And now I find myself feeling sorry for John Key. The pony-tail thing is odd and inappropriate, and it’s gendered in the sense that he doesn’t do it to men, but that doesn’t make it a sexual fetish. Key is also a dad and I really feel like he’s interacting with these girls and women on that level, not as the bizarre fledgling pedophile serial killer he’s now regarded as on twitter and the left-wing blogosphere. It’s wrong of him to run around infantilising adult strangers, and he’s paying a huge humiliating political price for that behavior. Anything beyond that – like McCready’s lawsuits – seems absurd, and likely to win Key sympathy with the wider public.
Update: Lots of comments in the comments, so I thought I’d comment further:
One of the reasons this is such a big story is that Key’s behaviour is mysterious. It creates a negative space for people to try and fill with their own explanations, and then debate them with others who have differing theories. So that’s happening.
A popular explanation is that Key’s harassment is sexual. He’s a man touching a young woman. Case closed. Now, maybe I’m doing it wrong, but approaching someone while singing the Jaws theme music and tugging their hair, while Key’s wife and a cafe filled with people look on just doesn’t seem that sexual to me. Like I said above, it seems like the kind of physical contact fathers have with their daughters. Dad stuff.
That doesn’t excuse Key’s behaviour. And it doesn’t mean it isn’t gendered, or an abuse of power. Treating an adult woman as if she’s a child for him to play with is totally unacceptable, and maybe it reveals something ugly about the way Key perceives women. It’s not trivial, but it is less serious than all the ugly rhetoric about sexual assault that people are throwing around.