New Zealand 25 years on from “Once Were Warriors”


25 years ago a movie exploded on to New Zealand theatre screens. Audiences were shaken, stirred, angered, horrified at what they had just seen. A – within its R-16 censorship rating – cold hard look at something New Zealand had been sweeping under the rug: the dreadful toll of domestic violence on our communities, our families/whanau and ourselves. Once Were Warriors, based on the book of the same name by Alan Duff, shone a light onto things and into places in New Zealand society that people did not want to talk about. 25 years later, what has changed?

To understand the problem we should look at the movie itself, first. It centres around a dysfunctional Maori family whose male head is hopelessly lost – not so much wilfully but perhaps having never known any other way. Handsome, muscular but dangerously prone to violence, which is all too frequently inflicted on his wife, his sons and daughter. Slowly Beth Heke is realising that Jake is too dangerous for her and her family and they need to get out, but not before his eldest son Nig becomes a patched gang member and daughter Grace is raped by an uncle. She commits suicide. One day Beth finds her diary and starts reading through it, then she happens on a page where Grace mentions being raped. The movie ends with Beth and Nig confronting Jake in a pub with his drinking mates including Uncle Bully.

25 years later some things have changed for the better, but all who are working towards ending domestic violence and the effects it has on society know there is a long long way to go. Sexual violence, addiction and domestic violence have not changed much. Whereas then it was almost taboo to grumble about sexual violence, it is becoming more acceptable to make a stand, but not without the real risk of being ostracized by supposed friends and family. Whereas alcohol was probably the substance of addiction in 1994, it is more likely now to be methamphetamine or synthetic cannabis.

In 1994 many people would say “harden up” or “get a divorce, Ma’am”, movements such as White Ribbon Day have brought an annual focus with Defence Force and emergency service personnel turning out. Law changes on the books now make strangulation an offence and police have better training and resources for dealing with such violence. Calls for people who have suffered domestic violence to be allowed time off work to get their lives in order are also happening. Most recently recognizing that pets may be the subject of abuse when victims have walked away from dangerous situations, a pet refuge programme has been established to take pets that cannot be taken by families fleeing.

But unless we address how men come to be bullies, dysfunctional people who only know violence, we will not address the causes of domestic violence in full. Unless we look at the broken homes, the lack of male role models and support for those who have learned right from wrong there will still be the Jake Heke’s who know no other way; the Beth Heke’s who find themselves trapped by powerful figure, but know they need to leave. Tragically there will also be the Grace Heke’s who find themselves propping up the sexual violence statistics and the Nig’s who join a gang. We can avoid this, and 25 years later one would have hoped that significant progress would have been made at the least. But all of the statistics suggest that there is a long way to go before Rena Owen can say that her character Beth Heke has done her job.

 

Toxic masculinity vs non-toxic masculinity


I recently watched a video on masculinity and the need to separate out the good from the bad. By bad I mean the masculinity that leads to, as the narrator says, rape, war and murder.

But this does not mean masculinity is bad. It just means there are two types of it:

  • Toxic masculinity (has any one or more of the following features) – degrades women and/or views them as meat; thinks violence is an acceptable method of solving problems; may feel threatened by women who stand up for themselves
  • Non-toxic masculinity – competitiveness, feeling of duty and the need to be brave in the face of danger

Now, to be clear, this does not condone in any form the “boys will be boys”/”just boys having a bit of fun” behaviour that is toxic masculinity, but for the period that is taken up teaching them to become men boys will indeed be boys. They will want to play computer games with shoot ’em up/war/combat themes; they will go through a period of being under peer pressure to do things that are not necessarily proper such as street racing their cars and want to engage in sexual activity with girls. There will be most probably alcohol involved. It is about learning to use these devices properly and the appropriate environment to do so in. This is where having a male figurehead in the household becomes important. In in an ideal situation that male role model will guide the growing adolescent male into being a young man. This period is what I call developmental masculinity – a type that is when their understanding and exercising of it is clearly in development. It is not a permanent phase and some will quickly grow out of it.

I played Postal and Zombie Apocalypse which were both restricted games. Both involved killing everything in sight. But I understood clearly, as did everyone else I know who played them that this sort of conduct was obviously not acceptable in society. It did not harm us. I do not remember ever having any sudden compulsion to get one of my fathers guns and go kill people. I played Command and Conquer, Civilization and other strategy games and had great fun being aggressive, but at the same time – and maybe this was because I was learning about war time history and the crimes of the Nazi regime – I also would often go back and replay missions to see how cleanly I could carry out my orders.

I watched Demi Moore in Striptease at age 16, just like several others in my age group did. When Mum and Dad were not at home I watched adult only programmes on television until I saw a car in the drive and then like a bullet I was in bed, tucked up and pretending to be asleep – pretty sure others did that too. Did they adversely affect my mind or make me want to do bad things? No.

As an adult I like to go white baiting on the Waimakariri River. I like to have a beer, and mow the lawn. I go to the pub on a Friday night and catch up with a regular bunch of guys for a yarn, a laugh, and something to eat. I watch sport, have no problems with watching the restricted rated movies on the Sky movie channels – some of which are tainted with excessive nudity, violence and other content – all the while knowing just as I did as a teen playing graphic computer games that this is not proper conduct in society. And that is fine with me.

