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.


Of gays and Freedom of Speech

Over the last week a raging storm has been in progress in rugby. No, it wasn’t the one that pounded the Canterbury Crusaders with heavy, rain and hail on Saturday night – audibly and visually spectacular as it was – so much as one kicked off by the comments of Australian rugby player Israel Folau about gays and hell.

But just as an atmospheric storm does, this has sucked in unstable air from across the board – politicians, Pastors, rugby bosses, fellow players and former All Black Sir Michael Jones have all jumped into the debate. Some of them have sought to fuel the storm. Some have attempted to calm the storm

Mr Folau, a Christian by faith, stated that Gods plan required people to repent their sins or be prepared to suffer for eternity. His statement went onto say that he thought gays would go to hell unless they repent of their sin and turn to God.

Mr Jones, a devout Christian himself perhaps spoke the wisest words of anyone so far. He acknowledged Mr Folau’s right to his opinion with grace, but then pointed out that with an opinion that might be divisive such as this, one must temper it with love and respect for the other person. As a newly elected Board member of New Zealand Rugby, a place that has had some rather unfortunate brushes with issues of sexism and sexuality, Mr Jones would have been seeking to look after N.Z.R.’s best interests when seeking to moderate the tone.

Wise words. Much more intelligent and gracious than those that were uttered by Pastor Brian Tamaki. Mr Tamaki, whose anti-LGBTQ views are widely seen as divisive, inflammatory, and in some quarters, degrading made use of the hash tag #CryBabyGays highlight on social media his problem with the LGBTQ community.

But there are also very credible reasons for showing concern about the impact this debate and Mr Folau’s words has on people of poor mental state, especially those who might have harboured suicidal thoughts or showing symptoms of depression. Nigel Owens, a widely respected international rugby referee, who is openly gay told media that he had fought his own demons in the 1990’s when realizing what his sexual orientation was. It came a head with him considering suicide in 1996.

Labour Member of Parliament for Manurewa and former Black Fern Louisa Wall spoke out against Mr Folau’s commentary. As the author of the Same Sex (Definition of Marriage)Amendment Act, 2013, Ms Wall believes they are dangerous and send the wrong messages to people struggling with sexual identity issues. Ms Wall goes on to say that rugby contracts between player and club should have a clause in them forbidding bringing the game into disrepute.

I personally have no problems with Mr Folau having an opinion. Anyone is entitled to one. But with an opinion as Mr Jones noted, one needs to be aware of its potential for negative impact and a willingness to make utterances with respect and grace.

This particular thunderstorm is going to rumble on for a while longer yet. More politicians and other identities on the social landscape of New Zealand and Australia might yet jump in with their own views of what is going on.

Across the Tasman Sea, Australian rugby might be sharpening the knives, but who are they sharpening them for? They should not be sharpening for Rugby Australia Chief Executive Raelene Castle who through no fault of her own finds her tenure plunging headlong into a socially and professionally explosive issue. If they are sharpening for the scalp of Mr Folau, it might be remembered that to his considerable credit he did offer to quit the sport that he no doubt loves and has until now represented Australia with great skill in.


The supposed war on (largely) “old white men”

The recent speech by Minister of Womens Affairs, Julie Anne Genter, seems to have touched a raw nerve in some perhaps not so surprising areas. Whether it is on talk back radio with Chris Lynch, Mike Hosking or in the print media with Kate Hawkesby, some touchy characters have come out of the woodwork complaining about a supposed war on “old white men” (and old white women?). Is the war really on, or just a figment of conservative imaginations gone mad?

But before we start, I want to single out two particularly awesome people in my life. My parents John and Sue Glennie are, along with my brother Craig, the primary reasons I am who I am. The general knowledge, technical aptitude and social outlook they have instilled in me has made people remark in respect of my knowledge and at the same time marvel that I am a car groomer by profession.

She is a lady of incredible generosity, support and compassion. She was at home when I collapsed in the hallway with high blood pressure in 1989. She has been at my side through all of my medical trials, good and bad. She has made sure I get my medicine. Her time in Papua New Guinea as a charge nurse in Wewak gave her vital experience in the medical system. She has taught me much about social compassion and understanding the mechanics behind the scenes about why people behave as they do and how their circumstances influence them.

He is a man of immense integrity, fairness, and kindness. He has raised two very capable sons and now has an equally capable daughter-in-law. John Glennie taught me much of what I know today about environmental planning and sustainability, its impacts on society, the socio-economic arguments for and against proposed activities. He taught me to think critically and championed the sciences to me – my marks at school in science were mediocre, but my new found respect for the substances of the Periodic Table of the Elements is at least in part. Over many an evening meal – sometimes with relatives, and sometimes just with myself and/or my brother – many an informed conversation was had on subjects ranging from politics, to science, to arts to our own lives and outlooks. And all the better for it.

So much of my vision of New Zealand and the world today is formed by critical conversations I have with my parents and my brother, but also the many and varied people I have met – Colombians, Peruvians, Aussies, Americans, Canadians, French, Germans, Britons, Japanese, Filipinos. And so much of this was made possible because my parents and brother – like me – do not see these nationalities as any lesser, even though we are the white people who know some of those Ms Genter was referring to. And the people of these nationalities have become great mates as a result.

