Brian Edwards Media

Teasing Out The Ponytail Affair


John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand,  liked to tease Amanda Bailey, a waitress at the Cafe Rosie in Parnell, by pulling her ponytail. He did so repeatedly over a reasonably lengthy period, despite being asked by the waitress on more than one occasion to stop. His initial response was that he was, with his wife Bronagh, a regular customer at the the cafe where, despite his being the PM, the atmosphere when he was there was always jovial and jokey. He didn’t think he had been doing anything wrong. It was just a bit of fun, a bit of “horseplay”. He has since apologised publicly to the waitress, essentially saying that he’d misread the situation and got it wrong. He won’t, we can be reasonably certain, ever pull a waitress’s ponytail again.

So what we’re talking about here is teasing. The school playground is probably the most common place to encounter teasing. If ponytails are allowed in New Zealand schools, I have very little doubt that girls (and quite possibly boys) with ponytails will have had them pulled on numerous occasions and will be thoroughly fed up with it. They will no doubt have asked their tormentors on numerous occasions to ‘cut it out’. Their pleas will almost certainly have been ignored.   

‘Almost certainly’ because the whole point of teasing is to annoy. The perpetrator’s ‘payoff’, his or her ‘reward’ from teasing, is precisely the victim’s annoyance. If a girl  doesn’t mind having her ponytail pulled, perhaps enjoying the attention or regarding it as a form of flattery, then it’s no fun at all.  Teasing can also be a ham-fisted way of telling someone of the opposite (or same) sex that you fancy them.

There is commonly  a power differential between the person doing the teasing and the person being teased. The teaser will be in a more powerful position, that power derived from status, physical superiority or support from a group. When you take the power differential into account, it becomes clear that teasing is simply just another word for bullying. At the extreme, regularly teased schoolchildren may become depressed, start to engage in self-harm or even take their own lives. Being teased is rarely fun for the recipient. It is at best annoying, at worst humiliating and distressful. That, as I say, is the point.

This will rarely have been the teaser’s express intention. The teasing for him or her was ‘just a bit of fun’,  a way of getting attention or simple showing off.

It’s remarkable how closely the Prime Minister’s treatment of Amanda Bailey reflects the schoolyard teasing prototype. His pulling of her ponytail clearly annoyed her, providing the PM with the emotional payback or reward that all teasers/bullies seek. Though her annoyance was evident and eventually overtly expressed to him, he continued to pull her hair and surreptitiously tap her on the shoulder, laying the blame on his wife.  Many of us will have done this sort of thing with our own children. It’s ‘fun’ providing it doesn’t go on too long.

The Prime Minister was not of course in a parental relationship with Amanda Bailey. He was the Prime Minister and she was a waitress. The difference in power and status between the two is crystal clear, again fitting the schoolyard analogy.

So John, as Amanda herself observed in her anonymous blog,  essentially behaved like a boy teasing a girl at school. And, for a time, she put up with it, until it went too far and she decided to tell the teacher.

Why on earth did he do it? Well, I’m not his psychotherapist and I have absolutely no idea what the answer to that question is. Other perhaps than the bleeding obvious, that it was, as he has claimed,  just “horseplay”, a bit of fun. And for most of the time, being Prime Minister isn’t that much fun. And he was among friends at the cafe, where he was accepted as that ‘ordinary bloke’ that he so likes to see himself as. And they all often kidded around. And his wife was with him, for goodness sake. And who could possibly misread his intentions.

And suddenly the bloody sky is falling in.

What happened here was that teasing crossed the wafer-thin line that distinguishes it from bullying and the Prime Minister failed to notice.

If Key had responded immediately to Bailey’s first request to stop, there would not in my view have been a serious issue here. But he didn’t. And that is an incomprehensible failure of judgement for a man of his intellect, a man of his experience and a man in his position. And as such it has undoubtedly wounded him. The wound may well prove politically fatal. As with Helen Clark, it’s easy to confuse a Prime Minister’s personal popularity ratings with their chances of winning an election. We live in the age of MMP where margins between coalition groupings are extremely fine. Could a prime minister lose an election just for pulling a waitress’s ponytail? In this environment – you betcha!



  1. how does the philosophy behind your article apply to the power differential in a striptease club, i wonder?

    • Rob, that’s silly.

