What’s with Men?


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Happy New Year everyone!

For my first blog of 2014, I’m going back to 2013.  I know, I know – this blog is supposed to be progressive, not regressive.  But, here goes.

A key issue in 2013 was the “Roast Busters” scandal.  This disgrace revealed layers and layers of misogyny.

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Well, I’ve just watched something that should be compulsory viewing for everyone, but particularly for members of my gender.  Some of you will have already seen it – it’s been around for a while – but I saw it for the first time this week after an awesome friend put me on to it.  Watching it, I felt like it was all about “Roast Busters” and the inadequate response of men in 2013 (and prior, of course).

“It” is an amazing video featuring Jackson Katz, PhD.  He’s speaking at a TEDx conference about how gender violence is a men’s issue.  Here are a couple of his early points:

  • How dominant groups are able to avoid introspection and scrutiny (indicating men here, but clearly relevant to other classes of privilege such as, say, some political parties…).
  • How men have been essentially erased from the discussion of “gender violence” by tagging it as a women’s issue.

This last point he illustrates both beautifully and chillingly using an exercise created by Julia Penelope, a feminist linguist.  I imagine that this will be familiar to some readers already – I found it very compelling.  The exercise shows how language can determine discourse.  How quickly it is that violence is the fault of the victim, and, in particular, how the focus on violence shifts away from men, as the perpetrators.

First, he writes:

John beat Mary” – object verb subject – perfectly normal grammatical sentence.  The active voice places the emphasis on the person doing the action.  Then:

Mary was beaten by John” – technically the same information in the sentence, but using the passive voice (passive voice implying a sense of being acted upon, a sense of helplessness, perhaps?) and the focus has now shifted to Mary with John “almost off the end of our psychic plane”.  Next:

Mary was beaten” – John has dropped off altogether now.  The next sentence he writes reflects a further change in the discourse informed by how the conversation has been framed in the domestic violence context, again implying a passive sense:

Mary was battered”  – where finally the sentence becomes:

Mary is a battered woman” – back to the active voice, carrying with it a sense of possession, of owning the descriptor.  Mary’s identity now, in the discourse, is that of a battered woman.  The focus is on her, and she owns the problem – maybe, even, the problem is her fault to begin with.  John, meanwhile, left the conversation a long time ago.

What does that sound like?

Personally, I think this exercise should be in the Radio Live staff employment handbook.

Really, though, it needs to be in everyone’s handbook.  The rush to victim blame in this country, and internationally, is all too present.  As Katz explains, though, asking questions about Mary will take us nowhere in resolving questions of violence.  We need to talk about John.

But, it’s not just about John.  It’s about us.  How do we, as a society, produce men who are violent?  What is in our structures and institutions that results in men and violence?  Katz asks these questions and more, speaking with a contagious passion.

Katz also discusses what he calls the “Bystander Approach”: “A bystander is defined as anyone who is not a victim or a perpetrator”.  He talks of tools and how men can change the discourse.  Of how important it is to challenge the discourse in social settings – if you don’t, you become complicit in compounding and entrenching the discourse.

He uses the example of a poker game – men joking around, with no women present.  One of men says something sexist, maybe in an off-hand way.  Under this approach, the bystander speaks up: “hey, can we talk about something else – that’s offensive, it could be my wife or sister that you’re talking about.”  Creating, what he calls, a “peer culture climate” where the abuse will be unacceptable – a cumulative consciousness leading to social change.

There is a lot more that Katz says.  So, watch the video.  Do it.  Share it with your whanau, friends and work colleagues.  Take up the bystander approach.  Men in positions of power – take up Katz’s challenge: become real leaders, not just nominal ones.  This country needs to be one based on compassion for each other as members of society and creating space for the lives of everyone – the male dominated discourse and thought isn’t working: we need a discourse that is both honest and genuinely representative of who we are.

Again, best wishes for the new year.  Let’s hope that 2014 is both peaceful and transformative, in equal measure…


  1. Michael, thank you. For writing on this subject. Women and children need men in NZ to stand up and state it’s not okay, we need you to lead men in redefining what it is to be male in NZ.

    I am the survivor of multiple rape experiences, the first when I was 13. The RoastBusters case hit hard last year, and for the first time in NZ I heard “rape culture” in mainstream discourse and I hoped that mainstream NZ could learn what rape culture is, looks like and feels like. It seemed that most (not all) of the discussion focussed on the perpetrators and the police inaction.

