Wellington Stand Up for Women

A large crowd gathered in Wellington’s Glover Park yesterday to demonstrate solidarity with those under threat of sexual violence and to take a stand against misogyny. The protestors looked exactly how you would expect: diverse, colourful and seemingly undaunted by attempts at intimidation. This admirable display of backbone is perhaps not so surprising given that for many of the attendees – women (particularly Māori and Pasifika women and other racialised minorities), sex workers, trans and queer people, people with disabilities – the threat of violence and abuse is nothing new.

The organisers of this rally deserve credit for organizing such a successful and positive demonstration in a short space of time and under immense pressure. The value of solidarity cannot be understated at a time when people facing violence and hate are persistently silenced and isolated. Speakers from Rape Crisis, the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network and White Ribbon along with other members of the community spoke of our collective responsibility to challenge the normalization of this violence.

This particular demonstration, and simultaneous demonstrations in Auckland, Dunedin and other cities around the world, was prompted by the news that a certain “neo-masculinist” group was planning a global meet-up. This would have seen New Zealand members of the group performing an elaborate cloak-and-dagger routine in Glover Park before moving on to a secret location. News of the group’s more outrageous antics- such as some truly dire “satire” calling for legal rape- has recently attracted global attention. As the organizers of Stand up For Women are aware, the real danger of this group is in the insidiousness of the ideas they espouse. Many of these ideas are indistinguishable from the garden-variety sexism and entitlement we are used to seeing (from, say, elected representatives and public figures) and all of them contribute to a world in which women’s otherness and inferiority is taken for granted.

The temptation when dealing with this particular breed of misogyny is toward mockery, which the perpetrators deserve in abundance. But it pays to remember that preying on masculine insecurity is their game, not ours. We do not and cannot judge people’s worth by the same toxic standards that these people are trying to establish. The people who protested on Saturday have made it clear that the nightmarish vision of the world presented by these hate groups can and should be rejected wholesale.

A key message from the Wellington Stand Up for Women demonstration is that all working people, regardless of gender, are responsible for creating a culture where these poisonous ideas cannot take root. A particular emphasis was put on men to shoulder this burden, and accept the “mana” that comes with it. We absolutely should demand active participation, and not just passive deference, from men in the struggle against misogyny and sexual violence, but we should also remember that this mana has belonged to generations of women and gender minorities. Women and queer people will continue to carry the torch in these movements not only because we face the brunt of the consequences but because it is our duty to each other.

Image credit: Jac Lynch (via Facebook)