I’m sorry for being a man: sorry boys, it is all men.

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.

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13 thoughts on “I’m sorry for being a man: sorry boys, it is all men.

  1. Why not show real hard statistics from proven institutions instead of waffling unproven nonsense. Maybe Cunliffe should have read the following documents/used police stats before he apologised for being a man – maybe also he should apologise to children for abusive mothers too.

    http://www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch/otago014519.pdf

    http://www.odt.co.nz/news/national/227441/children-most-often-killed-mothers

    In all honesty I know you will not allow my comment to go through – but as an abused ex husband in a previously abusive relationship, I cannot help the anger I feel towards the leader of the Labour party spouting absolute garbage on behalf of all men. I am so annoyed.

    1. Ryan, it is absolutely correct to point out that abused children suffer at the hand of men and women. The statistics are that in instances of children’s deaths at the hand of a caregiver, it is about 60% men and 40% women, and 100% horrific tragedy. It is also correct to point out that men suffer abuse in relationships with women; last I read, 16% of arrests for domestic violence were women. I am truly sorry to hear that you experienced violence in what should have been a safe place for you to express yourself and grow; I know from my own experience that violence is something you carry with you for life and it is a struggle to not be defined by it.

      I hope in the same vein that you understand that the majority of the violence committed in our society is against women and children. I hope that your experience has made you an advocate for finding solutions that support the powerless more than the powerful. The overwhelming evidence is that men are powerful in our society. I know you were not, that you are angry about that, and that you are offended your pain was not acknowledged today by Cunliffe or by me. Nevertheless, the policy vision Cunliffe provided today to end violence against women and children is a good vision. It does not preclude him offering a vision for men who experience violence, nor does it condone the actions of women who are violent.

      I am sorry you had that experience, Ryan. I hope you have people who are supporting you.

      P.S. please never presume to know what I or another person will or will not do. It’s rude and it assumes I would choose to ignore people who read my blog. I refuse to approve comments that are from people who do not want a dialogue but want a platform (i.e. trolls) and those who swear and abuse others.

  2. I don’t want or need men to apologize for being men, but I want them to acknowlege that the status quo works for them – and to commit to change. Thanks for writing this.

  3. I also acknowlege what Ryan says. Statistics shouldn’t hide what individuals do – both males and females are capable of violence – physical, sexual and psychological. The backlash from men via male activist groups (in the U.S. particularly)usually emphasizes wrongs perpertrated by women while minimizing the broader consequences of historic and current oppression if women. We can hold more than a single thought in our minds – so if we talk about violence to women it doesn’t mean we don’t also acknowledge damage to males. The world over, if we improve conditions for women, we improve conditions for children – of all genders. Good on a male politician for acknowleging the huge impact of violence in families and committing resources to change – isn’t that the point?

    1. I think your final statement is the key point here: the courage of a male politician to acknowledge violence and show some leadership on it. Here’s hoping it is the start of change.

  4. It is so hard to see why the MSM tries so hard to avoid the full story. Perhaps though, David’s comments in raising a misreported storm also slipped through the reality of violence in our society. So I for one read the whole story and say good.

    1. I suspect it’s easier to deal with the soundbite in the media than it is to provide any indepth analysis of the issue. That’s quite cynical of course.

  5. Finally (sorry for the multiple comments) you say “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.”. However, in one of the links above it shows the opposite. Men, not women, have historically been treated as disposable by society and worth less than women and children. Who went to war to die? Men. Who stayed with sinking ships to die, whilst women and children were given safe passage? Men. 85% of all survivors from the Titanic were women and children, because men were treated as disposable, and stayed behind – given the choice between life and death, men under societal expectations should die, and women and children should survive. It’s pretty clear that men are treated as the disposable entities, whilst we place a great sanctity on the safety and preservation of women and children.

    1. Kia ora Zedd, I’m only going to put up this one comment because if you want a blog, it’s free to start one on WordPress. Nevertheless, I read through the initial cut and paste of Peter’s comment and the two links you put. I paid particular attention to Girl Writes What (http://www.avoiceformen.com/feminism/feminism-and-the-disposable-male/). Thanks for your considered and interested response to my blog.
      Girl Writes What deftly avoids dealing with the actual structures and systems that constitute our society and argues from an existentialist perspective in the gender debate. Put simply, she works on the argument that if I can point out situations where men are disadvantaged than I can extend this to claim that men are actually disadvtanged in both the historic and contemporary settings. This is flawed because it is trying to oversimplify the competing motivations and agendas that we call a society. Even a passing reading of feminism will show that it has become a broad church that tries to engage outside of identity politics with race, sexuality, economics, theology, science and onwards. The reason it has become so broad is because feminists recognised that a feminist reading is inadequate by itself. The fortress walls that Girl Writes What asserts are protecting feminists from really seeing the world around them do not exist. Feminists are their own greatest critics.
      The evidence that Girl Writes What provides is nonsensical. She turns her attention to war and disaster and claims it describes the day to day formulation of a society. War and disaster provide examples of what people do in extreme situations; not what they do in day to day life. War and disaster are often situations which display hypermasculinity, in which males act our archetypal fantasies; women are further objectified, mere objects that decorate the active myth building of the men involved. Men have been encoded with the desire to be the hero and to avoid being the coward in our societies; it is not about the value of women and children, but about the ego and how it is manipulated by the nation state. The same men who saved women on the Titanic could very well have raped women in a time of war. Egocentric hypermasculinity, not chivalrous values, rules here.
      On a softer note, I responded to Ryan about his experience of violence. There is nothing in attempting to influence men to end violence against women and children that means we devalue his and others’ experience of violence. It does disturb me that men who have reacted against Labour’s policy and Cunliffe’s statements cannot see that, indeed see themselves in some kind of war for recognition with women. It emphasizes for me how much of the problem men are.

