Background: A Brief History of the West
A thumbnail and only a tad simplistic sketch of Western ‘civilisation’ records men in the driving seat and women denied the right to drive, to voice objections to the destination and the quality of driving. Land and loot-grabbing wars, hierarchical rule, bloodline succession, uprisings, and rioting were frequent. Appalling brutality and revenge was visited on the rebellious, conquered, contenders, traitors. Civilisations rose and fell as new invaders swept in from the east. Various gods were worshipped, replaced, hybridised. Prophets and philosophers (some were women but were habitually written out of history) philosophised and advised. Narcissistic heroes (psychopathic killers – sulking sacrilegious Achilles springs to mind) were the subject of epics, myths and latterly Hollywood blockbusters. Plagues, famine and general pestilence dealt to all and sundry.
Women were held to be lesser mortals. In Western culture Jehovah/God gave women a bad rap and hard labour as punishment for Eve’s misconduct. Pathetic Adam got to rule. Some Christian disciples, saints, Popes, prelates also got hung up on women. Ironically Ireland was almost a place of enlightenment under the Brehon Laws (a Druid legacy) which allowed women to serve as magistrates and own property. Christianity co-existed with that set-up until Cromwell and Puritanism laid waste to the lot. Seventeenth-century religious wars decimated Europe. Religious freedom increased slowly, as did democracy, driven along by more frequent rioting and revolution. Old regimes were stripped of lawmaking functions, killed off. Atheists, agnostics, humanists are not quite pukkah even now.
Men postured about their superiority and made life difficult for women. In English law until the late nineteenth century, sexual double standards were endorsed by law, adulterous wives could be chucked out of the home, lose their kids and any matrimonial property . Not so men. Women’s suffrage was eventually won. New technologies offered better contraception, antibiotics improved birth and illegal abortion outcomes. Women’s liberation marched joyously and angrily in at the end of the 1960s and the social order changed. Many men got grumpy.
At much the same time as the ‘second wave’ of women’s advances, a psychopathic killer, James Bond, 007, became the swashbuckling, lawless, womanising, narcissist hero who saves the day, sometimes the world, on our cinema screens. ‘One night with you’ warbled his women and promptly got topped by psychopathic villains. What on earth does all this have to do with sex education? Quite a lot I think.
Women’s Liberation and Sexual Freedom
The central women’s liberation battle was around fertility control, abortion and sexual freedom. Here in New Zealand, conservatives won hands down. Censorship of contraception continued! Abortion was effectively outlawed. Doctors, bless them, wouldn’t work under the new law. It was grumpily amended. Abortion numbers slowly rose, clinics were set up. But abortion remains stigmatised and hard to access in many areas. Today the abortion pill is only available in licenced clinics i.e. not doctors’ surgeries. The certification procedures insult and humiliate women. Contraceptive censorship inhibited sex education and was repealed in 1990. Unfortunately nobody told teachers, Boards of Trustees, or chemists of the change!
The Roastbusters’ story has raised belated awareness of the shambolic approach to sex education and widespread demand for improvement. Since the mid-80s responsibility for it has lain with school Boards of Trustees. Some schools had good programmes and resources, others were middling, offered sporadically or not at all. The Education Review Office drew attention to the problems and was ignored.
Our valiant political enforcers of right and wrong didn’t want a bar of the mess but kept railing about a crisis in teen birth rates. Statistics showed a sharp fall since the late 1960s but these were ignored. It seems it isn’t masturbation that leads to blindness, it’s the prurience of elders. The sexual desire of young women can still offend a male-articluated sense of socio-economic order. A blind eye is turned to the lust of young men who impregnate, spread disease. Are they still indulgently held to be sowing their wild oats?
A Perfect Storm
A mainly media inspired backlash against the women’s movement and its demands for more money for child care, paid parental leave shuddered through the manly bosoms of free marketeers in Labour and National. Increased take up of the DPB at the end of the 80s, the delusional belief in the availability of sex education, a return to a vindictive approach to unwed/single mothers and their need for support, ongoing stigmatisation of abortion and fallacious claims about teen birth rates proved fertile ground in which nasty attitudes to women’s sexuality would once again flourish.
