By Guest contributor Pink Panther

There was an uproar recently, after news broke that Prime Minister John Key has a ponytail fetish. According to waitress Amanda Bailey, Key was in the habit of regularly pulling her ponytail. This claim was made during an interview with a NZ Herald journalist, Rachel Glucina, who named the waitress despite being asked not to. It was also reported that Glucina had not revealed she was a journalist during the interview. Glucina later denied she had misled Bailey as to what her actual job was. The NZ Herald ended up so confused as to what actually happened they published three different statements about it.

One possible reaction to the incident could be to argue that the media coverage of it highlights the trivialisation of news in the age of the internet. Seen in this light the role of the media is not to dissect and explain complex political issues in order to serve the public, but to simplify them for the quick soundbite style that is becoming more prevalent. Alongside this is the tendency to focus on personalities over policies and the market driven ideological motive for looking at certain issues that are popular and raise media company revenue versus ‘boring’, ‘difficult’ or unpleasant issues. Undeniably there are plenty of ongoing important social problems that warrant the sort of quality investigative journalism you rarely see these days. It’s tempting to see the ponytail incident as symptomatic of all these problems and draw the conclusion it is no more than another minor personality-driven distraction from real issues. Tempting, but wrong.

Mike Hoskings, Newstalk ZB’s political editor and influential National Party hack, berated the waitress for making such a big issue out of nothing. On his April 24 show he basically stated she should’ve just shut up. Why? Because it made the cafe’s owners look bad. This excuses behaviour that is essentially workplace bullying. There is a common misconception that workplace bullying involves only management or co-workers. In reality a lot of the bullying workers face also comes from customers. Within the hospitality industry there are people who think that handing over money gives them the right to treat staff like 19th century domestic servants. Those who claim they are being harassed at work are often dismissed as “troublemakers” if they complain. As a result workers who face bullying or harassment are forced to put up with it.

When workers are being harassed on the job and request name suppression it is a reasonable request, although it could be argued that a person has the right to know who is accusing them of wrongdoing. However, what is never acceptable is for a major news outlet to tell a worker to shut up when they speak out against
being harassed or to have the allegations turned into a joke. Then again, Newstalk ZB did play down the fact that their leading sports commentator Tony Veitch was beating up his partner. They also cheered when a court allowed him to walk away without any penalty despite a guilty verdict. And they promoted him when he returned to the job. Thus, expecting them to take seriously the harassment of a ‘mere’ waitress would be asking too much.

It does not require a deep commitment to feminism to believe that a waitress doing her job should be able to do it without having having her ponytail pulled by a rich powerful man, whether it be the Prime Minister – or anyone else. They should also have the expectation of being taken seriously when they make a complaint. Workers are continually under-valued both by the various formal employment laws and the way they are treated by others while just trying to make a living. Workers deserve to be treated with respect, not as play things for the rich and powerful.