Culture

An NZ Journo Is Copping Abuse For Interrogating Two Guys Who Creeped On Her At Laneway

New Zealand's having its own Chris Gayle moment.

Another day, another instance of sexually aggressive dickheads interrupting a female journalist just trying to do her job. On Monday night, New Zealand journalist Kim Vinnell was in the middle of a live cross for Newshub’s coverage of Laneway Festival in Auckland when two men, Sean Philip and Terry Insull, interrupted her broadcast to repeatedly yell the now-viral phrase “fuck her right in the pussy”.

Vinnell decided not to let the incident go. In a video statement filmed the day after the live cross, Vinnell called out the men’s behaviour, saying, “anyone should be able to go to their place of work and not be accosted.”

“It’s kind of a right. I know that this phrase that this guy used has been popular on the internet, but it still doesn’t make it okay,” she said.

Following last night’s live cross incident, Kim Vinnell has this response…

Posted by Story on Monday, 1 February 2016

She also decided to track the two men down to discuss what had happened and ask what inspired them to do what they did. Their answer? Women shouldn’t report from music festivals. “Next time, have a male presenter if you’re going into a Laneway festival because shit like that gets pretty hectic,” Philip said. When Vinnell asked if they realised how intimidating their behaviour could be for a female reporter, the men said the incident was just a “friendly joke”.

Ironically for women everywhere who are told that they’re to blame if they get drunk and are sexually assaulted, the men explained that they couldn’t be held to account for their actions because they were drunk. “After a 12-box of Billy Mavericks [canned bourbon and cola], those sort of things aren’t being processed properly through my head,” Insull said.

Most disturbing is how proud of their actions the men seem to be. The pair gladly named themselves in the video and directed a thumbs-up to their mums.

Both men have also changed their Facebook profile pictures to screenshots of the moment they bombed Vinnell, bragging about how they harassed her. Insull proudly captioned his shot of Vinnell with the words “right in the pussy”, and the top comment on Sean Philip’s photo reads: “making mum proud”.

Reaction to the follow-up interview has ranged from people calling the men idiots to people defending their actions as a bit of harmless fun. But because this is 2016 and this is what happens when a woman publicly stands up to harassment, Vinnell has been extensively criticised on social media for her condemnation of the boys’ behaviour, accused of blowing the event out of proportion to gain publicity and of “vapid” reporting.

Considering that Vinnell has over a decade of journalism experience under her belt, including a three-year stint at Al Jazeera reporting from Iraq, Israel, Mali, Ukraine, the UK, Italy, Spain, Iceland, Latvia, Bosnia and Serbia, the suggestion that she’s a vapid reporter is pretty unfounded.

The whole thing reads like a step-by-step repetition of the Mel McLaughlin/Chris Gayle case from only a few weeks back: a woman is trying to do her job (which happens to be broadcasting live television) when a man interrupts with a totally inappropriate sexual comment. The woman tries to ignore the man and carry on in the most professional manner possible but the live cross has to be cut because you can’t broadcast that kind of rubbish on television. After the man is condemned, the woman is the target of a social media pile-on telling her she’s a humourless bore; that it was only a “bit of fun” and she should be flattered; that she can’t take a joke and that she’s an attention-seeker for bringing it up in the first place.

Gayle said his comments were “a simple joke” that “got blown out of proportion” and that “there wasn’t any harm meant in any particular way”. Philip and Insull said they were “gentle giants” making a “friendly joke” and that they too “didn’t mean any abuse at all”. But why should workplace harassment be a joke? Why should we find it funny? Why should we find it harmless?

Vinnell’s boyfriend and radio host Richie Hardcore has lambasted the response, writing in a blog post that dismissing behaviour like the live cross bomb as a “friendly joke” is contributing to rape culture.

“Why should women and girls learn to laugh it off? Why is that an even a thing, that it’s okay to make someone feel shitty and females should just deal with it? Why aren’t boys and men learning not to sexually harass and intimidate women and girls?” he wrote.

“Nothing happens in a vacuum. We continue to live in and create a culture which basically treats women like shit. It’s the daily sexual innuendo, jokes, harassment and verbal abuse and intimidating behaviour that is a backdrop which helps create the environment for all of this to happen in.”

As has been noted before, Chris Gayle has a history of saying crap things to female journalists, apparently to humiliate them or make them feel uncomfortable on live television. And this is exactly what motivated Sean Philip and Terry Insull to interrupt Kim Vinnell. While they might have thought that they were simply repeating a viral YouTube prank, what they were aiming to do was create a situation that was so inappropriate, that made a reporter feel so personally uncomfortable, that she was forced off air – forced to stop doing her job.

While some will say that the ‘FHRITP’ phenomenon is not a gendered issue, and that the men who do it are just yelling a string of swearwords that are banned on television, in the pair’s own words, they wouldn’t have interrupted the broadcast if Kim Vinnell had been a man. According to these two young men, the only way a female reporter can avoid this kind of verbal assault is to simply not show up to work, to never report on a music festival again.

And that is a pretty bloody bleak piece of evidence that, yes, this is a deeply gendered problem.

Ana Cabo is a Melbourne-based journalist.