Welcome to New Zealand, #MeToo. It’s a long haul to this place that is far from everywhere, but you got here eventually. Thanks to Ali Mau, an Aussie import who has lived for many years in New Zealand, the #metoo traveller has arrived at last and found a host worthy of its VIP status.
Its arrival hasn’t been without controversy, of course, stirred up by both men and women. The main complaint being that innocent men’s lives may be ruined, and it’s unfair to dig up the past. Yeah, way better to let sexual abusers just live their lives without a backward glance at the devastation they have left behind. Their victims often have their lives shattered, but better that than ruining abusers and their families’ lives, especially if the abuser has a promising career ahead, or is a ‘rainmaker’*. The fear of innocent men being accused of sexual abuse is a valid one, as is the fear of being wrongly accused of any crime, and in fact both occur at about the same small percentage. According to the NZ Law Commission only about 12% of reported rapes lead to a conviction, and around 90% of sexual offences go unreported. So, far from the danger of us drowning in a sea of falsely accused men who get their lives ruined, we are still more likely to be drowning in a sea of men who have committed sexual offences and ruined the lives of others.
The guise of an abuser is many and varied, and not confined only to males, however, they are still predominantly male, and predictably it’s predominantly males making known their anger at #metoonz. In general, the worst of online anger and threats of violence are written by men, and can number in the hundreds in a single thread. It is disturbing and worrying to see this anger and violence so close to the surface. I would like to believe that it is just a snapshot of only a small segment of the male population – and hope that that’s not just wishful thinking.
But, I have also heard talk that young men are showing disturbing signs of disrespect for women by the time they’re in their early teens. In an interview about his latest book, well-known and prolific Australian author, Tim Winton, said this about his observations of young men: “It was in the surf, for example, that I first began noticing something less than lovely about the local boys: a spiky nihilism; a contempt for gentleness and decency; and most worryingly, a reflexive misogyny. It was mainly the things they said to one another. About women, and girls. About other races, too, and even about nature. Some of these guys were the full Dickhead Package. They were rednecks. But there was also a script there. It was almost as if they were rehearsing what they thought a real man should be like.”
So, where are the good role models for young men?
I am proud of my niece who recently guided her young son to think about the part he played when he and a handful of other boys surrounded a girl in their class, and held her in a way that she couldn’t escape so they could kiss her, and how that would have made the girl feel. After her talk with him, he voluntarily wrote this letter to the girl.
I’m proud of that wee man, too. Their teacher was also to be commended for implementing disciplinary action, and not dismissing it as “just a bit of fun” or “boys just being boys”.
However, we need good male role models, too.
Whilst #metoonz is about bringing sexual abusers to justice, it is also about highlighting how our culture, based on the patriarchal ideology of ‘power over’, does not serve the vast majority of people well. Women and men both suffer at the hands of this ideology by the few whom it enables to misuse their positions of physical, social, workplace, and/or material power. Recent political trends towards neo-liberalism (a modified form of liberalism tending to favour free-market capitalism) work hand-in-hand with the worst aspects of patriarchal ideology. Neo-liberalism’s strong emphasis on the individual does not encourage respect and equality for all. Instead, it serves to put extreme power and entitlement in the hands of a few, whilst making it increasingly impossible for those who have less power to attain any.
Nothing exists in a vacuum. As we are politically manipulated more and more towards individualism, communal respect and equality in our societies will inevitably disintegrate alongside it. We need the right social and political environments to encourage the right behaviours. We can’t say that we want good behaviours in our communities and families, whilst our political policies don’t encourage that. So, more than #metoonz being the “witch hunt” it has been derided as, it is a chance to expose the rot for all to see, and have conversations about how we can incorporate changes into our world.
Welcome to New Zealand #MeTooNZ.
*In business, a rainmaker is a person who brings in new business and wins new accounts almost by magic, since it is often not readily apparent how this new business activity is caused. It means generating substantial new business or additional cash flow from sources sometimes outside established business channels, sometimes by connecting with people in non-traditional or hidden markets, and sometimes by prompting current clients to spend more money. A rainmaker is usually a key figure in the business or organisation, not merely a salesperson but a principal or executive who is usually highly regarded within the enterprise.