Why the conduct of Melbourne tram boys is more sinister than 'obnoxious'

Why the behaviour of male students on Melbourne’s trams is far more sinister than ‘obnoxious’


Was it just “poor behaviour?” 

An incident that occurred on Melbourne trams over the weekend has triggered an avalanche of backlash across social media and National news.

A group of male students from the independent Catholic boys school St Kevin’s College, in the affluent inner suburb of Melbourne were filmed performing an extremely disturbing chant on a tram, that included the lines:

“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”

and also:

“I wish that all the ladies
were wives in the ocean
And I was a slipper
And ride them with my motion.”

The students were on their way to a Saturday sports event.

On Monday afternoon, the principal of the college released a public statement, saying “I apologise unreservedly for the offensive and inconvenience caused by this group of students.”

But while the Principal’s swift condemnation is welcome, it must be stressed that this isn’t typical teenage behaviour. It’s a toxic culture propped up by some of the country’s wealthiest, elite male private schools.

The same sort of culture that exists and emboldens men like Donald Trump. A culture which enables a US President to brush off criminal behaviour as ‘locker room talk.’

Like I said last year in The Guardian’s Op Ed page, there is a link between the particular sort of gendered confidence that is exclusively pertinent in boys’ private schools and the men who end up in positions of great power in our society.

There seems to be two very different systems of valuing conduct in our society. One that breeds respect, mutual consent and equality to all humans, regardless of gender. And the one that performs a rigorous adherence to the belief that a woman and her body is a thing that is available, accessible and takeable.

On Twitter, commenters called the Melbourne tram incident “obnoxious”, “disgusting”, “staggering”, “vile.”

The principal also said in his five sentence apology statement, “Students upset by the behaviour have already come to me and we have been following through in both a disciplinary and pastoral manner today. We have always and will continue to challenge such poor behaviour and misogynistic attitudes through programs at school and with the co-operation of parents.”

But to me, the incident wasn’t merely ‘obnoxious’. It was violent. 

Let us use that word in its full, broad capacity — the intentional use of power, threatened or actual, against another person, or group.

Patty Kinnersly, the chief executive of domestic violence charity Our Watch told the ABC, “This disturbing behaviour also emphasises the need for respectful relationships education in schools, giving children and young people the skills to reject aggressive behaviour and discrimination, challenge stereotypes and learn about respect.

I am dismayed to learn that even today, the politics of male supremacy continues to be rooted in female sexual objectification.

It’s easy to brush away the incident as mere adolescent cruelty. But this cruelty leads to our frightening statistics of gendered domestic violence. It’s a cruelty that has a trajectory.

I thought about Jia Tolentino’s piece in The New Yorker last year about how men perform for other men in a bid for peer approval. This is a prime example.

When I watched the video of the tram incident, I thought of Lili Loofbourow’s words; “Woman being mistreated exists in a room where the men are performing for each other—using the woman to firm up their own bond.”

It’s what she calls, ‘the cruelty of male bonding’, or more precisely, a vigorous performance of heterosexuality.

It concerns me that when boys perform intimacy and solidarity with each other, it seems to often necessitate the degradation of women. This may seem like a harmless chant, but there’s a link here to the fact that 90% of the most-viewed pornography videos involve a woman being violently treated.

Dominance and coercion begin with the use of language, and we saw the seeds of violence in this video.

“In high schools, in colleges, at law schools, men perform for one another and ascend to positions of power,” Tolentino writes.

Let’s hope this incident doesn’t simply dissolve amidst the commotion of the daily news cycle but that it instead, reminds us to be wary of the different worlds we operate within, and to protect the version of society that respects all human beings.


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