Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Men hanging on to old attitudes, says writer

Peter Adams was a co-founder of the North Harbour Living Without Violence collective in the 1980s. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Peter Adams was a co-founder of the North Harbour Living Without Violence collective in the 1980s. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Men have colonised women's minds just as the English colonised the Maori, says Auckland University psychologist Peter Adams.

He said more than 30 years of feminism had achieved huge changes in the "public" sphere, but research he had done recently with young men suggested little has changed in the private sphere - at home.

"I thought things had changed, but I was so shocked to hear those young guys saying the same old stuff that men were saying 30 years ago," he said.

His book trying to explain it, Masculine Empire, is being launched today, before Sunday's White Ribbon Day - an annual event encouraging men to stand up against violence towards women.

The book, sponsored by the Families Commission, blends academic analysis and New Zealand colonial history with imagined conversations in a bar among five men whom Dr Adams described as "composites of features derived from the many men I have worked with as either a practitioner or as a researcher".

He was a co-founder of the North Harbour Living Without Violence collective in the 1980s. He is also a husband and a father of four children now aged 26 to 17.

"I'd hate my daughters to end up in abusive relationships. They haven't yet, but many of their friends have ended up in violent, controlling relationships."

He said the way men talked among themselves about women in settings such as sports clubs and bars revealed a sense of entitlement to a superior position, much like the sense of racial superiority that the English colonisers felt towards the Maori.

"I'm convinced that we men have a role in maintaining the attitudes and beliefs and assumptions that underpin why some men act on their belief in themselves as superior and entitled to positions of power in their homes," he said.

"I'm not saying all men are doing that. I'm saying that the way we talk to each other plays a big part in enabling it to happen."

The five men in his book talk explicitly about the way they "maintain control" at home by strategies such as closely monitoring their partners, controlling their access to friends and family, and putting them down in ways that make the women feel worthless.

But Dr Adams believed most men picked up these strategies less consciously through apparently light-hearted banter.

"It might be in the way jokes are told," he said.

"The beginning of the book tries to depict the joyful exuberance that we have as men together, often putting each other down. Those occasions are also training grounds. They do tip so easily into a sense that us men together know how the world really should be."

He said men learned to be tough, self-sufficient and non-effeminate. He went to a Catholic boys' school where anyone who was not tough and into sport was pilloried as "gay".

Forty years later, the young men whom he interviewed recently for the "It's not okay" campaign suggested that not much had changed.

"The negative attitudes flooded out in the first five minutes of interviewing: 'women are just as violent as men', 'men need to stay in charge', 'women often provoke violence'," he wrote in the book.

"We have made huge progress in the public sphere - in the workplace, in politics," he said.

"I'm not convinced we have made the same level of progress in male-only spaces where a lot of the work and education of men happens - in the playground, in fights, in sports teams."

Masculine Empire: How men use violence to keep women in line, Dunmore, $49.99.

- NZ Herald

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