Do good men still live at UPNG?
12 June 2021
| Academia Nomad
WAIGANI - Drunkard students sexually assaulted a female student at the University of Papua New Guinea and on Monday 7 June the female students protested against sexual harassment, which is an ongoing issue.
They hosted a forum at the UPNG Forum Square to address the issue. The media present to cover the story were attacked and chased by the male students who didn’t want them to cover the meeting, ironically stating that it would portray a bad image of the institution.
Some said it was an ‘internal matter’. Journalists being attacked made the news in the evening, and next day newspapers had headlines like: ‘Home of Intellects or Thugs’.
The male students counter-protested arguing that not all male students harass female students. Their playcards had words like: ‘There are Good Men at UPNG’.
There were many views expressed on social media following this incident.
Here, two are reproduced: one by East Sepik Province Governor Allan Bird; the other by UPNG Political Science Lecturer, Michael Kabuni.
Governor Allan Bird - If you are a good man then act like it
When I was in UPNG, we stood up for women, defended them and treated them with respect. Today these women call us brother still.
You are a good man when you stand up for those who are weaker then you. You are not a good man because you demand it.
What we have just witnessed this past week at UPNG shows very weak character and a lack of appreciation for what constitutes acceptable human behavior in our country.
During my time, girls could move around topless. Nobody groped them, ridiculed them or told them to cover up. There was nothing disrespectful about that. It was normal.
It seems some of our young men have adopted a Taliban mentality where women are supposed to cover from head to toe.
Need I remind you all that our ancestors wore only a loin cloth, shell kambang or mini grass skirt for the women and girls.
All right thinking citizens will criticize your behavior and rightly so. You have clearly demonstrated by your own behavior that you need a serious adjustment to your mental attitude.
Your ability to articulate arguments also needs improvement because there is nothing intelligent about it.
If there are any good men left in UPNG then we need to see you first of all apologise to our women and girls, the university lecturers and the country for your silly, thoughtless and unacceptable behavior.
The first act of a Good Man is to acknowledge when he is wrong, ask for forgiveness and make amends. Right the wrong.
Then we need you all to behave like good men so we can see it in your attitude. Treat women with respect.
If you say you are the elite, then act like it.
If you say you are the future leaders, act like it.
If you say you are a Good Man, then act like it.
Otherwise, the future leaders of PNG will not be coming from UPNG. You cannot be elite, you cannot be a leader if first of all you are not a Good Man.
A good man lives by a set of behavioural principles; it’s a way of life.
Respect is given because you earned it. You can’t demand respect by threats or intimidation because not everyone will be afraid of you.
Michael Kabuni - The implication is immense
The implication of what transpired at UPNG is immense.
One thing is for sure: if you are applying for a job in the next few years, and your competition is someone from Pacific Adventist University or Divine Word University, you stand very slim chance.
And the ‘good men’ left at UPNG are right to be concerned.
But counter-protesting is the stupidest of alternatives available.
If you only worked with the female victims, the security and administration to identify and bring those responsible to justice, you would have sent a very clear message that there are good men at UPNG.
The only evidence that you showed that good men do exist is a counter-protest.
I have friends from private and public sector. And what I hear is that you will have a very tough time trying to get employed in an already limited job market.
As of now, I’ve decided not to write any recommendation or reference for any male student who has taken a subject I taught, unless I know the person to be good and respectful.
I used to limit my recommendations to excellent academic performance (I’ve posted here before that I would only write references for those that scored Credit to High Distinction in my subject).
Now, I’m not writing references even if you attained an HD – not many get HDs anyway. If you’re a boom-box carrying, tribal-fighting, women-harassing coward, you have no place.
It’s going to be the same with many lecturers who you approach for references or recommendations. So if you are one of my students, and took part in the counter protest, don’t request a reference. I’m obliged to teach, not to pass you or write you a reference.
Character now counts.
Intelligence has failed us.
True PNG gentlemen respond with quiet confidence not in brash retaliation.
In 2016, writing to encourage creative and intellectual contributions to the theme of 'The Perfect PNG Gentleman', I wrote:
"It is clear that Papua New Guineans are still defining what it means to be a PNG citizen or even Melanesian."
"This continuing self-discovery requires us all to do what Naith and Martyn are doing, not necessarily through a thesis or a full-time job, but by finding ways of participating in our community, country and democracy.
"It is only through participating in our nationhood that we can take control of our destiny as a nation."
