Controlling men

To continue the annus horribilus that is 2014, the at least 35 young men who called themselves the Roastbusters and sexually assaulted and raped at least 110 young women were not charged after a three year investigation because of lack of evidence. The positive Police spin as to the thoroughness of their investigation did nothing to quell the entirely appropriate public outrage at the lack of action.

A year ago I wrote How New Zealand men raised their sons up to be Roastbusters, my reaction and response to the initial revelations. The question I attempted to address then and that is still hanging is how our Aotearoa New Zealand culture condones and encourages a masculinity that ultimately leads to sexual predators. Over the past year other men have also made small steps to ask similar questions, notably David Cunliffe in his speech to a Women’s Refuge forum.

With the ineffecutal response from the Police, comment quickly turned to what we should do. Unfortunately, the commentary then quickly turned to a desire to disassociate from the young men involved. The Roastbusters have been ejected; commentary has ensured that they are not a reflection of our society, but a horrific exception, an outlier. The problem we create by painting these young men as the deviant other is that, in such a role, they can never be reintegrated into our community. Men are dangerous, an unwelcome barbarian in what would otherwise be a functional society.

In the same week as the Police decision on the Roastbusters, a video went viral on Youtube that condensed 10 hours of a young woman walking in New York and the over 100 incidences of harassment by men as she passed. Aside from the quick accusations of racism in the video (which are valid and concerning), the question that has received the most comment is whether what she experienced was indeed harassment (if she didn’t want the interaction, then it is harassment). Julia Hartley-Moore provided a most stunning polemic of the video on the Panel, and I paraphrase, arguing that women “are so hard on men” and needed to accept a wolf whistle as an encouragment rather than harassment. Male commentary, such as it is, has mainly been from older white men asserting that it’s all PC rubbish and in good fun. All of which brings us again to the conclusion that men are dangerous, an unwelcome barbarian in what would otherwise be a functional society.

Certainly the behaviour of all the men above covers the gambit from sexual offending to sexual harassment to boorish idiocy. I hope my previous blogs, my Twitter and Facebook posts will be evidence enough that I deplore the behaviour and deplore the media response.

However, I also deplore the conclusion that men are by definition a danger to women and our society. We are a part of this society, not a threat to this society. We need space in the public square, in the forum of public debate, to explore ideas, to make an argument and to try out different approaches. However, I have found myself attacked for arguing for the inherent worth of all men and for a relational response to offenders and predators; when I argued that offenders and predators are capable of transformation within positive and respectful relationships with other men, I was accused of essentially condoning their actions.

I have been told in no uncertain terms in social media that the male sexual urge is an “innate instinct” that inevitably leads some men to sexual crimes. I don’t believe that. I believe that abuse and trauma in boys can lead them to regard others as objects and from their experience of abuse they tend to source their own capacity for power and pleasure in the phallus. This leads some to sexual crimes and leads the many to stunted and inadequate relationships. I believe an experience of good therapy can reawaken the archetypal child and wild man within, can reconnect men with emotion and feeling and onwards to deeply connected relationships. We are not driven by instinct; we retreat to instinct from the abuse we’ve suffered as men in a society that only values the shallow masculine.

I have been told in no uncertain terms in social media that men need to be reintegrated into society to stop and “control behaviours” that are undesirable. I don’t believe that. Men need more freedom not more control. Men have an inordinate amount of power that we have used to control others for our economic and social benefit. All of that power and control has led men to suicide, health problems, mental health problems, sexual problems. It is a psychological and sociological reality that the oppressor suffers alongside the oppressed; the emancipation of the oppressor is tied to the emancipation of the oppressed. Freedom and opportunity for women will not come at the expense of freedom and opportunity for men; it will come alongside it. The more we attempt to control men, the further we will be from a society that frees women from the oppression they currently face.

It is these views that led a woman on Twitter to comment that “I regard yr attitude as contributing to prob.” I am petty enough to say I was annoyed; I am big enough to say I can see her perspective. I just think her perspective is wrong. I try to be an ally to feminists. I’m not quite sure if men can be feminists, but if they can then I would claim to be one. But I am sure that I am a man. I like being a man. I want to be the best man I can be. I think my experience of the masculine and feminine is through this lens. And I cannot find it in me to hate other men for their failures and crimes, however horrific and damaging. I can only look through my lens and say to them, “I understand and I believe you can change.”