  6. Thank you for the reply Graham. I like your points about Hypermasculinity, and the manipulation of ego, that provides food for thought. However, it disturbs me that under feminist theory, pretty much anything a male does to be chivalrous is deemed ‘egocentric hypermasculinity’, and ignores the reality that women and children benefited from this practice, however you choose to view the reasons for it. It’s as if many feminists cannot accept that males gave their lives to protect women and children out of chivalry and the desire to protect, at the cost of the greatest sacrifice – their own lives. Why is it any less valid to claim that many feminist ideals are the result of the manipulation of ego, to make women who fight for feminism feel like they have a cause or purpose in life? That without this invisible ‘war’, many people’s purpose in life (the pursuit of feminist ideals) would cease to exist.

    Personally, I find feminism divisive, a belief-system that inhibits both sexes working together to address problems. Females have issues like the wage-gap (which has now closed for women in their 20’s – these women actually get paid approximately 1% more than men for equivalent jobs now), higher rates of sexual abuse (approximately 60% against females and 40% against males), and not enough women in positions of higher power. Men have issues in society such as triple the rate of suicide, a 2,000% higher rate of deaths at work, a significantly shorter life span, they work longer hours, and until recently were significantly disadvantaged in gaining custody of their children in a divorce.

    Almost all men believe in equality, and men fought alongside women in the women’s liberation movement. However, very few feminists raise or even consider these issues that main face, instead pointing the finger and blaming men for all societal ills whilst disregarding the problems facing males within society. If feminists actually DID fight equally for the rights and safeties for both women and men, the vast majority of males would find feminists less argumentative and confrontational, and would be MUCH less likely to disregard feminist concerns out of hand but instead listen and help, because it would also prove that feminists fight for a better society for EVERYONE, not just females at the disregard of males. Whilst you’ve given nice platitudes and ‘sorry’s’ to the males who have commented on this article saying that they’ve been abused, what have you (or any feminists here) actually done to help them? If feminism is really about equality, then surely if males suffer 40% of the abuse, 40% of your time should be spent helping them. You can’t be mother teresa and only help one gender whilst taking food out of the mouths of the other. Platitudes don’t feed people, and platitudes don’t fix rape.

    1. Kia ora anō, far be it from me to speak for any feminists. However, to identify the motivations underpinning chivalry or any other process does not ignore the reality; it unmasks the reality. Nor does it belittle sacrifice, but asks who does sacrifice serve in our wider society. Importantly, none of that analysis can replace this: one person is incredibly grateful because another person sacrificed themselves for them. But we do ourselves a disservice if we are not prepared to hold these multiple realities together.
      So is feminism just another expression of the ego? The question is nonsensical because feminism is first and foremost a way of viewing the world. It does not provide a purpose; it posits an alternative view of what is going on around us. So what happened yesterday was a significant number of men did not like to hear that alternative view.
      Political feminism (again a broad church from capitalism through to anarchism) does posit an alternative belief system, or more particularly a way of organsing society. But broadly, I do not think it is intended to merely switch the power-over systems so women are in charge. Germaine Greer, one of the giants of feminism, said the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, but fraternity. All of the issues you outline above would be better addressed with a fraternal approach where my good is moderated to the common good. We need this wonderful alternative, and feminist, view in our politics today.
      I disagree with you that almost all men believe in equality. Interestingly (and no doubt unintentionally) when you write about it being desirous for feminists to be “less argumentative and confrontational,” you are describing some of the ideals of femininity that are proscribed by our current patriarchy: agreeable and malleable. As men, we are used to control; it’s our legacy. We are nurtured for it. So the enemy is very much within. Most men believe more in their own comfort than equality, without ever seeing who is discomforted. In doing so we miss the wonderful opportunity to accept that over 50% of our population have far more to offer us if they can lead, vision and develop a society in quite different directions.
      Finally, why should it be the responsibility of the oppressed to provide solace to the oppressor? Whenever women argue for equality, men expect them to address men’s own inequalities. Whenever Māori argue for equality, Pākehā expect them to address Pākehā’s own inequalities. If we as men can see other men who are abused and in need, it is our responsibility to help our brother.
      What I have actually done to help is: five years working with homeless men in central Wellington; five years in a community centre providing advice, support and advocacy to impoverished men; run camps and wānanga with young men from dysfunctional homes; mentored young men from unemployment into careers; walked alongside men who have taken their abusers to court; written extensively about a whole and safe view of mana and the role of men in Māori society; sought support for my own issues with other men as my accountability group; raised two sons.
      How about you?