      Dancers in strip clubs are working legitimately to entertain customers (male and female). It might be more intimate on the surface but there are clear professional boundaries. If you cross them you will find yourself being asked to leave. Or bounced.

      Working as a server in a restaurant or café means you make guests welcome and bring them food and drink.

      That is something the PM doesn’t seem to understand – he was a guest, not Henry VIII and the waitress was a paid professional not a ‘wench’ who innately consents to any and all treatment at the hands of a guest – no matter how imposing his entourage might be.

    • The relationship between the parties is a commercial one. It involves a contract which is mutually understood by both parties – strippers and audience. Not entirely wholesome perhaps, but a contract nonetheless. An entirely different situation from the Key/Bailey issue.

    • 1.3

      Andrew Paul Wood

      Touch a stripper uninvited and you will very quickly learn the differential when the bouncer chucks you out on your ear.

  2. As a long term hospitality professional who started waitressing at 15 I am so glad to see your stance on this Brian. You and your lovely wife were in fact a long term regular customers of mine and we both know how it does become quite an intimate and personal relationship. In good situations such ours you begin to consider each other as mates. Working in the service industry you are often subject to situations where people treat you as lower than them almost as if they have some sort of position of ownership that harps back to feelings of slavery or servants. Certainly this is not the majority but as someone who strives to make a positive difference in the lives of others thru their work it is extremely insulting when it happens. People get the opportunity with cafés and restaurants to step outside the pressures of home and work roles and have one place where they know their needs are going to be put first. A good waitress will know where you like to sit that you will want the paper and a long black and say no no you relax I will get that for you. In a busy world we cannot even rely on this from our partners. This relationship is a large part of what we are paying for these days as anyone can make good coffee at home and buy nice food from nosh. We provide a valuable human service and deserve respect for looking after people every day so the can have a few moments to relax and in the case of our pm feel like a normal everyday person.

  3. Being a server must be the greatest job in the world because while customers can only indulge in “a bit of fun” the server gets to string these bits together into a whole day of fun!

  4. Sigh. What dull empty lives some of us must have. Read Bob Jones column in today’s paper. Satire and yet somehow not.

    • Not entirely sure what you mean here, Rosie. But I agree entirely with you about Bob’s column in the Herald this morning. At least in the sense that it was an enormously funny satire on those who have thought the PM should be hung, drawn and quartered or, at the very least, forced to resign.

      It’s also likely to be pretty effective in promoting the “Get a life!” brigade’s approach to the incident, which is in itself totally facile. This isn’t a trivial matter at all and Key’s actions and reactions aren’t easily defended. In that circumstance, if you’re a Key supporter, comedy and ridicule are probably the best form of response.

      • So you find Bobs column clever and funny and yet continue to act (by writing this blog) in the very way that he is satirising. Key has admitted his misjudgement and apologised. Is that not enough?

        • I made no comment of any sort about what should happen to Key. I did indicate how I thought the electorate would respond in 2017. Curiously I agreed with what you had said in your comment. The usual lose/lose scenario, Rosie.

  5. Um, just a thought: –

    The vocation of the protagonists is not immediately relevant. It could have happened at a party, between colleagues, or with two strangers on the street.

    But what it does show is that Key misjudged a situation. “Invading personal space” is a much more sensitive and debated issue than it was a few generations ago. We don’t cuddle kids that aren’t ours, we don’t place our hands on others shoulders as readily as we used to, and we don’t hug people spontaneously much anymore.

    For Key to engage in “socially risky” behaviour such as pony tail pulling, and not discern that a “no” really DID mean “no” confirms he made a mistake that placed him out of step with current social practice. And it was rude. How much that reflects on his capacity to fulfill the office of PM will, I suspect, depend on one’s existing perceptions of Key.

    For me, once it was brought to his attention, it seems he couldn’t do much more to make amends other than apologise, and cease to do so in future.

    • FIFY

      ” … once it was brought to the publics attention, it seems he couldn’t do much more to make amends other than apologise, and cease to do so in future.”

    • Kimbo, the accounts I’ve read that talk about his apology indicate that he apologised for any offence taken by the waitress, rather than for his behaviour. That’s not a real apology in my book. If you’ve transgressed, then it is your behaviour that should be the focus e.g. “I’m sorry for my actions. I was wrong.’ Anything else indicates a moral slide rule from denying the reality of the situation to victim blaming.

