Rape jokes are shocking - but sadly, they're not a surprise
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The rape comments made by two senior Wellington College boys on social media recently have been met with shock and outrage in many quarters, and rightly so. They don’t, however, come as a surprise to all.
I am a Wellington College old boy, and father of three girls, one of whom is 17 and knows the boys in question personally.
Last Friday night, my daughter had her 17th birthday party. Approximately 90 teenagers descended on the house and had a mostly well-behaved night of revelry. The kids that attended were drinking to varying levels, but for the most part were polite, well-mannered and respectful of their environment.
At around 10pm, one of the boys at the party came up to myself and another hosting adult and advised that there were a group of Wellington College boys (including the two boys at the centre of the current controversy) headed for the party. They urged us not to let them in, and their pleas were echoed by several other partygoers, including my daughter. I asked why, and was told: "Col boys are a nightmare - they’ll drink heaps, be aggressive, and be horrible to the girls". That was enough for me and much to the boys' disgust, we refused them entry.
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Fast forward two nights, and my daughter showed me the screenshots of the offensive comments made by the boys on Facebook. She, along with several other girls, had posted them on her Instagram, and as their posts went viral, the chorus of disgust and condemnation grew.
The issue was all over the news and Wellington College’s esteemed headmaster, Roger Moses, made a public apology. He condemned the comments but assured us that they don’t represent the values taught at Wellington College, and that the boys in question were good lads who had made a terrible mistake.
Unfortunately, I believe Mr Moses’ statements are terribly misguided. While he has to balance the public demand for swift justice with the reputation of the school and the wellbeing of the boys in question, he is completely failing to adequately address the seriousness of this issue.
As the father of three girls, it scares the hell out of me that my old school is producing boys who display these attitudes.
I left Wellington College in disgust at the end of 1991, and studied my last year of school at Onslow College.
I felt that the school had failed me by neglecting to address a culture dominated by rugby, bullying, bravado and machismo. A number of my friends felt the same, and also left early.
I can’t remember these traits manifesting themselves in the horrific misogyny we are discussing today, but all the building blocks were there, and there was no effort to stamp it out. In fact, the main perpetrators usually held positions of power over other students.
What hasn’t been reported in this whole sorry saga is that another boy replied to the comments, bravely calling them out as sexist. He was immediately called a c... and abused for wearing glasses. Needless to say, he abandoned his futile resistance (at least as far as we can tell from the screenshots).
And herein lies the nub of the issue. We will always see girls railing against this kind of behaviour, but until we create a culture in places like Wellington College where boys can safely call out boys for sexism, it will continue to simmer unchecked.
Roger Moses' PR speech was well-meaning, but it failed to acknowledge that he oversees an environment that implicitly allows boys to behave like this.
For every sexist, misogynistic bully, there’s a sensitive, kind, respectful lad who would never dream of discussing or treating women in this fashion. Unfortunately, they usually wouldn’t dare speak out against it either, for fear of retribution, physical or otherwise. Perhaps if a culture existed where it was OK for guys to call out other guys, we could start to stamp out this behaviour.
Mr Moses describes the boys' actions as "bravado" and the culprits as "distraught", as if the public outcry is punishment enough. This attitude constitutes further implicit approval, and does a massive disservice to our daughters.
These boys must be stripped of any leadership positions within the school, and Mr Moses should set about ensuring his school fosters an environment where boys call out this behaviour without fear. Wellington College has suffered a mighty blow to its reputation, and only immediate and visible action will serve to restore it. There are plenty of good boys out there, and they and our daughters deserve better than this half-baked PR stunt of an apology.
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