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.