The article was inspired by the poem 'Perfect Gentleman' by Dolorose Atai Wo'otong, which is good to reflect upon in the current situation.
Why, you may ask. Well, because that's what we're looking for today when the opposite negative male characteristics are much too powerfully expressed in PNG society.
We don't have as many or as well reported instances of male heroism, albeit there's no doubt that in our private lives such 'good men' exists. Note the use of singular 'gentleman' in Dolorose's poem.
The poem received excellent spontaneous feedback, inspired deeper contemplation and criticism.
It's clear to me that if women can create poems of admiration, love and respect in this manner about PNG men and celebrate the authenticity of the words, then the balance of our personal relationships is secure.
What is lacking is the evidence of instances where men, and by that I mean groups of men, have spontaneously responded with heroism to their women folk and that the event has been a matter of public record, celebration and enculturation.
Please feel free to disagree by citing specific examples because I really do want to learn if my observations are inaccurate.
In a story telling sense, our public discourse lacks the essential element of the heroic male archetype.
Where is our hero while the villain walks in plain sight?
Who is our hero and how do we recognize him?
That's what Dolorose's poem was on about and why it struck me as being of paramount importance to balance the literary discussions which even at that time four years ago were shifting towards PNG men consistently portrayed in the role of villains in the day-to-day lives of PNG women, and women in general.
Dolorose portrays the characteristics of a gentleman. It's not too far a stretch from that character to being or taking on the role of a hero. Circumstances may dictate but good character will respond truthfully.
As I wrote: "Dolorose’s poem describes her personal thoughts about the characteristics of a Papua New Guinean gentleman."
"There is real socio-cultural value in the issue Dolorose addresses in her poem: what does the modern Papua New Guinean gentleman look like? What does he do? What does being a gentleman mean in our culture today?
"In our male dominated society, predominantly afflicted by male insecurity, I think the agenda is worth exploring and I’m really looking forward to reading PNG writers thinking on this topic, especially with crimes such as witch hunting, rape and domestic violence being on the national agenda."
Reflecting on Dolorose's prose poem, I noted that she described primary certain characteristic of PNG men which she found admirable as the quality of a gentleman: quiet confidence.
"Quiet, but confident with his profession, / An honest expression and eyes that don’t lie, / Remains true to himself and the things for which he stands for, / Not brutal but he will prove all his enemies they are wrong without force but by solving all his problems with no violence."
That seems directly contradictory to the public persona by which PNG men, and those of a high social status and intellectual ability, have most recently exemplified - sexual harassment and brutish resentment of women's outrage.
The essence of the situation may be something like this: the true PNG gentlemen are present but their defining characteristic of quiet confidence is a hinderance to revealing their role and value in society.
And this is where I think it becomes paramount that PNG men start to think collectively about how we will respond to our responsibility.
As a group, men must demonstrate our participation in their society. It must be clear and unambiguous. And I do not believe this is a choice that men can afford to disregard.
Indeed, the future foundational units of our society, our families, need to be secured by a heroic effort to choose a path of forthright action that restores the balance of our relationship with our women folk.
It is the most fundamental error, not only in a democracy but in any relationship which has any kind of deeper meaning and value to individuals and groups, to not want to hear what the other part has to say, thinks and feels.
"Not brutal but he will prove all his enemies they are wrong without force but by solving all his problems with no violence, / Pays attention to all his family, friends, colleagues, and workers in the same building for no one is beneath his attention, / Never forgets about his tradition, heritage, identity and roots, / Never forgets about the things, struggles and people that made him who he is today."
My own response to the male university students in question is that if you are confident that your women folk, friends and family love and respect you, then there is no need for insecurity, doubt and angry responses to women's voices raised against gender based violence.
That is the behavior of silly children, stupid brutes and villains not mature adults, scholars and heroes.
That kind of behaviour is a far cry from the iconic PNG gentleman of quiet confidence and stone character.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 12 June 2021 at 11:13 AM
Powerful and much needed statement.
I lived in Port Moresby a few years ago. One thing that honestly surprised and confused me when I first arrived was how women of all ages tend to wear very oversize, baggy, unflattering tee-shirts.
I gradually came to understand that they have to dress this way to protect themselves from unwanted attention at best, sexual assault at worst.
The writer here makes the point that, traditionally, women and men in PNG did not cover their bodies. The situation in PNG has grown very dangerous for women. I would honestly be very frightened to be a woman right now in PNG.
Posted by: Nihon Vida | 12 June 2021 at 10:16 AM