That the main route to the DPB had been (still is?) family breakdown often caused by the unemployment and redundancies foisted on families by new-right economics is ignored. Did politicians in the major parties mention this? Good heavens no! They were too busy putting their own snouts in the public trough and preparing to bash beneficiaries. The media wasn’t much better and is still hopeless in its reporting of social research.
Next up was a new variant on anti-women propaganda. Political correctness under Prime Minister Helen Clark’s Labour Government was regulating men’s lives! Sob sessions on talkback radio became unpleasantly inflamed courtesy of rightwing shock jocks pretending to be ordinary blokes. Shockjocks never mentioned how scaffolding regulations made the lives of ordinary blokes safer. Or how women are regulated in respect of abortion. Women can feel less safe when stigmatised, endlessly judged, subjected to abusive comment, their lifestyles distorted for political ends. Welfare was undermining the economy, not least the winning simplicity of free-market economics. Then came the Global Financial Crisis, brilliantly orchestrated by freewheeling bankers. Any fool (a woman like myself?) who had taken ten minutes to read about derivatives should have seen it coming. (Quite when is a harder call).
Today’s Ugly Reality, and the Roastbusters
Following on the heels of talkback came internet trolls: narcissistic young men who are foully abusive of women who speak out. Check the response to Dana Johansen, a NZ Herald sports commentator reporting on the winter Olympics.
Well-intentioned concern about increased drinking by young women saw Accident and Emergency doctors referring to the risk of rape and pregnancy rather than health issues per se. Or is this how the media chose to report the problems (hey, sex sells)? Only the drink-driving of young men seems to attract major educational campaigns. They also impregnate, risk alcohol poisoning, and their fights, muggings, homicides cost emergency and police services millions. Just a boy’s rite of passage?
Last year the Roastbusters ‘exploits’ hit the headlines and shocked most of us, maybe most of the world. Narcissistic young men gang raped underaged, intoxicated girls. Then boasted about their efforts on Facebook to humiliate them. It’s just like the young men in some Muslim cultures where a woman wearing the wrong clothing, revealing a strand of hair is inviting rape, imprisonment and further rapes by prison guards.
What to Do?: The Elephant in the Room
The police are re-examining the events. For me the bigger issue it how the young men arrived at such an action and how other young men have shouted ‘Right on!’ when they heard about it. There has been a widespread call for them to be taught respect and empathy towards women. As if kids hadn’t repeatedly asked for relationship education. Has there been an official response? Other than handwringing? What action is proposed? Schools can only do so much, the curriculum is overstretched, and responsibility lies with Boards of Trustees that are beholden to their community.
What does respect mean in the eyes of of conservative churches? What about traditional Don Juans who are portrayed as empathetic (the secret of their success?) but given to cruelty and violence towards women who refuse their seductive charms.
And what about the elephant in the room – male narcissism? It is not just young men who seek recompense for loss of power and status vis-à-vis women and want to set the clock back. The Roastbusters rebuked young women for their sexual carelessness by raping and humiliating them? I get a bit lost here: is this a form of ‘male’ logic’? There is no line between ‘they asked for it’ and ‘serve them right’! Justice is served?
Their approach revealed an extraordinary degree of narcissism and cruelty. Narcisissism is attracting attention in mass shootings. And in court cases where sexual jealousy, an outraged sense of rejection and betrayal, once sympathetically recognised in ‘man made’ law, still incites men to violence and murder. Women less so.*
Men need to look into the mirror, see past their self-love and learn to live with bruised egos, gender equality. They need to re-examine the narcissism, brutality and the sense of entitlement of cultural ‘heroes’ and recognise that some of today’s real-life heroes, sportsmen, are narcissists not averse to sexual assault and fighting. Men need to be more involved their sons’ lives, take the initiative in discussing these issues in public and private. Bullying (common to both sexes and of major concern in schools) is a form of narcissism and should be recognised as such.
Shockjocks need to examine their contribution to the Roastbusters ‘culture’. Will some young men end up in prison because they were persuaded by their celebrity elders to become heroic forerunners of a new culture, brave revolutionaries initiating the overthrow of the monstrous regiment of women that tyrannically usurped a righteous male state? I am going to repeat what I said above:
Women can feel less safe when stigmatised, endlessly judged, are subject to abusive comment and have their lives distorted for political ends. Let me add: Maybe they are less safe.
* See this week’s Listener 19-25 April, This Life section re Psychology where Marc Wilson nails it in Too sexy for their shirts.