Freedom of expression or bullying?

Killing me softly with his words poster from Dublin

When White Ribbon Facebook posted this image from an overseas anti-violence campaign, these were the responses and actions that followed:

  • A website called ‘Menz’ called upon their members to ‘post’ (express their disapproval) on our Facebook site
  • White Ribbon banned several people from the White Ribbon Facebook site because of inappropriate, aggressive and victim blaming language
  • A press release was issued by the (men’s lobby group) Ministry of Men’s Affairs accusing White Ribbon of stifling debate
  • A written complaint was delivered to Minister Bennett
  • A new Facebook site was set up by Menz members to continue the online debate

So how did we get to this impasse? Let’s take a look at the history of the campaign.

White Ribbon is an anti-violence campaign that began in Canada in 1991 after 14 female students were murdered in cold blood at a polytechnic. The Canadian public were outraged and a number of men were determined to send a clear message that violence against women was unacceptable. Within six weeks they had mobilised 100,000 men, putting the country in no doubt that men were appalled at the violence.

From there the campaign was picked up by the United Nations and brought to New Zealand by UNIFEM in 2004. The Families Commission became the lead agency in 2006 and the campaign has grown from strength to strength, with hundreds of activities now taking place each year throughout November, across the whole of New Zealand.

E hoa bro, show you’re against burglaries of white people’s houses Sisters, show you’re against false allegations towards men in the Family Court (1935) Jews, show you’re against financial exploitation of Germans Homosexuals, show you’re against spreading AIDS to the heterosexual community Muslims, show you’re against terrorist bombing of western kindergartens. Not cool huh? No, and the male-bashing white ribbon campaign is equally unacceptable.  I encourage others to comment on their Facebook page. Feel free to use my campaign variations above. It shames them and makes the point. Their censorship response simply shows they are unable to defend their sexist campaign.  Hans Laven on Menz.org.nz

Click on image to read post by an author on the Menz website

White Ribbon has always evoked a strong emotional reaction from some male members of our society. Men such as Michael Laws who represent a segment within our society who object vehemently to the very mention of White Ribbon. They argue that concentrating on men’s violence is sexist and more to the point, that women are as violent as men.

The reality is just so much more complex. Some men’s groups argue that women are just as violent, citing studies that measure instances of violence. The prevailing wisdom suggests that without context the numbers tell only a small part of the story.

Brian Gardner, National Manager of the Te Kaupenga/National Network of Stopping Violence Services (NNSVS) explains it this way. “When I work with men I ask them two simple questions.  How frightened are you of her violence?  How frightened is she of your violence?

“This is one reason I do not support any womens movement. They have more or enough rights here in New Zealand I believe. BXXchs want power over men by doing this sort of campaign to introduce more women friendly legislation. Looks like this is country where it’s legal for women to commit adulatory. So unfair” Shinhee Yi   Post on the Menz website

Click on image to read a reply to the Menz post

If men are truly honest they will say that what she does might be upsetting or piss them off, but the reality around his violence is that it is really scary. Scary enough to make her do what he wants.”

In New Zealand the most serious violence, the hospitalisations, the assaults, the arrests and the deaths are predominately men’s violence towards women. The second highest number is men’s violence towards other men. But the groups who oppose White Ribbon refute this gender analysis pointing to international research that purports to show that women are more violent than men, such as the Dunedin Longitudinal Study. Such research utilises scales like the internationally recognised Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS).

The CTS measures violence through a series of questions and was designed to measure strategies for conflict resolution within ‘ordinary’ relationships, including instances of violence. What it does not measure, is the nature or consequences of that violence i.e. the frequency of injury or severity of injury.

Here’s an example of how the scale works: A man and a woman have a physical altercation. The woman hits the man. The man hits the woman. This is counted as one each. What is not measured is the effect of that violence. In this instance, the woman has barely created a bruise on the man, while the man has shattered the women’s eye socket. She then kicks him and he breaks her nose.

“…If some female get rolling drunk especially wearing a very short skirt at 2 in the morning and gets raped I do not feel that sorry for her…” Chuck Bird on the White Ribbon facebook site

One of the offending posts on our White Ribbon Facebook site

The scale counts this as two each. If the man were to on another occasion, rape the woman and then murder her, it still remains two each as the questionnaire used by the interviewer does not include these options as types of violence!

That’s an extreme example, but the scale was never meant to measure the level of violence between men and women. The author (Murray A Straus) of the scale himself acknowledged its limitations, saying: “the statistics are likely to be used by misogynists and apologists for male violence”.[i]

The use of research based on such scales is also unlikely to unearth whether men’s violence and women’s violence is equal. Here’s what prominent Auckland researcher Janice Giles had to say on the subject.

 “… Sexist campaigns like White Ribbon have an underlying agenda to increase divisions within society, so growing numbers of alienated, angry men are inevitable. It is also worth thinking about who benefits if abuse and domestic violence increases, and who would loose if we pursued policies that resulted in less.” Menz Editor John Potter

Edited post by Menz Editor

In studies of couples that are likely to include more violence and abuse (such as younger couples),[ii] it is useful to consider gendered dynamics of blame and self-blame that are at their most extreme in abusive relationships. Abusive men commonly minimise and deny their own abuse and violence in relationships, or define their actions as justified responses to some perceived transgression of their partner.[iii],[iv],[v] But in a relationship with an abusive man, women are blamed and take responsibility for any conflict, perceiving their own actions as ‘causing’ their partner’s behaviour.

