Up Front by Emma Hart

35

I Never Been ta Borstal

by Steven Crawford

I've been working for an artist as their technician for a number of years now. I have welding skills and the ability to work across fabrication engineering and fine arts. My formal qualifications in both are a direct result of my dyslexia. All of my engineering training took place in high male to female ratio workshops, the arts training was the other way around.  

I'm not going to name my artist for commercial reasons. Let's just say her name is 'The Artist'. The most recent job we have on is for a Women's Refuge fund raising exhibition. As we were driving around Onehunga, The Artist said she thought Women's Refuge wasn't the ideal name because women are not the only victims of domestic violence. I was like, "Wait! What? I agree, but changing the paradigm is probably impossible."

That's not something I would normally say to The Artist. She is constantly coming up with dreadfully challenging engineering tasks that don't look mechanically possible on the first draft, but I don't let on that anything is ever impossible. It's just not the way we roll. 

I am a fabrication engineer and an artist. I'm not a sociologist, but my own experiences can shine light onto the 'Kiwi male psyche'. My parents separated at a time when grandparent-type people were offering children of separated parents commiserations by saying things like, "It's a shame you're from a broken home." 

And kids who found themselves in trouble with the law were represented by lawyers sayings things like, "This kid comes from a good family." I didn't go to university to study sociology. I only went for the orientations. I have a great memories of the Auckland University cafe music events where we would drink beer from milkshake containers – those "Tallest drinks in town" milkshake cartons, the ones with the giraffe picture – full of tap beer!  

I developed an interest in alcohol from an early age. Not just because DB and Lion branded their products as the male ideal. My drinking began at the local pedophile's pad. I was introduced to it by one of the girls I went to school with. She said we could smoke cigarettes there and hang out. I had no idea that this was a serial pedophile's lair. I have since forgiven myself for this oversight. It was like nobody else, including my parents seemed to recognise the problem either. I 'celebrated' my 13th birthday in that house of horror. 

He was unlike the other pedophile that had groomed me for child abuse earlier in my life, and had been a trusted friend of the family and at times legal guardian (a Centrepoint style criminal). This weirdo who I made myself available to without any parental assistance was an absolute monster, in hindsight.  

Off I went on a teenage alcoholic trajectory, which led to a bit of violence. I wasn't particularly interested in fighting, but I was a problematic drunk at times, and I had a tendency to show up at dangerous parties.  

My first real serious bashing had nothing to do with my drinking. Four of my former acquaintances decided to round on me. They arrived in the middle of the night at a place I was staying, to smash a few windows, punch and kick me to the floor and leave me with a concussion after smashing a bottle of beer on my head.  

I've never had the stomach for that kind of violence, but the drinking just kept me from escaping the sordid, shitty social circles I was being sucked into.

I was at a party where violence was happening outside, then suddenly I was being dragged by my hair onto a porch  I suddenly realised was an actual mini arena. I managed to use wrestling moves like the scissors hold and a headlock to restrain my opponent. This wasn't enough for some of the spectators. They wanted to see blood.

At one stage during this nightmare, I heard someone telling me to "Go now, get out of here!" I escaped, I ran up the road dived into some bushes and listened to footsteps running up the road looking for me. That's fight or flight, which I know! It's the corner-stone creator of the expensive-to-treat, post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the watered-down, less serious, boys-will-be-boys "Young men get themselves into fights" dismissal statements persist, without considering that the majority of young men are not inherently violent human beings. They are just expected to be, for fucked-up cultural reasons. The main reason I went to drinking parties is fundamentally for much the same reasons that birds sing. 

This kind of mental injury shit happened in tandem with also having some good adult mentors and positive interests and activities such as non-competitive sailing and art. I was involved in Greenpeace and I went to a progressive alternative school which promoted democratic participation. That's probably why I've never been jailed and I'm not dead. Healthy mentors were available and supportive of me, the best they could. 

But still, a particularly violent event well and truly lifted me out of adolescence, when I had just turned twenty. It very nearly woke me up to the fact that I was in need of some kind of professional psychological help. Scratch that, it was obvious enough that I needed some sort of respite, which I was buggered if I knew how to go about applying for.