      That’s just not OK given the power imbalance here. It has become a pattern, which is worse: deny, shrug off, belittle the opposing side, and then make a half-hearted attempt at an apology to make the whole thing go away.

      (If I have missed a quote that shows a direct apology, then I’m pleased to be proven wrong.)

      • Yes, at times I’ve argued that myself with some folks who I consider owe me an apology big-time, and interestingly enough there was a power imbalance involved. But then lots of folks – husbands, wives, teachers, journalists, bosses, employees, waiters – don’t have the guts to do it that way, irrespective of the power relationship. Which is where a dialectic approach can be facile.

        However, speaking in general terms rather than Key or the nasty sanctimonious motherf*%$ers I was referring to above – breath deep and think happy thought, Kimbo :) – there is always a problem with folks in positions of power taking the route that you suggest – they are always susceptible to “gotcha” politics.

        If Key were to apologise in the way that you suggest then his opponents will not be satisfied. Ever. Instead, as per David Cunliffe and the “I’m sorry for being a man” outburst, they will hang it as an albatross around his neck.

        I don’t make the rules. I just report them.

        Key gave his apology in the words that he did. It is what it is. How you assess it is likely a Rorschach test of how you view Key anyway.

        • …or of how you assess integrity. I’m not a paid-up member of the Key club (!), but I do notice what people do when they get it wrong – whether they are of the hoi polloi or in the public view. Being direct and sincere takes balls.


            Fair enough.

            Just out of interest, and not wanting to deflect attention from key, but what was youir take on “Paintergate”? Was that a matter of “integrity”?


            …and more particularly how it was “handled”.

      • 5.2.2

        You have missed the blatantly obvious point that what is offensive to some people is amusing to others. Newsflash: we are not all the same.

  6. normal adult men do not go around pulling ladies hair as they please. i think he is very rude and arogant

  7. Good article Brian. Rosie Cafe is our local but there are no fun and games going on when we are there, just people chatting in groups and wait staff
    behaving very professionally. We have obviously been missing out on all the fun!

    I am not a National voter but have always recognised John Key’s talent of appealing to the average voter. His stumbles have been seen as endearing because people can identify with him.

    This latest episode takes this casualness to a whole other level and I am still amazed at how badly he behaved towards the young waitress.
    He now says he may have done the same to a young man with a ponytail, which indicates he still doesn’t get the point – it is bullying.


    • 7.1

      I am amazed that his bad behavior went on for six months in front of a cafe full of patrons like you – and apparently no-one either noticed or said anything?

      Don’t you find that curious? If it is as bad as made out? Are Rosie patrons exceptionally blind to a PM’s offensive behavior? Or is there something suspicious here?

      • Presumably there would be different patrons at every incident so there is not pattern for them to notice.

  8. Thanks for your thoughtful article, Brian. Sums up the situation perfectly.

    Rosie, Key has certainly admitted his misjudgment(only after it was made public) but I don’t believe he has atually apologised. He apparently gave Amanda two bottles of wine (which she doesn’t drink) – a somewhat patronising gesture which smacks more of bribery than contrition.

    The nearest words to an apology have been that he “regrets” his actions, and then always qualified by the “bit of fun” comments which immediately devalue that statement.

    Of course he regrets it! He has been exposed and that is the extent of his regret. But in all the clips I’ve heard not once has he said he is “sorry” to Amanda.

    • 8.1

      I wasn’t aware there is a recording of his apology and gift to Ms Bailey?

    • Yeh, the bottles of wine thing came across as an attempt to buy Ms Bailey’s silence – and lost the bet. And from the tone of the apology, it sounded like “I’m only sorry that I got caught”.

      • 8.2.1

        That is your interpretation. I suspect most people see it differently. Since you are so certain, what exactly did Key say when he came back, apologized and gave them to her? And the source please.

        • Take the trouble to read the victim’s own word regarding the un/satisfactory nature of the apology given. The beam in your eye may prevent your full understanding, but it’s the best I can do, given that the incident wasn’t recorded for sound.


            I read it. Key said he was sorry and didn’t realise he was offending her. Then she said: “Really?! That was almost more offensive than the harassment itself. …

            Unfortunately, when our poor country is left cringing, tormented, cowering in the corner, it can’t be fixed with a bottle of wine, and neither was this. I’m telling this story because I’m the only one who can and it seems he needs reminding that he’s not a god, he’s just a man.”

