This article talks a bit about my college, St Paul’s. International readers will be unaware, but St Paul’s has a somewhat infamous past with this topic.
This has left me, as a feminist guy concerned with sexual assault issues, in an awkward position, and it is one that I’ve had to navigate carefully this semester. I’ll write about it in more detail shortly.
For now I want to say that the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of campus rape has been cheap, unprofessional, and detrimental to women. They have sought to sell the story of campus rape with little mind for facts; to create a narrative that targets a single institution rather than a broader culture; and to artificially set up an Enemy that they may focus their anger upon. The paper’s overriding message - consciously delivered or not - is that St Paul’s College is an instution of rapists, and that the majority, if not all, of Paulines are in some way pro-rape.
The linked article, while not fully indicative of the paper’s view of Pauls, includes the typical namedropping that I’ve come to expect from the paper. In many ways, this piece is better than the usual Paul’s sledging fare. The author is right to call for more - and better - research into campus rape. She also would be right to attack the widespread misogyny and rape culture that exists between all Sydney colleges. She would further be right to attack the widespread rape culture that exists in Universities. But more importantly, she would be right to condemn the widespread rape culture that exists in Australia, and that exists in the world.
That the Sydney Morning Herald consistently attacks St Pauls College, and not Australia’s ingrained rape culture, is telling of the paper’s personal contribution to the fetishisation of rape as a news source. People want to read ELITE COLLEGE INSTITUTION ENCOURAGES SEXUAL ASSAULT, but they don’t want to read WHITE AUSTRALIAN CULTURE ENCOURAGES SEXUAL ASSAULT. People want to have someone to blame, lest they realise they are part of the problem. An elite, all male instituion of 200 men is the perfect scapegoat - visible enough to be known, small enough that its inhabitants be anonymous.
The SMH engages in a bizarre form of self-interested scapegoating when it attacks Paul’s - the scapegoating of rape culture as a distinct and devastating symptom of patriarchy. I really, really wish it would stop.
I have a lot of close friends who go and have gone to colleges across Australia. Of the dozen+ instances of sexual assault and rape that have occurred within that circle of close friends and their close friends, 1 was perpetrated by a St Paul’s kid. Only about one third took place within the college ‘niche’.
The problem is not “male-dominated institutions”. The problem is an over-arching rape culture that I have been painfully and increasingly aware of since the age of 10, when an over-developed boy shoved his tongue down my friend’s throat in year 6 and said “she didn’t say no.” Now, my friends and I are in the midst of this culture, hyper-sensitive of our place in it, hyper-aware that dressing and acting in a certain way will have us labelled as “sluts”. Not just by the penis-endowed, but by our female friends, too.
It’s a culture that sees humour in gross deprecation of girls, in treating them as a means to an end. It’s a culture in which girls are seen as pursuits to be conquered, and once they have been, thrown out the window like the condom that probably wasn’t used. It’s a culture that fails to discern between consent and non-consent, between a girl dressing up because she feels good about herself and what is deemed “slutty”. It’s a culture of slutshaming and justifying sexual assault with arguments like “she shouldn’t have been so drunk”, “she shouldn’t have gone back to his room”, “if she was so upset by it, why didn’t she go to the police?” or “he was drunk, too”.
This isn’t just occurring in St Paul’s College, or Wesley College, or Lincoln’s, or King’s. It isn’t just occurring within universities. It’s a part of Australian culture, and SMH should fill their columns with actual research into the problem, rather than seeking to blame one particular type of young men for a problem that isn’t contained to class, location or political association.
I was assaulted earlier this year. It was by a young man, full to the brim with alcohol. He was not homeless, I do not believe he was mentally disabled (other than the effect alcohol had had on him). He was wearing a button-up shirt, nice shoes and under the stench of alcohol I could detect a not-too-cheap cologne. It wasn’t sexual assault, but if he hadn’t been quite so drunk, things probably would have ended differently.
I’m not terribly inclined to repeat the things he said here, but like I said, whilst it wasn’t a sexual assault, it had the potential to make me feel cheap, used, and like I shouldn’t wear a nice bra even though it makes me feel good about myself. My point is, he wasn’t a uni student, he certainly wasn’t a college student. He was a regular Australian guy who’d had too much to drink and was lost on his stumble home on a Friday night.
If SMH want to write hard-hitting journalism, they need to research what is actually happening, instead of trying to fulfil their vendetta against one particular institution. Paul’s is a (rather minor) thread in a web that stretches across Australia, and blaming one group of privileged, white boys isn’t going to get us anywhere. Those privileged white boys didn’t become sexists or rapists the moment they stepped through the doors of St Paul’s College. In fact, I think the majority of them resent SMH’s allegations that all of St Paulites are misogynistic assholes.
The fact is, the masses need someone to blame, and who better than a group of elite, advantaged young men? As Alistair said, no one wants to know they’re a part of the problem, they just want a select, identifiable and slightly-removed-from-the-rest-of-society ‘someone’ to point the finger at.