Wednesday, 14 April 2010

seeing what we want to see

i was going to put a link to the interview about teenage girls not being violent but julie beat me to it - great minds and all that!

it was particularly relevant to me because i got the waikato times with the front page headline screaming "girls now as violent as boys". the comments were actually made by someone from the hamilton abuse intervention project, and apparently supported by dr neville robertson:

Waikato University community psychologist Dr Neville Robertson said the inhibitors that once would have prevented women becoming violent were no longer there. "That old idea that women must always be subservient and unassertive of course has decayed," he said. "In many ways that is a positive thing, but there is also flip side to that."

now i have some respect for dr robertson, given his work on domestic violence. i remember a public lecture he gave a couple of years ago, stressing the gendered nature of domestic violence and the need to rethink the way we raise our boys. so it was quite disheartening to hear these comments from people working in the field.

which is why the interview with the american academic dr meda chesney-lind (i can't believe radio nz don't have her name on the website) was such a breath of fresh air. i'd been feeling that the times article was all wrong but not able to say why, but the good doctor said it for me. she talked alot about societal expectations about women framing how we saw things. quite pertinent were her comments that where girls were involved in violence, often boys were also around or involved in some way in the same incident. also the point that male violence and agression is accepted as normal behaviour.

that point was brought home to me in another context entirely. i was having a discussion with a person brought up in australia (not of european heritage, which i only bring up because i find it odd that a person from a minority community could have such views even after her own experiences of marginalisation) about the situation of aborigines as compared to maoris. actually she brought it up, and said how strange it was to see the way maori were treated, how they were able to advocate for their rights, the fact that they had their own tv station and that maori was taught in schools etc etc. none of this had ever happened in australia, and she couldn't imagine that it would.

that was all fine, but she then went on to make some disparaging comments about aborigines, about how even when they were successful, they were still poorly behaved. but when she gave the example of success as being top sportspeople, particularly around football (meaning rugby, league etc) i really lost it*. i couldn't believe that she could identify aborigine sports people as being badly behaved, but had no comment to make about all the sexual assault and abuse that had been committed by football players of other ethnicities. she didn't even think about that until i said to her "really? they behave worse than your ABC reporter did towards the young woman from christchurch? you really think they are any worse than the rugby culture that has seen numerous complaints from women and a acknowledgment from the leadership that there needs to be change?"

and that's what it comes down to. we have expectations, and we notice examples that match our expectations and somehow manage to ignore the rest. i wonder how we cure that particular human failing, because it seems to be quite universal and also quite destructive.

*probably because, when we covered that particular incident on this blog last year, we were subject to the nastiest comments ever seen on this blog, including threats of sexual violence.

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