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Anna Rawhiti-Connell: Are men OK?

Men behaving badly, men abusing their power, men abusing women. Why do they still think it's okay? Women can't sort through this mess on their own, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell 

Men, are you okay? I’m bloody serious. Are you?

On Tuesday’s RNZ Nine to Noon when Kathryn Ryan was handed another bit of news about the unfolding Andrew Falloon story, she said "it appears this isn’t the end of the story".

"Is it ever going to end?", I wailed back to the wireless.

You’d be forgiven for thinking I meant the unrelenting pace of political scandal or the evaporation of National MPs, which has chewed up a large chunk of the conversation about the Falloon saga. As I write this, news is breaking about Cabinet Minister Iain Lees-Galloway resigning after an inappropriate relationship with a former staffer in one of his agencies. Sure, I despair, along with everyone else, about the conduct of our politicians - but that’s not what I’m primarily concerned about. It’s the never-ending, utterly wearying parade of stories about men behaving badly, men abusing their power, men abusing women, men never bloody changing that’s got me down. Men, are you okay?

Why is it, that even after all the #MeToo stories and the quite clear standard-setting about what is and isn’t okay, you’re still doing this? Why do you still think it’s okay to send pictures of your penis to people who don’t want to see it? Why do think it’s okay to send porn to young women who didn’t ask for it? Why do you think it’s okay to catcall us, to harass us, and make us feel uncomfortable walking down the street? To touch us when we don’t want to be touched, to use us, to rape us?

Why, why, why? Men, are you okay?

Ali Mau rightly asserts that we mustn’t forget the young women affected in the Falloon case. It absolutely feels counter-intuitive to me, the writer, and probably you the reader, to ask if men are okay. I ask because I am tired of this, tired of this behaviour, and tired of the swift condemnation but do-nothing cycle we seem stuck in. I ask because other women are tired. Tired of dragging these stories out into the light and tired of carrying the torch for change.

I ask because I don’t know the answer to the question.

Women cannot be the only ones who address this wearying parade of men behaving badly chat in our workplaces, see our counsellors, write our stories, and rage against the machine.

You could try and argue it’s just a few bad apples and we could just cart them off to Man Pig Island. Men, in positions of power, corrupted by it. Perhaps, even empathetically, men under strain, men under stress. You could argue it's men with certain penchants or preferences. Men of certain generations struggling with rapid social change where women’s place in the world has changed. Men struggling with a culture of sexual liberalism and women with agency in a society still quite repressed and moralistic. You could argue it’s the sexual dynamics between men and women.

You could argue it’s complicated.

I do not believe men are the worst. I do not believe the solution to this crisis, and it is a crisis, is to consign all men to the shitpile. I do not believe this because it solves no problems.

Angry, 'cancel all men’ responses are natural. In shifting things along, this anger and the raw, ragged exposures of hurt and injustice that we’ve seen, are a crucial component. It’s justifiable but at some point, we have to say "We have shone the light, we have told you over and over again, now what are you going to do about it?” And I mean you, the men.

After #MeToo kicked off, there was another hashtag that circulated, #NotAllMen. And sure, not all men. I know a lot of good men, great men. Men who absolutely know the difference between right and wrong, men who respect women, who enjoy the company of women, who happily work with them and for them. But actually, yes all men. Not because you’re all simultaneously culpable for the acts of these individuals; many of you stand alongside women in condemnation of this behaviour and vocally express your support for what needs to happen in this moment in time. It’s "Yes, all men" because something is very wrong and women cannot be the only people working through this.

Men, can you talk about this stuff? Do you talk about this? Are you able to? If not, why not? Do you talk about that? If anything is going to change, women cannot be the only ones who sit at our book clubs, chat in our workplaces, see our counsellors, write our stories, and rage against the machine. We cannot be the only ones talking about it. We cannot do all the labour on sorting through this mess. We cannot be the only ones exposing ourselves, with all our vulnerabilities, hurts, and fears. You need to start talking too.

Some people talk about a crisis of masculinity. About toxic masculinity. Others will nod to the years of institutional sexism, misogyny, and abuse, and argue that dismantling that, brick by brick, takes time. Men need time to adjust, it’s all changed so fast. Sure, but can you also pick up a brick?

Men, are you okay? And don’t ask me for the answer, ask your mates.

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