The best men in my life are non toxic. I have a father. He is a man and not apologetic for being one. He drinks beer, is happy to go duck shooting, bag a rabbit with the rifle or hook a 26 pounder from one of the hydro canals in the Mackenzie Basin. He was the coach of my cricket team and taught us all aspects of the game – batting, bowling, and encouraged all to have a go. He was the primary income earner as an environmental planner. But at the same time he taught my brother and myself right from wrong. He taught us never to lay an injurious hand on a lady; that we must have her consent. He and my mother never acted without the other at least knowing.

I have a brother. Like me he did many if not all of the things I have listed above. He turned out just fine. He is very happily married to a lovely lady and is well liked by her family. He has a good paying job and they own a house in Nelson. He tried cannabis at University (I was offered it too, but declined). He has drunk and gotten drunk. He has brought friends home to crash after nights out on the town – all of whom likewise turned out to be thoroughly decent people.

All three of us have maintained our masculinity. Because it is not about whether a man is masculine or not, but whether that masculinity is toxic or not.

 

The rotten structure that is our state care sector


New Zealand is approaching a house that is not all that it seems. It is a place with secrets, a place that explorers might visit but most people would steer well away from. On closer inspection though, signs start to emerge that things are not quite right. There is graffiti on the walls along with dried blood. The people living there are not in the best of condition and give the appearance of being rather rough. Cigarette smoke permeates the atmosphere. This structure might or might not exist in real life. That is beside the point – it is representative of the state in which New Zealand now finds its much maligned state care system for abused people.

The structure is basically a giant rotting building. It looks fine on the outside, but touching any part of it and one suddenly has the impression New Zealand should be steering well away from it. Crumbling, under pressure, with gaping holes down which no one knows who has fallen, the framework for dealing with our abused children and helping them get their lives back without going to prison or into institutionalized care, is in dire need of a sustained funding increase and overhaul.

Duncan Garner’s article in yesterday’s edition of The Press dealt with a man known as Patient A in an inquiry into our state care sector that found a myriad of problems, gross underfunding and resourcing. A combination of basic human rights being repeatedly infringed on a prolonged basis with little or no understanding by the authorities of what they were apparently doing, staff trying to make do with what resources and personnel they had whilst knowing at all times they were skating on very thin ice, had led Patient A to spend more than a decade in and out of care and prison.

Mr Garner is right. This will need a huge change of support. At the very core of Oranga Tamariki is an alleged desire to help our children grow into meaningful adults that help to give New Zealand a future. Fluffy nice words are said by Ministers and the Prime Minister, but where is the detail on policies that will meet the Governments objectives and the necessary rules to enforce them? More to the point who will enforce the rules and how?

.It is this kind of maltreatment and associated failures to address the root causes that makes me concerned about the situation we might have in a generations time where a whole lot of patients who should have been under much tighter control become exploding social bombs. Years of conditioning caused by family abuse, neglect, falling in with the wrong people and no guidance, have turned men who might have been under other circumstances okay, have led them to have monumental problems with society, with people, with the law.

It is this kind of maltreatment that puts in the heads of damaged patients that it is somehow okay to attack other people, other peoples property. Many of the people who commit child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence are born into an environment where this mentality is thriving. In order to address #MeToo we must be prepared to address this.

Having now approached the house does New Zealand want to go in, have a look around and try to understand how its social care system for abuse victims got to this and where we might go from here? Or is New Zealand going to be put off by what it sees and just wants to sweep the whole thing under the carpet?

 

International Womens Day and International Mens Day should complement each other


International Womens Day was on Friday 8 March. It was an opportunity to celebrate everything that females have contributed to society. It was a chance to acknowledge that whilst much good has been done, there is a lot more still to happen, and that not all countries are trying to move their women forward.

In 8 months time we will have International Mens Day. It will be a chance to acknowledge the contribution of men to our society, the issues we face and how we can move them forward. And it is a fully justified international day on the calendar. It is linked to I.W.D. whether either side likes it or not and proponents of both need to realize the opportunities for co-operation are too big to ignore.

To understand fully the problems that caused the #MeToo movement to form, and which drive and will continue to help drive the problem, we must look at the upbringing of men in our society. We must look at the broken families that many sexual offenders come from, the messages that men from those kinds of hostile environments where they would have had to fend for themselves and might have grown up with no father or mother figures in their lives.

I say “we” because both men and women have contributed to this sorry state of affairs and all who have need to own their contribution. I probably sit off to one side from the mainstream #MeToo movement and that is fine by me. I want people to stop and think about why, because there is a purpose behind it.

I am different. From a very early age I have known I am different, and have grown to accept that.  A combination of hearing loss (now compensated by a hearing aid), physical handicap (which has largely been overcome, except for a slight speech impediment) and severe hypertension mean  I grew up mentally in some respects much faster than many in my age group.

