Friday, May 15

Damned whores and football wives

It's hard to believe it's been 34 years since Anne Summers published her Damned Whores and God's Police. The years have rushed by, but how far have we progressed ?

The social and economic conditions of the first fifty years of white settlement in Australia fostered whores rather than wives. The traditional Judeo-Christian notion that all women could be categorised as being exclusively either good or evil – with the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene being the prototypes of each kind – was brought to Australia with the First Fleet.

That's where Anne Summers began her argument. In the book – a feminist classic which has been published continuously since its debut, in a number of revised editions – she went on to say the two stereotypes of women remain deep in Australian culture.

Today, she might argue little has changed – but now the sainted women might be footballers' wives and the damned whores are football groupies.

Many bloggers and Twitter tweeters are saying as much. To them, the 19-year-old kitchen hand got what she asked for when she accompanied Matthew Johns and a Cronulla Sharks mate to a bedroom in a Christchurch hotel.

The Australian Online reported today that 25,000 people have joined a Matthew Johns support group on Facebook.

All along, Matthew Johns has said the group sex was consensual. The New Zealand police support his claim.

Yesterday, AAP reported that Detective Inspector David Long, from Christchurch police, said the original investigation involved up to 80 interviews, and was thorough and conclusive.
“I'm completely satisfied that we got full and truthful accounts at the time and that no crime was committed,” he was quoted as saying.

For many of us, it's hard to believe a teenaged woman would consent to everything that happened that night. Everyone is calling it group sex, but group sex is a pleasant soiree compared with what transpired – a sordid gang-bang, as brutal as that term implies.

Football groupies exist, and footballers accept their invitations. Four Corners interviewed one, a woman who publicises her activities in the media. And some groupies collect entire football teams in a single session.

The Four Corners interview with a heavily disguised “Clare” left us believing she was a woman without much worldly experience, caught up in something she didn't understand.

That may be true, but some of “Clare's” story is unravelling.

Last night, Australia's Nine Network interviewed a former workmate, Tania Boyd, who said “Clare” had boasted to her workmates about bedding several players and did not contact police until five days after the incident.

"She was absolutely excited about the fact. She was bragging about it to the staff and quite willingly, openly, saying how she had sex with several players," Ms Boyd said. "We were quite disgusted about it. There was no trauma whatsoever.

"I'm disgusted that a woman can all of a sudden change her story from having a great time to then turning it into a terrible crime. We all just thought it was hilarious until five days later the police came to work, and we were horrified she had changed her story to say she was now a victim of crime." [We should note that Nine is not disinterested – it's the long-time employer of Matthew Johns, and the future of its Footy Show is at stake.]


A few years ago, blokey sports commentators would have brushed aside Matthew Johns's misadventure as just that – unfortunate but understandable.

Indeed, didn't we see that on The Boofhead Show last week? The ABC's Four Corners had told Johns about the program coming up on Monday night.

John Fordham, one of Australia's most experienced celebrity agents and PR experts, manages Johns's career. They drew up a response straight out of Crisis Management 101. A pre-emptive statement.

As The Boofhead Show began, Johns – open-faced and honest, Mr Nice Guy himself – read out an admission of sorts, and an apology to his wife and family. Fellow boofhead “Fatty” leaned over, patted him on the back, and said something like, “Well said, mate, let's get on with the show.”

Crisis Management error No 1 – they failed to express remorse to the woman who had become mentally disordered after the gang-bang. Viewers picked it up immediately.

Crisis Management error No 2 – Fordham and Johns hadn't viewed the coming Four Corners program, and they underestimated its devastating impact. The images of “Clare”, weeping, traumatised and vengeful, disturbed us all, and most of us bought her story.

Johns would regain public esteem – and revive his career – if he made a full and generous apology, and possibly reparations, to “Clare”. But he would be unwise to do so.

“Clare” probably is suffering pyschological trauma, and it probably is a result of the gang-bang. She may also be dreaming of the lifestyle she could enjoy if she won damages from Johns, his team mates and their club. And of how much pain she would inflict on them if she succeeded. With that in mind, Johns and the others are right to be wary.


Such a sordid affair, but it's possible to see positive outcomes. The public response to the scandal suggests most Australians have at last moved away from the misogyny underlying a “saints and sluts” view of women (although emerging doubts about “Clare's”veracity may be a problem).

Hopefully, in her next edition of Damned Whores and God's Police, Anne Summers will be able to pronounce that apart from a few troglodyte remnants, her dichotomy is no longer part of Australian culture.

She should also be proud that the crop she and other feminist writers and intellectuals planted and nurtured all those years ago has now proved so fruitful. A notable feature of the Johns affair was the power and perceptiveness of the commentary from women in public life – journalists, academics, TV presenters, even politicians – especially when they debated the issues of informed consent.

Of course, there was also the Catholic conservative commentator Miranda Devine. She used her column in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald to explain that young women who dress and behave immodestly were like cat's meat – cats cannot be blamed if they eat uncovered meat.

Hang on. I seem to have mixed up my notes. That wasn't Miranda, that was the Mufti of Lakemba. Still, there's not much difference in their views.


  1. Andrew Frank SKINNER10:31 pm

    Hey Dad - What's troglodyte?

  2. Good to hear from you. Macquarie Dictionary says: "Anyone thought to be primitive, barbaric, unintelligent or insensitive."
    I'm happy with the major part of the blog post. I covered the issues well, particularly as the story was changing fast with evidence the "victim" was lying. I may, however, rewrite my conclusion. I may have been too eager to declare the demise of misogyny.
    From an online encyclopedia: Some misogynists may simply be prejudiced against all women, or may hate women who don't fall into one or more acceptable categories. Entire cultures may be said to be misogynist if they treat women in ways that can be seen as harmful. Examples include forcing women to tend to all domestic responsibilities, demanding silence from a woman, or beating a woman. Subscribers to one model, the mother/whore dichotomy, hold that women can only be "mothers" or "whores." Another variant is the virgin/whore dichotomy, in which women who do not adhere to a saintly standard of moral purity are considered "whores."