Why do ordinarily good people do bad things? One of the big questions that underlie all the debates on university colleges, male sports teams and other forms of hooliganism, is why do some groupings encourage thuggery? Often this as a male thing, because aspects of sexual aggression in masculinity are too often still seen as appropriate.
Young men too often are encouraged to blindly bond to prove mateship, loyalty and team spirit through mindless animal acts. This form of belonging often condemns non conforming males as nerds and killjoys but seduces camp followers into risky behaviour and imitative stupidity.
Such tendencies emerge in most uniformed services and often in schools and sporting teams where hazing, bullying and rites of passage are often designed to prove group cohesion and masculinity. Removing the impetus to think for yourself and the inhibitions that may make someone withdraw, is often part of the initiation processes, so people are faced with choices of belonging or being rejected.
In wider societies, some such groups become gangs and mobs that join up for antisocial activities, others may become part of business or other organisations that condone bullying and harassment.
The basic pull of these groups is the power they represent in the cultures of institutions and the particularly masculinised version of leadership that they draw on. Statements such as boys will be boys, and it’s only animal spirits and part of being young, ignore the damage that involvement in basically sexist and violent activities does, both to the participants and bystanders.
Acceptance and implicit condoning of gross actions, as long as they cannot be proven illegal, in elite colleges or admired footy clubs, reinforce sexist and often racist attitudes and often spill into violence.
Whether the prevalence of illegal behaviour is as high as some may claim, or as rare as others assert, the problem is that cultures that blur the lines are endemic in many male dominated organisations. Changing the laws is easier than shifting attitudes that argue interminably about consent and choice, as excuses. The prevalence of sexist functions that put girls into object roles is a major part of the problem even if the young women choose to go there. If acceptance in a masculinised culture is based on sexist risky behaviour, this is not OK.
Reducing violence and rape become harder when they are seen as debatable ends to acceptable sexist activities. When these become tangled with too much alcohol and cultural contempt, there is a need for serious discussions about why these attitudes prevail and why they are still protected by loyalty silences and brand protection. As long as those who run the institutions can claim they didn’t know or it doesn’t happen very often the problems will continue.
As long as victims and those who do not support these activities feel silenced or ignored, little will change. Whether those involved may be good people in other parts of their lives doesn’t negate what they are doing now!