The All Blacks’ coach, Steve Hansen, has just been quoted as saying domestic violence is ‘not a gender thing.’ Possibly he was misquoted, but looking at the context of his comments, probably not. He was bumbling his way towards making a remarkably foolish, ignorant and harmful point, by means of justifying the inclusion of Sevu Reece in the All Black squad. Yes, the man assaulted and injured his partner in a fit of uncontrolled rage, but, the line goes, he’s remorseful, and rugby is making him a better person. He was discharged without conviction and now we forgive and help him forge a better life. Okay, I’m all for forgiveness and rehabilitation, it’s got to be part of the solution to our appalling track record with violence against women, but Steve Hansen, a tremendously influential public figure, just said domestic violence is not a gender thing. And that makes him an idiot.
See, he knows it’s a gender thing. He knows that the victims of domestic violence are disproportionately women, because it’s kind of impossible not to know that. More than 1 in 3 New Zealand women will experience domestic violence in this country. Women’s Refuges exist for a reason. A dismal, shameful reason. The causes are complex, sure, but in part we’re just not angry enough, ashamed enough, motivated enough as a society to do something about it. To do something about poverty. To do something about breaking the cycle of violence in homes. To do something about the ridiculous male culture that celebrates acts of violence on the sports field. To hold people to account.
The argument that Reece can become a better man by being an All Black falls down on its own premise. The case is made that Reece is already remorseful and his involvement with The Crusaders (let’s not start on the name – how did they not change that in a heartbeat? Cowards) is helping him on a path to a better, gentler life. Okay, excellent, so being in The All Blacks is hardly a necessary part of his path back to righteousness, is it? We’re not doing it for him. But what it does do is send a crucial message that somehow it’s not that big a deal. If he’d assaulted a child, he wouldn’t be an All Black, because we actually, collectively, believe in our bones that is a truly shitty thing to do. If he’d professed religious beliefs about who is or isn’t going to hell, he might well be on the outer too. But drag your partner to the ground, injure her, bring her into your ugly world of intimidation and terror, well we’re not really that appalled, are we? ‘Cos, you know, not a gender thing.
Yeah, it’s a gender thing. It’s about we men refusing to call one another on our caveman behaviours. It’s about our lack of refinement, of restraint, of self-respect. It’s about us not caring enough. And only men can solve this. Men in positions of influence and authority have a special responsibility. On this issue, Steve Hansen needs to grow a pair.
There was an opportunity here for New Zealand rugby to send an important message to its largely male following. A message that says, we no longer tolerate this in our society, we are better than this. New Zealand cricket could have done the same thing, taken a serious stance on rape. Both institutions chose not to, and history will judge them poorly for it. I’m rather hoping both teams fall over at their respective world cups now, for both sports are clearly led by dickheads. Sort of literally.