Men need to fix New Zealand's rape culture

Last updated 17:17 15/03/2017

We can’t expect women to keep making themselves vulnerable to "teach" a change in behaviour.

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It has been marvellous to see the discussion in the media about the Wellington College boys’ social media posts, and then a challenge to St Patrick’s Silverstream students who filmed their female teachers.

The Dominion Post and other media outlets have put work into encouraging a discussion in the public sphere about what needs to change in order to develop a healthier sexual and social culture for everyone.

As a cultural studies scholar, and as a pakeha woman who has grown up in New Zealand, I have watched this conversation play out over a number of years.

I have strong personal, and professional, feelings about it - as many Kiwis will.

* No 'rape culture' at Wellington College

* Protest at Parliament against rape culture
* Investigation launched over rape comments

Something that strikes me about the discussion this time around, and perhaps in the Roast Busters media flurry (where no prosecutions were made), is that it seems there is always a burden placed on women to tell their stories so men can understand how it feels.

The intention of this is to help men get their heads around the "It could be your sister, your daughter, your mother..." message.

Marama Fox stood at the rally at Parliament on Monday organised by young Wellingtonian women and encouraged them to continue performing a play in which they presented their own experiences of sexual violence.

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She suggested that they should perform it at Wellington College so the boys could see it.

Then John Campbell talked to a young woman on Radio New Zealand and asked her to detail her experiences of sexual violence for him so people could understand the situation.

One in three of us could do this. I could do this – I could describe times in which I have been terrified by the "jokes" young men have made. I could describe the time I went into shock as someone I thought was my friend attempted to have sex with me when I was not only uninterested, I was emotionally vulnerable and in need of support - not sex.

I could tell you how that experience affected my confidence for many years, and I just have. But I don’t think my telling you will make a jot of difference to young men and others who are potential sexual offenders.

Why not? Because we’ve all heard these stories before, and somehow they’re not changing the behaviour of young men – or, in certain cases, older men.

We know the myth somehow persists that if a woman (and sometimes a man) says no the first time, s/he’ll eventually say yes. And we know that just because we tell the truth, it does not inevitably lead to justice.

So I hope that now - to prevent us from going round in circles, wringing our hands and hoping it’ll all just fix itself - some brave men will take up the emotional burden and talk about their own experiences, of either being abused or being abusers, in such a way that other men hear the message and change their behaviour.

* Wellington College boys threaten protesters

I'm a rape survivor, and my teen boys are blind to rape culture
Year 9s at St Patrick's Silverstream suspended over sexual harassment

We can’t expect women to have to keep making themselves vulnerable in order to "teach" a change in behaviour to people who aren't listening. Expecting women to do this just feeds the spectacle.

I lay down a challenge to men in prominent positions, where people will hear them if they speak, to find a way to talk about this with other men. Speak about it both publicly and privately, so the message gets through that this issue isn’t women’s responbility to fix.

This is for us all to discuss and then shift our everyday behaviours so we don’t have to keep talking about the same thing every few years, with a new bunch of young people who have no sense of the damage they have or could inflict on others.

Emma Kelly is a media studies lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington

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