Erecting the Men’s Movement
Salient feature writer Rob Addison looks at New Zealand’s emerging men’s movement, revealing what their members have to say about women as well as what women have to say about them.
Jim Bagnall believes feminism has gone too far. A founding member of New Zealand’s two most recognised pro-men organisations, the Union of Fathers and the Fathers of New Zealand, he is a tireless campaigner behind an emerging movement. He conducts “bothering” protests outside the homes of judges, lawyers and anyone else who he sees as impeding father’s rights to equal parenting of their children. For Bagnall, it’s time enough. “Men’s roles are missing in most walks of life now.”
Bagnall says the men’s movement came as a response to the passing of the Domestic Violence Act (1995), which he says allowed fathers to be charged without fair trial or reasonable evidence. He argues that this legislation assisted what he describes as the Family Court’s feminist agenda, responsible for separating more than 300,000 New Zealand children from their fathers every year. He says the Family Court is where the feminist agenda has been most rabid – where judges, lawyers and social workers have climbed upon the pro-women cause that has been an incredibly damaging process for men.
In July, United Future MP Judy Turner stuck up for New Zealand men by saying it was time to stop portraying women as victims, and that men have just as many issues that need addressing as women.
“Men die years earlier, have poorer health outcomes, get more harshly punished in the justice system for the same crime done by a women and are falling behind in all education outcomes. But these are hardly mentioned or addressed because the agenda has been set that we ever consider women as victims, and it’s time this changed.
“There are definitely still areas where women are behind, such as representation on boards, and I am very supportive of work being done to address these areas. But gender issues appear on both sides, and we need to better address the fact that only 18 per cent of primary teachers and less than 1 per cent of early childhood teachers are male.”
Primary and pre-school education is another area that Bagnall feels strongly about. “You’ve only got to look at the proportion of male to female teachers. For example, in the primary schools and pre-schools, [men] don’t go there for a reason, don’t they?” Bagnall is, of course, alluding to the stigmatism of sexual harassment attached to male teachers, which he says has led many males, who would have once considered the teaching profession, to now just not want to go there.
Peter Zohrab, Acting President of the New Zealand Equality Education Foundation, also believes the Family Court is a good example of how our culture has turned against manhood. “Whether formal or informal, there is a belief that women are disadvantaged and you have to do things to improve the situation for them. And the fact that you do this actually reinforces this stereotype, this cultural belief, that women are oppressed.” And who has been framed as the oppressor? According to Zohrab, we now live in a world where “minorities are good and majorities are bad. Similarly with feminism – women are good, men are bad.”
A familiar face to Victoria, Zohrab is notorious for controversy. After gaining a law degree in 2005, Zohrab was refused the somewhat routine Certificate of Standing from the Dean – a final stage in completing law qualifications and a crucial step in being admitted to practice law. This is so routine in fact, that only three students were denied it between 2000 and 2005, and Zohrab’s denial has been attributed to his take on gender issues – or “sex issues”, as he prefers. In more recent times, contributions to an Institute of Policy Studies discussion panel on men’s and women’s constitutional rights made by Zohrab were also rejected and were refused public airing after he claimed Victoria had inappropriately ‘mainstreamed’ feminism. Outside campus, Zohrab is a recognised anti-feminist, frequently experiencing public confrontation from those opposed to his views, which Zohrab says he does his best to ignore.
After speaking with Zohrab, this controversy comes as no surprise. Take his position on violence. Zohrab unequivocally believes more violence is committed by women on men than the reverse. “Now this doesn’t show up in US statistics because for someone to get arrested, first of all you have to have a complaint, and men don’t generally complain about these things. And secondly you need to have an arrest, and men are usually the people who get arrested for this and women are not usually the people who get arrested. It has to be a drastic situation for a woman rather than a man to get arrested. A woman just has to be afraid of a man for a man to get arrested. Whereas for a woman to be arrested for hitting a man, the man has to have severe injuries.”
At this point, I suggested that some people may have an issue with the fact that, on average, a man is capable of causing greater physical injury than a woman. “What you’re saying,” says Zohrab, “assumes that if a man is hit by a women, as long as it’s not seriously hurtful then they just have to put up with it. And what you are supporting is that women be able to hit their partners as much as they like so long as it doesn’t make severe harm on him and he just has to put up with it. Now if he happens to gets angry about it and hit back, and he happens to hit her hard, that’s not his fault, that’s her fault for hitting him in the first place.”
Research Associate in Gender and Women’s Studies and economics writer Prue Hyman laughs when I relay this to her. In fact she laughs every time Zohrab is dropped into conversation. “Well, that of course is complete garbage. It shows what sort of absurd world he is living in. Violence is much worse if you’re left half dead and men are stronger, it’s as simple as that. The victims of domestic violence are still predominately women and children, not men. There are a few men, but there are not many.”
Hyman has a dismissive attitude that underlies her entire view of the men’s movement. When I asked her what she knows about men’s groups, she admitted to knowing very little, saying she’s been sent links to pro-men websites that she hasn’t gotten around to viewing, “although I will at some point”. But Hyman doesn’t buy their message. She outright rejects any argument that men have become more disadvantaged than women. “It’s just nonsense”, she says. To her, women will be disadvantaged for as long as men occupy the majority of managerial roles and continue to, on average, make higher earnings.
