Labour released a very impressive domestic violence policy today. They have committed to putting $60 million over four years into frontline services, primary prevention and education. They’ll provide specialist advice and reform in the justice sector to put the victim at the centre of the process. They’ll look at how to strengthen current processes around protection orders. But the significant statement is they will set a goal to eliminate violence against women and children and will co-ordinate this nationally. The sector needs a clearly articulate goal and it needs the centralised co-ordination.
However the focus was not on this policy today. It was on David Cunliffe for apologising for being a New Zealand man in light of the terrible reality of the violence faced by women and children here. That was shortened to he apologised for being a man.
The response in Twitter was rabid from men who followed the line of either #NotAllMen or #WhatAboutTheMen; the former saying it’s a few bad apples, whilst the latter asked when men who suffered violence were going to get noticed. Both of those groups are at the very least connected by the shared belief that this is not a gender issue, it is a violence issue. Both of those groups of my fellow men are fundamentally wrong and wilfully deluded.
New Zealand remains a patriarchal society that intentionally oppresses women to the advantage of men. Women consistently earn lower wages than men and are making little in-road on the wage gaps. The role of child-bearer and child-carer are devalued because most of our economic models cannot put a value on the activity. This primarily affects women, who are poorly supported because of the lack of economic value, best demonstrated in the poor level of paid parental leave. Men in familes are not supported to take paid parental leave because it is presumed it is the job of women. Women’s social and sporting activities are regarded as inferior, for example the poor coverage of the Black Ferns’ journey to defend the rugby world cup for a record fifth time. Women are judged by their looks and appearance, as in recently when Metiria Turei had to defend a coat she wore in a policy debate. Our society condones men dodging their responsibilities to their children and partner due to poorly enforced child support laws, which links to the high number of sole parent families in our country. Violence by men against women accounts for 86% of domestic violence arrests and 98% of sexual violence arrests.
New Zealand remains a patriarchal society that intentionally oppresses women to the advantage of men. The above are neither errors nor exhaustive, but the reality of our society.
I long at this point to tell my own experience of domestic violence here. But I can’t because of relationships. Suffice to say that when I hashtagged #strongwomen and #kiritapu this week with my mother’s name, there is a complex story of a woman who protected her children. Previously most people would have been unaware of this as it is not something they need to know. So today I’ve had some friends who know I have a black sense of humour send variations on messages of “I’m so, so sorry for being a man.” I’ve not replied because in one sense it’s harmless and between confidants. In another sense it highlights the incredible challenge we face in dealing with domestic violence: most men don’t think they’ve done anything all that bad and haven’t physically abused their partners. So for them, Cunliffe’s comments smack of presumption and dramatics.
My experience in community development has given me a different perspective. When I say the words domestic violence my head is filled with images:
- A woman who worked the streets in Wellington whose partner, stone cold sober, regularly beat her to the point of hospitalisation.
- An acquaintance who led a community team who asked me, in a moment of desperation, if it was normal to be required by her husband to have sex three to four times a day.
- A friend struggling with her mental health whose husband left her monthly with all children to commune with nature for three to four days.
- A woman and her children sitting in my office who had decided that day to leave for good, and were scared to be seen out the window because he was searching with weapons.
- A girl who presses herself physically against me when she is talking because she’s been taught through abuse that intimate contact is persuasive.
- A woman who had been on the block with a gang, and laughed about it as one of the funny moments of her life. Her eyes weren’t laughing.
The men who hashtagged #NotAllMen and #WhatAboutTheMen today would say, of course we must respond when they hear these stories. But they fail to see the causal link between these stories and the patriarchal society I have described above. Yet these situations are possible because women and children are worth less than men in our society, and we raise boys to believe in their right to power-over relationships.
My brothers, we have oppressed our mothers, our sisters, our wives and lovers, our daughters. David Cunliffe was right in his apology, and it is one we should all make as men. We have benefitted from the misery of women and the first step in the recovery of dignity and wellbeing is admittance.
So I join David today in saying to all my sisters: I am sorry for being a man.