Banning men from looking at women who don’t consent: that’s real discrimination

The story:  Old white man is pissy because an artist recorded a group of Muslim women in a situation where they would not consent to be looked at by strange men.  Artist offers artwork on that condition; Dowse Gallery accepts.

There’s a lot of argument going down around the fact that the Dowse is publicly-funded, is this discrimination, do we owe it to the poor oppressed brown women to tear away their autonomy because they’re too stupid to know they’re oppressed … yeah, guess where I fall on that one.

But here’s the thing that pisses me off:  it seems like old white dudes like Paul Young have honestly drunk the anti-PC KoolAid.  They sincerely believe that the Human Rights Commission has some kind of god-like power to storm the Dowse, tear down the curtains around Sophia Al-Maria’s exhibit and instantly beam its images into the heads of all good Kiwi men so that SEXIST OPPRESSION SHALL BE NO MORE!!!!

Boy, is he in for a surprise.

Here’s what Paul Young says – and our brave, fact-checking media offer no clue that he’s talking out his ass:

Human rights legislation did not allow for exceptions on the basis of art or religious belief, Mr Young said.


Per the Human Rights Commission’s bloody-hard-to-navigate website:

There are a number of circumstances where it is not unlawful to discriminate on the ground of religious belief.

Hence, you know, why the Catholics still get to ban women from the priesthood.  I’m not saying this exception necessarily applies in the case of the Dowse, but again:  don’t you just love how someone who has probably never previously even thought about our human rights legislation assumes that NOTHING IS EXCEPTED, ALL OPPRESSION IS PUNISHABLE BY DEATH?

As for the merits of Mr Young’s case, I refer him to the HRC’s “Resolving Discrimination and Harassment Guide”:

A person must be disadvantaged because of the discrimination.

Now, if an Art History lecturer decides to make Sophia Al-Maria’s work a central part of a third-year compulsory Art History paper, and bases half the final exam marks on it, and then tells the men in the class “Ha, sucks to be you, wankers” then maybe Paul Young might have a case.

But it’s frankly fucking appalling to me that he’s going to sit there and – having made his complaint and thus presumably having read that guide – pretend that not being able to see an exhibit (which I’m sure, to riff off someone on Twitter, is right up his alley as an enthusiast in Qatari women’s domestic subcultures) is any-fucking-where near being “disadvantaged”.  Disadvantaged the way pregnant people are when they get fired.  Disadvantaged the way people of colour are when they happen to get arrested more often and sentenced to longer prison terms than white people.

Fuck me, his fee-fees must be so hurt right now.  Why don’t the mean Muslim women care about his fee-fees?

I think the issues on this are kinda complex, but also fairly simple to me in a “you don’t get to stomp on other people’s consent just because you’ve convinced yourself it’s for their own good” way.  And maybe under our human rights framework the Dowse, as a recipient of public funding, shouldn’t have accepted the exhibit – but that’s a choice they made, clearly aware of the issues involved.

But on one side is an artist and the rights to privacy of her subjects.  And on the other is Paul Young, whose main gripe seems to be, completely without irony, that it’s totally unfair to stop 50% of the population from seeing a single art exhibit, which I’m so sure they were all completely interested in.

Some further reading on the HRC website:  “Why can some groups of people be treated differently?” for all you WAAAAA AFFIRMATIVE ACTION STOPPED ME GETTING INTO LAW SCHOOL WAAAAAA trolls out there.


  1. Draco T Bastard (@DracoTBastard)

    pretend that not being able to see an exhibit (which I’m sure, to riff off someone on Twitter, is right up his alley as an enthusiast in Qatari women’s domestic subcultures) is any-fucking-where near being “disadvantaged”.

    I’m sure that the only disadvantage that he’s really concerned with is that he won’t be able to ogle these women. IMO, he just wants to perv and not appreciate the art which he probably wouldn’t grok anyway.

    • QoT

      Yeah, it was after I posted that the whole Orientalist fetishization of Middle Eastern veil-wearing women struck me. Which I’d like to put down to my faith in humanity, but that would be a lie; the White Saviour complex has been so strong on this one it’s drowned out the obvious.

  2. Rosch

    I’m pretty sure it’s discrimination, the whole Islamic concept of men not being able to look at woman reeks of man hating. Just because a few of us do bad things doesn’t mean we should all be looked on as potential rapists.

  3. J Lee

    He is disadvantaged.

    I think it’s disgusting to say that being barred from access to culture isn’t disadvantaging. Imagine it was a woman and you made snide remarks about how of course women aren’t interested in political art…

    • QoT

      Yes, well I apologise for assuming that Paul Young, who at no point makes any case for having any actual interest in the exhibit beyond the fact that he isn’t allowed to see it, has no actual interest in the exhibit beyond the fact that he isn’t allowed to see it.

      And hey, if you want to have a wide national argument about how our laws determine “disadvantage”, let’s go for it. What I find funny is how suddenly old white dudes are presuming that our evil PC human rights framework has this massive, dictatorial power which it clearly doesn’t have. Gosh, maybe you were all wrong for all those years you whinged on talkback radio about evil feminists TAK’N YER JOBS.

    • Draco T Bastard (@DracoTBastard)

      No he’s not, it really won’t make any difference to him or anybody else.

      Then there’s the simple fact that the women that participated in the work did so on the understanding that men would not see it which the artist agreed to. Forcing it to be opened to men through law would thus show that this country cannot be trusted, that it acts in bad faith. That we are dishonourable.

  4. Pingback: The thin end of the wedge: art edition « Ideologically Impure