Letting the dinosaurs out to play

eatingkiwimen.jpgThe Sunday Star Times is running a survey about the state of New Zealand blokedom. The on-line article is fairly innocuous, but the Star Times has gone to town in the print edition. The teaser headline on the front page starts with the claim that something’s wrong. The headline? “What’s eating men?” So right from the start the state of NZ men is framed as being wrong.

Then on the inside, the framing gets even better. Survey figurehead Simon Barnett opines that:

while feminism had been good for men and women, women still preferred men to be chivalrous. “There is confusion among men now as to whether we are to be income earners or caregivers, sensitive or manly, smooth or rugged, to protect our skin or not be such a nancy boy, pluck or weed whack, was or grow. Women are better at expressing themselves, they seem more comfortable with who they are and the talk! Communication over emotional issues is a tough ask for men.”

Wow. What a fabulous string of cliches and pre-suppositions, with a little bit of homophobia thrown in for good measure. Just how does he know what women still prefer men to be chivalrous, given that the survey hasn’t even been done yet?

Michael King is much more SNAG in his approach, but just to make sure we don’t get too sucked in, the dinosaurs are wheeled out for their comments. Coast to Coast organiser Robin Judkins thinks that women have too much power in politics, that feminism hasn’t been good for Kiwi men, and it was a woman’s job to be the primary caregiver to children.

But best, or worst, of all, Leighton Smith thinks that feminism hasn’t been good for New Zealand men, or for New Zealand women.

That’s right! Things were just so much better when women weren’t allowed to vote, got paid 2/3 of man’s wage despite doing exactly the same job, and weren’t allowed to do some jobs at all, even if they were perfectly capable of doing them. And of course, it was much better not to worry married women with ideas of consent – it was silly even to think there could be rape within marriage. As for a bit of biffo around the house, well, it was just a domestic. It’s just so obvious that feminism has been bad for women.

Then there’s more, an editorial piece, and a look at the questions.

It turns out that only men are allowed to answer the questions. I had assumed women could answer if they wanted to, but:

Please answer this questionnaire if you are a male aged 16 years of age or older. Only men aged 16 or over are eligible to win the draw.

The draw is for one of 50 subscriptions to fab magazines like Autocar, Boating NZ, Fishing News or Truck and Machinery Trader.

Now I’m happy to admit that I have no interest whatsoever in any of these magazines. Give me Cuisine any day. But I don’t like my voice being excluded, especially when it turns out that the purpose of the survey is about starting a national conversation. In the opinion puff piece, all the framing is put to one side. The purpose of this survey is not to lament the state of New Zealand men, not to lambast feminism, but “to spark a national conversation.” No matter the survey only wants male opinions. Evidently women aren’t really part of the national conversation.

On top of all that, it’s not even a survey. It’s an internet poll – lots of fun, but no way to get an accurate account of what New Zealand men really think.

Of course, it’s not really about having a national conversation at all. It’s really about selling newspapers, and it seems that framing a survey so that women can be blamed for men’s woes must guarantee sales.

Gentle reader, don’t fall for their silly little internet poll. Just ignore it, and don’t buy the newspaper.


8 responses to “Letting the dinosaurs out to play

  1. What irks me about such responses as those you cite above to questions of gender is twofold: first, that defining masculinity and femininity (an amusing enough pastime) is elided with a critique of “feminism” as a whole (including its many tangible accomplishments as you note), when really all that’s being chafed at is the alleged constricting of definitions of masculinity due to the alleged expanding of definitions of femininity.

    The second thing that irks me is the notion that often arises in such remarks as Barnett’s, however idly: that masculinity in particular is a singular, rather than plural state of being. So many of the oppositions given (earner/caregiver, for example) are by no means mutually exclusive. And, indeed, as many men-who-moisturise and women-who-do-their-own-heavy-lifting know, there are more than enough masculinities and femininities to go round, if only we could hold off from policing each other quite so continuously.

    That’s what bothers me specifically, I think, about Barnett’s version of the masculine dichotomy. It’s not inclusive: it relies on things being one way and not the other, and if the wrong way is hazarded, one becomes the Other–the dreaded Nancy Boy.

  2. Oh jeez that survey gave me the screaming heebie jeebies. I was actually going to fill it out, until I read the prizes. The first page of questions sealed it for me. They might as well have asked “How scared are you of castration: 1, a little scared, 2 somewhat scared, …”

  3. That was beautifully put Harvest Bird. I am many things and That Man is probably the least of them, and That Man that Mr Barnett tiresomely describes, he is other, and weighs heavily on my sense of fair play.


    knows me
    as I am.

    tell me
    as I am.

    guide me
    as I am.

    She is
    inside me
    as I am.

    follow me
    as I am.

    grow me
    as I am.

    show me
    as I am.

    From Mercurius, Poems On Change & Union.
    Poem 16.

  4. I felt exactly the same response to the magazine selection, and the equation of “NZ men” with “real Kiwi blokes”. In fact, I feel an angry letter to the editor coming on…

    On the other hand, while it’s a bit off not to let people see the questions unless they’re eligible to answer, I don’t see anything wrong with exclusively targeting men. It is, after all, a survey of men’s attitudes, and male attitudes to violence, health, sexuality and family are quite possibly at the heart of many social ills, so it’s important to investigate them. It’s worth asking why there’s no parallel poll for women, and grind one’s teeth (non-violently, of course) at the heavily blokeish framing of the survey, but a male-only poll is a valid means of inquiry.

  5. Note that the prizes also limit the type of men who are likely to answer the survey. Your non-blokey bloke will look at that lot and go “you couldn’t even sell them”. Couldn’t they even offer prizes worth having… oh, but wait, offering a years supply of cosmetics would probably attract the wrong sort of man 🙂

    As with femininity, my answer is “I do it, therefore it is a masculine activity”. Optionally with a “duuuh, how dumb are you” look on my face.

  6. How long since the SST was worth buying anyway? I read it only because my local cafe buys it, but it is normally a pretty quick scan. Like most of the respondents to your post, I was put off by the list of prizes – I think I may have last bought Autocar or something similar when I was fifteen.

    I think in one sense, feminism has been good for both genders, and that is because it put it up for discussion how we should be, rather than simply exist within traditional roles.

  7. I guess it says something about my own priorities that the only thing that interested me in Sunday’s SST was the news that Kate Sylvester is now doing menswear.

  8. Curious that they seem to be positing that being a human being is so complicated that the menz just don’t think they can manage it.