Thursday 7 November 2013

Growing boys, not roast busters

Trigger warning: explicit discussion of rape culture.  I understand in a week with so much victim-blaming littering our media, any mention of sexual violence may be too much, so please be careful.

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.


Scuba Nurse said...

Oh SO MUCH LOVE for this. xoxo

Moz said...

Brilliantly put.

We need to teach children that consent matters, full stop. Make it clear that when we do something to the child without consent that it is a big deal, it does matter, and we are really sorry but we have reasons. Which we have to explain. Because consent.

ChundaMars said...

This is, hands down, the best post I have ever read on this site. Standing ovation material.

I actually started reading this expecting a well-intentioned but misguided "teach boys not to rape" article but this is intelligent and nuanced and empathetic and... well, I'll need a thesaurus if I'm to go on.

Seriously LJ, well done.

Charlotte said...

Excellent article. I was searching for a feminist take on this whole disgusting affair and am glad I found your blog. This whole thing depresses the hell out of me, the fact that people can't see what they're doing is rape, that it's excused because they're just 'lads' and the girl was asking for it wearing a skirt and all (I can't believe we live in modern 2013), that their girl friends even stand up for them saying "boys will be boys" and worse "they're not rapists, they're nice guys" - I feel like everything that's wrong with rape culture is summed up in that quote there. How ironic that the majority of rapists are so called "nice guys", the the majority are not unknown perverts that spring out from dark alleyways but people the victim knows.

I hope these boys get what they deserve, but in this country it would seem like that's just going to be a slap on the wrist.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I stumbled across your post while reading up on this Roast Busters business. I'm also in New Zealand and am quite horrified by this whole malarkey. Anyway, I wanted to say - I love, love, love this post. The victim blaming, the pathetic police intervention (or lack thereof) - I'm disgusted that this has happened here. Am I surprised though? Not at all. There is way too much emphasis in NZ on being a bloke, playing rugby, nailing beers, slamming bitches. These attitudes need to change and I hope, really really hope, that the Roast Busters nightmare will teach more New Zealanders about consent, respect, and accountability. I could go on but I feel I've already ranted enough!
Basically, I wanted to say I came across this post and I love it. Beautifully written, no calls for vigilante justice, and a thoughtful interpretation of a horrid situation. Thank you! x

Anonymous said...

Love this.

- Elley

Anonymous said...

I think there is a whole story missing alongside the loathsome sexual crimes of these young men...that their young women friends are defending them as 'cool dudes' and saying the girls knew what they were getting into.

I think the problem is not isolated to young men but the whole culture. What is deemed offensive is lack of 'consent'. Consent seems to be the problem.

Its a sorry state of affairs that sexual intercourse....which by nature is ordered to the procreation of new life....fragile and needing of care and simply anything goes between private persons as long as its consensual.

I'm sure porn stars consent and those that watch it consent to watching. The point being that we can 'consent' to losing our human dignity by degrading others in person or by proxy (ie. film media).

These young men, and no doubt young women too have learned from US that sex is entertainment.

It most certainly isn't entertainment but a gift for love and life.

Its tragic that however these boys (and girls) come to adulthood they have already trashed the essence of the person, that could be given in love and commitment for the sake of another.

Scuba Nurse said...

Please can all commenters use a handle. A pseudonym is fine, it's to avoid confusion.
Annon at 5:28... While you are over there waving in the direction of porn and culture and bad examples for our young people, you are directing attention away from key issues. A derailment if you will. Please do not blame the friends of the pack rapists for defending them. They may have been hurt themselves and be in denial- sometimes it's easier to believe that you are a "slut who likes it that way" than that some one would hurt you like that. The concept that someone hurt you without your consent is a horrific one to get your head around.
The other thing is that defending rapists is not a "young people" issue. Adults do it too. Wealthy, powerful adults. Again, it's easier to believe that a person is a "slut" or a liar, than you have a friend who is a rapist. This is about normalizing abhorrent behavior because the alternative is that your friend is a Bad guy. Human nature, happening well before modern porn, well before MTV. And while you distract from the real issue, people continue to enjoy looking in the wrong direction, rather than expecting more from the people in their lives.

