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Boys to men: The 'epidemic' infecting our nation that's not being taken seriously

Opinion

From street corners to respected private boys’ schools, there’s something going very wrong with the way Australian males behave towards women – and it affects us all, writes Madonna King

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At traffic lights in Moorooka, a few Monday nights ago, a couple had a fight in the back of a cab. The young woman, in her early 20s, jumped out and stormed off. But it was the response of her partner that goes to the heart of a national disgrace we are continuing to ignore. “Come back here you F… dog,’’ he screamed, before chasing her down the street.

What makes a 20-something man speak to a woman like that? And how many more excuses can we make before we genuinely take on the lack of respect being waged against Australia’s young women?

Justice Margaret McMurdo, as head of the State’s Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce, is looking at coercive control. Police are trialling new methods of dealing with domestic violence. Women’s safety groups are lobbying hard for more support to deal with the evil brutality playing out behind closed doors.

All of that is immensely valuable to how we respond to the epidemic we are witnessing in domestic violence. But what about early on, when men are still boys and learning how to deal with girls? Could we do more, then, to take on the disgusting views some boys have of girls?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And the revolting episode unfolding at Villanova College in Coorparoo where students have been involved in sickening, misogynist online videos, is a case in point.

The TikTok lyrics you can read elsewhere. I don’t see the need to repeat them. But the fact that a group of teen boys can think that it is okay – to learn, utter and film their performance – shows the almighty challenge we all face.

And if we don’t stop it, should we be wondering how young men like that are going to treat their partners in years to come? This is not just about one all-boys’ school in Brisbane. When thousands of Australian school girls recently alleged sexual assault or rapes by their male peers, the response from some of those in all-boys’ schools was immediate. Hate to the accusers delivered by instagram. Accusations by Snapchat. Threats by text.

So where does the solution lie? At its source: and principally, that’s all-boys’ schools.

The amount of work, around consent and respect, in girls’ schools is phenomenal. Teachers have stood in front of the class to explain that time when they were assaulted. Girls have been encouraged to speak out, and believe they will be heard. And to call out the behaviour that is providing headlines around the world.

But is that being matched in boys’ schools? Genuinely? Or is the emphasis around protecting the school’s brand? If you have a son at an all-boys’ school, I implore you to ask the leadership team what is being done; not what the school says it is doing.

What is it really doing to shift the needle in a pack where most good young men are being tarred with the brush of a few?

Villanova College principal Mark Stower told parents the school was aware of “inappropriate social media posts’’ involving a “small number of students’’.

Minimalizing this won’t help either. “Inappropriate social media posts?” How about a vulgar, disgusting online performance?

“We treat all such matters seriously and are dealing with what has occurred as a priority.’’ But how? With what consequences?

“The investigation is ongoing and the College has communicated with the families of the students involved.” By saying what? Little Johnny has been caught performing again on TikTok? Or Johnny is going to be expelled for his absolute lack of respect and indecent antics towards women?

“The actions of a small number of students do not reflect the College’s values or our teachings.’’ No-one says they do. Villanova is not alone here. But is this the priority? What about those gorgeous young boys at your school who learnt this week, in your schoolyard, what those lyrics meant? How are you dealing with them?

“The College has programs in place that teach students about the importance of respectful relationships.’’ I’m no Einstein, but I’m going to suggest you need to relook at what they are, or how they are being delivered, or what the boys’ take-out might be. Because they can’t be working how you want them to work. Surely.

“We understand the community’s concerns about such matters and we share in those.” But do you really? Because it’s not clear from this statement.

The irony is that many boys’ schools, hell-bent on protecting their brand, are risking their good name by not seriously taking on the behaviour at the centre of these allegations.

And that is a mighty disservice to the big majority of students; gentle young men who know how to treat their mothers and sisters and female friends, and who each day walk through the school gates deserving a whole lot more. Just like their sisters.

 

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