It has caused me inordinate amounts of grief. When I was younger and trying to get my head around all of this, there were days when I just wanted to shut myself off from the world. The worst part was missing social cues in various social situations, such as a change of subject, interrupting, not realizing I was not involved and so on. I would get grumpy at some of my best mates for no reason and they eventually stopped being friends and to this day I regret it, but I knew no other way. The one or two times someone confronted me about things I had done or not done I would get upset that no one had the courage to tell me earlier.

When I was at intermediate I experienced heavy and prolonged bullying that only stopped when another classmate got so upset that he went home and told his dad, who rang my Mum. The following day there was an urgent meeting between my mother, myself and the teacher. The perpetrators were very lucky not to get suspended. It was a combination of physical and mental bullying – after P.E. belongings would be thrown into the girls changing quarters so that I would have no choice but to wait until they had changed and left; down trousers; flour being thrown on food I was cooking in home economics classes among other things. Both girls and boys participated in it. The worst though was actually by a girl who smashed my hearing aid.

There was mental bullying too. I was a sissy, a fat bastard, someone who would never be able to love or be loved. I was apparently a pervert and a fiddler. The accusers even arranged a boys only class meeting with the teacher to lay into me with further false accusations.

I am lucky. I had a supportive family. I learnt right from wrong before anything happened. Not everyone does. Because not all boys have that support they are prone to derailing and becoming abusers themselves, but not nearly enough is done to stop that kind of situation happening.

So, my message is simple. We should help our men folk get over bullying, because in turn we are probably doing ourselves a major favour getting them out of an environment where they might come to believe that abusing women is an acceptable idea.

If you do nothing else, show your teenage son/daughter this. It does not need to be like this, but until we accept the damage that this kind of behaviour does, #MeToo will have a purpose for existing.

Being a male in New Zealand


This is a note to the (gentle)men of New Zealand. This is a note that is written in the wake of the Grace Millane murder, and which concerns each and every one of us.

I understand that over the last week whilst this has been playing out, some of you might have wondered where all of the gratitude for the good we have done has gone. For the time being it has to take a temporary back seat. This unfortunately is something we all need to accept collectively as parents, uncles, brothers, nephews, that whilst many of us are indeed a good bunch, the number of guys undermining our great work by abusing women is far too high. It has to stop and we have to take responsibility.

But this article is largely not about that. This is about our other problems – ones not necessarily of our making, but which we are saddled with any way and which we need to stand up and demand assistance.

We have problems that we are reluctant to act on. They are as numerous as they are diverse and we, in a fear of being told by other males and sometimes females too that they need to toughen up, all too often prove reluctant to do anything about them. And this reluctance to act for our well being is harming us, badly.

One is our mental health. That thing in our head which can be exacerbated by our life conditions such as the physical environment we live in; where we work; how our marital and social lives are getting on. You might be the male head of your family and the primary bread winner in the house. That is potentially quite tough, especially if your employment is on the rocks – perhaps the company is not going so well; you might have troublesome employees. It is okay to reach out and ask a colleague you have good reason to think is a bit in the dumps if they are okay. It might save a life.

Another problem is our physical health. Many of us are born and raised to be masculine tough guys who are told only sissies cry. You might have problems with your prostate, but the tough male inside you says not to tell the doctor (even though they might be able to diagnose it). You might have an accident at work and think “bugger it, it’ll be right” and then find you barely get out of bed the following day, but you have half a dozen jobs at work that have rapidly approaching deadlines. You go to work thinking you will try to take it easily and wind up in hospital.

It is quite okay to have a couple of beers after work to chill and maybe talk to a few work colleagues. It was something I did a bit of after work at Environment Canterbury with other colleagues across the road. Most people went went over and had a couple and went home, were happy to have had the chance to de-tune from work.

It is okay to be a male. I do not apologize for being one and nor should you. It is okay to be masculine and play rugby, and be the one who cheers for the All Blacks or the New Zealand Warriors or whatever your sporting code is. It is okay to be disappointed when they are defeated – as a Black Caps fan I am disappointed when New Zealand get a thrashing they could have avoided. But I never take my frustrations out on anyone or anything, because it is after all just a game.

You might look at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and think her talk about kindness and compassion is a bunch of feminine codswallop. Well, actually, no it is not. It is quite okay to care about others around you, yourself, your mates, your loved ones and not only that, but it is quite encouraged.

You might wonder why there is negativity towards males being around children. Well, actually much of it just stems from the unfortunate impact of the Peter Ellis creche abuse case. Not all men are Peter Ellis. It is not your fault that he managed to create a culture of suspicion if males apply to work in creches or other early child care centres and primary schools. That might turn you away from working with children.

But there is nothing wrong at all – contrary to what anyone, females included, might tell you – if you turn up to your daughters netball game and cut the oranges and the apple pieces that the players will eat at half time. On the contrary, well done if you do. Well done for showing you love and care about your daughters well being and give her a decent male role model in her life. It is not only the right thing to do, but also the cool thing. Take pride in it.

So, guys, it is quite okay to be a man. Love your sport, drink your beer (responsibly!), and be a great male head of the family/father/uncle/bro/nephew. But remember you are only human at the end of the day, and when things turn to crap, it is quite okay to ask for help.