University of Auckland: White Ribbon Day: Researchers shifting line on harmful masculinity

But a team of University of Auckland researchers is doing something about that.

A team from the University’s Psychology department reported on preliminary findings from their study of sexual violence in June. Read an overview of Shifting the Line.

“I think there has been a lack of attention to masculinity as a possible causal factor,” says Dr Kris Taylor. “I think, in New Zealand, there are still quite rigid ideas about men and what men should be.”

In 2017 and 2018, the Shifting the Line project team facilitated a series of 14 workshops for ten groups of boys and young men.

“I really enjoyed sitting in a room with groups of boys who were genuinely engaged and interested in talking about issues that you might not expect boys to be interested in, like restrictive rules for masculinity, sexism, gender inequality, social justice and the ethics of sharing nudes online,” Kris says.

“The boys, when given the chance, were very, very keen to talk and could bring sophistication, nuance and sensitivity to those issues in ways that really buck our ideas of what teenage boys are like.”

The team was interested in the role of peer groups in the light of, on one side, the 2013 “Roastbusters” sharing of coercive sexual behaviour towards girls on social media and, on the other, boys who supported teenaged girls in an anti-rape protest at Parliament in 2017.

Now Kris, who also works as a researcher for White Ribbon, will undertake further research and develop a suite of resources that will be freely available to schools and community groups wishing to facilitate such peer workshops.

“The way the Shifting the Line project and White Ribbon dovetail is that there were recent findings suggesting that men’s adherence to rigid rules of masculinity, like ‘be tough’, ‘don’t cry’, ‘be the boss’, those kinds of things, were 20 times more likely to predict committing violence than any other demographic factor, including ethnicity, age and income,” Kris says.

In the past year, many in the anti-violence sector have been concerned about Covid-19 lockdowns.

“A big issue has been people in coercive or abusive relationships ending up locked down with the perpetrator. And then, of course, it’s [lockdown] a stressful situation.”

White Ribbon reports the first Sunday of the country’s first lockdown saw the biggest spike in family violence incidences reported to the police in the past three years, not counting New Year’s.

This is likely to be an underestimate as only around six percent of attacks are reported to authorities.

Four women were killed by men in the first two weeks of the August 2020 lockdown.

While people observe men can be the victims of relationship abuse and violence, data show men commit the majority of assaults in Aotearoa. In 2020, 98 percent of proceedings for sexual violent crime in 2020 were against men.

On average, nine women are killed by their partner, or ex-partner every year.

Since 2020, women have made up 92 percent of those assaulted by an ex-partner, and 100 percent of those sexually assaulted by an ex-partner.

The Shifting the Line researchers are tapping into the power of positive peer groups to change that.

“The theory is that, if you get a few boys who can start to undermine the sexism and undermine the kind of adherence to strict rules of masculinity in the peer groups, you can see quite powerful changes. Slow, small changes, but changes nonetheless,” Kris says.

“I see a lot of media which is like, profiles of boys and young men that tell us how bad they are. Well, sure, some of them are awful, but many of them are creative, interested, sensitive individuals with their own critical capacity.

“We must understand that many boys can recognise injustice and want to be part of changing the sexist status quo.”

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