It was when one of my friends decided to commit suicide by lying on a rural road, in the middle of a particularly dark night. A car ran over the top of him, and because the driver had been drinking, they carried on down the road without stopping. What I witnessed as I stood there with a torch was profound. His brain was knocked out of his head. I was gazumped. I had been living with the fantasy that one day I was going to kill myself, and all my problems would dissolve. Then this eighteen year-old went and did it first, which certainly gave me something to cry about. And showed how spectacularly final death really is. The dubious qualities of self-awareness switched on in high resolution.   

The pedophile experiences were buried deeply below all this other drama. It wasn't until I made it into my mid to late twenties that I began to realise they were the main drivers of my drinking problems.

I was at a community health clinic answering a questionaire, and one of the questions, "Have you ever been sexually abused?" set me off on an out of body experience. I didn't know what to do. I was caught off guard, so I said yes! But I wouldn't be doing anything about it for the time being. I had to first address the alcohol problem, then fortunately  the mental health profession began catch up.

A question I was asked in the early days after making a disclosure was, "Do you have any interest sexual in children yourself?" That's one the myths – the belief that male child abuse turns the victims into weird freaks – that made me reluctant to disclose earlier. The bar to becoming a trauma counsellor was set pretty low then, and it's not raised particularly high since. I'd put my money on the clinical psychologists. Especially the new generations. These admirable people do their homework. 

It's different for average men recovering from trauma than it is for women. That's not because our brains are fundamentally different. It's a cultural thing. Gender politics gets into the mix. And there are no easy ways to unpack that.  

Violence isn't only physical; it's also psychological. In order to get an ACC sensitive claim, you need to have a mental injury, not just a physical one. There isn't any evidence that I'm aware of to say that men and boys are any more, or any less, mentally robust than women and girls.  

Recovering from the consequences of violence requires comprehensive community support. But sometimes it feels like the community is at war. This for me is an echo of my "broken home". That's my own problem to deal with. I am aware that the feminist movement fought for equality. We all benefit from that. I know the women's movement set up the women's refuge, and rape crisis. None of that answers the problem of general ignorance about male victimisation.

I exposed some difficult personal history, you might say intimate details about myself, in an attempt to start a new conversation. I wrote this essay because I'm sick and tired of seeing male victims of violence marginalised in public discourse.  

Before anyone says "diddums", this isn't the 1970s anymore. In this essay, I'm not particularly interested in gender politics per se . I'm identifying a public health problem that needs to be addressed. It's not in the best interests of anyone to have men wandering around alone and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We need to create environments that facilitate disclosure. I am supporting that work here.

20

Our House

This is a house in Russell Square, Timaru. My family lived in the upstairs flat when I was four and five. I am terrified of this house.

I went back to it once, when I was sixteen. I’d been up that end of town because I had a hospital appointment, and it was either wander around aimlessly or go back to school. I was sixteen and kind of self-absorbed, so I saw no problem with going through the gate and looking around the outside. I went around the back to pick out my bedroom window – it had stained glass along the edges. Then I left, and never told anyone I’d been there.

That rickety wooden staircase up the outside, sometimes I wonder if it’s the reason I’m scared of heights. I wasn’t when I was little, I can remember that. Now, stairs with no risers are the absolute worst. I’m not scared of falling, it’s not that logical. I’m scared of being up high.

Maybe it’s because, when I was four, I saw my dad beat one of my brothers down those stairs.

A long time after I left home for uni, one of my brothers bought a house nearby. Sitting on their porch, you could see the roof of the Russell Square house in the not-enough distance. It cast a shadow on my heart.

We didn’t live there for very long, but I have a few memories. I remember the woman from downstairs coming up in floods of tears when Elvis died. I remember the ice-cream cake I got for my fifth birthday. I didn’t even know ice-cream cake was a thing. I remember our iron exploding. I remember I’d taken all the cushions off the couch and I was doing forward rolls on them when the police came to take me away. My mum was in the car downstairs, her face all over bruises.

There are no feelings with those memories, just dark holes where feelings should be. But I am terrified of that house.

Earlier this year, the process of preparing to have new carpet laid led to me realising, for the first time, that my father killed himself. Nobody told me at the time, which was probably the right thing to not do.

