Image: Paul Henry / Vivianne Robinson / Wikimedia Commons
First published on Wednesday the 2nd of November, 2016, this piece comes in at number 26 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2016.
New Zealand media personality Paul Henry is no stranger to controversy, as anyone who has listened to him, watched him, or read anything by or about him can attest. But his comments this past weekend, when he repeatedly used graphic language to describe the breasts of a woman at an Auckland restaurant (among other obscene things he said during the same interview), are probably his most disgusting yet. And sorry, potential defenders who would say all men say such things sometimes: as someone with both an X and a Y chromosome, I can honestly say I have never said what Henry said about a person, ever.
Yet as vile as Henry’s comments are, the bigger issue at play here is that they are a reflection of our modern culture and how it is so common to objectify women. It’s the same culture that breeds entitlement and toxic masculinity, and the same culture that gave rise to one Donald J. Trump in the United States.
And it’s the same culture that needs to change if we’re to achieve any real measure of equality.
It’s not just Paul Henry (although he absolutely should have known better, especially as such a public figure), but our whole culture that is sick. It’s a culture that tells men that they are entitled to judge and evaluate women’s bodies (we’re all familiar with the methods, unfortunately). It’s a culture that has no problem with older men leering at much younger women. It’s a culture that views pregnancy and ageing as destroying a woman’s body. It’s a culture that sees feminism and strong, empowered women capable of making their own decisions on their own terms as a threat. It’s a culture that doesn’t see women as equals.
And if you think Paul Henry’s comments were just locker room talk, imagine for a second Hilary Barry commenting on some young man’s perky balls. Or Wendy Petrie talking about saggy scrotums. Or Toni Street measuring the size of a man’s bulge. Or Ingrid Hipkiss telling a journalist that perfect penises are all the same.
Let’s not kid ourselves here: Henry’s comments were horrific, and the fact he has three daughters makes them only more outrageous. But, unfortunately, we’ve probably all heard similar comments before and gritted our teeth or awkwardly laughed along rather than speak up to say such things are not okay.
There are some things we can do to fight against the culture of objectification. When we hear misogynist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, ableist, ageist or otherwise offensive comments, we can speak up. We can tell the people using such language that it’s not okay or, if they’re a media figure like Paul Henry, stop watching their programme. And we can also set a good example for others by not objectifying women ourselves.
There is no excuse for Paul Henry’s actions. But the truth is, he’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of objectification and toxic masculinity.
And I don’t know about you, but I reckon New Zealand could do with a detox.