John Key's response to the gang rape club in Auckland (they call themselves "roast busters") is on the money:
"These young guys should just grow up," Key said this afternoon.That is the point of this horrific glimpse into the misogyny and sexualising of power over and complete disregard for the personhood of the young women these men have raped - how are our young men growing up?
Let's be clear about this - these young men are bragging about girls as young as 13, about using alcohol to ensure the young women are unable to resist, about knowing the girls are not into what is happening.
They are bragging about raping.
They are bragging about - and sharing with others - the ways they deliberately, in premeditated ways, over-ride the capacity of others to consent (that's when those others are legally able to consent).
The victim-blaming that has accompanied this - from the New Zealand Police choosing not to act when a 13 year old complained of rape TWO YEARS AGO to the vile commentary from an ill-informed, steeped in rape culture media - illustrates exactly why this gang rape club can exist.
We expect it. We excuse it. We tell young men - from the Prime Minister down - that boys will be boys, and if they are behaving badly, maybe we tell them to "grow up".
Well, I don't buy this. I don't buy the inevitability of "boys being boys". I don't buy the inevitability of growing boys into men who have no empathy, and no respect, and who prove their masculinity by exerting violence, including sexual violence over others. I don't buy the inevitability of rape culture.
So Mr Key, to help grow boys into men who do not hurt women or anyone else, let's try getting them early. Teaching little boys about empathy, teach them to try and imagine, by reading to them and talking to them, how other people feel. All the time, about everything. So when they are starting to explore being sexual with other people, that's in their kete of skills.
Let's stop telling little boys, big boys and men to "harden up." Last week I was playing in my vegetable garden, and the next door neighbour's children were hanging out with me, weeding. The three year old boy was heaving on some tall weeds, and fell on his bum, face crumpling up. I asked him if he was ok. His six year old sister said "Yeah, he's tough."
I said "I think you can be tough, and things can still hurt. Are you ok?" And he had a little cry and a little hand squeeze with me, then jumped up to do some more weeding and talk about favourite biscuits (his: tim tams; mine, on that day: toffee pops).
If we encourage boys to express all of the feelings they have - including vulnerability and sadness and sometimes just not knowing - we will grow men who have a range of emotional options available to them, not just anger. And that will help them navigate the tricky waters of life, where anger being your default expression seldom leads to great relationships.
Let's start telling little boys about what great caring men they can be, and about what great women there are, and about the many and fabulous ways they can express their gender. The less oppositional this is, the better. There are no boys and girls toys, just toys. There are no boys and girls colours, just colours. There are no boys and girls games, just games. Pointing out the rules some people have around these things is part of teaching gender literacy, part of making gender norms visible, but it shouldn't be a bible our beautiful children should have to follow.
Let's respect little boys autonomy with their body. If they are scared and don't want to climb a tree, they don't have to. How can we expect boys to learn respect around bodies when we too often teach them the exact opposite?
Let's teach boys about consent in everything we do, so by the time they want to be sexual, they know what it means, they know what the absence of it means, and they know how to negotiate with other people. Let's make sure teaching consent is part of the ways we teach sex education - as opposed to sexist education.
And finally, let's teach little boys to stand up to oppression. Whether that's their friends bullying other children, or their teacher saying racist things in class, or their sports coach ridiculing queer people, let's teach little boys to say "I don't think that's ok". Because if one single thing could change rape cultures, it would be men standing up to other men.
I understand how hopeless this gang rape club situation is making people feel about the enormity of rape culture and how steadfastly it is growing in our public institutions, still. I hope people are taking real care as they negotiate the media this week. I'm thrilled to see there are protests springing up, all over the country because quite frankly the responses to the gang rape club are truly, truly horrifying.
But in all this, let's not forget - rape is something people learn is ok. We can unlearn this. Most people do unlearn this. To end rape culture we need to grow different rules around masculinity. We need our young guys to grow up alright - to be men who respect women and other people.