For Bagnall, it’s these types of attitudes that he is devoted to fighting. Arguing that most male discrimination takes place in the family setting, he says “once you discriminate against people in a domestic situation, I think that discrimination carries right through [to wider society]. I think you get men out of the social services at your peril because they provide another dimension – a balancing dimension to the female perspective – and I’m not saying that that’s wrong or that’s right, I’m saying we need balance … and that was the original complaint of the feminists, wasn’t it? That there was no balance.”
Balance, to Bagnall, Hyman and Zohrab, is the Holy Grail. While they all agree on the need for this, they have completely different ways of tackling it. Bagnall’s solution to resolve what he describes as our “tribal, factional inter-fighting” begins with introducing an entrenched constitution that defines and enshrines our individual rights.
Zohrab suggests more sweeping changes, arguing that we need to restructure our education system and media, which he says have strong feminist biases. “I can’t think of any way [men are] not discriminated against. Take universities for example. Universities are primarily political institutions and secondarily academic institutions in countries like New Zealand and other western countries. That’s because they’re corrupted by people who go in there and teach there under the guise of academic freedom, which means freedom for the lecturers and slavery for the students. They feel free and are free to impose their own personal agendas in anything they teach. And these agendas are typically anti-male and in fact Victoria University has apparently mainstreamed feminism, so that is mainstreaming anti-male, propaganda. We need to start at the level of information because information is what brainwashes people’s minds. It means feminism should be disestablished and de-mainstreamed and not taught in any kind of educational institution. It means there should be some way of controlling the bias in the media.”
Zohrab also believes affirmative action-like policies are a starting-point for the feminist agenda, and therefore should be done away with. “You have the issue of if a female manager is not competent at dealing with an angry male customer then they’re not competent and they shouldn’t be doing their job. But they’re entitled to have a job just because they’re women. Because they’re women they’re automatically deemed competent, and when they’re in those positions of power they’re automatically sexist because they automatically take the side of women against men.”
Zohrab also believes the feminist agenda has become so ubiquitous that it’s allowed the rights of others, especially children, to become second priorities. “Things like abortion have been pushed quite successfully by the feminists because they want women to be out in the workforce and because they want women to have economic and other sources of power. And everything else gets thrown out the window. The rights of an unborn child get thrown out the window because the priority is given to a woman’s right to have a job. And then coming back to this issue of work life balance, research that might show that children suffer negative consequences by being put into childcare as opposed to being looked after by their natural mother in the home. These are disregarded because there is a feminist agenda to get women into the workplace.”
Hyman, who believes paid and unpaid work should be balanced between a couple, accepts there are areas where men suffer disadvantage, citing free-funding for breast cancer screening and paid prostate checks as an example and an initiative that Hyman would happily support. She also acknowledges the sexual harassment stigmatism that comes with male teachers. “I do think that’s a shame,” she says.
But this is where her sympathy ends. On education, Hyman adds “there are quite simple things, like a primary school teacher is not very well paid and men tend not to go when they’re not going to be well paid. You can’t blame women for that.”
“There’s clear evidence that if you take, for example, management, men are more likely to push for higher wages. For people doing the same job where it’s more of an individual bargaining stuff … men are more educated towards selling themselves and making the most of their CV.”
But Hyman believes women’s greatest disadvantage is the responsibility of child-rearing, which she argues, women still make more sacrifices for than men. “As with men anywhere else, they don’t take much time out to have their kids, so they have a chance to get to the top.”
So what does Hyman advise as a solution? Well, more feminism. “I think it’s a slow and steady thing rather than a ‘one size fits all’ or ‘wave a magic wand’ thing. I think violence is one of the major issues still and again the cultural issues around it. And then it’s a gradual working away at the whole business of paid and unpaid work and the best way of arranging our lives around that.”
“Good feminist policies should actually advantage women, men and children. They’re about trying to make a fairer world generally and a world where traditional gender stereotypes are reduced … it would be a better world if the world was more balanced. So it shouldn’t be a war, but unfortunately, both sides and media coverage have at times made it a war. Feminism, properly interpreted, shouldn’t be a threat to men. They often see it that way, but it shouldn’t be. And unfortunately, I think the men’s movement really has been a big backlash that has been anti-feminist and often anti-women. And I don’t think it needs to be.”
“People say women should behave more like men. I sometimes say it would be better if more men behaved like women.”
But this is something Bagnall will never accept. “We always said during the feminist revolution that men needed to show their emotions more. And when we do, you’re on a guilt trip, you’re an abuser of some kind, or you’re not appropriate, or whatever it is.”
But ultimately, Bagnall is hopeful that New Zealand can achieve his type of balance in the future. “I’m an optimistic individual and I have hope. But we have a long way to go before the equality that enshrines human rights in a constitution. I am hopeful that we will turn around to each other … and we’ll say to each other, ‘yeah, we’re all in the same country, let’s have the same law for everybody, and let’s have a constitutional court that not only gives advice to the government, but can enforce something under the law.”