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September 22, 2008 | by  | in News |
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President’s Column

Domestic Violence is one of the biggest issues facing New Zealand society. The alienation that may feel is reflected back into social relations. Its important that we start talking answers. As part of my Men and Feminism article I interviewed Brian Gardner from the National Network for Stopping Violence. A little bit of the interview is included below in my column. The rest will be online.

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Joel Cosgrove: What does the “Men’s Movement” mean to you?

Brian Gardner: The Men’s Movement stuff is very interesting because it is a very long continuum, from our organisation’s perspective as men to MENZ and their perspective. The way that we got started was a challenge from Women’s Refugee, a strong feminist organisation back in the 80’s saying “Our houses’ are full of kids and women who’ve been abused, predominantly by men, what are you guys doing about it?” And that’s how the Men for Non-Violence Movement started in NZ.

At the time it was a group of men helping men. There was a mixture of things there. There was stuff about men’s growth and change, so the primary client was the guy. But there were also those men who were thinking from a pro feminist background about the nature of violence, how it’s constructed, how society’s constructed, how power is maintained and men’s crippilage around relationships. We had a mixture of things. Where we came to was when you’re talking about issues of violence to women. Then how do you have women’s voices involved there? Because as men we’re often socialised into having blindspots, well I certainly do. About thinking certain ways. If we want to work with oppressed groups then we have to bring those people into the mix. So in our group, women started facilitating programmes, started getting involved in the management of our group.

As they got more involved they identified gaps in working with women, kids. For us the next evolution was with Maori, really, it was like “hang out, a lot of the people you’re working with a Maori, how are you as predominately Pakeha men and women addressing those issues, we need to form some alliances.

So at the time, it’s not that old a history, early 1990’s when I first got involved in talking about men and women working together. In our organisation there were those agencies that were Men’s organisations that fell off, saying “we don’t need women checking up on us, we don’t need that kind change.” They knew men’s violence was an issue, but I feel there were still challenges around privilege and patriarchy and actually saying “if you want to change stuff then there are times in your history when you need to privilege other’s stories”. It was a messy and difficult time, most of those 3-4 agencies haven’t come on board. We’ve got 35 agencies now…

JC: What do you mean by an agency?

BG: When we talk about agency, we share with the Wellington Ending Abuse and Violence, so they’re the local Wellington organisation. We’re a network of community agencies/NGOs, so we’ve got the Wellington Ending Abuse and Violence org another in Hawkes Bay 6-7 in Auckland, who’ve sprung up to deal with Men’s Violence/Women as victims of violence. Increasingly we’re dealing with Women in Anger programmes too, there are some women who are saying “we’ve grown up in families where we’ve ended up with a whole bunch of stuff that was really unhelpful and we have behaviours that we want to change as well. It’s not the same as men’s violence because it’s different. When we talk to men about women’s violence and say “well, how frightened of your partner are you?” A lot of men say “I’m not afraid of you physically dealing to me I emotionally don’t like it”, but there’s not the same levels of fear. There’s not the same levels of using physical violence and threats of intimidation to control the relation.

So I think there’s those Men’s rights organisations who picketed our conference a couple of years ago saying the Families Court is biased and then there’s us who’re saying we think that society’s worked against us for a long time.

JC: So you guys as a pro feminist grouping have been picketed by the men’s rights organisations?

BG: We were picketed by the men’s rights organisation who say that the families court is biased, they’re a feminist organisation, that their [the court’s] agenda is doing men out of fathering. What we would say is that dads or mums prove they’re safe around kids, that’s how things should be done. Not because of our physical makeup, but that “Are our kids safe around us?” is gotta be the key thing in making those decisions.

But you know, I mean, you see it in our groups, there’s some very strong reactions to Feminism. Because a lot of men make sense of Feminism as women dominating men, it’s not about women having self-power, or choices. I think they take it from that patriarchal paradigm, about being the boss, in-charge, so if you’ve got Feminism, then they can’t live side-by-side with each other, this woman with rights and choices and the man with the same.

What we work towards in relationships is thinking about equality of relationship, how to share power in relationships. A lot of our guys who come to our group are really frightened that feminism means they’ll be lesser, lesser men or have lesser choices, or lesser ability in relationships. So you know it’s really important that we try unpack that stuff. What we’ve realised is that we need to spend time with guys asking what their fears are.

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