LudditeJourno said...

Hi all,
firstly, earlier commentators, thanks, feedback appreciated.
Chunda - cheers - but I've read so many pieces on this blog that have blown my mind and made me think about something completely differently to be able to accept what I can see is a genuine compliment from you :-) The other contributors here rock, big time.
Anon - thanks Scuba for responding - and to your comments I'd add: arguing against rape with "sex is sacred" type things is plain offensive. Consent - and the violation of another person's ability to decide the boundaries of their body - is the issue, not whether or not you personally want to have particular kinds of sex. Please don't comment again in a similar vein, because I will delete it.
Thanks, LJ

Acid Queen said...

"Its a sorry state of affairs that sexual intercourse....which by nature is ordered to the procreation of new life....fragile and needing of care and simply anything goes between private persons as long as its consensual. "

No, it's not a sorry state at all. You are utterly missing the point with your social conservative bullshit.

What I do in my bedroom with my partner is nobody else's business as long as we both consent. This has nothing to do with what other people do without consent.

But Scuba, I think you are wrong to say we shouldn't criticise the boys' female friends. I think we should. They may be victims themselves who are rationalising, but they may not be victims at all. There are plenty of people who will say 'oh my friend couldn't rape he's such a cool guy' and plenty of these people, sadly, are female. I think it's pretty likely that this is what we're seeing, and it needs to be criticised even if the people saying it are female.

Karen said...

Thank you! This is what I aspire to when parenting my sons!

Anonymous said...
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LudditeJourno said...

With respect TMS, referring to writing here as "all that feminist crap" is probably not the best way to engage. I've deleted your comment, obviously.
PS: I've been a beer drinking, touch rugby playing woman. Not sure where that fits in with your ideas, since by your logic that might make us both women?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lita said...

This. Huge thanks to you and The Hand Mirror for your reason and clarity - it's been a low week.

Angela said...

Thank you for this post, I'm so worn down by this whole thing. Heart breaking, but people are talking about it.
Finally, my heart goes out to the girls and young women and their families.

Anonymous said...

So right and I think that this 'boys will be boys' way of thinking is widespread and embroidered strongly into our culture. It is most unpleasant and many women suffer because of it. I couldn't help drawing a parallel between this and the Len Brown issue. We like to think better of people and give them our trust but in truth the message is to be wary. Unfortunately, this is what we have to teach our girls.

Anonymous said...

Read the comments on Sunday TVNZ. This says something about the attitudes people have towards men and women and sexual exploitation ...
Many negative comments about the woman, although she was not innocent but nor was he!

Acid Queen said...

@Anon: Comparing tbis to Len Brown is trivialising it. Not that I'm making excuses for Mr Brown but what he did was consensual. The issues around his affair are real but they are to do with corruption, not consent.

JYLLY said...

Love the article. I have often had my masculinity questionned as I played "non-manly" sports growing up and liked to wear clothes that actually had some colour in them and that weren't always black. I have long maintained this position and am starting to feel like people are starting to see what I have long believed, but not always been able to find the words for. Thank you for giving my abstract beliefs some verbal meat!

I have a dilemmma that I hope some could help me with. A while ago, my group of buddies started to make rape jokes. Jokes about roofying each other and raping each other in their sleep. Then the jokes started to target some girls too. These guys have never and, I believe, will never rape anyone. However while I felt uncomfortable with their comments, I soon saw the funny side of it. Part of me is desensitized towards it now and like a cold piece of KFC that you rationally know you shouldn't indulge on, but do anyway, I admit I have also made rape jokes.

First of all, what should I do with myself, and secondly, how should I help my friends?

