Sex. It's everywhere but New Zealanders can still be surprisingly squeamish about it. We're reminded of this as the nation gets excited over All Black Aaron Smith and his "female friend" getting sprung screwing in a public toilet. Or more specifically, an airport toilet.
When we see a consensual couple enter a public place designed for private functions, what is our first reaction? Some of us might be titillated, some of us might be shocked. Well, if you're the couple who decided that Aaron Smith's behaviour last month was unacceptable, then your first move is to pull out your phone, begin recording and then stand listening to the "rhythmic tapping" until it's over. Honestly, it makes me nervous about what else is being recorded in public toilets.
The recording couple weren't upset at the time. The woman has said that she only became angry as she thought about it more. Her husband, who noted the very attractive appearance of the woman involved, was reluctant to "dob" Smith in, but his wife overruled him. So was it Smith or her husband's response that really pissed her off? And did it only become a problem after their frantic googling showed that the "female friend" was not Smith's partner at the time? Although no one other than Smith and his partner know the boundaries of their relationship, and nor should they, apparently it was not just the sanctity of the disabled loo that was violated, but also society's conventions around monogamy.
What does this say about us? A celebrity-obsessed culture where we alternately value men, and in particular men in All Blacks uniforms, for their physical prowess and attractiveness, and then punish them for acting on that. The witness suggested that people "on the side of Weetbix boxes" should be held to a higher account, but whose account is that? And why is that not fairly held across the board? In this case, it wasn't just the sex in a loo that bothered those outside, or Smith's female partner would be copping it too. It's famous sex in a public loo that's the problem. And once you have famous loo sex, we will never let you forget it.
This latest episode has allowed the papers to dig back up the quaint image of Sonny Bill Williams scurrying around Sydney newsagents buying up papers so his girlfriend wouldn't see reports of his indiscretion.
Even Prime Minister John Key has weighed in with a tut-tut saying Smith had "clearly let himself down." He then added the All Blacks "for the most part" had been good role models.
Aaron Smith on the field. Image via YouTube.
Yes, in New Zealand, rugby players are role models. A bit like parents. In this case, it's hard to know who is the worse role model for the child present… a strange man spending a bit too long in the toilet, or his dad, who pulls out his phone to record someone else's private moment.
The only virtue of this story is that the media, and the New Zealand Rugby Union, has so far managed to refrain from spinning this story as though the true villain is the evil temptress who enticed poor innocent Aaron into a toilet to have her wicked way with him. At least, NZ Rugby is letting their player take responsibility for his actions rather than shielding him from it, but they are clearly swinging too far the other way as the New Zealand rugby has something to prove. The Rugby Union's response to the Chiefs players who were accused of rough handling a stripper was heavily criticised, both for its delay, and for the limp-wristed slap the players were dealt.
Those players, who received a formal warning, were not suspended in the same way that Smith has been. NZ Rugby, in its fever to prove that it respects women, is missing one important piece here. The woman that Smith spent 10 minutes "rhythmically tapping" presumably left the cubicle happy. She entered into a consensual act and has not at this time made any complaints of her own. Contrast this with the stripper hired by the Chiefs, who reported having alcohol and gravel thrown at her and, when she attempted to leave, was surrounded and intimidated into staying.
So yes, let's demand a higher standard of behaviour. But let's look at the root causes of misogyny and the way in which high profile New Zealand men act out their sexuality in public, rather than the symptoms. Let's hold individuals to account, but let's make sure the we respond in proportional and equitable ways, and without the sense of Victorian prudery that our society both upholds and makes a mockery of.