            Clearly, only a political scalp was going to satisfy this silly woman. And before we get all the young, vulnerable and innocent crap, at her age I was married supporting a wife and two kids and knew what are real issues and what are not.


              You may have known what the real issues were back then. It seems now that the real issue is when anyone hints at or even says directly, that there’s anything untoward about the behaviour of John Key.

              The pony tail perspectives are many and varied and since it’s simply people’s opinions, at one end “silly woman” will be used to describe Amanda Bailey and at the other, some will opine about the sexual proclivities of the Prime Minister.

              I like the way you throw in stuff (à la Steven Joyce) with a hint of gravitas like “there is no evidence she indicated there was any sexual implication.”
              You mean you haven’t seen or heard of any.

              As for “Could a prime minister lose an election just for pulling a waitress’s ponytail?” I certainly don’t think this PM could. It’s not the end of the world and from his perspective the sooner his apologists forget it the better too. Every time they respond to any aspect they keep the issue alive.


                “there is no evidence she indicated there was any sexual implication.”

                Statement of fact. Since her accounts were seriously malicious she would certainly have thrown that into them had she been able.

    • Yes, of course he shouldn’t’ve tugged the ponytail. But how the hell could anyone bearing gifts know his tuggee doesn’t drink read wine? Or wine at all? I imagine very few vegetarians work in butcheries, and it certainly wouldn’t occur to me that a waitress wouldn’t appreciate a couple of bottles of plonk as an acceptable admission of regret. What did she want – diamonds?

      The way this woman has so ungraciously behaved here – complaining to everyone for months, except to the perpetrator, spilling the story to the far left first, discourteously declining the offet of reparation – brings to mind Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. None of the above excuses Key’s inappropriate behaviour.

  9. An example of National again riding roughshod over the people of NZ.This isnt a minor misjudgement but a conscious act of continuing abuse over a period of time.
    Todays anouncement about beneficiaries inability to loan money for emergency dental procedures shows how little they care about New Zealanders.

    • 9.1

      Could you please say lend when you mean lend, loan when you mean loan and borrow when you mean borrow.

  10. 10

    Chandrasekhar Megawatt

    Shades of Monica L? Could it be, that Key ‘tugged’ her ponytail in the misguided belief that the waitress would reciprocate in a more intimate setting?

  11. 11

    If it were only bullying. But evidence suggests that John Key has a “thing” for females’ hair and a problem keeping his hands to himself. That’s not a good combination.

  12. I totally agree.

    Key’s claim that he stopped as soon as he was told is not supported by the facts.

    He has used every statement since to diminish the seriousness of his actions and even claims he would have done the same to a waiter, as if this somehow transforms harassment into horseplay.

    But there is no context to consent and no circumstance, none, that can ever change NO to YES.

    Whatever he intended, the undisputed facts describe how he teased, touched and humiliated a young woman for months at her place of work. He did it often and against her will. She said NO! to his face and still he touched her.

    We are not serfs or slaves and the Prime Minister is not the King or Master. He has no licence or right to touch anyone at his leisure for pleasure and amusement.

    It is fundamental to democracy that a citizen has the right to go about his or her business unmolested by those with more wealth, status and power.

    This fundamental is called the rule of law and it applies equally to us all, even the Prime Minister, who must not only abide by the law but must be seen to abide by the law. That is the crux of the matter.

    His inexplicable and inexcusable disrespect for this young woman is unprecedented and comes with legal consequences that may prove politically fatal.

    He should have listened to the woman (if not his wife) and stopped.

    • 12.1

      For some background and another view, I made contact with Susan Antilla, an award-winning American financial writer and author of “Tales From the Boom-Boom Room: The Landmark Legal Battles that Exposed Wall Street’s Shocking Culture of Harassment”. This was her reply:

      “Harassers are abusers of power, and that’s what the anonymous writer describes in the John Key restaurant incidents. Behavior like that wouldn’t be as difficult to stop if the harasser had been one of her peers at the restaurant. It’s Key’s position of authority that allowed it to go on as it did.

      You mention that Key once worked at Merrill Lynch. You don’t need to have worked at Merrill Lynch — or any brokerage firm — to get the training to abuse your power, although the financial industry certainly has earned its reputation as a particularly hostile place for women to work.

