The report by Four Corners on a culture of sexual abuse in the Australian National Rugby League has provoked some interesting debate online, but mostly just idiotic statements.
Nothing pisses me off like anonymous statements like this – essentially a big whinge; “waa, waa, waa, we already can’t drink on certain days, we already have to provide positive role models for Australian young men and boys, and all we get in return is popular adulation and status from young and old alike as well as enormous amounts of money, and a party lifestyle that Hollywood heiresses would have trouble keeping up with”.
Essentially, sentiments like this (and an unrelated statement that is being circulated on American blogs), can be summed up in one sentence that greatly pisses me off —
You can’t expect rugby league players/young men generally to behave appropriately towards women because (insert generic justificatory statement about testosterone, aggression, being young, being “hot-blooded”, alcohol, “just wanting to have a good time/celebrate with their mates”, etc. etc.)
This obviously stupid sentence is repeated as a commonplace even from the mouths of those you would expect to be more enlightened, and it pisses me off for two reasons:
(1) It offends me as a man. Men are capable of reasoning and judgement, and indeed are expected to exercise it at all times in our society. We’re not primal, ungovernable, raging beasts. Nobody ever says “you can’t expect men to drive competently when they’re so aggressive”; “you can’t expect men not to swear at police officers when drunk”; “you can’t expect men to not rob convenience stores when they don’t have any money”; “you can’t expect men not to engage in unwanted homosexual sexual advances when drunk”, etc. ad nauseam. It’s so obviously selective and self-serving to say this and ignore the fact that we as a society do sanction men for other forms of inappropriate behaviour, even when they’re young, even when they’re drunk, even when they’re “hot-blooded” etc. etc. Men are perfectly capable of adhering to social expectations, especially when, for example, they have the incentive of being feted as model “gentleman” rugby league players. The problem is not some issue inherent to the biology or the psychology of the individual male.
(2) Every time you say “you can’t expect a man to…” it immediately transforms into an expectation that we must expect a young woman to: put up with it. Laugh it off. Be understanding. Say yes. Don’t care when your answer doesn’t matter. It redefines women as some sort of conveniently accessible tool or function rather than a human being who is capable of making choices and making her own will manifest, in the same way that her male counterpart is assumed to be.
As an aside, I read recently an interesting criticism of some of the “no means no” movement. It made the point that this movement potentially puts the onus on women to behave ‘appropriately’ at all times — to force her will in opposition to the man, who is portrayed as some sort of passive receptor, rather than a person forcefully trying to impose their own will. The book was The Myth of Mars and Venus by Deborah Cameron.
Where to from here? The public breast-beating from unlikely individuals is, to my view, positive; but it concerns me that over 20,000 people have signed up to “support Matthew Johns” groups on Facebook. The most telling point from the entire Four Corners piece was the bit where the journo said nobody asked about the woman when she contacted players before the story broke.
All the angst that’s come out so far has been how unfortunate and difficult for Johns it is that this whole story has come out. It’s all “I didn’t realise it was this bad”. Which comes back to the point — if we start assuming that people won’t inevitably mistreat women, maybe we can really work at stopping career-destroying scandals before they start. And maybe we can start seeing things from a different perspective.