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May 12, 2008 | by  | in Features |
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The Men’s Movement

Men’s social movement groups are interest groups that believe there is not enough support for men and men’s issues due to gender discrimination. The movement in New Zealand is anything but homogenous, with different groups promoting different agendas. Men and women are still not equal in contemporary New Zealand society. This is evident from the lack of women in high status jobs. In the 2006 census only 14.5 per cent of law firm partners were women, despite the fact women make up well over a third of the law profession, and two thirds of law graduates. Salient Feature Writer and raging feminist Jenna Powell delves into the New Zealand men’s movement, and endeavours to understand them and see whether they have legitimate complaints. Maybe it does ‘suck’ as much to be working as a low wage labouring man as it does to be at home with kids all day.

Resentment

There are radical sects of the men’s movement which believe that women’s empowerment is hindering men. These sects believe that women’s disempowerment is necessary because women’s liberation has taken away important elements of men’s autonomy. Some American sects of the men’s movement blame most of their problems on feminism, although this is extremely problematic. Local men’s rights activist Jim Bagnall explains a strongly held belief within the men’s movement: feminism uses “ideological nonsense” to historically label all men as rapists and abusers, which has, in the opinion of Bagnall, “cast a slur over what men are or have been.” Some comments from supporters of the UK’s fathers4justice are extremely anti-feminist. Jim Bagnall insists men’s rights groups in New Zealand “are not women haters” and explains that “what we hate is the system that is in place that allows women to take advantage.” Bagnall is adamant that a lot of women do take advantage of this system.

Rape

Issues surrounding rape are perhaps the most controversial aspect of the men’s movement. Many sects of this movement formulate their discourse around the powerlessness of men who are accused of rape and sexual assault. One registered author of the men’s movement website MENZ heralded a recent Auckland rape trial of former rugby league star Tea Ropati as an example of false alleged abuse. In his opinion “If she was sober enough to keep buying her round of drinks then she was sober enough to object to sexual violation.” According to this man the woman in question could not have possibly been taken advantage of if she still had the ability to remember her pin number. According to data put forward by the men’s movement there is a “disturbing” increase in false allegations of sexual abuse by children and women. A society was formed in the nineties called COSA – casualties of sexual allegation – which was later dismantled and changed to casualties of false sexual allegation in 2000. The COSA website provides literature about the “sexual abuse hysteria in New Zealand.” COSA New Zealand has received grants from The Canterbury Community Trust and Christchurch City Council. Commenting on the rise in false sexual allegations, an author on the MENZ website dismissed “dubious feminist statistics” from the Rape Crisis centre and demonised the centre for “assuming that everyone who makes an allegation about sexual abuse to them is a genuine victim.” The rise in false sexual abuse allegations since the 1970s is undeniable (given the massive rise in all sexual abuse claims, whether true or false), but perhaps an equally important pursuit for the New Zealand men’s movement would be the development of support networks for men who have been sexually abused themselves. When Salient contacted Rape Crisis they had to search through their files (which apparently takes two days) just to find someone who deals with males. It seems they have no firm established protocol or policy involving male victims of sexual abuse.

Healthcare and mental wellbeing

There are fewer support networks and organisations in New Zealand focusing solely on men than there are for women. Women’s health issues are also at the forefront of gender related illness discourse, with prostate cancer lagging behind breast cancer in public recognition. Recently a radio show had a discussion on whether everyone “should let go of Movember” as a substantial number of people, men included, think Movember is a good excuse to grow a dirty moustache but are unaware that it is a campaign for public awareness of prostate cancer. However, improvements can be seen in the 2007 campaign as it garnered over 620 media impressions, with a combined reach of 11.2 million people. Overall, New Zealand’s men are far less healthy than women. The average life expectancy of a man in New Zealand is four years less than that of a woman, and men’s access of health services in New Zealand is 30-40% less than women. Despite this, women’s illnesses such as cervical cancer appear to have more pull in the media.

Essentially Men is one organisation trying to combat and discuss the mental wellbeing issues that are notoriously plaguing the modern man. These problems include, but are not limited to “isolation, competitiveness , loneliness and lack of friendship with other men, control, depression, frustration and inappropriate expressions of anger.” Essentially Men is said to “provide a safe place for men to explore their issues.” Men come at all stages of growth and walks of life. It is useful for men in professions like education to develop a deeper personal connection to men’s issues.