      With a little luck, schools will use this as a “teaching moment” to explain to students that bullies and harassers choose victims over whom they have power, whether it’s the boss on a trading floor, the big kid in the schoolyard, or, apparently, the prime minister. If we can get our kids to recognize the signs of abuse of authority, it would go a long way in helping stop this stuff.”

    • “Facts”? How do you know they’re “facts”?

  13. 13

    “When you take the power differential into account, it becomes clear that teasing is simply just another word for bullying.”

    There’s a world of difference between teasing and bullying. Conflating the two is simply a tactic to make the Prime Minister’s admittedly ill-judged actions out to be worse than they were.

    “Could a prime minister lose an election just for pulling a waitress’s ponytail? In this environment – you betcha!”

    “In this environment” – aye, there’s the rub. We live in such a toxic PC environment that those who wish to can, for their own reasons, depict a simple bit of horseplay as bullying, harassment, or assault and actually be believed. O brave new world that has such people in it.

    • Random Punter…………its not about depicting it as assault. Under the law it is assault. Like it or not. End of story.

      • 13.1.1

        Assault requires force. That is the definition in the crimes act. Touching is not force.


          Pulling is force.


          But pulling is. It could also be argued that touching is applying a force, however slight.


            It could be argued. But the law has a de minimus threshold that would refute that argument.

            Pretty clearly the level of touching involved falls into the harassment category, not assault. But equally clearly it fails the test for criminal harassment (which requires a valid fear or threat for safety). So the only criminal charge that could arise would be breach of a restraining order against harassment and no such restraining order was made or even applied for.

            So the whole thing is a non-starter legally.


              It doesn’t obviously fail the test for sexual harassment.

              It shall be unlawful for any person (in the course of that person’s involvement in any of the areas to which this subsection is applied by subsection (3)) by the use of language (whether written or spoken) of a sexual nature, or of visual material of a sexual nature, or by physical behaviour of a sexual nature, to subject any other person to behaviour that—

              (a)is unwelcome or offensive to that person (whether or not that is conveyed to the first-mentioned person); and

              (b)is either repeated, or of such a significant nature, that it has a detrimental effect on that person in respect of any of the areas to which this subsection is applied by subsection (3).


                I should note that the interpretation of the victim carries more weight when determining if behaviour is sexual.


                  “…or by physical behaviour of a sexual nature…”.

                  But where is the immediate connection between hair-pulling and an act of a sexual nature? I know you’ve tried elsewhere, but bs BE has argued, kids in a playground do it, so if you want to try and package it, Key’s actions were more akin to bullying .

                  Plus when has Amanda Bailey ever given that interpretation? So if she didn’t, any musings by third parties are academic, aren’t they?

                  Just trying to keep the discussion grounded, Lee…


                  It’s not my personal view, but whether or not you or I determine it as sexual is legally irrelevant. IIRC the interpretation of the victim has priority in these cases – the intention of the toucher and the views of society carry less weight. Key’s case isn’t helped by the fact that it was repeated and obviously unwelcome, and that he was touching her hair.

                  As I mentioned below, comparisons involving children who have not yet reached sexual maturity is unhelpful. The hair of female adults has almost universally been sexualised in human cultures – witness taboos among some religious sects about covering female hair for precisely that reason.

                  But this is a discussion we shouldn’t be having. Any sane man knows that you do not touch women without their consent except in a very few cases where you have to (tapping someone on the shoulder, etc.).


                That is the Human Rights Act, not the Crimes Act. And you are clutching at straws to think that hair tugging will be interpreted as of sexual nature by the law.

                It doesn’t matter whether the complainant is offended if the action doesn’t qualify as having a sexual nature. That interpretation is not within the power of the complainant to determine. And obviously rightly so.


                  That interpretation is not within the power of the complainant to determine. And obviously rightly so.

                  And you would be wrong according to boilerplate definitions of SH.The victim’s perception of what counts as sexual behaviour carries more weight although it’s not a trump card. There are various practical reasons for this.

                  As I’ve suggested elsewhere on the page, the fact that female hair is sexualised in almost all human cultures and the fact that the touching was repeated, unwanted and resisted, if combined with the victim claiming that she felt that the touching was of a sexual nature, would give a good prima facie case for sexual harassment.

