Dowse exhibit is blatantly discriminating

SEAN PLUNKET
Last updated 05:00 08/09/2012

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Sean Plunket

Let kids make their way Royal roadshow back in town Meeting a transgender 8-year-old Supermarket shopping may become patriotic Shifting house mainly a relocation of clutter and memories To the culture minister, I say 'chur' and keep up the good work Internet party amateur and vain Grateful for no smart phones in days of youth Sticky subjects at the dinner table Avatar deal first step to prosperity

OPINION: I'm going to the rugby tonight. It's really easy; you get a ticket, front up at the stadium and find your seat.

You can't take booze in and you might get turned away if you are under the influence but otherwise it is an event open to all who can afford it, men, women, children, the elderly, those of religious conviction and those who do not worship any god.

I'm not going to the Dowse Art Museum, though, and I'm not sure if conditions of entrance would be so clear-cut if I was.

By way of background, the museum is opening an exhibition this weekend which includes a five-minute video of some women in Qatar preparing for a wedding. The video shows them without their veils on, which supposedly means men cannot be allowed to see it.

The politically correct Dowse has been copping flak about this for a week or two, and on Thursday attended Human Rights Commission mediation with the Hutt City Council, its lawyer and those who had complained about the clear breach of our discrimination laws this restriction represents.

The mediation should have gone something like this. 1: The commission tells the Dowse and the council it appears to be breaching our laws on discrimination. 2: The council and the Dowse say sorry and lift the restrictions. 3: The complainants say thank you to the commission for upholding the law and to the council and the Dowse for pulling their heads in. 4: The outcome of the mediation is made public.

That is not what happened.

As best as I can figure out it went something like this. 1: The commission told the complainants they had to sign a confidentiality clause or the mediation was off and they'd have to go to court to have their rights protected. 2: The council and the Dowse refused to acknowledge they breached our laws on discrimination, but privately told the complainants they had no legal power to stop men viewing the video. 3: The parties released two combined media statements which say they've had a nice talk and the complainants feel their concerns have been heard. 4: The council and Dowse proceeded with plans to beef up security at the Dowse for the weekend and also advised police of the possible need for them to attend.

This seems very unsatisfactory, for the following reasons.

1: I can understand the need in some instances for confidentiality, but in this instance the cat was well out of the bag and in the public arena long before the mediation took place. 2: The council's decision to take legal counsel to the mediation (at ratepayer expense) put the complainants at a clear disadvantage. 3: The combined statements (a total of five sentences) did nothing to inform a concerned public of what actually went on. 4: The gallery's intention to beef up security would appear to give the lie to its assurances in the mediation that men will not be prevented from seeing the exhibit.

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So I and other blokes don't know if we can go to a public art gallery and see a publicly funded exhibit without being discriminated against on grounds of our gender, nor do we have any assurance that the council and its hand-wringing liberal employees won't make a similarly bone-headed decision in future.

If the exhibit was only secured with an assurance men wouldn't see it, then the Dowse and the council should say so. If it was a publicity stunt, we should be told the truth about that too.

Imagine the outrage if this had been a men's-only exhibit or if Catholics were banned from seeing it, or Pakeha or Maori.

I suppose the Dowse might look to our national museum's ban on menstruating women seeing certain toanga to justify its strange behaviours but methinks it came up with this PC silliness all on its own.

We are lucky to live in a country which, apart from the occasional farce of pie-in-the-sky Waitangi Tribunal claims, is largely colour, religion, and gender-blind.

Although the same might not be said of Qatar, it would be the height of vanity for the Dowse to think this brouhaha has done anything to actually progress the lot of oppressed woman or others in that society.

- The Dominion Post

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