Last November I wrote about a “pro-rape and anti-consent” Facebook group that was created by some members of St. Paul’s College, an all-boys residential college at the University of Sydney. When the existence group, which was called “Define Statutory,” received press attention, rape culture at Australian universities generally and at residential colleges more specifically came under scrutiny. Here’s what I wrote at the time about my experience of the atmosphere in which some of the boys who live in those colleges come of age:
The young men I knew who ended up at St. Paul’s and at colleges like it had graduated from Sydney’s best and most expensive private boys’ high schools. In my interactions with them – I confess I dated one or two – I was quite appalled by what I saw: a culture in which sexism, racism and homophobia were rampant, and where class privilege and an almost laughable sense of male superiority combined to make women like me feel deeply uncomfortable. On their own, most of these young men were lovely. When they got together, something truly awful was created.
At the time, many commentators (myself included), argued that culture was at the heart of what happened at St. Paul’s – a culture of entitlement and privilege combining with a culture of heavy drinking and rape apologism. In this environment, I argued, it was no wonder that the boys of St. Paul’s thought they could get away with making a Facebook group about statutory rape and, allegedly, with committing actual rape. And guess what? They did get away with it.
Nina Funnell, a young feminist writer from Sydney who you might remember from her recent Feministing Five interview, recently reported on St. Paul’s failure to commit to real cultural change. According to Funnell, the boys involved in the Facebook group have not been punished, and the students of St. Paul’s are sticking to their rape-is-a-big-joke guns:
While the scandal has made the students more media cautious, it does not seem to have affected their attitudes towards women. Earlier this year, a number of St Paul’s students planned a musical dance revue number titled Always look on the bright side of rape. The number was canned for fear that it might invite media coverage… Signs were posted stating the show was “private” and media were not welcome.
Evidently, St. Paul’s has not taken criticisms of the college culture seriously, and have decided instead to invest time and energy in spinning or avoiding the media than in making desperately needed changes to that culture. Funnell has called for public penance, transparency and genuine attempts at reform.
Funnell is right, of course. But before any of that penance and policy change can happen, people who live in and perpetuate cultures like this one – and St. Paul’s sure as hell isn’t the only culture that explains away, laughs off or ignores sexual assault – they need to be made to take the problem seriously. They need to realize that it is, in fact, a problem. They need to be taught that rape jokes aren’t acceptable when the media is present, and they’re not acceptable in private, either. And that means that as frustrated as we are that these men just don’t get it, as unbelievable as it is that there are still people in the world who need to be told that yes, sexual assault is a serious problem, we need to keep educating and speaking out and working to change our cultures. Because clearly, our work is not done.