                  Whether it would be a successful case, I can’t say. All I’m saying is that, on the face of it, were a complaint to be laid, it wouldn’t be completely ridiculous were it to go to court.


                  I don’t think anyone’s saying that Key ought to go to jail, but the remedies are reasonably clear. I don’t think his behaviour rises to the level of police involvement, but Ms Bailey could well file a grievance.

                  Sexual harassment can be dealt with under the Employment Relations Act 2000 (as a personal grievance against an employer within 90 days of the incident) or under the Human Rights Act 1993 (as a complaint whether against an employer or some other person). In serious cases the matter may also be referred to the Police.

                  A variety of remedies are available under the Human Rights Act for sexual harassment, including a declaration that the Act has been breached, restraining orders, an apology, reimbursement of lost wages and compensation (including damages for humiliation and pecuniary loss).



                  Not a crime and not of a sexual nature. Straw clutching is obvious. It would of course be a ludicrous denial of justice if the complainant could declare arbitrarily anything to be of a sexual nature. It is an essential condition of the rule of law that those accused could have known an offence was being committed. Your ridiculous interpretation would render that impossible.

                  And before you claim the complainant objected there is no evidence she indicated there was any sexual implication.


                  Hardly clutching at straws Alan. In fact a ponytail fetish is one of the top 10 male fetishes according to the following survey results


                  There’s also plenty of porn sites with ponytail and horseplay fetish categories which i won’t list here.

                  So in reality it would be fairly easy to describe a continuous pattern of ponytail pulling as sexual in nature under law.


                  @Mike S, it’s easy to describe anything anyone likes as being of a sexual nature but that is not the test. The test is that it is regarded as of a sexual nature to most reasonable people and therefore should have been regarded as such by the accused.

                  It does seem that there are a lot of women who want to make themselves completely untouchable – and as many who bemoan the lack of men willing to commit to them long term. Good luck with that problem.


                It’s hardly a case of clubbing the victim into oblivion and dragging her back to the cave by her locks, Flintstones-style, is it?

                As far as I can tell, tugging is playful, pulling is assault. In the carefully-selected photo above, the girl’s hair is clearly being pulled. The leftist chat on the subject has it as ‘pulling’, and the right seem to go with ‘tugging’. So which wss it?

                Sue Bradford always referred to corrective ‘smacking’ of a toddler as ‘beating’, which is something totally different of course.

      • 13.1.2

        So every seven year old child (boy or girl) who pulls another’s pigtails in the playground is guilty of criminal assault? OK, if you say so.

        A sense of reality, a sense of proportion, and a sense of humour are all sadly lacking in this debate. Rape, torture, punching someone in the face, stabbing them in the neck with a knife, hitting them over the head with a piece of four by two…those are assaults. To suggest that playfully pulling someone’s ponytail is remotely comparable is to rob the concept of assault of any practical or legal utility. It also trivialises those genuinely serious offences and insults those who have been subjected to them.

        • Well said.


          Your argument involves a false analogy. Children aren’t adults and can’t in most cases be held legally responsible for what they do. Nevertheless, there would likely be some sort of intervention. There is also much less of a touch taboo between children as opposed to those who have reached sexual maturity. If you don’t understand that, then I welcome you to our planet.


            But if, as Key argued, he was indulging in some child-like fun, and (to quote you) the “evidence suggests that John Key has a “thing”” for that sort of activity: –


            …then maybe the analogy is not as false as you suggest. Instead, the problem may be a lascivious mind on your part.

            Just a suggestion.


              There’s no taboo in children touching other children or children touching adults. Adults touching other adults or adults touching children on the other hand…

              You obviously know this, Kimbo.


                “Adults touching other adults or adults touching children on the other hand…

                You obviously know this, Kimbo.”

                Um, I know where current social orthopraxis in OUR culture (and others historically) lies…and, yes, I am surprised Key wasn’t aware of it. Unless, as is possible, he totally misread the social situation and the requests to stop, and did genuinely interpret it as light-hearted horse-play enjoyed by all. Believe it or not this DOES happen. I once saw a manager, a genuinely nice guy hug a female co-worker in a tense situation. It was his (inept) way of showing he did not bear a grudge and wanted to defuse the situation/find an outlet for his personal discomfort, but it obviously had the potential to be interpreted otherwise.