LudditeJourno said...

firstly, glad you feel this article was useful for your own experience of growing up.
Secondly, rape jokes are pretty common, you are far from alone, that's how rape culture operates, by making rape excusing ideas mainstream.
For yourself - just stop telling them, there's plenty of other things to laugh at in this world. For your friends, can you start intervening, from small scale to larger scale. "That wouldn't be funny if it really happened"......"that's a bit marginal blah blah"....."I don't think you'd make a joke like that about a woman you knew/your mum/your sister"....."how did we get into telling these, they're pretty gross, I can't be the only one thinking that".
Just start having the conversation, gently. Then at some point you might be able to have the bigger conversation "I'd rather have sex with someone who was right into it, and I bet you would too"......."you get that's actually rape, right?"...."I don't believe you would do that, so why are we joking about it". Some of this will depend on how good friends you all are.
The most important thing here is exactly what you say - most men do not rape - BUT most men over-estimate how many other men do, how many other men are comfortable with misogyny, how many other men are ok with rape jokes. You will not be the only one in your group who is struggling with this - try and set up some convos so your dislike is clear, and the other men in the group who do not like it can step up too.
IF these is a man/men in your group who is doing this, or trying to excuse something he is planning on doing, I'd have another heap of ideas, so come back to me if that turns out to be the case.
Thanks for a great - and real - question JYLLY.

Mike Baker said...

I work with struggling young people in Mental Health and your article is the best thing l have read in a while! NZ so needs to 'grow up' and bid this macho mentality a not-necessarily-fond farewell. Difficult when so much national pride is invested in its perpetuation, through our advertising, education, politics, policing, parenting, peer-groupings, role-modelling or the lack of it. Lets keep the faith in our youth though!

Anonymous said...

Very well written.. thanks so much. I have a 13 year old son and the exposure to everything sex has become out of hand imo. It's almost like tv/computer and modern day living has completely disregarded anything with a moral and anything goes and anything is 'ok'. There needs to be a filtering system on what is allowed on our computer and tv screens! Kids can't go into a video shop and hire out R16 and R18 games without identification.. but can easily access absolutely anything through their ISP! When is filtering going to reach NZ? We can't watch our growing boys 100% of the time and there should be some sort of policing on what is shown and seen at home on their own computer, tv (or cellphone!) Parenting in the 2000's is extremely difficult.. establishing firm boundaries and good morals even more so.

Peter said...

While I agree with the sentiments of this article I can't help but think that as well as educating our boys on correct social behaviour there must be an equal measure applied to the girls as well.

Am I the only one concerned that there are parents out there who are allowing their 13 year old daughters to go off to parties where they are likely to be exposed to alcohol and other such 'adult' environments, seeming without care or any interest in the welfare of their child?

Correct me if I'm wrong but any child of 13 years old is still legally a minor and their safety is still very much the responsibility of their parents. While I absolutely abhor the actions of these lads and join in the chorus of condemnation for them I can't help but think that the victims of these acts should have been better protected from being exposed to such situations in the first place - or am I just WAY out of touch???

LudditeJourno said...

Hi Peter,
I find it hard to judge the situation around parenting based on what I've read in the news, but I think if 13 year old girls hang out with people who do not target them for sexual violence they will be safe. If we can stop the targeting behaviour, we will stop sexual violence.
I was trying, in this article, to be very clear about how we change harmful norms around masculinity, which is the problem. Too often the only focus is what victims/women could or should have done to "keep themselves safe". I know that's not what you're suggesting, but that's why the focus of this argument is the culture for growing healthy men who behave with respect towards other people.

bradmaddox said...
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Lara said...

to anonymous at 9:44

I hope you read this

I too have a son, almost 13, with a computer.

Install something like Norton Family Safe on it, you have the password. You log onto the site to set the limits to his internet access. You can screen out anything Norton considers pornographic, violent, alcohol, and so many more tags. Too many to list.

One minute on google will show you this in only one option of many. And most are FREE.

If you don't know how to do it I bet your son will. If he does not help you to do it remove his internet access.

Lara said...

I love this article. So well written. Clear and concise.

I've been having a hard time on mainstream message boards this week trying just to get the discussion moved from what women do wrong to get raped, onto what it is about our society that breeds and allows rape.

It's really depressing. So many people in the mainstream think rape has always been around and so always will be, and so the best thing to do is restrict women's behaviour to "keep themselves safe". Even the recent case of the old woman raped in broad daylight emptying her letterbox! Should've had an alarm on her person you know.

So it's nice to jump back into an intelligent feminist blog and see this. Thank you.