There has been a photograph of my father on my desk since Fathers’ Day. I went looking, because I didn’t know if I had one. He’s sitting in the sea, holding me upright in the water. He’s looking at me, with adoration. I’m looking at Mum, who is holding the camera. There are no feelings there, either.

My father was treated, unsuccessfully, for his alcohol addiction several times. He was never, so far as I know, treated for his violence, his abusiveness, the sense of entitlement that underlay it all. I wish he had got help. I wish the people who enabled him had actually helped him. I wish people asked, “Why did your father do that? How could he do that?” and not “Why didn’t your mother leave sooner? How could she put you through that?”

The new family violence initiatives are a good start. I hope they come with a change of culture. There’s not much point, for instance, in issuing more protections orders, and having more people able to ask for them, if they’re not going to be enforced. To prevent and heal the damage caused by domestic abuse requires funding to sectors who’ve lost it: counselling, community organisations, refuges. Victims need to be able to afford to leave abusers, and have somewhere to live when they do. It’s good that someone can have specific domestic violence charges on their record, but that doesn’t keep their future partners safe. The only way to do that is for the perpetrators to change.

And they should want to. My father adored me. I never loved him. I can never forgive him. It is forty years later, and I am still terrified of a house.

43

I Swear, It's True

There is a persistent myth among the kind of people I desperately try to avoid that swearing is a sign of low intelligence. Frequent swearing shows a lack of imagination and vocabulary.

Fuck that noise.

Research shows what people I would choose to hang out with have always known: swearing correlates with both vocabulary and intelligence. The more words you know, the more swears you know. Profanity plays on the edges of language, it colours outside the lines. The areas that allow for the most swearing allow for the most creative play with language. Being ‘allowed’ to swear is an indication of freedom: you’re not at work (mostly) or at school or in church. I understand that being around swearing makes some people feel genuinely uncomfortable. For others, it’s a sign of that very comfort, our ability to relax and be ourselves. We’re not swearing to be hard, or to try to impress people by how cool we are. No, honestly. This is us.

Yesterday, in the interests of science, I asked people to tell me their favourite swears. And boy was there creative language play all up the walls.

The words I got were all nouns or noun phrases. They weren’t things you might exclaim when accidentally clicking on an Internet Explorer icon or treading in a cat-present. They were things you’d call people, as insults.

To balance that, however, they weren’t all that transgressive or obscene. What many of them had in common was the combination of a sexual pejorative and something else completely unrelated. For instance:

Fuck-knuckle (this is my preferred spelling, but I will accept fuckknuckle and fucknuckle)

Douche-canoe

Fuck trumpet

Fuckspackle

Knobweasel

And my personal favourite, cockwomble.

The other thing these words share is that, like our old friend twatcock, they’re enormous fun to say. Go on, say cockwomble. Out loud. Now. Doesn’t it have absolutely delicious mouth-feel?

Cockwomble also has a lovely British feeling about it, which the best swearing does, a certain Tuckeresque appeal. British English just seems better at insulting people. Remember this?

 

(I had not realised that I actually stole “shit-gibbon”, though I think the addition of “feckless” improved it.)

And one, used for the same person but from a different source, which a couple of people mentioned:

Hoofwanking bunglecunt. Say it. Buy it. It’s amazing. Bungle didn’t even have hooves. The appeal is nothing to do with the semantics, it’s about the roll of those vowels, the chewiness of those consonants. The bite of the Naughty Words is softened by the silliness of their accompaniment, but also, their originality makes them much more insulting. Think about it for a moment. What would you rather be called, a cunt, or a cock-punching thunder cunt?

Okay, no, don’t, that doesn’t prove my point at all. Fuck.

And yeah, most of the time, we’re just going to come out with the old classics like ‘fuck’. I like to liven things up with a bit of tmesis, but even when I do that it’s normally “Jesus fucking Christ” possibly “on a bike” or “in a shit-hole”. But the glorious language that’s come out of my informal survey has brought home to me the main point in all this.

It’s not the swearing, it’s how we’re swearing. Front-bottoming arse-badger.

