Roast Busters: Two thoughts

Two small thoughts on this whole awful business, to clear my head:

* Because of our cultural distaste for direct expressions of what we want and don’t want, NZ youth find it very difficult to seek or express sexual consent. In consequence, NZ youth are predisposed to see hazy consent as commonplace and normal

* Because of our national reliance on alcohol in social situations, NZ youth are predisposed to see gross intoxication as commonplace and normal; even desirable.

* (The above two interact in a dangerous way – I would wager a fair percentage of Kiwi youth have at least once deliberately intoxicated themselves beyond the point where they could meaningfully consent, and done so to make a sexual experience more likely.)

* This means many of the sexual interactions of NZ youth float around in a murky fog of assumption, expectation, and impaired judgment.

* In sum: certain pervasive features of NZ youth culture mean that rape is easy here.

And – this is definitely a minor point, but:

* Among the comments and outrage, I’ve seen several commenters refuse to accept that a young woman would freely choose to participate in this kind of sexual activity, particularly if she knows she is likely to be subjected to online bullying afterwards.

* They’re quite wrong, as they would know if they honestly interrogated their memories of teenage life. Sometimes, young women can and do freely choose things that seem appalling to adults. (Often that’s part of the point.)

* Of course, it’s very clear that some (perhaps a majority?) of the Roast Busters’ sexual partners are correctly seen as victims. They did not, or could not, give consent; or they were unable or afraid to withdraw consent when the reality of what they had agreed to became clear; or they decided afterwards that they had given consent to resolve cognitive dissonance.

* But not all of them were victims. This overstatement is a minor point – but it does irritate me, and I think it’s important in the long run, because if you want to change things in our society you have to start by respecting the full range of behaviours and choices made by young women (and young men, but it’s young women whose volition is typically challenged).

And now that I’ve typed that out hopefully I can get back to work without thoughts buzzing circles in my head.

in move ebook available

in move cover

My novel about teenage guys facing the end of their friendship, in move, is now available in ebook formats. (The blog serialisation has finished, but of course you can still read it there too.)

As I’ve mentioned before, this was the first novel I wrote. I started writing in 1993, when I was in my final year of high school. I was writing about the world immediately around me – Catholic single sex school in the Hutt Valley, playing some basketball, you get the idea.

Reading it again after many years away from it? If I was a publisher, I wouldn’t publish it either. I think I trapped myself with the very concept of the book – the action of the story begins when one character gets some news that demands action and decision, but instead he freezes up, and that freeze creates the rest of the story. Problem is, I’m just not a good enough writer to make really compelling work of that period, when the main character is avoiding taking action. It’s like that one Harry Potter book where all Harry did was shout at people and sulk: the other stuff going on carries the narrative some of the way, but it’s still bothersome.

So this book is about Hutt boys. But what is it really about? (Per Kermode: Jaws is not about a giant shark, Tinker Tailor is not about spies, in move is not about Hutt boys.)

Mostly, it’s about small group dynamics, which just happens to be the same thing I did a Masters thesis on a few years ago, because I guess I am just interested in that subject. And, like most character-driven fiction, it’s about the tension between what’s going on inside someone’s head and what they actually do and say.

This read-through it also became clear to me just how much the book is about rape culture. It almost pains me to type those two words, because I certainly wouldn’t have characterised it that way before. But now, it’s hard to ignore how much this book shows of some deeply unpleasant things that seemed ordinary throughout my youth.

Throughout the book, the boys (including some of the lead characters) say some pretty atrocious things about women. They do this a lot. There’s a kind of gross-out competition underway, mixed in with bravado and not a little irony, about who can say something more extreme about women and sex. There are rape jokes, which are taken as jokes by all the characters. Women are regularly dehumanised, both as a category and specific people who happen to get noticed at the wrong time.

This, I accept, is more or less how it was. This talk is more prevalent in the book than it was in reality, but that’s just a matter of degree. The overall tone matches my recollections. It was meant to, of course; it’s a deliberate theme of the book. It’s just looking back now, in the aftermath of Steubenville and many other incidents, I see that theme in a new and harsher light.

I’m also less confident now that the book deals with this content as effectively as it might. The characters are never called out for their talk; the counterbalance comes in two ways. First, and most obviously, there is a sexual assault near the end of the book. The fact that this act is verbally foreshadowed throughout the book by almost every male character is hopefully not lost on anyone. Intended message: talk has consequences.

Secondly, the simple fact that the young women in the story are real people. Every time they are “on stage”, their very presence (hopefully) exposes all that talk as ridiculous and wrongheaded.

So if authorial intent counts for anything, that was mine. On balance I think this book isn’t exactly a menace to society in its current form. But that isn’t clear-cut, and it probably can’t be, because fiction needs ambiguity. I just hope I got it more or less right, anyway.

I’ve often thought about a followup to in move, where Scott goes to visit Richard in New York City twenty years later. Maybe one day.