It is unlikely the Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University, Dr Michael Spence, considered the day he would be deigned a leader of the left’s unrelenting “war on the west” or the “misandry brigade”.
It is equally unlikely he imagined being cast as a champion for the demise of men and masculinity.
And yet they are among the conclusions recently drawn by Miranda Devine and Daisy Cousens about Dr Spence.
His crime? Criticising St Paul’s College, Australia’s oldest residential college, which has been embroiled in serious allegations of sexual assault and harassment over the past decade.
The existence of a “Pro-Rape” Facebook page in 2009 exposed an alarming culture of depravity and entitlement among some members.
This manifest itself again most recently in a post on the college’s Facebook page in March which offered “assistance” to any member of the college who had “harpooned whales”.
“G’Day Lads, If you ever want to get rid of some chick who either (a) won’t leave your room after a r**t in the morning or (b) if you’ve harpooned a whale and she’s taking the whole bed preventing all chances of sleep, I’ll be there… to rescue you.
“Simply message me the code word ‘argh’ and your room number and I’ll be there with a well thought-out lie… which requires your immediate assistance and her immediate exit.
The College’s long-standing Warden’s response on the same page was uninspiring to say the least.
Dr Ivan Head began his reply: “Gentlemen, I was obliged to make the following statement to the media earlier…” He urged the boys to consider their “CVs” before reminding them of the relevant party line about ‘respecting women’.
Dr Spence was unequivocal in a letter addressing the original post and Dr Head’s response.
“The fact that almost 100 people liked this particular Facebook post indicates that a deep contempt for women is not just something that marks the behaviour of an isolated student, but a core feature of the shared culture of the men of the College,” Dr Spence wrote. “The college should acknowledge that it can no longer pretend that this is not a profound issue in the life of the College, going to its very licence to operate, and they need collectively to begin to own and to tackle it.”
It follows the college’s curious decision not to participate in a university-wide cultural review led by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick that commenced last year.
St Paul’s was the only college unwilling to take part and has faced criticism for the boycott.
The March Facebook post and response was the last straw: a week ago Dr Head and the St Paul’s Chairman Angelo Hatsatouris resigned.
“The council is greatly concerned by the attitudes expressed about women on the student Facebook page in March this year and acknowledges that it needs to address the aspect of unacceptable culture it indicates amongst the college’s student body,” the college council’s deputy chairman, Andrew Sempell, who is now acting chairman, wrote in a letter to St Paul’s the community that evening.
To anyone perturbed by the unashamedly disrespectful, sexist treatment of women, this might be something of a small victory.
To others it is the nail in the coffin. It marks the emasculation of men. It is an ideological war on the west. It is proof that feminism and its subversive agenda has captured another victim.
Who does anyone think they are to deny young Australian men their right to be flagrantly sexist?
To Nina Funnell, author and anti-sexual assault advocate, the resignation of Head and Hatsatouris is something different again.
“It is an incredibly cynical PR strategy to try and appease the Minister for education who has said he will review the Act from which the college is founded,” Funnell told Women’s Agenda. “They are falling on their swords as PR strategy in order to give the appearance of reform without making meaningful change.”
St Paul’s is now seeking to join the university review conducted by Broderick.
“Given how publicly [Paul’s] snubbed the Elizabeth Broderick review last year, it’s not clear whether she would be willing to work with them,” Funnell says.
It is evident there is work to do. What type of culture permits a pro-rape Facebook page? Or the open denigration of women?
“It is a toxic mix of extreme entitlement and privilege with a contemptuous disregard – not just for women – but for any form of outsider,” Funnell says.
And its impact is well beyond the grounds of Sydney University.
“The young men who attend St Paul’s often go on to become captains of industry,” Funnell says. “What culture are they importing into their workplaces?”
St Paul’s isn’t a victim of feminism or any ideological war. It is being held to account for a toxic culture that propagates disrespect at best and criminal violence at worst.
If it fails to address that feminism will be the least of its problems. It may well, justifiably, become a victim of its own sense of entitlement and lose its liberty to self-govern.
According to Fairfax Media the NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes has mooted overhauling the 1854 Act of Parliament which allows St Paul’s to operate independently off the back of successive scandals .
“I am shocked at the reports of sexist behaviour at St Paul’s College,” Rob Stokes said.
It may alarm Devine and Cousens to discover the appetite for the respectful treatment of women isn’t merely a niche conspiracy: it’s a benchmark for human decency.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual assault, support is available by calling 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 and asking to speak to a trauma counsellor.