New Zealand's rape culture myth
I have several arts degrees. That makes me a liberal wanker. But above all else, as a sociologist, I seek understanding without fear or favour.
With that in mind, I am troubled by the use of this term "rape culture" that New Zealand is said to uphold. It seems that every second person among the privileged middle classes, and therefore many of my friends, are throwing it around as if it’s a fact. It’s entering the Kiwi lexicon.
Despite its sociological roots in the 1970s where it undoubtedly served an important polemical purpose, anybody using the term "rape culture" in the New Zealand context today are either unfamiliar with what culture means or are simply using it incorrectly.
We do not celebrate rape in art nor is it a custom or social behaviour of our society. Actually, we sanction strongly against it. New Zealand most certainly does not uphold a rape culture. It’s a misnomer that has taken on a life of its own.
There are some who victim-blame and, traditionally, policing has been far from ideal, but the former tends to be isolated to small, mostly conservative or religious individuals, and the latter has changed dramatically. Even historically, when these elements were more rife, it’s doubtful this ever encapsulated a "rape culture" per se. Furthermore, by overegging the cake, the people who use the term do a disservice to the important cause of addressing sexual violence.
This is why many men got upset with David Cunliffe apologising for being a man or why some turn around an argument about male violence and point out violence perpetuated by women. It’s because the vast majority of men are not violent toward women, sexual or otherwise.
I have sympathy with this position of frustration; innocent people don’t like to be labelled. It’s akin to generalising that women are caregivers (though the vast majority of primary caregivers are female) because it’s sexist, perhaps offensive. Although not as offensive as saying that New Zealand’s men uphold a culture of rape.
It has bizarrely become taboo to say it, but not all men are the problem. That is a fact.
We are all, however, part of the solution. Men need to speak out and step-up when they see sexual harms occurring. This includes being mindful of sexist language. There are some linguistic examples of engrained sexism in language that illuminate how words affect our thinking. Language is important. And that, in part, is why we need to stop saying New Zealand has a rape culture. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s also unhelpful.
*I have donated $100 to Women’s Refuge as part of my commitment to the cause. If all people who read this did that then we’d make their day, I’m sure.
Dr Jarrod Gilbert lectures in sociology at Canterbury University and is the author of Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand.