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Our Mirror

Posted on 03 November 2019

Our Mirror

You might have seen the footage. A group of private school boys, wearing their uniforms, all chanting on a Melbourne tram. 

That footage made the news. It made the news because of what they were chanting. 

It was about women, and it was nothing positive, I can promise you that.

This footage is a group of young boys declaring their opinions of women very loudly and publicly. But it’s more than just the words they’re saying, it’s the fact that there’s a group of them that is so deeply unsettling about this footage. Each new line of the chant is led by one student, as the others cry out in response.  That sort of behaviour and those attitudes do not simply form out of nothing. They are born, they are fostered and they are developed, often growing with the person who holds them. There is nothing accidental about them, it is a deliberate and purposeful education, the graduating class of which can be seen in this footage. 

This short video reveals just how deeply rooted these toxic and vile attitudes towards women are in boys and young men.  And it isn’t all taught at once, it builds slowly over time, with these thoughts and opinions warping their perception of the reality around them. It then gets to a point where anything challenging that reality has to be met with a cold, stoic deflection or an aggressive counter-attack. 

It’s the society and environment around these boys that provides the perfect incubation chamber for this toxicity, this corruption of their masculinity. There is a tragic element to this. They haven’t even had a chance to examine who they are as men, or what masculinity means or represents to them, before it has all been poisoned. The co-dependent relationship of this behaviour and the society it is bred in has led to this warped and twisted version of masculinity is the norm. As much as we’d like to argue that it’s not, the true reality is that this behaviour is accepted by and large, and anything that falls outside of it has to be explained and made to fit into this sick and narrow viewpoint before it can be seen as ‘correct’. 

So where do we go from here? 

Well, you could look for comfort in the ad campaigns that ran a few years ago, imploring men to ‘Call it Out’ if they saw one of their mates disrespecting a woman, but you’ll just find a whole bunch of empty good intentions. 

Courtesy of Youtube

The ad was, to put it simply, weak sauce, with the message essentially being ‘Hey, maybe be nicer to women or your friends will be mad at you for about five seconds and then you’ll all just go on with whatever you were talking about before’. Our standards for action on this behaviour are so low that ads like this are seen as enough. 

It’s all well and good to have a minute of narrative that all wraps up neatly at the end (one of the guys actually pats the sexist guy on the leg, to show they’re still bros), but the real world isn’t like that. 

What those ads didn’t show was that the frameworks and support networks for this kind of behaviour are too well-established to be undone by a stern talking to. For many men and young boys, these frameworks are what they measure themselves against as they grow, informing every single aspect of their development. 

These boys on the tram, and this man depicted in the ad, they don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong. That’s how the world is for them, it is a place where they have the power because they were taught they deserved it. 

A recent contestant on the Bachelorette, Jess Glasgow, gave a shockingly frank insight into what the future of those boys may hold. 

He was there for less than two full episodes, eventually being kicked off by Bachelorette Angie Kent for his sexist and misogynistic behaviour. 

Courtesy of The Weekly Times

What he did, from the time it took to enter the show to being thrown out, was almost beyond belief. Here’s a short breakdown: 

  • He presents Angie with the ‘Key to Noosa’ and then another key that he claims will open the front door of his apartment 
  • On a group date photoshoot Glasgow, dressed as the back-end of a horse, make several lewd comments towards Angie as well as a number of aggressive and sexual actions. 
  • He boasts how he would have acted on the other photoshoots, specifically how he would have kissed Angie without her consent. 
  • He is confronted by a number of other men on the show regarding his inappropriate actions and comments, all while he attempts to flirt with female wait staff and producers. 
  • He tells the men challenging him that if Angie wants to speak with him she can ‘Bring it on, bitch’.
  • Angie challenges him on his behaviour, and not once does he deny it. 

Yeah. 

There were two sides of masculinity on display on screen here; one was embodied by Glasgow and the other was demonstrated through those other contestants who stood up to him, calling out his behaviour to his face. 

But would they have done it if the cameras weren’t rolling? After all, they are on a show where they are vying for the attention of one person. 

Most of us would have said something similar to: ‘That’s not me’, ‘I would never do that’ or ‘I would stand up and say something’. But that’s the thing, would you really? I know I’ve said those things. And I also know I’ve been in a position where those statements were directly challenged, and I did nothing. I did nothing because I was alone. 

On the show each man who stood up to Glasgow had the backing of those around him, but what would the situation look like if it was one-on-one, if it was just a regular day out on the street? Would they have said the same things? Would they have said anything at all? It is this unwillingness to speak out individually in the moment that makes doing the bare minimum seem, by comparison, like a heroic effort worthy of celebration. 

Let’s take the Mayor of Noosa, Tony Wellington, and the Headmaster of St. Kevin’s, Stephen F Russell, as an example. Both released statements in response to their respective incident, with both statements showing just how little is really being done to combat this behaviour. Each of these statements talked about how the author found the individual incident to be repulsive and unacceptable, not because each incident was a sobering account of the current landscape of masculinity in our society, but because he had daughters and a wife. 

Like that limp ad, this kind of effort is barely making the grade. It is done simply because it is an expected part of the process; scandal occurs, the public recoils in anger and statements are made promising of improvements and inward reflection moving forward. Rinse. Repeat. Another day, another incident, another statement. 

We have now become so used to this cycle that we no longer expect any more from any man. In the same way our society is set up to allow these skin-crawling acts to occur, it also discourages other men from knowing what it really means to call these acts out. They are uncomfortable realities to face, but if we hide away from them or act only when it is safe or convenient to do so, then we are providing life to these chants and sexists acts.

This repugnant behaviour not the problem of every student in these private boys’ schools, but that really isn’t the point. It is the problem of the institutions themselves, the daily life of these places, these worlds and these relationships that these soon-to-be men inhabit. These private schools concentrate on the diseased masculinity of the society around them. Boys will leave without any change to their attitudes to the world and they, like Glasgow, will never understand the true damage and shame caused by what they are doing. 

If we watch those chanting boys and don’t feel an urgent and desperate need to correct it, then nothing will change. There is a direct and very real challenge to your masculinity happening right now. It hasn’t just appeared, it’s been in front of us our whole lives, but the onus is on us to make sure we can see it. It is an individual effort, but one that serves a collective movement. 

Don’t do it because you have a mother, or a sister or a daughter. Do it for yourself. Do it because it is necessary. Do it because the reality has already been shown to you in a short video of schoolboys on a tram. Do it because we are better than these ‘men’ make us. 

 

Author: Will Dunn completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Screenwriting) at the Victorian College of the Arts. He is currently trying to figure out how to make that degree useful.

@ w_ilyam

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