Friday 8 November 2013

Fathers And Sons

Assumptions Of Complicity: The young men involved in Roastbusters projected a jarring sense of invulnerability: an assumption that their sexual humiliation of young women was just the normal stuff all young men engage in. It was an attitude which received a measure of endorsement from media figures who described the Roastbusters' behaviour as "mischief".

IT WAS THEIR SMIRKS that enraged me the most: the “Roastbusters’” easy assumption that every male in New Zealand was envying them. Telling us: “You want this, too. This is your best fantasy. We’re doing everything you ever dreamed of doing but didn’t – because you never believed anyone could possibly get away with it.”
And there was more.
The mocking expression on these young men’s faces was also saying: “You’re complicit in this because, deep down, you’re just like us. Deep down, your view of women is no different from ours. They’re meat. You chew them up. You spit them out. And if you can organise a bit of a laugh at their expense along the way – then so much the better!”
How has New Zealand raised such sons?
That’s a question only New Zealand’s fathers can answer.
What sort of example have we set?
When New Zealand was governed by a woman, did the nation’s fathers indicate to their sons that this was a state of affairs of which they should be proud? Were they outraged on their sons’ behalf when their workmates and drinking buddies stood around the barbecue making jokes about her looks, her voice, her sexuality – or did they join in the ribald laughter?
Paraphrasing Dr Martin Luther King, did they tell their sons that a woman is to be judged not by the shape of her body, but by the content of her character?
Do New Zealand’s fathers teach their sons that before anybody is male or female; black or white; gay or straight; intelligent or stupid; beautiful or ugly: they are first and always a human-being?
And, since they are human, their irreducible share of humanity’s common inheritance must be acknowledged and respected.
Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, puts into the mouth of his character Shylock, a despised Jewish moneylender, what is perhaps the greatest appeal to our common humanity in all of English literature:
“Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses affections passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”
What is missing from the education of our sons that so many of them seem incapable of even the most basic empathy? Why, when invited to participate in the “Roastbusters” theatre of cruelty, were so many West Auckland boys incapable of imaginatively trading places with the young women they were planning to abuse? What was it that prevented their consciences from shouting out on their pitiably young victims’ behalf: “If you stupefy us, and gang-rape us, and broadcast our humiliation on Facebook? Will we not want to die?”
In attempting to explain the “Roastbusters’” appalling behaviour, many New Zealanders will point to the pornographic images that are now so easily available on the Internet. They will argue that the “message” young men are taking from these staged sexual encounters is that women enjoy being dominated and abused, and that a man is not a man unless he is capable of deriving sexual pleasure from dominating and abusing his female partners.
Given the ubiquity of both the Internet’s pornographic websites and of the devices required to access them, it is surely past time that New Zealand’s teenage men and women were given a more wholesome series of messages regarding not only what they have a right to expect from one another sexually, but also regarding their fundamental human rights.
The “Roastbusters” revelations make it very clear that our secondary schools’ sex education syllabus is in need of urgent revision. Against pornography’s messages of exploitation and abuse we must counterpose the messages of respect, compassion and equality. Not only for our daughters’ safety, but also for our sons’.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 November 2013.


Anonymous said...

No comments so far, Chris, and I wonder why. Is it because, even though we are appalled by the actions of these males, it is still unfashionable to criticise society's access to pornography? It is well past time for a nation wide debate, and action, on the issue.

Unknown said...

Chris,I hardly ever comment on your blog but I'm really moved to this time. You are, I think, absolutely correct - although "raunch culture" has an effect on HOW young people act, it's not the reason WHY they act. In fact, I'd go further. The fact these young men (self) publicise their appalling actions on social media is positive. Facebook didn't cause them to drug and assault young women who have no legal ability to consent - but it has allowed the rest of us to learn of their appalling behaviour and, crucially, for pressure to be put on the police to do their job. I'm reminded of one of the few good things the Daily Mail did - naming the murderers of Stephen Lawrence on their front page and inviting them to sue for defamation; and none did. If only a media outlet in this country had that courage, instead of the craven stupidity of Willie J and JT (and others). They, and the "men" like them, should ask themselves this question - "what would I do if this happened to my daughter, sister, mother?" Men have to solve this problem - the best place to start would surely be to treat all women and girls with respect, that is, if you wouldn't want something to happen to your loved ones, why would you do it to anybody else? Just basic humanity really ...

