Monday, 9 May 2016

Changing the face we value

Most people have done something for which they want to be forgiven.  Things they feel ashamed of, and want to do differently in the future.  Maybe they've said harsh things to people they care about, treated people around them callously, participated in or failed to stop bullying.

Most people have changed their behavior after getting feedback from people around them that it wasn't ok.  Stopped being late whenever they meet a friend; stopped using a racist or homophobic word; stopped drinking or using drugs more than is helpful for relationships around them.

Nearly all of us, I think, want to believe in redemption. 

So when sports broadcaster Tony Veitch returns to the media to tell his story, again, about the broken bones he left in the body of someone he said he loved, many New Zealanders want to believe him when he says sorry.  Anyone who has hit a partner or a child wants to believe him.  Many who have been hit by a partner or parent want to believe him, because they want to believe their partner or parent is sorry - and maybe they are.  Anyone who knows someone who uses violence wants to believe him.

I believe in changing behavior, that violence is learned, not "natural" or only and always linked to masculinity.  I believe violence is linked to power, always, and I believe we can end violence by shifting balances of power towards more equity, whether that's in terms of addressing the harms of colonisation or ensuring equal pay for work of equal value or addressing the impact the greed of a few has on the poverty of many or teaching that gender and sexuality diversity is pretty damn ordinary and nothing to be scared of.  If I didn't believe in changing behavior and the possibility of ending violence, I wouldn't be a feminist.

But there is something else going on in the case of Tony Veitch, beyond the mere desire to believe that people using violence can change.

Ironically, a truly bizarre piece of writing over at the Standard captures it perfectly.  RedLogix says in their defense of Mr Veitch:
You’ll notice I’ve said nothing about Tony Veitch. I think we should let him speak for himself and allow the space for catharsis as Incognito so very elegantly expressed it. While his words will not placate every judgmental urge, personally I will accept them at face value and wait to see what comes next.
People believe men using violence, rather than women experiencing it.

This accepting at face value happens at every stage.  In the telling of violence in the first place - or it wouldn't take 57 women calling Bill Cosby a rapist before we even thought we needed to investigate Dr Huxtable.

It happens in the re-telling, in court, where many defendants simply use the "she's lying" defense, effective when victims can't get every single detail right when recalling traumatic events.

And it happens afterwards, when men like Tony Veitch simply do not tell the truth and rely on our collective desire to believe him getting them by.  As his victim's father says:
"Tony, to atone for your actions, you must stand in the complete truth.  This was no one-off, as you still attempt to mislead the New Zealand public to believe.  The other charges were never presented to the court, but they remain evidence of your systematic abusive pattern. In those files lies a very inconvenient truth for you."
I would LOVE to believe Tony Veitch regrets the years of abuse that his Police file details.  But for me to do that, he would have to stop making jokes about punching people.

He would have to apologise, not just for the incident he was punished for by the court, or even the years of other abuse, but for his appalling treatment of the woman he abused throughout the media furore which surrounded his court case - and the impacts all of his behavior has had.

You see, I don't think Tony Veitch can possible be sorry for the harm he caused - because he never, ever, ever mentions it.  In all his apologies, we have heard only about how hard it was for him, to be caught out breaking someone else's back that one time.

I have a suggestion for people who want to believe in redemption.  Listen to the person or people who were harmed.  Listen to them some more.  Think about what redemption looks like for them.  Centre that.  We have to stop giving Mr Veitch and others who use violence a free platform to re-frame events to suit them.  We have to change the face we value.


Unknown said...


Rita said...

Well said, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Its funny but my wife stood up for him to some degree while I always thought he was a prick.


Jenna said...

Thanks for writing this. Spot on. We need NZers to care about this.

Anne Else said...

Extremely well put - thank you.