Mr Glennie married a lady six years his senior. They are now in their 44th year of union. They are retired and living life as well as they can – art, gardening, fishing, among other pursuits, fill their time. Are they rich? I wouldn’t say that, but I can say that their earnings are the result of rock solid work ethics, a desire to learn and grow with their employment roles. But at the same time there is no denying she went to nursing school and he to university before market economics had a significant impact in New Zealand. They purchased the property they have before the market lost the plot. Their generation might be the ones under Ms Genters critical eye, but it is a fair demonstration that not all are bad.

So, pardon me if I look a bit surprised at people who say that there is a supposed war going on against old white men. When Ms Genter made that speech she was pointing out an elephant in the room.

If one looks at where the wealth and the socio-economic influence radiates from geographically, it is largely not from Africa or South/Latin America through no fault of their own. For very little in return, the outflow of considerable economic and social wealth, these two continents, along with south and central Asia, the southwest Pacific (barring Australia and New Zealand) It is largely from nations that are predominantly European-Caucasian in ethnic make up, and which have at one time or another been colonial powers whose combined control would have covered much of the world’s surface. If one looks across the corporate boardrooms of the major companies around the world – be it Facebook or British Petroleum, the cold fact of the matter is they are largely middle aged and white.

Since World War 2, a number of Asian nations, notably Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore have become significant economic power houses in their own right. Rebuilt rapidly to counter the perceived (and real)threat of Communism, they developed trade ties, built up their industries based on education and science and developed what are today well known brands and product lines. Most of the workforce was male and thus “old boy” clubs were allowed to develop, which still exist today in an attempt to defend what were golden times for their founding members. These companies exist across the westernized world. Toyota, whilst largely – and understandably Japanese – in composition, is like the others almost exclusively made up of middle aged or otherwise older men. Similarly, China’s C.N.O.O.C. is almost exclusively made up of middle aged or otherwise older men.

With such similarity in the composition of these boards, despite – and perhaps because of – the small scattering of females (two on the Toyota board; three on the B.P. board; two on the Facebook board; 0 (zero) on the C.N.O.O.C. board), the truth is that Ms Genter is correct in her assessment. The lack of diversity potentially means a lesser interest in the social impacts on their staff, on their customers, on society and on the environment. A great example of this is Tokyo Electricity Corporation, who operated the defunct Fukushima nuclear power station before Dai-ichi, Dai-nii  and Dai-san reactors melted down after being hit by the tsunami following the earthquake of 11 March 2011. Their social disconnect with Japan at a time when they needed to be left right and centre on the meltdown emergency was thunderous – that no one has been formally charged with criminal negligence and endangering the lives of so many people is mind blowing.

But whatever you think or say because of this, remember that not all “old white men” are bad. I know a number of such men in my life other than my father who are absolute gentlemen, a pleasure to be around, with considerable knowledge that they are happy to impart and willing to acknowledge not all like them have been so well grounded.

How serious is Labour about child poverty

Recently the Government announced the terms of the planned inquiry into abuse of children in state care. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made dealing with child poverty a significant plank of Labour’s policy platform at the election in 2017. In announcing the inquiry, Ms Ardern says that this is a signal of how serious the Government is about dealing with child poverty.

Dealing with child abuse in state care is but one part of what needs to be a much broader plan to reduce New Zealand’s child poverty. Far too many children go to school hungry or do not have access to necessary medical care or items needed for their education because their parents/caregivers cannot afford rental costs. Some come from dysfunctional families, or the parents are constantly at work leaving no one at home to cook meals, help with homework or take them to sports or music practice.

The Government says that it wants to address the issue of state abuse of children in its care. It has set out to address issues arising from abuse prior to 2000. But what about cases of abuse that have happened since?

One can have a dozen inquiries into the issue, but if none of them are acted on then the Government is not that serious after all. After all the hand wringing and calls for action and vows to take action, none of it has meaning until appropriate law and other changes are enacted to give effect to the recommendations put forward in the inquiries.

I wait with somewhat baited breath to see what is going to happen. If an inquiry is then acted on, the likelihood of running into administrative difficulties of one sort or another is likely to be high since individual agencies will have different understandings about what their obligations are under any legislative changes brought in. Even if an inquiry were to announce its results today and the Minister made a vow to act, and kept it, legislation would probably take a year and be forced to go through the select committee stage in Parliament in between the first and second readings. Even once it has passed through Parliament, there will probably still be an adjusting phase for individual ministries and agencies as well as their staff.

But an actual attempt to implement recommendations of existing inquiries might not be so straight forward as one thinks, since the law will have changed. Understandings of what is needed will have had time to evolve and will not look the same on paper.

Labour, to be fair, has set targets, but has not yet shown how it intends to achieve them.

During its time in office, National introduced increases to benefits in 2017. It resisted calls from its conservative base to slash welfare, though attempts at reforming the legislation under which agencies such as Work and Income New Zealand, Child Youth and Family Service and Study Link have only met with modest success. How Labour tackles these interconnecting issues remains to be seen.

It is however, time for a multi-partisan effort that crosses political divides. In politics in order to get things done, sometimes deals that sit uncomfortably with the party base need to be permitted. Both National and Labour would do well to understand this in a child poverty context.