Gender bias in the Family Court

The men’s movement is certain that there is a gender bias in the New Zealand Family Court. A woman is far more likely to win a custody battle over children than a man. Bagnall believes that both the mum and the dad should take responsibility of domestic abuse regardless of who did it, claiming that every family needs a male role model and “it would be to difficult” for women to be the nurturer and the mentor simultaneously. According to Bagnall “95 per cent” of people who apply for a Family Court hearing are female. When asked if the Family Court takes all allegations seriously as a “better safe than sorry” policy his reply was unsympathetic: “Well, a woman has all sorts of chances to be safe – CYFS, WINZ, Family Court.” Bagnall believes it is this “safety card” which is often used by women “to exploit the father and children.”

Wellington lawyer Simon Maude, speaking as Deputy Chair of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society, which represents over 700 family lawyers around New Zealand, says: “We represent men and children as well as women, so we have no interest in favouring one group over another, and our experience is that there is no gender bias in the court. If there was, we would be speaking out about it as it would be disadvantaging our clients.” Maude also adds that “of course there will always be some litigants who feel unfairly treated, but comments arising out of individual grievances don’t reflect the vast majority of cases.” Bagnall argues that he has spoken to thousands of men who feel unjustly treated by Family Court processes and to dismiss their grievances “is just unfair.” The Law Commission has in fact acknowledged that gender bias can occur in the judicial process when “laws, processes and decisions advantage one gender over the other. It happens when conciliators and decision makers refer inappropriately to gender during court processes, and base their actions on stereotypes about the nature and role of men and women.” However there is little statistical evidence to support or refute gender bias. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told Salient that “decisions do not depend on the sex of the parent, but are assessed in terms of the welfare of the child.”

Another issue that is close to the hearts of many men involved in the men’s rights movement is the dreaded child support. The main concern is where the money is actually going. Bagnall believes men would be happier putting the same amount into a trust the child receives when they are older. He puts the reasoning in plain words: “That way we know it is directly benefiting the children.” Under the current system a man is expected to pay child support even if the mother takes the child to a country that is so far away the father could not expect to afford an airfare to see his child on top of the $800 monthly child support payments. The supposed gender bias in the Family Court is a highly emotional issue and, after men’s groups held a protest outside Helen Clark’s office in 2006, United Future’s Judy Turner criticised the “threatening aggressive nature of such action.”

Education – do we need more male teachers?

Another undeniable fact is that males in primary, secondary and tertiary education are behind females. There is a resounding opinion within the New Zealand men’s movement that New Zealand education as a whole is feminised and caters only for female learning styles. There are severe implications for males due to this feminised education. The New Zealand Herald reported that the NCEA pass level for boys were about 10 per cent lower than those of girls. In tertiary education the percentage of male students aged 17 to 20 has dropped from 46 per cent to 42 per cent – which is important as far as levels of unemployment and men in the ‘knowledge economy’ professions go. An interesting fact is that despite this underperformance in education, men still have higher incomes than women in the same profession. Boys have limited access to male teachers in primary school and this could limit a young boy’s capacity to learn. “We don’t get into teaching of children at a young age level because we are targets” explains Jim Bagnall. The importance of boys underachieving in school is brought into question when former Education Minister Trevor Mallard acknowledges that “differences in achievement by gender tended to be smaller than differences in achievement by ethnicity or social class” This is significant as boys and young men from higher income homes continue to do well in education. Bagnall, a former teacher of 34 years, believes that the lack of male role models in the class room extremely hinders a young male’s capacity to learn. “The school system is feminised” he argued. He then went on to tell a somewhat foolish anecdote about a friend who pretended to be gay to get a job at an intercity Auckland school: “That’s the kind of role models they are looking for –d not the heterosexual male but someone who is feminine in thinking.” When the school found the friend in question was pretending to be gay “they were furious.” Well, of course they were furious – he’d lied to them!

Feminised Government?

Is the presence of so many women in high positions causing a neglect of solely menrelated issues? Some people believe our government’s policies have a social bias that is detrimental to men. This belief is not unfounded, but bias is a very loaded term. More support to deal with problems that are specific to men needs to be created in New Zealand. But Bagnall believes the “tentacles” of the feminist movement are all entrenched in government organisations such as the Family Court and Family Commission. Rather than having a conspiracy theory of a ‘feminazi’ government pushing its own agenda would it not be more productive to push for the support of anyone who is marginalised? Socio-economic and ethnic differences still produce the most Salient forms of disparity and marginalisation.