    But now in 2014 the media with it’s short attention span has moved away. The discussion has gone quiet. And in more recent news reports I see still the same focus on what people do wrong to get raped, and close to zero focus on what it is in our culture that creates men who rape.

    I believe the biggest reason why the discussion is framed in this way is men. (Many women engage like this too, but for different reasons). Most men do not rape, but when discussion about rape and domestic violence touches on the fact that it is mostly men who rape, beat and abuse, then ordinary men who do not behave like this become uncomfortable. Instead of hearing “it is mostly men who rape” they interpret “all men are rapists” and feel threatened.

    As a survivor and now a mother it is past time we dealt with this issue honestly. We need to publicly acknowledge that rape and abuse is predominantly a male problem and that men need to step up and stop tolerating it amongst themselves. We need your help.

    Which is why a man writing a column like this is so heartening.

    • Hello Lara – thank you so much for commenting. If we follow the brave ones like you, then we will begin to have social change. In my own small way, I was trying to rise to Katz’s challenge for more men to speak out, but I am both humbled by, and thankful for, your comment.

    • I agree that men (all of us) have some work to do on creating positive, non-violent conceptions of masculinity, and challenging and supporting each other to live them. However, I’ve become so used to the blaming of “men” (collectively) for the behaviour of particular men (no more fair or reasonable than the Israeli State’s punishment of “Palestinians” collective for the suicide bombings etc of particular Palestinians) that I had to read your comment twice before I noticed it said, “most men do *NOT* rape”. This is part of the problem. Men feeling bad about being men is is just as bad as women feeling bad about being women, and gets in the way of creating the sort of positive male self-identity we need to lift our brothers out of the cycles of abuse.

      I encourage all people, men, women, and otherwise, to challenge both sexism and violence. But it has to be said that just as “free speech” is not a universal defence of the *substance* of a statement (although it is a defence of having expressed it, the difference is subtle but important), claiming to be “challenging sexism” is not a universal defence of a behaviour. I’ll admit it’s the exception, not the rule, but I have met alpha-females who justify bullying, public humiliation, harrassment, stalking, spying and other reprehensible behaviour on the basis that it is “challenging sexism”. It isn’t. All it’s doing is abusing feminism to defend anti-social behaviour, reinforcing negative stereotypes of feminists, and undermining the very important ongoing discussions about gender equality in our society.

      Here’s something a lot of people don’t think about when analysing privilege. Social power is a product of *situations* (intersections of people, places, times). In mainstream social contexts, being female, Māori, an immigrant, queer etc means you probably have less power than someone is male, while, straight etc. However, in activist or “progressive” social contexts, where most people are super-sensitive about their privilege and its potential to marginalize others, and defer to the way members of marginalized groups perceive what goes on, it’s the other way around. The “oppressed” have almost unimaginable social power in those situations.

      Just today I was reading about a classic example of this sort of showboating behaviour exploits that social power, and the massive damage it can cause. The TL;DR is that a man in the audience of a tech conference made some sexual puns using geek jargon, had his photo posted to Twitter by an offended woman sitting in the next row, and lost his job. For making a bad pun. During a private conversation. Does the punishment really fit the crime?

      Perhaps this will make white, male, tech geeks think more deeply about how privileged they are to have their cushy jobs, and how less privileged people would struggle to get such a job in the first place, but I doubt it. More likely, as a female friend of mine put it once, “it makes guys scared of chicks”, and as Blum points out, makes it even harder for women in tech to be fully accepted, rather than othered and feared. Own goal.

      • It’s taken me some time to form a reply to your comment because… this stuff is hard.

        I made a comment that I was pleased to see a man standing up to be counted against violence towards women and children, and that I was a survivor of abuse. This is the context in which your comment was made.

        You complain about the behaviour of some women, admitting it’s the minority, when we speak up about sexism. You focus on smaller instances of sexism, when the original article and my comment focussed on the more extreme abuse and violence.

