The adline challenge on my local bus shelter set me off this morning.
My father's generation would have have seen it as a commonsense question. Men he respected, most of the men with whom he served through Africa and Italy, would have answered with a simple yes. More importantly their answer would have expressed their commitment to practical intervention. If my father came across bullying he would intervene, as would most of the returned men he served with overseas. It was part of his self respect that he should risk personal injury remonstrating with bullies of any kind, and if necessary doing his best to restrain physically, whether the apparent victim was a women or a child. And he could expect strangers to join in and help if needed.
That was why the New Zealand of my childhood was without no-go areas, and locked doors were rare. Security guards were unknown. My mother could wander Wellington as a teenage schoolgirl on her own during the war, even after 17000 marines arrived, knowing that almost any adult (including most marines) would step in to protect her from offense, right down to the disrespect of foul language in her presence. Even villains would have joined in bashing any thug who chose to rob defenceless old people.
But I live now, in an era of jobsworth judges and police officers. They first legitimised official cowardice and have now made it compulsory. Judges fled from the core function of deciding who was right and who was wrong in fights. They bravely decided instead that all non-police coercion and 'violence' are equally to be deplored as "taking the law into your own hands" despite the Crimes Act protections for just such natural and essential social action. The only 'appropriate' 'intervention' is now calling the police, as the agents of the state monopoly on effective coercive action.
So the adline 'Are you man enough to stop violence toward women?' is now a parody of masculinity. Google does not surprise with an indication that the 'challenge' seems to originate with churchmen. We live in the post macho era. Effeminized middle class men are urged to feel guilt and collective determination to stop doing things they do so rarely as to be immaterial. Meanwhile they must continue to abjure the one thing that could restore a reasonable expectation of safety for women (and the old and children) – re-empowering all decent men to do exactly what Sir Robert Peel and the founders of our police force expected of them, to uphold the law and to protect those who cannot protect themselves, whenever and wherever necessary.
In Sir Robert's famous founding principles of policing, the police were to be citizens, employed to do full time only what every citizen should do part time.
I find myself wishing for a graffiti artist's improvement of the bus shelter adline. It needs the ironic "Yeah right".