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Male privilege continues to rear his ugly head

Male privilege took two forms recently that bears discussion.

Students of the elite Catholic all boys school, St Kevin’s College in Melbourne, were filmed late last year performing loud and offensive sexist chants on a tram by a member of the public.

The chants which denigrated women to the level of a male sexual conquest were sung loud and proud by the Year 10 and 11 boys whilst wearing their school uniforms.

By entering the public domain, the video gave us an insight into the entrenched misogyny that exists in the elitist male-centric environment of the school.

These sexist chants were not made up on the tram, but rather passed down from one student cohort to the next.

When the video of the incident hit social and mainstream media, the school was forced to go into damage control, with the headmaster Stephen F. Russell declaring the behaviour will not go unchallenged and the matter will be investigated in “both a disciplinary and pastoral manner”.

The behaviour of those 16 and 17-year-old boys can’t be written off as ‘boys being boys’. It points to an intrenched attitude towards women as second class citizens, which is revealed in the treatment and disrespect towards female teachers and peers, as found by the Four Corners report recently. This attitude has avoided correction in their school, and one presumes the home environment.

So, whilst St Kevin’s declares on its website “we aim to be a welcoming and hospitable community that will provide strong witness to gospel values”, behind the marketing fluff the reality is women are welcome only if they are the plaything of men, and gospel values are meaningless when machismo needs to be publicly displayed.

And given the subrogation of women by the tenets of monotheism (e.g. the anathema against birth control, and lumping women in with cattle as neighbours’ possessions not to be coveted), how would the application of gospel values regarding the treatment of women be of any instruction to these boys?

As for the parental influence, do parents send their boys to this school because of religious devotion, or the societal advantage these ‘elite’ type of school’s pander to provide? The answer is obvious, and suggests sexist behaviours are ignored because of the status attendance brings and the vast amount of money changing hands.

Moral superiority claimed by divine revelation, coupled with deep pockets and male egos, is not a recipe for sexual equality.

The death of Hannah Clarke and her children in February at the hands of her estranged husband had much to do with male ego and privilege.

Rowan Baxter had a history of inflicting domestic abuse, having threatened to kill his previous partner and their child if they left him.

After his marriage to Hannah Clarke broke down in 2019, he allegedly attempted to kidnap their eldest daughter and had a domestic violence order taken out against him. They reached a mediated agreement about his access to their children, but he was charged in early February for breaching the order.

On February 19, Baxter took the heinous step of committing familicide by burning his family to death; his fragile male ego decided that if he can’t have his family, no-one can.

The horrible outcome of this act was spread across social and mainstream media. An understandable public outpouring of grief was mirrored by political leaders, and questions were asked about how this horrendous act could happen.

But few made comment that these types of acts happen all the time.

In Australia, at least 50 women die per year at the hands of their male partner, but it takes a death of a child in a macabre or heinous nature to make the media and politicians notice.

Behind closed doors 50 women are murdered annually by their partner or former partner, usually following extended emotional, physical and financial abuse, and controlling behaviour. Often witnessed by their children, inflicting lasting emotional trauma with socio-economic impacts, this behaviour isn’t deemed newsworthy, nor attracts political platitudes. After her death, it came to light that Clarke and her children had suffered these abuses during her marriage.

Ultimately, despite the intervention of her family and their emotional, financial and physical support, Hannah Clarke could not escape the fatal wrath of a controlling man. This loss was an affront to his image of manhood, as projected to his real and online world. Hannah Clarke and her children paid the ultimate price for this perceived damage to his self-image.

What formed this image of his manhood? Was it the need to fit into the Aussie ‘good bloke’ image? Was it his background in the hypermasculine world of rugby league or the gymnasium he ran with Baxter? All of the above, and probably more.

Despite him being known to the police and the courts, Hannah Clarke could not find a place of safety from a man with a penchant for manipulation and abuse.

In the aftermath of their deaths, political leaders offered platitudes but nothing of substance. That the Federal Government has been defunding front line domestic violence support services (but greatly increased funding to schools of the likes of St Kevin’s) since coming to power should alert us to their true feelings on protecting women.

Senator Pauline Hanson declared ‘these things happen’ when asked about the murder of Baxter and her children – blaming the victim for the inability of Baxter to control his wounded male privilege.

We all agree these things shouldn’t happen, but they will continue to happen until men accept that the equality of women does not come at their expense.

Greg Smart

By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.