Brendan McNeill said...


You are calling upon the ethos of a predominantly Christian culture that you were raised in and that our children do not share. We live in an age of post modern moral relativism where there is your truth and my truth and both are equally valid.

The prevaling 'virtues' are tolerance, diversity and equality. Who are you to be intolerent of their sexual preferences, their diverse youth cultural values, the equality of their sexual preferences?

Of course I speak in irony, but if you sow this nonsense into the minds of the next generation, what did you expect to reap?

Respect for other human beings? Self control?

Anonymous said...

"Against pornography’s messages of exploitation and abuse we must counterpose the messages of respect, compassion and equality."

Er.. We do.

Anonymous said...

Not convinced by the mantra that porn is the over-riding cause of this behaviour - tho' it make of course have some impact on thick minds. For the real source of this terrible absence of empathy we should be looking at 30 years of mind-numbing neo-liberalism - and the way it annihilates any potential for empathy, replacing community-mindedness with brutal individualism. These young men (who it would seem are rich kids) would know of no other ideology. If we don't dynamite neoliberalism we'll never fix this.

Anonymous said...

"Do New Zealand’s fathers teach their sons that before anybody is male or female; black or white; gay or straight; intelligent or stupid; beautiful or ugly: they are first and always a human-being?"

Chris, this is part of the issue, and right, the fact is, NZ has become, like most of the world, a "raw" place, where it is all about dollars, money, earning your way, promoting yourself, proving you are someone, getting YOUR message and ideas across, no matter what. That is the set of ideas the neo-liberal, laissez faire, competitive free market ideology preaches, and we have had this for nearly 3 decades.

Some will come with their moral lecturing now, saying, hey hard-working, hard earning fathers (and parents) do not necessarily do such things, just because of that.

I ask though, what "culture" is left here in NZ, which as honestly always struggled a fair bit with a "cultural identity"? There is only the culture of the modern day law of the jungle, like make the most of it, do what you can and can get away with, take what you can get, and get YOUR way, thanks!

This country has a seriously broken social fabric, and on top of that comes the influences that come with modern internet and mobile communications. There is nothing "private" anymore, anything can be captured and passed on immediately, even across the whole web, for thousands and millions to watch and hear.

So we have a young generation knowing none else, and to some degree using this, in good and bad. We see now how disastrous the developments of recent decades have become.

This is irreversible, and we need new "culture", new "codes of behaviour", new social interaction. We must also set clear boundaries, as this internet and other communication environment dehumanises, photos, captures, recordings are shared and sent around, without every consent needed. There is also technical "connectivity", but a total break-down in "social connectivity". We have become endless lots of isolated individuals and "islands of individuals" and "groups", and there is NO more cohesion.

All this must prompt a solid rethink about what we have, what goes on, and where we want to head as a "society" from here (if we still can call this assembly of "residents" on these isles a "society")!

Kat said...

Mandatory experience on board a training ship(s) such as the Spirit of New Zealand for all. Think about it.

Well, on board a waka then, if you object to such an example of colonial oppression as a tall ship.

ak said...

Perhaps most depressing of all is the female complicity in the legacy of the Helenhate campaign.

"Yes, the bitch session. We need that male stability at the top."

The obscene acquiescence of every relatively favored clique of every oppressed class of yore.

"I'm alright Jacquie. The devil take hose poor fat slags without the looks of me or Miss Fisher."

Unknown said...

This is one of the most powerful and accurate pieces of writing I have read in a long time - well done!

Unknown said...