61

Dear Dudebros

I’ve written about consent a time or two (or eleven, as it turns out) here at Public Address. I’ve been thoughtful, constructive, and considered. I’ve done that. It’s done. Please bear that in mind, while I have a word with the dudebros.

Guys. Just how fucking stupid are you?

I don’t know how we got here, to this place where men can manage boardrooms and governments but not their own behaviour. You can run anything, you’re the natural leaders, except when it comes to ‘not harming the women around you’. Then, you’re a bunch of feckless shit-gibbons. If a woman doesn’t treat you like a natural hazard, if she doesn’t dress and behave like she lives in a fucking war zone, then somehow your behaviour is her responsibility.

There’s a word for males whose behaviour is a woman’s responsibility. That word is ‘boy’, and the woman is called ‘Mummy’.

A woman’s job is not consent to having sex with you. Clothes a woman put on before she ever met you are not consent to having sex with you. Being really keen to have sex with someone is not consent to having sex with you. A woman is not consenting if she isn’t constantly repeating the word ‘no’, despite what defence lawyers might tell you.

But here’s something you guys will apparently find a mind-buggering revelation. Women don’t have to give consent. No, stay with me here. They can initiate sex. Women can be the ones who ask for consent. If you find the prospect of pausing and saying “Yes?” and waiting for an answer too terrifying (and you’re too stupid to realise how hot that can be), maybe try waiting until she asks you. I hear being accused of rape can really blight your promising sporting career. I can’t imagine anything worse.

And what kind of a loser “has sex” with a woman whom they know “wasn’t that into it”? You couldn’t get a woman to want to have sex with you? How bad at the sexing do you have to be to not realise there’s something wrong if your partner isn’t moving, making any noise, or participating in any way? Is that what it’s normally like for you?

Loser. Here’s a tip: women are active participants in sex they want to have. It’s pretty great. You should try it.

Freezing up in shock is the most common reaction to be raped. Not fighting back, not screaming. She’s lying there not moving because her body and her mind are trying to protect her from the trauma of you. How sexy is that?

Correct. It’s not sexy at all. Loser.

I reckon the dude who does this is the same kind of dude who, when surrounded by about twenty other dudes and with a couple of drinks in him, is just about brave enough to assault a stripper. What a man. What a shit-gibbon.

But look, here’s why I think you’re stupid. I think you’re other things too, but let’s concentrate on this for now. Women have more sex when they feel safe. This goes so far that there’s a positive correlation between the percentage of women in a government, and the number of sexual partners women in that country have. You want to have casual sex on the regular? Your odds increase if you stop making women feel threatened. (I mean, you know all your ways of tricking women into sex, like negging, and breaking the touch barrier, are on the internet, right? And women can read?)

If your fellow dudes are being all “Hey isn’t it cool throwing beer on women she said no but I’m going to keep pushing let’s see if we can make her cry” they are diminishing your chances of getting laid. What kind of a friend doesn’t want you to get laid?

Show us you’re not a little baby-man. Show us your masculinity is robust enough that you can stand up to the baby-men. Stop being so chicken-shit terrified of women that you have to demean them to make yourself feel better. It might just pay off for you.

33

The Best Possible Taste

The Broadcasting Standards Authority used to do this fantastic test of community standards when it came to language. They would knock on people’s doors, hold up cards with words like “Arsehole” on them, and say, “How offensive is this?” Disappointingly, this is now done over the internet, but the results page is still one of my favourite places on the internet. The survey is done every four years, and listening to people trying to report on it without breeching the very broadcasting standards it concerns is a thing of joy.

This is not about that. But it’s worth bringing up to note that what the BSA does is not set “community standards”, but reflect them. Its job is not to tell people what to find offensive, but to have people tell it, and then try to apply that standard consistently. I personally would have “faggot” much higher on that list, but that’s not the BSA’s fault. (Also, I’d hyphenate “mother fucker”, so what do I know?)

In this spirit, the BSA has just released the report on its Litmus Test of the Good Taste and Decency Standard. So many jokes. Shush.

The purpose of this testing is to help ascertain how well BSA decisions align with public opinion. This contributes to ensuring the BSA has a clear appreciation of the diversity of community views and public attitudes towards these decisions.

