch. “What did she expect?” our society asks, when a bloke steps over the line.
To be clear, a stripper is not “asking for” anything other than fair payment for a service rendered and a safe working environment. It appears that Scarlette, the woman hired to perform for the Chiefs, allegedly received neither.
The allegations, if you haven’t yet heard them in full, are distressing. And from there it went from terrible to worse for the Chiefs.
Margaret Comer, a corporate services executive for Chiefs sponsor Gallagher Group – and a trustee on the board of the Waikato Women’s Refuge – waded into the fray. “If a woman takes her clothes off and walks around in a group of men, what are we supposed to do if one of them tries to touch her?” she said to Fairfax Media. “It’s not nice and perhaps the stripper shouldn’t have been hired, but I’m reluctant to say that the boys were out of line,” she continued. She has since apologised for both comments.
Chief executive Andrew Flexman did little better. In an attempt to front-foot the damning allegations, he addressed the media. “You have got to remember this is one person's accusation and her standing in the community and culpability is not beyond reproach,” he said.
So, let me get this straight. His team hired a stripper, then proceeded to allegedly grope her without her consent to the extent that she was forced to use her martial arts training against one of them, and her standing in the community is called into question?
You know whose standing in the community I’m more concerned about? The players who seemed to think that they could allegedly touch, lick and pour beer over a woman without her consent. And the sponsor who is “reluctant to say that the boys were out of line.”
Flexman has since expressed regret for his comments, but the scandal seems only to gather more momentum. Questions about the culture of the Chiefs franchise have begun to swirl, as politicians, commentators and rugby royalty have condemned the events of a Mad Monday gone terribly wrong.
Now, more than ever, the country will be watching the Chiefs’ every move. The team needs to take a long, hard look at itself. These men are heroes to the little girls who call themselves Chiefs fans, and to the grown women who’ve supported them from the very beginning.
They are also highly-paid professionals who should frankly show more respect to the mighty Chiefs who have come before them and to the game we all love.
This fan is very disappointed.
An earlier version of this article appeared on nzherald.co.nz yesterday.