White Ribbon is an organisation that owes a great debt to women.
White Ribbon is a group of men who recognise that male violence is epidemic, and have come together to take responsibility for and to do something about it. Multiple White Ribbon ambassadors have promoted or perpetrated violence against women before themselves, or still do – either at a domestic scale or through policy. John Key is the most notable example.
White Ribbon hasn’t been doing a great job, so far, of living up to their own pledge to “promise never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence towards women.” Their most high profile ambassador would prefer to support U.S. militarism, pull ponytails and make rape jokes in the “spirit of Christmas” than fulfill that pledge. That only adds to the argument that this organisation already represents a vast economic debt to women.
It owes that debt already, because the reality of male violence is inextricable from patriarchy, from the reality of the disproportionate amount of clout men have in every avenue of power within our society. Patriarchy means that women are economically vulnerable, that social services set up to support and protect women are overworked and underfunded; and ongoing, epidemic male violence means that women continue to rely heavily on these organisations, they are a necessity and they need economic support.
When men gather in the name of addressing male violence, some important things they need to do are to take seriously women’s own need to resist that very thing; to redistribute wealth to women, to women’s organisations, and particularly to victims of sexual violence; and to take action against organisations that perpetuate male supremacist attitudes.
Why should an all-male organisation fundraise and receive public money for its own purposes and its own self promotion? They already have that money. 99% of the world’s wealth is already in men’s hands, according to the World Bank. Certainly, the team on White Ribbon – with all its National Party MPs, police officers, judges, John Keys, Len Browns and Stan Walkers – includes enough clout and capital to fund itself, give something back to women, and build a safehouse or two to boot. Indeed if all the National MPs on the team would just stop shutting down and constraining support services, that would already be progress.
But the funding continues, the violence continues, and the trivialisation and silence continue. White Ribbon has removed all reference of ambassador John Key’s December RockFM rape joke from their Facebook page, with no consequence for either Key, The Rock or Mediaworks following the incident. No apologies from the DJs, no donations to Rape Crisis. Rape culture skips along merrily – it’s escalating, actually – unscathed by White Ribbon.
And because of it, women need to learn to fight back. That’s what’s needed most.
We all do. While 1 in 3 of us suffer sexual violence; while Women’s Refuge is overworked; while we’re constantly told not to wear our skirts too short, to take whistles and running shoes to school if we don’t want to be assaulted; while, in New Zealand, only 10 out of 100 sex abuse cases are reported, three go to court, and only one results in a conviction; while rape culture is escalating – we all live at risk of assault, we all need to be able to fight back, and we all have the right to defend ourselves. The threat of violence implies that. This culture though, discourages women from being strong – hell, it discourages us from eating. It tells women to be thin, and weak, and emaciated. In it, poverty is gendered, our incomes are gendered – in men’s favour. We need to learn to defend ourselves – that’s something men dictate – and men, wherever they gather in acknowledgement of sexual violence, owe us the resources to make that happen. If an all-male organisation that recognises male violence is epidemic should be doing anything, it’s that – helping women resist.
That’s why I want free self defense classes offered to all women in New Zealand, and I think White Ribbon should pay for them.