        You complain that in some social situations the “oppressed” have “unimaginable social power” which to me seems really off. As a woman I have never felt this unimaginable power you speak of, in fact I have noticed that within fringe protest movements like the Occupy movement it is still dominated by white males and women still get raped and abused by them (rape within camps at Occupy movements was a problem which the males did not want women complaining about – which sounds bloody familiar!). And, you know what, even if the “oppressed” as you call others do have power in some social situations, that is not the norm, and so what? Perhaps sometimes in some situations they need to take some power to you know, balance and get some things done, and get the straight white males to sit down, STFU and listen.

        How about instead of focussing on the tone of those few incidents where women speak up loudly and harshly and the consequences are unusual, you focus instead on the original message in the article. Because when you do this refocussing you are minimising the importance of the message; that it is mostly men who rape and abuse, and that if this is going to change then change must include men who step up and stop accepting it from their peers.

        Men feeling bad about being men is NOT a problem equivalent to the damage that some men do to women and others through violence. While you may feel bad, I was raped. Repeatedly. Can you imagine that? Develop some empathy? Compassion? Then stand up, stop complaining and stop accepting sexism in all it’s forms. Redefine what it is to be a man, because that is entirely within your control for yourself. Don’t accept sexism or violence from your peers in any shape or form.

        And to Mr Timmins, this comment from Mr Strype illustrates exactly the kind of opportunity where other men can stand up and speak out in support of changing our culture. Leaving it to women to notice and challenge sexism… not cool dude. Not in this context considering your original article.

  2. The bystander you hope will speak up has to have – either enough standing among the group for his objection to be taken seriously; or enough gumption and conviction to step out of his ‘place in the pack’ to assert his point repeatedly, yet not be shouted or sneered down.

    It’s one of those ‘we don’t do that in our family, community, society, country’ things where the majority of bystanders share the narrative and the person making the ‘off’ statement is clearly out of line.

    In some communities that tipping point, that shared understanding, has yet to be reached. They need to hear and see people they respect giving and living that message – repeatedly. That person doesn’t have to be a sports person or similar Anointed Hero, please note.

    And the people who do believe/live the message that PowerOver is really an expression of soul poverty need to be backed unstintingly – within and beyond the community – as they call others to order and healthy conformity for the higher good of all.

    (Communities are not simply collections of suburbs, streets and houses. They can be trades, crafts, services, enterprises, where like people come together. That’s the way I’m using it for this narrative.)

  3. A while ago, I was at a social occasion, in the course of which another guest told a vile sexist joke about women. I said, “That’s disgusting”.

    The joke-teller, not hearing my response clearly, accused me of telling my spouse not to laugh. I reiterated my initial response. My spouse did indeed not laugh, not because I’d told him not to, but because he shared my view of the joke.

    This sort of careless misogyny is one aspect of the culture described in the above post. I challenge it wherever I encounter it; it helps enormously to have a partner who backs me in this.

  4. Interesting to note how few comments there have been on this post; a fortiori, how few of those comments are from men. I conclude that most men don’t see the issues raised as applying to them. How sad…

    • Yeah, I’ve noticed that too. I guess it’s seen either as a “woman’s issue” or it’s just too uncomfortable for men to address.

      It’s really disappointing actually. After last year’s discussions following the RoastBusters I felt such hope… but the discussion has withered and died.

      On the one hand I want to say to all men that we are your sisters, mothers, daughters, cousins.. that this issue is important because it affects so many women, children and transgender people. But dammit, it should be important not because of our relationships to men, it should be important because we are human beings and deserving of safety.

      But no. It’s easier to fall back on the “don’t go out alone at night, don’t wear short skirts, don’t drink too much” blaming people who get raped for what they’ve done wrong to get raped, than to become involved in a discussion of what it is in our culture that creates men who rape and abuse. I see plenty of men involved online in discussions like the former, and so very few involved in discussions like the latter. So sad.

      And you know what? It makes me really REALLY angry too.

      • @ Lara: it makes me angry too. I note that Stuart Nash’s post on this site has attracted over 100 comments, by the looks of it, many of them male. Yet almost none of them could be bothered to comment on this post, it seems.

        I, too, had hopes that the ghastly roastbusters case would trigger some substantive debate, but it seems not.

        I’ve also been angry at hearing women spout that blame-the-victim tosh. I’ve had a bit of argy-bargy with some of them over the holiday season. Women who do this don’t realise that they’ve bought right into a male worldview. Grrr…

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