Friday, September 9, 2016

What's going on? Chiefs, Phantom patriarchy, Rape culture

A couple of days ago I was bothered by some assertions I found in a Psychology Today post and a Time post suggesting between them that there is too much liberal bias in social psychology, that it is infantalizing and inaccurate to warn women about a rape culture sustained by men, that women have taken over psychology, that many academic feminists cherrypick data and dismiss that which doesn't agree with what they think about a patriarchy that is in fact just phantom. Eek.

Today I was encouraged by the swift admission from Steve Tew that New Zealand Rugby (note capital letters) has a culture problem - swift in the face of a tide of fury as New Zealanders rejected the organization's attempt to quietly investigate some allegations of quite foul behaviour by players from one of the top teams towards a stripper. This was a public relations disaster that may have been successfully turned around because of the love so many New Zealanders have for rugby - check #loverugbyrespectwomen. I heard some callers on talkback radio who clearly think that if a woman takes her clothes off then everything she says must be a lie. Others believe her allegations but thought she deserved it because she blurred the lines - and therefore it wasn't a problem. Steve Tew has proper PR people, and that explains his quick turnaround. Watch All Blacks captain Kieran Read struggle to walk the line between 'the boys' and the indignant public and you can see how difficult it is to step out of the culture that Rachel Smalley describes as 'booze and birds' - and you can understand that all the PR in the world whispering in their ears can only tell these guys what to say after the fact - now they have to bring in specialists to help them treat women better. A final note on this story - a winner and some losers. Well played, Susan Devoy, New Zealand's former world champion squash player and now Race Relations Commissioner, who spoke so well on the radio - she clearly gets what the problem is and has an authentic reaction to it. The loser - and this is really tragic - the Minister for Women, Louise Upton, who refused to comment on the issue. Prime Minister John Key says she doesn't need to because it's basically not the government's job to have an opinion about it - this despite the Ministry's website indicating that keeping women free from violence is one of four priorities and that can be done through promoting a safe society. But John Key also says that Louise might have thought John had already said enough so, even as Minister for Women, she didn't need to find her own voice. Could have been a career moment. In addition, Sam Cane and Aaron Cruden, co-captains of the Chiefs - bad form not standing up and saying something. Don't be surprised if the public passion for justice turns its face your way soon. Probably not too late to find a voice - redemption is always possible. It does remind me of one thing: the same culture that disrespects women also imprisons men and there's a lot of work to be done with young men before they are able to recognise the harm and speak out against it.

So is redemption possible? In despair I cast an eye over other news. A Canadian judge asks a 19 year old (alleged?) rape victim why she didn't keep her legs together and tells her sex and pain often go together. He gets investigated for making inappropriate comments (result pending... check @carolyndunncbc) and now he's been through sensitivity training. He and his trainers think he has something useful to offer because of the experience. Regardless, how did that training not already happen? Like Steve Tew with his initial reaction, how much of a mess is that so much power is in the hands of people who can't recognise inappropriate behaviour towards women?

Back to the claims at the top - is it a myth that men are sustaining rape culture? When judges need re-education to find out why it's wrong to refer to victims as the accused, when rugby bosses need a Human Rights Commissioner to intervene before they can admit that maybe an in-house investigation wasn't the right way to go... it's not a myth - it's right here in front of us. We don't need to imply that men are intentionally sustaining a culture because 'all men are rapists' - I think that's how some people hear it - but we need to see that there are quite obvious elements of rape culture all around us and that men and women all need to work on changing it.

At The Villainesse, you can read an open letter sent to the Minister for Women regarding her decision to make no comment on the Chiefs scandal. Louise Upston's response was that this was a matter entirely for the RFU (does it exist ? does she mean NZRU?) and blandly comments that when it is proven that sportspeople don't uphold high standards of behaviour, that is "obviously disappointing" - DISAPPOINTING? It's true, rape culture is disappointing. And 'frustrating' too. Poor Minister for Women is frustrated at continued violence. For goodness sake, take a freaking stand!

Note: Photo by Mpho Mojapelo 

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