Saturday, 5 July 2014

Not All Men (but enough of them)

On Friday night there erupted a political twitterstorm that raged through New Zealand's various bloggers, twitter users and media types like a self-righteous fire. David Cunliffe, leader of the Labour party, made a comment that in the context of his speech on domestic violence and violence against women (DV/VAW) was profound and moving but when reduced to five words (thanks, New Zealand Herald!) it made him sound like an idiot.

The storm erupted after our glorious leader and sometime beer-pong-playing friend of the minorities John Key said that he thought the speech was "silly" and then trotted out the three words guaranteed to raise the hatred levels of DV/VAW campaigners everywhere, "Not all men..." and thus the firestorm was sparked.

I'm not going to report on the firestorm, we're still dousing the last few embers and surveying the wreckage but instead explain why I personally felt it worth my Friday evening to argue, be insulted and end up an emotional wreck when what I should have been doing is drinking lemon lime and bitters at a party up in town.

As someone who has experienced both abuse as a child and partner violence as an adult, this matters to me on a very deep level. It matters to have a man who is in power recognise the part all men play in making a hostile environment for women. I am around 90kg, I lift weights for fun and I can outrun most people but I still have to tell myself to keep calm, fists bunched in pockets, when I walk to my car late at night through underlit streets. I am a 31 year old jeans-wearing scruff but I still have to put up with strange men assessing my fuckability, rapeability, molestability if I dare to go out on my own in some places. Online, my appearance is picked apart and insulted when discussing topics lightyears away from how I wear my hair. I have the most beautiful, wonderful men in my life as friends but I have listened to them talk about women in the most derogatory terms and it creates a knot of fear and distrust in my stomach because how do I speak out to my friends and tell them how they hurt me? Do they use that language to describe me when I'm not there?

Just sayin' John.
Key's rebuff that "Not all men" ignores the innate climate of distrust that we women live with every day. We live in a society that considers the only "real" rape to be one committed by a hooded stranger lurking in a bush, and condemns us for any perceived lack of constant vigilance against these extremely rare monsters, whilst ignoring the actions of loving husbands, partners, fathers and sons who rape us and beat us and make us feel worthless whilst telling us we should be grateful they're in our lives at all. We're expected to be fearful of strange men when we leave our homes, because should we be attacked our every action in defence or ourselves will be judged, yet we also know to be wary of the ones we allow over our threshold. We hear you say to your mates about how you raped that test you sat or how you'd fuck the air out of that waitress and we sit with averted gaze and ask ourselves through what lens are you looking at us?

Every man who wants to defend the stance of "Not all men" needs to first reflect on the part he plays in this culture. When your mates down the pub are loudly making jokes about rape, are you silent? Do you join in with the laughing? Unless you are actively calling them out on their behaviour, then you're part of the problem. Be mindful of yourself and how you are viewed by women. Be the one to cross the road, press for your floor in the lift first, take up less space on the bus. Until every man makes the effort to make this country a place where women can walk to the shops after dark without fear, then we will continue to see you all as a potential threat until proven otherwise.

That is why so many women on Friday stood up and applauded that speech. That is why so many women argued to the point of exhaustion against men who assume that just because they don't actively beat up their partner that this issue does not concern them. We argued and we shared despite the pain and the frustration because tomorrow, the men playing devil's advocate and arguing that they never hurt anyone will wake up as normal, whereas we women will wake up in a world where we still feel the need to walk to our cars with our keys gripped between our fingers.

If you truly are one of those good men, then you should not have found Cunliffe's words a threat to your selfdom. The fact so many of you did spoke volumes to those of us who were listening.You want us to believe that #notallmen? Here is your chance to prove it to us.

Want to help? Almost all assistance for women in violent relationships and support for victims of sexual assault is reliant on public support. Please consider donating your money, time or much-needed items. This is just a small selection of the many organisations working tirelessly in NZ to make life safer for all women. 


  1. Thanks
    Sorry to hear about your male friends who speak in derogatory way of women. Some of us don't. And I agree 100% that we live in a society where just the presence of men can create fear in women. #Teamkey and his fans just DON'T want to understand Rape Culture.

    1. Some of you indeed do not but it is the endemic thoughtlessness that comes from entire lives being brought up believing in men's inherent superiority that is the problem. Anyone in a privileged position has internalised that privilege and it's a long hard road to acknowledge and deal with that, but anyone who's trying deserves credit. Thanks for the link!