                But, no, I would not agree that the prohibitions you suggest are universal or necessarily self-evident throughout human history. Just a generation or so ago (before stuff the Christchurch Civic creche case, for example), it was not that uncommon to ruffle a child’s hair as a sign of approval or non-sexual affection. Check out the movies of yesteryear.


                  Kimbo. How could he possibly misread a request to stop?? Regardless, how could he possibly do it on numerous occasions in the first place?? Also the example you used of the manager hugging a co worker is completely different. Did he hug her on numerous occasions, after she had told him not to?

                  I simply couldn’t imagine pulling a waitresses ponytail and thinking it was a bit of fun even once, let alone after she told me not to. All you Key apologists are living on a different planet.


                Check out 0:57 and immediately following: –


                Curtis and Elton are obviously not writing “history” (although it is interesting how many folks consider Blackadder goes Forth is a documentary on the Great War).

                Nonetheless, they are mirroring social mores of not that long ago. Hair-touching between adults is NOT the universal taboo you suggest.


                  Touch taboos are one issue. The sexual connotations of female hair another. I think you have mixed up the issues here in a way I didn’t intend.

                  That a man touching a woman’s hair could be seen as sexual harassment by a woman given the sexualisation of female hair is a given.

                  I once saw a manager, a genuinely nice guy hug a female co-worker in a tense situation. It was his (inept) way of showing he did not bear a grudge and wanted to defuse the situation/find an outlet for his personal discomfort, but it obviously had the potential to be interpreted otherwise.

                  That’s fair enough and doesn’t gainsay anything I said. People can do things like this in a non sexual way. That has little bearing on the law, which tends to take the “victim’s” view as authoritative (whether or not that is the morally right thing to do).

                  Whether or not Key intended anything sexual by it doesn’t matter that much in a case of sexual harassment. What matters most is what the victim thinks and society’s views of men touching women’s hair.

                  Yes, this may be unfair, but perhaps Mr Bumble was right.


                  “Touch taboos are one issue. The sexual connotations of female hair another. I think you have mixed up the issues here in a way I didn’t intend.

                  That a man touching a woman’s hair could be seen as sexual harassment…”

                  Yeah, nah. IMHO your original strident non-negotiable assertions are dying courtesy of a dozen qualifications and exceptions, including a not wholly legitimate conflating of elastic social norms and current legal requirements – not that I am convinced you have made a convincing case that Key’s actions were sexual harassment in the first place.

                  Nonetheless, I take your essential point. Whatever else, Key was stupid not realising there was a potential legal problem.


                  Sigh. You’re conflating my response to a deficiency in Random Punter’s argument with the discussion above.

                  There’s a difference between norms about the age appropriateness of physical contact per se, and norms about what counts as sexual contact between persons. This is complicated by the fact that some forms of contact which are generally non-sexual when done amongst or to children are generally sexual when done to an adult female.

                  If you want to talk about the law around sexual harassment, join the discussion above. That wasn’t at issue in my original response to RP.

  14. Key would be well advised to keep a weather eye on the froth in his coffee’s from now on.


  15. I’m no fan for John Key or the National Party and less so of media beat-ups about his latest episode of dickish behaviour. Let’s move on, shall we.

  16. Sorry hard case. Too many of us have had to put up with unwanted touching, harrassment, teasing, bullying in the workplace. Its a big issue. Why should we move on. Time to keep talking about this. Charges against the PM is a great idea in my opinion. Lets set an example. If the PM is pulled up on this and finds himself in trouble, it will hopefully stop others in their tracks.

    • …as per above, and just out of interest, as there is a lot of fraud around, would “charges against the PM (of the time)” have been a “great idea” in the case of “Paintergate”?

      • 16.1.1

        I think the significant difference, Kimbo, is that in the case of the so-called “paintergate” Helen Clark breached no law although one can argue the toss about the ethics of what she did. On that score I am personally of the view that this was genuinely a bit of a laugh, that no-one seriously thought she had painted the artwork in question, and many of those who waxed indignant over it were being a tad disingenuous in their huffing and puffing on the subject. But the case of John Key repeatedly pulling on someone’s hair even after they had objected involved what is clearly an assault, and therefore a criminal offence. As far as I know there is no section of the Crimes Act which says “except John Key.” As the English spent much resources and blood proving in the seventeenth century, even the king is within the constraints of the law of the land. What fascinates me is the failure of the two policemen present to react in any way. At the very least it was incumbent on them to ‘have a quiet word’ with John and suggest that he desist if he didn’t want it to become a formal matter (which it may still do)

        • Thanks, tony.

