Why Male Codes continue to abuse women

Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison

Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Poor David Morrison. As more details emerge surrounding the pathetic little band of miscreants in the Australian Defence Force calling themselves the "Jedi Council", the chief of army must be experiencing a combination of embarrassment and apoplectic rage. I don't know what's more damning – the fact that they fulfilled every stereotype of ADF misogyny by running a pornographic peep show on defence force time or that they have Midi-chlorian delusions of grandeur.

Last week, it was revealed these self-styled Star Wars poindexters had been referring to their victims as "moles". I assume what they meant to write was "molls", which in Australia is traditionally slang for women with "loose sexual morals, bitches, sluts and prostitutes". Colour me completely unsurprised that a sniggering band of misogynists brought together by their passion for humiliating women aren't exactly firing on all cylinders in the brain department. I imagine on those cold, lonely nights in the ADF barracks, when they've exhausted themselves having lightsaber fights and sharing the details of their sexual exploits, they pull their sleeping bags into a circle and gather around the glow of their collective brain cell. Pretty, they grunt, eyes wide.

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I like to think we're reaching the end of our social tether with tolerance for these kinds of stories. While there remains a section of the community for whom men bonded by institutional ritual can do no wrong, people are increasingly willing to speak out and condemn behaviour that celebrates a standard by which no one should want to be compared.

It is a travesty that it has taken until 2013 for the ADF to have a chief willing to demand better of those charged with the civil protection of Australia. Lieutenant-General David Morrison's swift and uncompromising response to this latest sleazefest is considered so unusual that one can't help but heap praise and respect on it – that too is disheartening, particularly to that contingency of people who've spent years speaking out against institutionalised masculine bonding and been ridiculed for their efforts.

Women have been abused by these modern day codes for decades. Why is it only now that those codes have decided to act?

In May, journalist Anna Krien released a blistering exploration of the off-field antics of Australia's football codes. Night Games took an uncompromising look at the toxic masculinity that pervades a world in which players are both gladiators and kings. Marching to war on the battlefields of football stadiums, these heroes are given leave to indulge in the spoils once the final whistle sounds.

More so than in the ADF, sex "scandals" (many of which could be reasonably read as ritualised humiliation as a mechanism for bonding) rise up every so often, but have been just as quickly dismissed by a public unwilling to hold certain men to account for their actions. After all, boys will be boys – can they really be blamed for behaving exactly as we'd expect when silly, fame-hungry girls throw themselves in their paths? (And anyway, why was she drinking with them if she didn't want all of them to "have a bun"?

Call me crazy, but I'm going to go with YES.

In Night Games, Krien explores the notion of the "prank" that underpins so much of the performative sexploitation that's been showcased by these ADF men and other institutionalised codes of masculinity. The women targeted by the prank/s are very rarely seen as anything other than peripheral to the real action. She isn't expected to speak or participate except as a conduit for male bonding, while they high-five each other over her literal or figurative body and show off the lengths to which they're willing to go in order to impress each other with their prowess and/or daring.

It doesn't always transpire sexually. At one point, Krien recounts the story of a woman who agreed to consensual group sex (very, very different to the pack sex so often defended in these scenarios as a mutual activity) with a small group of footballers. I guess her consent was a problem in the end; being unable to dehumanise her sexually and therefore fulfil the purpose of the standard sexual "prank", one of the footballers decided to do the next best thing. He defecated into her shoe, and waited for her reaction when she went to put it on. Oh, the hilarity.

Unfortunately, I don't expect this to be the last we'll hear of similar incidents or insidious codified campaigns against women. We're perhaps experiencing the death throes of socialised misogyny right now, but who can say how long that beast will fight for? So much of it has been allowed to flourish for so long, passed off as a joke or an inevitability, the standard toll for existing as a woman in the world.

All I know is this. Here we have a group of men supposedly entrusted with the protection of Australian citizens both here and abroad, and this is what they get up to in their wind-down time. Sharing images or details of women – some of whom were their colleagues – caught in various stages of congress, and rating them among each other. For all the adolescent glee that accompanies such activities, they might as well have been caught with their pants down standing next to an apple pie.

 

25 comments

  • "Male codes" are not designed to de-humanize women, their primary task is to de-humanize men. The armed forces have a long history of brutality and violence (check it out if you don't believe me), even today our soldiers are killing and dying. So that is the brief historical context and yes it has to change. Not just because we see men doing it to women, but because it is humans doing it to other humans and it is wrong and unacceptable, regardless of gender.

    Commenter
    JohnA
    Date and time
    July 16, 2013, 8:36AM
    • Don't forget that they've also evolved to foster a bond and feeling of camaraderie between people who may have very little in common outside the military. Group social bonding is often formed in response to an external 'other' that is framed as target or enemy to be dominated and humiliated by the group in order to strengthen their bond through shared experiences of victory. Moreso when the strength of the bonding has to be enough to compel people to willingly put their lives in danger for others in the group.