These words are so true. I think It goes further too. It is a culture that allows the image set by The Mayor of Auckland as well. That this whole area of our existence, is some sort of game that in fact has 'rules' that allow some dysfunction to be seen as normal.Len never raped anyone ,as many are keen to point out, but the standard set, the male message behind the actions of these types is the same. A BLATANT DISREGARD FOR WOMEN. In Lens case it was his wife and daughter. Out right rape is not the only 'bad' message out there. And this was a community leader. ALL part of the same letting down of our women folk.Consensual, is not an excuse when stepping out side your marriage.It is no wonder, the next generation have no moral boundaries.If you beat some one in a bar, and the police arrive, they will charge you without a formal complaint, in fact the victim is often just a witness.

Daniel Copeland said...

I'm afraid I can't agree that porn is the root of the problem. There is certainly a lot of degrading stuff out there, but one of the mixed blessings of the internet is that if you're interested in erotica that views its subjects as human beings and equals, that's also pretty easy to find. If these young men are mostly looking at degrading stuff it's because they were mostly looking for degrading stuff.

I had an insight into the origins of New Zealand's rape culture a couple of years ago. I was taking the bus from my house, which is near Carisbrook in Dunedin, to a family event on the other side of town. There had just been a rugby match at Carisbrook -- it may well have been the last one ever held there -- and the bus was full of loud young men. About half a dozen of them started singing, and soon nearly everyone had joined in. At first the song was innocuous:

"Everywhere we go / People want to know /
Who we are / Where we come from..."

(each line being sung once by the leader and once by the whole group). But after a bit of rugby-bragging they got to the verses that went

"I wish that all the ladies / Were buns in a bakery /
And if I were a baker / I would cream them all myself /
I wish that all the ladies / Were potholes in the road /
And if I were a tractor / I would fill them with my load..."

The one other man besides me who wasn't singing along, rang the bell and got off with evident disgust at this point. If I hadn't had to get right across town I'd have done the same.

So I can well believe Marianne Elliott when she says "There is a reason I was afraid to get drunk at rugby parties." No, I don't think pornography is the problem. I think the Kiwi Bloke concept of masculinity is the problem. We need to come up with a different way to demonstrate strength and solidarity.

Jen said...

"You are calling upon the ethos of a predominantly Christian culture that you were raised in and that our children do not share. We live in an age of post modern moral relativism where there is your truth and my truth and both are equally valid."

Brendan, what rubbish. I was born and raised an atheist. I know from experience that we don't need Christianity and 'traditional' Christian morality to help us cultivate respect, kindness, understanding as our shared social values. That's what those boys were missing, and not because of 'relativism' or 'tolerance', both of which concepts you fundamentally misunderstand. The values of human care don't disappear with Christianity or moral conservatism. Not unless we are somehow incapable of encountering those values in their own right, perhaps because we have instead decided to depend on gods and churches to supply them.

Davo Stevens said...

It's too easy to make excuses and blame something else like the availability of Porn.

The question with these young "heroes" is "Where the hell were their fathers?"

Why didn't their fathers instill good values in their offspring? Apparently they all come from well-to-do families so why do they behave like this? Something is seriously wrong with the way they have been brought up.

I hope they get prosecuted and spend a long time in gaol although I suspect that they will get a small slap on the wrist because of their "Connections".

Anonymous said...

Our human progress is why we walk on two feet.Our children today are maturing in their bodies way above our youths and im 60 years and my youth was born in cultural revolution.

Our youths progress of physical maturity is for all to see,yet their intellect and knowledge is bombasted, by their adult culture, a culture that modern society exploit and profit as adults without care of the damage of the message.

Unknown said...

Yes, Helen Clark was despised because she was a woman. But she was as tough as a man but had the soft heart of a woman. She personally intervened on behalf of my special needs grandson and made his school toe the line...

Davo Stevens said...

I raised 4 children to adulthood and their mother and I instilled a good sense of right and wrong in them. They weren't perfect, nor were we. All of them have turned out to be fine citizens with families of their own.

Just because something is legal doesn't make it right! A good moral judgement is required regarding one's behaviour.

Boys don't mature until their low twenties and that is where their fathers should have stepped in and corrected their behaviour. If they don't do that, they are condoning that bad behaviour.

Anonymous said...

After what Jackson and Tamihere said we can see that rape culture is alive and well. Is Labour going to do anything one wonders?