New Zealand has a strange relationship with its own culture. I’d say it’s debatable whether New Zealand even has a culture. I’m not talking about the stolen-and-yet-surviving culture of indigenous Aotearoa. I’m not talking about a people whose language and land were taken from them through blunt force. The people I speak of are those who identify with Māori words – kiwi, haka – but roll their eyes at the mention of Māori grievances. I’m talking about colonised Pākehā Niw Zilund.
The culture Niw Zilund does have is built on a bedrock of masculinity. Much of it is toxic, but not all of it is. It boggles the mind that this needs to be stated, but the concept of toxic masculinity doesn’t equate all masculinity with toxicity. In fact, there are plenty of aspects of masculinity I find perfectly benign – even positive. But borne out of this culture is the ultimate Niw Zilund trope: the Good Bloke.
The Good Bloke is dependable. The Good Bloke is funny. The Good Bloke drinks Lion Red, or Waikato Draught, or Woodstock. The Good Bloke never screams obscenities at his children. Not in front of company, anyway. The Good Bloke doesn’t cry. He has the decency to take his emotions out on his wife in private. Maybe the Good Bloke has an upstanding reputation in his community. Maybe he babysits the kids once a month – he’s such a Good Bloke.
And before the Good Blokes hop in the replies to call me a fat ugly bitch, let me say this: of course real, true, honest-to-goodness good blokes exist. New Zealander of the Year Mike King is one of them. So is John Campbell, and Sir John Kirwan. The problem is our attachment to the trope. People want to believe that every bloke they know is a (proper) good bloke. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t back that belief up. Based on the numbers, it’s extremely likely you know a rapist or a wife-beater. And if you’re going through your rolodex right now and coming up empty, know this: these things tend to happen behind closed doors. Then they get buried.
Our attachment to the Good Bloke trope is so binding, a recent report on an NZ rape case described “the shocking descent of an average Kiwi bloke”. The convicted rapist was described in the piece as a married man with an “unblemished criminal record” who’d been suffering problems in his relationship with his wife. The problems were so bad in fact, the man took to parking up and drinking RTDs to avoid returning home. These marital problems caused a massive 'fall from grace' that culminated in the man raping a woman he didn’t know in a Dunedin public bathroom. Repeatedly.
I don’t intend to malign the reporter of this piece. Reporting on rape is treacherous business, and the media desperately needs to be educated around how to do it better. But here’s the thing: unlike some other crimes (like drug-selling, which can be committed out of desperation, or murder, which can be committed out of self-defense) there is never a redeeming, or understandable reason for rape. A spouse cannot drive a person to rape. Financial difficulties cannot drive a person to rape. A victim certainly cannot ‘tempt’ a person to rape. Rape is caused by one person and one person only: a rapist.
It’s shocking when a person sexually assaults a stranger. It causes us to wonder if we live among monsters. And that’s a query I don’t have an easy answer to. Because in a country where police attend an incident of domestic violence every five and a half minutes, you could argue that the answer is yes. But the monsters we live among do not often jump out of bushes with masks over their faces. They are usually our husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and friends. They are the Good Blokes we depend upon and sometimes love.
Good Bloke culture, which is just another way of saying toxic masculinity, needs to end. And the way we must end it is by demolishing patriarchy. Patriarchy, while disproportionately affecting women, keeps boys and men from experiencing a full life. It suffocates their emotions and encourages aggression. As our horrifying violence against women statistics show, that aggression can, and very often does, turn criminal. It’s up to us to stamp it out before it gets there.Support Villainesse