Cover illustration by Kristy Barlow

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Comments (14)

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  1. Gibbon says:

    Same stuff,
    different year

    oh how exciting

  2. Jenna Powell says:

    Hey thanks for the feedback.I am a new feature writer and really have not had much to do with salient till this year. I wasn’t aware it was so similar…I wish someone would have told me before it went to print. But I think you will find that this feature might be a little more balanced than those that covered this issue in previous years. well at least i tried to be. And I may be wrong but I do not think the previous features covered education in a lot of detail or gone into to the issue of alleged rape as much. So you may have not found it exciting but maybe first years may not have read anything about it yet. So they may have found it (maybe not exciting) but mildly informative.

  3. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    G’day Jenna,

    I did indeed find it informative as a first-year, and quite a different approach to the topic of gender bias. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the views espoused by the men in these various movements, but it is interesting to see how the pendulum of equal rights has the potential on occasion to swing to the other side of the debate.

    Regarding the under-representation of women in certain areas of business and government – do you think this is because of some residual legal or political bias in the system, or is it more an issue of lingering cultural bias that sees men both more likely to apply for, and be accepted into, these sorts of posts?

    This is a subject that I don’t know a lot about, but I like to think that for the most part the system we live under here in New Zealand is pretty darn good when it comes to equal rights and opportunities. In saying that, however, I think there is a difference between legislative equality and equality in the consciousness of the population, and that there are undoubtedly lingering (often unintended) biases in the informal business and political practises of the nation. One can pass laws on equality far easier than one can change the habitual practises of the population!

    Matt.

  4. Jackson Wood says:

    Hey Gibbon,

    Come to the office with a feature and if it is good we’ll print it. If it is shit you shall be forever banished to the land of people who are willing to give criticism but not come back with constructive answers to the things they criticize.

    Good work Jenna

  5. Critical_Lemon says:

    I really think that this article is one of a series of media outputs that have highlighted the fact that men are at least disadvanted in the health awareness side of things.

  6. Gibbon says:

    Serious offer, Jackson?

  7. Tania Mead says:

    Jackson doesn’t make offers he won’t back up (mostly), so I’m sure he won’t mind me answering your question in the affirmative.

    By all means, come to the office with something you’ve written. I’m sure there will be plenty of people happy to give you some constructive criticism.

    PS. Nice work Jenna. It’s definitely an issue worth coming back to.

  8. Gibbon says:

    Excellent – I’ll do so.

    As a sidenote, this wasn’t a criticism of Jenna as such – the article is well written. I simply feel that someone should have let her know that the issue has been dealt with before.

  9. Zeno says:

    Gibbon, don’t do it, it’s a trap!

    Jackson has snakes for eyes and a mouth full of lizards. I know this as I saw a photo of him once. I speaks as one brother to another

  10. Nina says:

    Hi Jenna. I enjoyed your article and well written I am a doctor and one issue that could have added some depth would be to look at issues of premature death/violence and age related morbidity of males compared to females.

    The issues of underrepresentation of women in the high ranking jobs of the professions is interesting. I wonder if the politics and positing do not appeal to to women and they may also more clearly see such jobs may not be in their best health interests .
    There was an academic and Doctor from Canada recently looking at some violence regarding the different ways boys learn ( They function better in a cooler environment ,and are better with ambient noise). I wonder if there may be work- place issues that also have gender specific differences?
    Best wishes
    Nina

  11. Nina says:

    Apologies for the typo- I meant the issues regarding the different ways in which boys learn
    Nina

  12. lou says:

    Thats what happens when you insult Jenna Gibbon. shes adorable and everyone loves her. She is the most innocent optimistic plus well meaning person i know. I bet you are going to write some fucken lame as shit anyway thats more focused on being different and edgy than helping anyone.

  13. Jenna Powell says:

    I can take critercism like a man thank you very much.

  14. Nick Archer says:

    I think an article on Henry Makow would be way fun: http://www.savethemales.ca/

    His anti feminist rants are REALLYl complex and layered as he delves into Christian conspiracy theories, The Illuminati feature prominently and his articles are generally more fun to read than the predictable nutbars out there…

    Unfortunately he does get pretty repetitive though…

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