The BSA put five of its decisions before four focus groups. They were shown clips, asked if each piece was offensive, then told the BSA’s ruling and asked whether they agreed with it. It should be noted that there were only 28 participants across the four groups. For the first time, some of the focus groups were located outside of Auckland: in Hamilton, Wellington, and Ashburton.

The broader findings are consistent with those of the Sweary Bastards survey. Our community’s standards are slowly changing. We are becoming less offended by sex and swearing, and more offended by sexism and racism. There were also, taking into account small numbers, geographic variations.

In Wellington, for example, participants appeared more sensitive to issues relating to racism or sexism. The Wellington group also appeared to more readily grasp the role of context when considering good taste and decency. This was less the case in Ashburton, where participants in the group appeared less likely to take context into consideration when evaluating the clips. In Hamilton, the group was broad-thinking and very aware of tolerance of diversity issues, while the Auckland group was more conservative in its views in terms of what was acceptable and more likely to perceive that standards in broadcasting are being lowered.

Also, there were some issues with… er, no, I can’t think of a tactful way to describe this. One of the clips was one of Jeremy Wells’ Like Mike pieces.

It should be noted that in Ashburton and Auckland the voting for whether the complaint should be upheld was made when participants did not realise that the clip was a parody of Mike Hosking (even though this was explained upfront in Auckland, participants seemed not to register the fact and it had to be reiterated to them again once they had already made their judgements).

Wells is good. And, y’know, Poe’s Law. But people in Auckland were the hardest to convince that it wasn’t actually Mike Hosking? Are we sure, really really sure, that Hosking himself isn’t just playing a very long trolling game?

A common theme, given the complaints tested encompassed Paul Henry, Sean Plunkett, breakfast radio, and I guess Mike Hosking, was “Well you have to expect that from those people, don’t you?” Except often ‘people’ wasn’t the word used. I don’t know what the word used was. The BSA removed it.

I assume it’s on the list somewhere.

But I do recognise the sexism thing but it comes down literally that I wrote down that Paul Henry is a *** and that’s just kind of what you expect from him in some ways.

And what you’ve got is Sean Plunket sounding like an ***, really he’s demonstrating that he doesn’t understand a fundamental disability issue.

I think the guy is a *** so he doesn’t even understand what disability is about.

It’s sweet of them to protect me, but I just inserted “cunt” in every one of those gaps. Yes, even the second one.

There was one complaint that caused some division, where the majority of the focus groups did not agree with the BSA ruling:

During Sean Plunket’s talkback show, the CEO for the National Foundation for the Deaf called in to discuss captioning on television, especially the perceived problem of the lack of captioning on broadcasts of games in the Rugby World Cup 2015. In response Mr Plunket questioned whether this was really a problem, suggested that ‘You can actually watch the rugby with the sound off, you can see – they’ve got big numbers on their backs – you can see what’s happening’ and terminated the call by saying to the CEO, ‘You do have a hearing problem because you’re not actually engaging in a conversation.’

The BSA chose not to uphold the complaint, stating that;

talkback radio is an environment where excessive language and inappropriate comments are often heard from listeners calling in and sometimes from the radio host, in order to stimulate reactions and responses. Talkback radio is an example of  freedom of expression in action and it serves a valuable public purpose, giving some who may not otherwise have any opportunity to be heard, a forum where their views can be expressed.

Two problems with this. One is perfectly articulated by one of the Ashburton participants.

“They say that talkback radio is an example of freedom of expression and action and serves a valuable public purpose, well he didn’t allow her that as such. She didn’t get a chance, did she? He never actually gave her a chance to express her opinion.”

The other takes us back to the Swearing is Fun! Survey. One of the patterns that emerged from that survey was that

Use of ‘bad’ language by radio hosts, in both breakfast programmes and talkback scenarios, is less acceptable than in other scenarios

 Related to the above, there appears less tolerance for use of ‘bad’ language from real people (as opposed to actors), including interviewees and callers to radio talkback

Their own data says people hold talkback radio hosts to a higher standard of Good Taste and Decency. Well. Higher than Game of Thrones.

One thing we can deduce from these findings. It’s okay to ask a female scientist if she’s fucked Richard Branson. It’s not okay to say “fuck” while you do it. That’s our current community standard.