Some thoughts on violence in Kiwi culture

Article – Kerry Tankard

I’m a feminist who has been engaged in fundraising for support groups for survivors of sexual violence, and domestic violence, for over a decade. Within the network of people who work with abuse survivors, it is an accepted fact that in kiwi culture, …

Some thoughts on violence in Kiwi culture

By Kerry Tankard
February 25, 2012

I’m a feminist who has been engaged in fundraising for support groups for survivors of sexual violence, and domestic violence, for over a decade. Within the network of people who work with abuse survivors, it is an accepted fact that in kiwi culture, violence is seen as the ultimate in conflict resolution techniques – ‘it’s how you deal with uppity women, or men who threaten your macho identity, or children who seem disobedient by some arbitrary standard’, according to the multitude of abusive adults out there.

But society has moved on, if not in the minds of all citizens. We have laws to prevent rape within marriage, assault of one adult on another; laws to punish the taking of another’s life or sexual violence against adults or children. We don’t allow corporal punishment in schools, and there’s a law to protect children from being smacked to death – but these last two are hugely contentious, with some sectors of the community regarding it as an infringement of their rights not to be allowed to corporally punish their children.

On the other hand, we have community-sanctioned violence in sports – the recent Rugby World Cup ‘festival’ created an environment where the National Council of Women’s Refuges had to go on record saying that domestic violence rises when the national team loses a game, no matter whether they played badly or had the game ‘stolen’ from them. We have binge drinking and associated violence in our major cities nearly every weekend, creating havoc in the A&E trauma rooms of our hospitals every Saturday night through to Sunday afternoon, as public hospital staff will (and do) attest.

Our central city Police night shifts gird themselves for mayhem whenever big events come to our cities in the weekends, and take it as a matter of course that young drunken men will start brawls as they’re being told it’s ‘time to go home, ‘cos you can’t stay here’, when they leave late-night clubs or bars.

In Wellington, since this time last year, I have known of at least two young men who were savagely beaten by groups of other young men, both cases occurring on weekend ‘social drinking’ nights; that’s just within my own circle of acquaintances.

Those acts of violence were homophobic bashings. They resulted in the formation of an activism group to run a march in support of acceptance of homosexuality and other Queer gender identities, called ‘Queer the Night’ in homage to the long-running feminist ‘Reclaim the Night’ actions. Subsequently ‘The Queer Avengers’ was formed, an activist group aiming to promote acceptance of Queer identities within schools, universities and general society, to prevent outbreaks of queerphobic violence and bullying through diversity education, and to run support groups in schools for queer teens.

How did we come from the Wellington city that I walked all over in my youth, to this state? Even the Police expect a certain amount of alcohol-fuelled violence every weekend, and don’t appear to police the ‘no selling drinks to drunks’ rule in the Licensing Act, which was a feature of my time working my way through a BA in hospo.

We were thoroughly cautioned that we were to refuse service to obviously intoxicated patrons, and to call for backup from the bar manager/event manager/bouncers if we were pressed to serve more alcohol by patrons. That was less than ten years ago, but it seems we’ve moved away from a climate where staff are encouraged not to serve inebriated clients, ‘to protect the bottom line’ for businesses struggling through the recession.

Are we as a society getting more stressed, more violent, or are we just beginning to tolerate levels of violent behaviour that once would not have been remotely acceptable? I look back to the binge-drinking and drink-driving that the generation who were young adults in the 60’s engaged in, and I’d have to say we’ve had this culture of violence for at least three generations – because the alcohol just releases the inhibitions of adults who are ideologically comfortable with using violence to ‘win’ an argument or control a situation.

The basic problem is that we have a culture that polarises rapidly into binary positions of bigotry – black vs white, gay vs straight, rich vs poor, religious vs atheist, man vs woman, adult vs child, teacher vs pupil – where without conscious effort to maintain non-violent interactions, those who perceive themselves as entitled to power over others use bullying, or more subtle passive-aggressive behaviours, to assert their ‘right’ to have their own way. Add alcohol and the veneer of courtesy dissolves, leading to overt aggression and violence.

Christmas is the time of year when the helping agencies – National Network of Stopping Violence, Rape Crisis, Women’s Refuge, Te Whare Rokiroki (Maaori Women’s Refuge) – are all stretched to the limit trying to support those who are survivors of abuse, and also some of those who have been perpetrators of abuse who are trying, with counselling, to change habits of thinking and behaviour.

In November, we’ve seen the ‘White Ribbon’ national day of action to support men to stop violent behaviour, which is mostly targeted at getting men to intervene if they see a mate behave abusively in a domestic setting. We don’t actively have any organisation targeting the random, unfocused violence that unleashes when crowds of drinkers get ‘messy’ in party locations, especially the now-famous New Years’ Eve parties in Whangamata, and other locations that the youth (and not-so-young) of Auckland pour out into for the festive season. Random drink-driving advertisements come close, but don’t seem to get that the violence is only facilitated by the alcohol; it’s already there under the surface just waiting for a trigger, and that’s the unpalatable fact we need to address as a society.

For too long, feminists of the radical stripe have been holding together the support agencies that deal with much of the fallout from our violent culture.

It’s time for the rest of society to catch up and say, ‘it’s enough already!’

Personally, I’m tired of repeatedly dealing with the aftermath of bullies using violence against my friends and my community, I’d like some of the rest of the society to take a hand in stopping the violence, so I don’t have to support friends in Court, or go to another funeral of an amazing, loving, vibrant, creative person who had their life cut short by random thuggery.

For more information:

The links to msm articles are illustrative of stories filed around the RWC and Women’s Refuge responses to various events, plus a few around current funding concerns for Refuges nationwide.


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