          You always argue your points clearly.

          However, I’m not so sure on your assessment of a “significant difference”, “Helen Clark breached no law”, “no-one seriously thought she had painted the artwork”, nor in the case of Key that is “clearly an assault, and therefore a criminal offence”. But then I’m no lawyer, and the law and common sense are not the same

          Although I am in total agreement with “many of those who waxed indignant over it (Paintergate) were being a tad disingenuous in their huffing and puffing on the subject.”

          Classic “gotcha” politics…and an illustration of why politicians are rightly reluctant in many cases to go the full mea culpa.

          • Helen autographed one painting once. Key pulled the hair on numerous occasions over a period of some months. Clearly a significant difference I would have thought.


              “Clearly a significant difference I would have thought.”

              Actually, she did it on six occasions:


              “Helen Clark was pinged on Sunday for passing off a painting she signed and submitted for a charity auction as her own work. That should have been the end of the matter. But the next day – under questioning from journalists – she admitted that a total of six fakes bore her signature.”

              Is that enough “numerous occasions” to confirm there was not a “significant difference”, Kat?

              However, in the interests of not being accused of thread-jacking, there was one clear difference – Clark’s actions were not immediately rude or a misjudgment of a social situation, whereas Key’s were.


                Ok Kimbo…Helen autographed six copies of the painting on the same occasion. Clearly still a significant difference even if she autographed a zillion paintings a zillion times.

                Your trying to compare physical interference with another person repeatedly over months after being told to cease as being on the same level of significance to autographing a painting for charity is as laughable as Key has clearly become.


                  No, not exactly. The comparison was in response to anker’s comment, “Charges against the PM is a great idea in my opinion. Lets set an example. If the PM is pulled up on this and finds himself in trouble, it will hopefully stop others in their tracks.”.

                  But I’m glad I gave you cause for a laugh. See, we can get on, and not resort to the verbal equivalent of hair-pulling ;)

    • At least things are moving on in parliament where there are more important matters to be discussed.

      “The Opposition’s attitude suggested those parties considered there was little more to be milked from ponytail-gate. Further pursuit of the matter only risked annoying those who never considered it mattered in the first place.”

  17. Would John Key have the guts to tug on Steven Seagal’s ponytail? Would Key’s face still be intact in this case?

  18. Agree with Simon Praast’s comments … Disagree with your reducing it to teasing Brian. It’s bullying as soon as the other person feels harassed by the actions. And in Key’s case it was always bullying and harassment because of his position. How did he miss out on the life lesson that you keep your hands to yourself? It show’s he’s out of touch with how to behave towards others and has lost the normal understanding of boundaries. None of which bode well for his political future.

  19. 19

    What worries me about this whole sorry affair is Key’s incredible lack of judgement demonstrated again by his telling foreign media the location of our troops in the Middle East after refusing similar information to local media on the grounds of security.
    There are many more examples similar lapses. Can we trust such a person with the running of this country?

    • Perhaps Crosby Textor advised Key to create a few puerile distractions as a diversion. Something Key is a master at.

  20. 1: Pulling a ponytail (by an adult) is definitely assault. Not only is it unwanted touching, it also has the capacity to cause physical pain.

    2: Key’s complete lack of judgment is of grave concern when one considers that this is the man who has responsibility for our nation’s security and state secrets. Impeccable judgment required for that role, one would have thought.

    3: One aspect I’ve not seen mentioned anywhere is Key’s complete disregard for his wife. That she had to speak out to try and stop his puerile behaviour is one thing, but what does it say about his attitude to her that he would embarrass her in such a manner in the first place.

    Key is obviously a slow learner. Perhaps, after six years in his role, it’s time he had lessons from somebody who can advise him about the dignity of his office and the behaviour expected of him.

  21. 21

    Wrong. See 13.1.1 above and following.

  22. Its possibly not a case for the judicary but it really does exhibit a disregard for other peoples rights.Anybody here think its an action they would choose in a similar situation?

  23. too precious for words