Let's teach young men how to treat women

Last updated 13:10 14/03/2017

Sexism isn't just a problem for women, it's also a problem for men. And we men need to do something about it.

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We heard of this appalling behaviour first from the Wellington College boys who penned disgraceful, sexist posts on social media about women and then from those who supported them by liking the posts.

This was followed the next day with news that four students from St Patrick's College, Silverstream had sexually harassed female staff members by inappropriately filming them.

Addressing these terrible failings in our society usually falls to women, like the incredibly brave Louise Nicholas, or those from groups such as Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Prevention Network.

But sexism isn't just a problem for women, it's also a problem for men. And we men need to do something about it.

* No 'rape culture' at Wellington College
* Why the reluctance to call ourselves feminists?

* Why I am not a feminist
* When feminists treat men badly it's bad for feminism

I was lucky in that I was brought up in a household where my mother and sisters were treated with respect. I went to a co-ed school, where girls were our friends and equals and my male mates who came from homes like my own treated women well.

I was also fortunate that the world of the 1970s wasn’t awash with pornography - nor was there social media, where I could write my stupid thoughts down to be instantly read by all.

I can’t recall any gutter talk, like the Wellington College boys promulgated, and I was under no peer pressure to think of or treat females badly.

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So, I’ve been conditioned through what I’ve observed around me to be as I am. I’ve never hit or hurt a woman.

But still, I’m not perfect. I was fortunate to marry an independent and strong woman, and early in our marriage, I needed some training.

When I tried to bend Jane to my way of thinking she would push back and accuse me of being a bully. Now she’s got me pretty well where she wants, although I could still be better.

The rape culture we observed last week included jokes, talk and attitudes towards women which show a lack of empathy and normalise this type of thinking.

Reported statistics from universities where these middle class educated young men go are that 1 in 4 women will be seriously sexually assaulted and 1 in 100 will be raped.

And these are just the reported statistics. Many go unreported. These women are our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our friends.

Experiences like these will scar them for life.

Since these examples of misogyny have surfaced, women in the media report a daily tirade of sexual suggestion and harassment. As happens every time this behaviour comes to light.

Last year we watched in utter disbelief as a man who called women "disgusting animals", "fat pigs", "dogs", bragged about grabbing them by the genitals and subject to numerous complaints from women about his sexual conduct was still able to be elected as President of the United States.

Just as disheartening was that 53 per cent of white women still voted for him.

We live in the 21st century - in what we consider an enlightened and fair society - for goodness' sake. We tut-tut about societies where women are expected to wear veils, or are not treated as equals - but we appear no better.

This type of thought and behaviour needs to stop right now.

I have three sons, who are young men now, and I believe and trust they have the same values and respect for women that I have.

However, as they were growing up, I never thought to sit them down and have that difficult conversation - explaining how to treat women properly, matters of consent, rape and the effects of alcohol.

I suppose I believed they would just know.

It's never too late, and I plan to do it now anyway. The examples of what has come out from those Wellington boys' schools last week makes a good place to start.

How about other men out there have similar conversations with their sons, nephews or young men they are charged with mentoring?

Or at least get them to read this piece.

This post was first published on NZ Farmers Weekly and is re-posted with permission.

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