  7. Your arguments have helpful, I like your thoughtful responses. I’ve done a lot of thinking today in between posts, and I’ve tried to look at the system we live in with an open mind. I finally see what feminists say when they talk about a male dominated system – the tv is dominated with male sports, male rap artists, etc. I (and probably most males) never actually noticed that before. If I generalise that observation, I can also see that this structure exists in a lot of corporate environments. So, I’m making progress towards seeing things from your point of view. Thank you for being one of the most balanced feminists out there.

    I’ll give a few quick counter points, and it’ll be interesting to hear your response to these.

    Feminists are a diverse group, and at one end of the scale you do have feminists who are equalists; however, there are also many man-hating misandrists out there who call themselves feminists. These people bring disrepute to the word feminist; this group of misandrists appear to the be loudest group from the perspective of most men, and so each point they make is often an assault on all men (such as the catchphrase ‘all men are rapists’). Similarly, the reason most men simply cannot and will not agree with this article you posted is because NOT ALL MEN cause physical violence and harm, the vast majority are steadfastly against it and will fight to protect women and children. Why should I be grouped in with the crimes of others? If you can’t see that he has no right whatsover to apologise for ‘all men’, something is wrong. If you apologise for someone who hasn’t committed a crime, you’re saying that there is no difference between the people who commit crimes of abuse and those who don’t and/or fight against it. Finally, please watch this video: http://9gag.tv/p/aVYL7p/what-happens-when-the-public-sees-a-woman-abusing-a-man-domestic-violence. It shows two separate incidents (acted), one of a male-assaults female, and another of a female-assaults male. Everyone (females and males) stopped the Male assaults Female, but no-one cared about the Female assaults Male. I put forth that society cares a lot more about females being assaulted than males – not many people care or are willing to help a male, but they all are willing to help a female. Unless this attitude changes, society suffers.

    First, (although this is a minor point) I think that (if your quote is correct) Germaine Greer does not understand the definition of an opposite. If you have X on one end of the sliding scale and Y on the other end, the opposite of X is Y – the opposite is not the middle ground. If you were in an airplane and the pilot dropped you in the middle of the ocean because you asked to be taken to the opposite side of the ocean, you’d have something to say about that. Second, you said “when you write about it being desirous for feminists to be “less argumentative and confrontational,” you are describing some of the ideals of femininity that are proscribed by our current patriarchy: agreeable and malleable.” Do you have any proof for this claim? New Zealand voted for Helen Clarke as Prime Minister because she was outspoken, stood her ground, and was not malleable. One of her finest moments was saying ‘no’ to taking troops to Iraq, and she has done very well subsequently in organisations because she is strong and independent. It appears to me that these traits (strength, confidence, etc) are celebrated whether they apply to males or females, and that arguing otherwise is a deliberate attempt to twist the interpretation of the event.

    Finally, you make the argument that it is not the job of the oppressed to help the oppressors. I say this is false, it is the job of everyone to help everyone. Oppression is part fact, part opinion. Society is pretty equal nowadays in many ways (still not in many ways obviously), but ignoring the problems of half of ALL people just because is not helpful, because those who are in need but are ignored will resent you for it.

    1. The reason that many men will not agree with my post is because they do not see the link between the myriad small ways they condone and perpetuate the patriarchy and the violence of some men against women and children. They will not agree because the publicly place themselves in the group of good men who are against bad men. But this is a creation of men’s fractured identity. There are not good men and bad men; there are only men. And if the only strategy men have is to “fight” for “their” women and children, their chattels and their beliefs, then violence at all levels will remain central in our society. Violence is not just physcial harm; it is sexual, emotional, psychological, systemic, economic and more. We need feminism because the patriarchy has exhausted and undermined men’s capacity to innovate and create a new way of being.
      In all of that will be angry women. Angry because of the violence they have suffered, angry because of the exclusion they have suffered, angry because of the injustice they see, angry because they have found their own power that allows them to be angry. They may say harsh, clashing, angry, hurtful truths. But in each of those arguments that an affront and a hurt to us as men, there is truth.
      We need to be careful when we put women who have succeeded in the patriarchy as evidence feminism has achieved its aims. Helen Clark is a good case in point. We have this naive belief that if a pioneer succeeds everyone else can follow along. Yet the reality is that all that actually happens is women have to always be the pioneer in the patriarchal systems, always having to be better because they are more highly scrutinised. Remember how Helen Clark was scrutinised about her feminine credentials? Was she a lesbian hiding behind that less then masculine husband of hers? Why did she have no kids? Look at her teeth, look at her looks. The woman is always subject to our gaze because as men we presume the power to judge women. Women meet our standards or they are untrustworthy.
      Finally, I can assure you from the experience of my Māori family here in Aotearoa that oppression is all fact and an uncomfortable opinion. Our society is so fundamentally unequal today that the OECD, the IMF and the UN have all warned us to beware civil unrest. Equality is a myth, oppression the status quo.

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