They excuse the abuse, minimise his violence, and focus attention on trying to make themselves better partners.[vi] An abusive male partner acknowledges less of his violence while his partner is likely to acknowledge every act of hers;[vii] and he exaggerates her violence to justify his own. This is particularly likely when women partners are young as well as earlier in the relationship.[viii] Such distortions may explain reported study outcomes that find couple agreement on undifferentiated scale measures but not on specific acts[ix] and may undermine accurate reporting even if both partners participate. You can find the whole article here.

The Tactics Scale and the cohort study (Dunedin Longitudinal Study) are repeated in some form every time someone in New Zealand claims that violence between men and women is equal.

So how do we communicate to these groups? It’s a question that is often posed and never answered satisfactorily. We have to wonder what has occurred to many of these men to see how their ‘world view’ has evolved. One generalisation is that many of these men have been through a separation and then had to work through the judicial system to try and obtain custody and other arrangements.

If you work in the violence prevention sector, you’ll have met men who use power and control in their relationships and sometimes physical violence as well. When the issues come to a head through separation, the police, courts and sometimes Child Youth and Family, their worlds

can fall apart, leading to isolation (and sometimes) suicide. As violent and oppressive as undoubtedly some of these men have been, it’s sad to know that while White Ribbon challenges their world view, they reject the White Ribbon Campaign out of hand and revert to calling it an attempt by women to further dominate the world.

The White Ribbon Facebook site is a place where like-minded people can debate and inspire each other. It is a place where many feel safe from the abuse they suffered at the hands of perpetrators. It is a place where former perpetrators engage in discussions about how they can help make the world a better place. The difference between these men and the ones ‘flaming’ (hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users) the site, is the recognition of the role they played in the breakdown and violence in their relationships or the role that other men play in that breakdown. Before you heal you have to acknowledge your past.

And that’s where this this discussion ends. The Michael Laws of this world blame women and the feminist movement for the ills of our society. By encouraging disagreeable posts, the Menz website helped to create an environment where the mitigation of rape and blaming of women occurred. Ironically, as I write this, the very website which encouraged what is known as ‘flaming’ has had to douse the ugliness on its own site, and cleanse some of the comments so as to appear moderate.

Are we inflaming the argument? Probably. But we’re also not backing down. For too long people have been intimidated by these men and many of those intimidated have contacted White Ribbon to thank us for our stand. We’re going to call out violence against women, whether it is physical or non-physical. To stand by and say nothing is an abdication of our pledge – to never commit or condone violence against women.


[i] Straus MA. Physical assaults by women partners: A major social problem. In Walsh MR, editor. Women, men and gender: Ongoing debates. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1997, p210–21.

[ii] Straus MA. Measuring family conflict and violence: The Conflict Tactics Scales. J Marriage Fam. 1979;41:75–88.

[iii] McMaster K. Feeling angry playing fair: Breaking the cycle of abuse. Auckland: Reed; 1992/1998.

[iv] McMaster K. Groupwork with men who abuse. In: McMaster K, Wells A, editors. :Innovative approaches to stopping family violence. Wellington: Steele Roberts; 2003, p112–27.

[v] Trute B, Connolly M. Couple therapy in conjugal violence: Assessing safety and readiness for conjoint treatment. In McMaster K, Wells A. Innovative approaches to stopping family violence. Wellington: Steele Roberts; 2003, p144–60.

[vi] Giles JR. Growing through adversity: Becoming women who live without partner abuse. A grounded theory study. Auckland: School of Psychotherapy, Auckland University of Technology; 2004.

[vii] Dobash RP, Dobash RE. Women’s violence to men in intimate relationships: Working on a puzzle. Brit J Criminol. 2004;44:324–49.

[viii] Giles JR. Growing through adversity: Becoming women who live without partner abuse. A grounded theory study. Auckland: School of Psychotherapy, Auckland University of Technology; 2004.

[ix] Moffitt TE, Caspi A, Krueger RF et al. Do partners agree about abuse in their relationships? A psychometric evaluation of interpartner agreement. Psychol Assess. 1997;9:47–56.

Suggested further reading:

Here are a number of images from around the world.

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Thank You Hater Song (Content may offend)

Throughout the world Facebook and websites are ‘flamed’. The often obnoxious and hateful comments reverberate across the globe and do affect people. This song was put together in Britain as a reaction to this phenomenon and bulling in general.   This song was written for all the anonymous flamers and all profits from its download go to http://www.beatbullying.org. The ‘Thank You Hater’ song is now available: on itunes

The song is dedicated to hard working internet trolls everywhere.Love ya, keep on trollin’! X Isabel & all the Clever Pies

About whiteribbonnz
White Ribbon is a community led campaign to end men's violence towards women

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