Clementine Ford: This Is How Some Packs Of Men Bond – By Denigrating Women
As a young girl, there were few things more intimidating to me than large groups of boys and men all gathered together in a primal display of male dominance and misogyny.
The power these groups of people had -- and still have -- to put others on edge is tangible. I say 'others', because it isn't just girls and women who are made uncomfortable by boys and men sounding off in a pack. Other boys and men are also alienated by this behaviour, and the overweening arrogance it thrums with.
The latest example of this has come via recorded footage of students at St Kevin's College, an elite private boys school in Melbourne. The boys -- more than twenty, it seemed -- were filmed participating in a repulsive, misogynistic chant on a public tram in Melbourne's inner south. A single student led the rest in a 'traditional' call-and-response chant popular among frat types and idiots that includes this verse:
I wish that all the ladies
Were holes in the road
And if I was a dump truck
I'd fill them with my load
As Melanie (not her real name) told news outlets, "You felt there was no respect for women. You felt that you couldn't say anything and if you did, I think you'd be really concerned about what might happen next." She also confirmed there were small children present during the incident, which occurred on Saturday morning as the students were traveling to an inter-college sporting event.
It shouldn't really matter that there were women and children present, although the latter certainly adds an even more distasteful tinge to the whole sordid affair.
But the question has to be asked, what exactly are students learning over at St Kevin's?
Oh right, the same thing boys -- especially the privileged ones whose rich parents send them to private school -- have been learning since time immemorial!
If you think the answer is misogyny, you're only half right. Misogynist behaviour is certainly inculcated in private school boys (and all the rest), but it's only a consequence of the real problem. To wit, that young men are encouraged into codes of brotherhood and pack behaviour that not only makes the targets of those attitudes feel extremely unsafe, but also makes it difficult for any other boys and men to speak out against actions that are socially reprehensible at best and downright criminal at worst.
You can argue that this is just 'boys being boys' (side note: why are so many people comfortable with framing the idea of boys and men just 'being themselves' as abusing women and each other together?) but it's far more insidious than that.
The boys of St Kevin's are among the most privileged in Australia. They'll be the country's future lawyers, Supreme Court justices, politicians, surgeons, and perhaps even prime ministers. And if you think men who work in those industries don't also speak about women in this way -- albeit, more covertly and carefully -- then you're wrong.
They do it not just because sexism is rife across these areas, but because denigrating women together is one of the ways certain groups of men learn to bond with each other, even if they don't inherently take pleasure in it.
This last point is key. Because as disgusting as it is to listen to teenage boys gleefully sing about dumping their loads in girls (the "holes"), I don't believe for a second that every single one them felt great about what they were doing. Certainly, the majority have probably never even touched a girl let alone come close to anything resembling intimate contact. What they're compelled by is the direction of the pack, even as it works pointedly to degrade others.
This is what is meant when people use the term 'toxic masculinity'. It isn't that men bonding together is bad or damaging. It's that certain bonding practices require the celebration of misogynist attitudes. Today it's private school boys openly and proudly reveling in chanting about dumping loads in girls, tomorrow it's a different group of young men filming themselves sexually assaulting a girl at a party.
And how do other boys stand up against this behaviour, particularly when it's so tightly defended and celebrated as being just a normal part of boys being boys? In that group of St Kevin's students, which of the boys felt uncomfortable about what was happening but went along with it -- perhaps even enthusiastically -- because to not support the pack would put a target on their backs?
How many others participated mindlessly, because it felt transgressive and risque and fun to be part of something they understand to be 'unacceptable' despite having never discussed it seriously?
And what small percentage was present who took deep pleasure in it? Who loved having their own already formed misogyny being supported by others, because when a pack sings in unison with you it means you're not doing anything really all that bad?
Comprehensive education about gender equality and respect is evidently still sorely needed in this country, and indeed the school principal has stated the boys have been disciplined and the school "will not let this lie".
But community wide action is also needed, and not just to prevent young boys from adopting misogynist attitudes that might later see some of them becoming rapists and domestic abusers in addition to also being politicians, surgeons and Supreme Court justices.
It's also to empower other young boys to be willing upstanders against this behaviour. To give them the courage to not go with the pack. Indeed, to decimate the power of the pack entirely.
This is not an attack against boys. I can't even believe I have to say that, but experience tells me I do. This is an impassioned plea for all of us to be active in the fight against sexism for the sake of our boys. If we don't fight for them, who will?
Clearly not the institutions that are producing them.