      I don't think it's possible to understand or change such attitudes without an understanding of where they came from or why they came into being. Certainly, framing them as mindless grunts with a 'single brain cell' is both simplistic and incorrect. The situation is far more nuanced than that.

      Commenter
      DM
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 9:49AM
  • Perhaps one step is for mass media to stop promoting the buffoon - IE idiotic Homer Simpson & Ray Romano types.
    Instead, mayhaps the media should compel young men to emulate noteworthy figures of the past such as Abraham Lincoln, General George S Patton & Isaac Newton.
    At the very least, mass media should promote young men to live from a higher intellectual level instead of the base instinct level so often put forth in beer advertisements & 'trash' TV.

    Commenter
    Siminov
    Location
    QLD
    Date and time
    July 16, 2013, 8:46AM
    • "compel young men "

      When I last looked we lived in a free society. You cannot "compel" young men that is selective slavery.

      Commenter
      Bev
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:47AM
    • Unfortunately the 'larrikin' (idiot, moron, imbecile) is seen in a positive light here in this country. I despair at the immaturity of so many in the Army - particularly with their consumption of alcohol and how they use it to excuse transgressions.

      Commenter
      Serving ARA WO1
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 1:24PM
  • No one should be treated this way no matter who they are and No one should be allowed to get away with treating people this way. The only way this type of cruel & Petty act, which is a very extreme form of bullying, can be stopped is by black listing the culprits and shutting them in jail and throwing away the Key, because they are a stain upon the race of mankind.

    Commenter
    David
    Location
    Caboolture
    Date and time
    July 16, 2013, 9:01AM
    • Instead, we treat them as heroes. Go figure.

      Commenter
      HJ
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 2:00PM
  • Again I'm liking the restraint Clementine - you really do this forceful polemic stuff well. It's much more effective that apoplectic ranting I'm sure you agree.

    I fully agree with your interpretation of this misogynist conduct Clementine. However I'll use the term "homo-erotic" to describe these male-bonding sessions of group "sex" involving an unlucky woman being treated simply as a despised prop to be "used and abused".

    It seems these men having "sex" together is more important to them - than having actual REAL (respectful and mutually desired or consensual) SEX with an actual woman!

    Frankly I think if they want to explore whether they are homosexual or bi-sexual or not: then they can do that without abusing or raping a woman!

    If they are clear that they are heterosexual or do not want to explore their bi-sexuality - then they should avoid these disrespectful or criminal group "sex" events or opportunities also.

    It's a really sad, confused and violent scene. Women do not deserve such treatment. They should not be hurt indiscriminately just because these guys have got issues in determining and respecting their sexuality.

    Or are just not "romantically mature" enough or civilised enough: to appreciate that sexuality should be respectful and mutually desired or consensual - or it is not "sex" at all - but rather indecent assault or rape.

    I'd certainly like to NOT hear or read of AFL players being involved in these group "sex" events or incidents, particularly - in future.

    Again - well said Clementine.

    Commenter
    GRW Dasign
    Location
    Abbotsford
    Date and time
    July 16, 2013, 10:39AM
    • This particular "male code" is the military.
      It's purpose is to train people to kill members of other militaries. It is also designed to breed men and women who are tough, uncompromising, emotionally detached from the violence inherent in warfare, stoic in the face of death and the act of murder, who have a fierce loyalty to other members of their team (to the point where they will kill and die for each other), who are willing to undergo unbelievable amounts of suffering and hardship while staying focused on their goals or mission, and who are willing to follow orders that may result in their being seriously injured or killed, even if they do not agree with those orders.

      This isn't a code that's set up to denigrate women. It's a brutal code for what is a very brutal concept. A military is a very unique institution. If there is denigration of women by members of that institution, it doesn't necessarily define the institution, and the code of that group was not established with the concept of gender politics in mind, at all. It has something much darker and more confronting at it's core.

      This isn't to say that there isn't sexism in the military. And that needs to be rooted out. But the idea that the code of the military is inherently sexist, or that because it is a primarily male organisation with a code that it must be sexist, is erroneous.

      There are over 80,000 people in the Australian Defense Force. Most are men, only about 14% are women. The vast majority of those men are good decent people doing a very difficult job. Their is sexism to be challenged within the organization, but it's ultimately a reflection society at large.

      Commenter
      Jon
      Date and time
      July 16, 2013, 10:51AM
      • Jon: firstly I agree that the military can have bonding without degradation of or violence towards women. Secondly I just want to say that we have defence personnel to not fight but to defend the peace, to fight to end the fighting if required, and to keep the peace when it is again secured. I don't see any call for degradation of or violence towards women in this picture. At least it does not fit with the love of peace l think all Australian soldiers should feel - though brutally effective in their profession when called to fight they may be.

        Commenter
        GRW Dasign
        Location
        Abbotsford
        Date and time
        July 16, 2013, 3:19PM

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