CURBING COLLEGE CULTURE16 March 2016
Content warning: discussions of rape, assault and violence.
The beginning of a new year sees the University welcoming hundreds of bright-eyed freshers to a new chapter of their lives. Many of these young people will be beginning their tertiary journey at one of the colleges around the crescent. As ever, it is incredibly important that these colleges, home to thousands of students new and old, establish a culture of acceptance and promote a safe environment for all.
American fraternities have become notorious for widespread and destructive views of women and the LGBT+ community, resulting from the very specific ideas of masculinity that they often incite. While few argue that the Australian system faces problems on the same scale, issues with hypermasculinity persist and ignoring their presence is dangerous.
Broadly, hypermasculinity can be understood as exaggerated, stereotypically male ways of being and acting, typified by violence and expressions of dominance. This often has dire consequences for those who do not subscribe to these very strict conditions. Speaking with members of the college system, it’s not difficult to find traces of hypermasculinity within Australian university culture. It’s also easy to see its hugely negative impact upon not only women but people of all genders, sexualities and backgrounds.
Here are some experiences people have faced in our system:
I had the experience as a female first year of sitting down to a Hall dinner to find myself the only woman surrounded by five young men. Somehow or another the young men at the table started talking about masturbation. They talked about what type of pornography they liked to watch, how often and when they liked to masturbate.
Half the enjoyment for the young men seemed to be not only their shared experience of masturbating, but also their shared heterosexuality and objectification of women through watching pornography. I also felt that they were seeking my embarrassment as an added novelty as well as jauntily showing their power in the college environment, by expressing their straight sexuality so freely at a semi-formal event in a way I can never imagine women of any age taking license to do so in such detail.
For me, it’s the little things that stand out. Having to explain over lunch or dinner why a sexist joke isn’t funny or why mocking a politician because they’re female isn’t okay. They don’t seem like major incidents but I think it does indicate a certain attitude that is troubling.
I’ve heard quite flippant remarks about rape and assault, like they see the feelings of others as inconsequential. That people can ever consider those things a joke, for me, shows their ignorance of the truly serious issues with which some are grappling.
People don’t think the Melbourne system is that extreme so we tend to not acknowledge the situation. However, when the boys chant things to demean women or even in passing conversations – it’s still a dominative state that college boys hold over college girls.
The one experience of harassment I did encounter during my time at college… There was a definite sense that it was my fault, that I had somehow invited or provoked this behaviour. It was a difficult time and not made easier by what I’d call an inclination for people to blame the female victim.
The culture is allowed to continue through out-dated mindsets. Also the way that hypermasculinity instils a sense of fear in those who disagree or find offence in the way that these groups act works to maintain a feeling of domination and keep those who disagree silent… In order to address the harmful effects of these groups, people need to really stand up for what they believe, as difficult as this might be, because often the opinions of these groups are not the same ones widely held by the community at large. Real consequences need to come of actions, instead of the often laughable punishments.
It is of the highest importance that college residents analyse this culture as we begin a new year and that we understand strongly where our values lie as we welcome new members of the community. College is home for many students and everyone deserves to feel comfortable through an environment in which they are appreciated and respected. It is an enormous privilege to have the opportunity to live on campus. We need to make sure all residents can have the best possible experience.