Vile chant is evidence of a deeper issue

Melbourne's private school principals have probably been quietly thankful since the St Kevin's College chanting scandal.

The head of one school's year 12 valedictory dinner last week started his speech: "Class of 2019 … thank you for not being in the news this week."

It brought the house down.

And yet the heads of some elite schools must realise it could easily have been one of their students.

They know privileged, self-satisfied young men have been behaving like this for years.

Examples from the past few years include boys setting up the "young sluts" page on Instagram, an online pornography ring at another school while male students at another rated their formal dates via a "Tinder boot camp".

The misogynist St Kevin's student chant captured on film on at least two occasions in recent weeks needs to be viewed as part of this continuum.

The full chant includes 17 vile verses of derogatory sexist acts men want to perform on women.

However, we shouldn't simply blame St Kevin's because this behaviour reflects a broader male culture of elitism and sexism.

There's a certain self-satisfaction that comes with being a part of such an elite tribe.

The boys from Melbourne's most expensive schools put on their school blazers and walk taller in the knowledge that they're part of a special band of students.

They wear their school tracksuits on weekends, happy for others to see where they go to school.

This is despite the fact that not all St Kevin's parents are wealthy, with many working hard to pay the $20,000 fees.

This arrogant ruling class male privilege is also endemic at other places where young men congregate in big male-only groups such as residential university colleges and army officer training programs.

It's no coincidence the St Kevin's chant has also been heard in such locations.

 

St Kevin's College Toorak has come under fire after several of its students were filmed reciting a misogynistic chant on public transport. Picture: Supplied
St Kevin's College Toorak has come under fire after several of its students were filmed reciting a misogynistic chant on public transport. Picture: Supplied

 

These days, private schools like St Kevin's spend a lot of time teaching their students about the importance of respectful relationships with women and others.

What worries me is that these boys and men at St Kevin's behaved so badly despite that training.

They knew they were doing the wrong thing and they did it anyway. So how do we get through to them?

And despite the school's official line, it does appear the song has been a part of the unofficial school culture for some years.

That shows something has gone awry.

One former student, Elliott Roberts, has some suggestions.

He blames the "hyper-masculine values and a culture that steers away from any kind of sensitivity in boys".

He thinks such schools' "total obsession with sport" is part of the problem.

"The culture that is attached to competing with other all-boys schools at such a fierce level takes such priority that it's hard to feel valued at that school if it's not a priority for you," he says.

Mr Roberts points out that the quote from St Kevin's headmaster Stephen Russell is also problematic.

Russell said: "As a husband, a father of daughters, a brother of four sisters, a son, and I hope, a good friend and decent colleague to many women, I know this behaviour cannot go unchallenged."

And yet, this behaviour shouldn't be reduced to being harmful to the women in the boys' lives, but all women.

It should be condemned because it's wrong.

As Mr Roberts says: "Listen to the women in your life. Don't just use them as examples of why sexism offends you". He's spot on.

A lack of female teachers and school leaders also has an impact, as does the lack of girls in the classroom.

 

 

The mere presence of girls isn't enough - the behaviour of boys in co-ed schools shows that.

But it does help to lessen the pressure to ascribe to hyper-masculine behaviour.

There's no doubt the St Kevin's community is hurting.

Students have been unfairly targeted on public transport by strangers while some boys have turned on those who have spoken up against the chanting.

Girls at sister school Sacre Coeur have also been targeted by the St Kevin's boys, with a rap song calling them: "fake b - ches who can't take 10 inches".

Many of the school's parents have also been at pains to stress this is the behaviour of an aberrant few, not reflective of a broader school culture.

I get it - to admit otherwise is to consider that their own son may be capable of the same actions.

Mr Russell has promised he "will not let this matter lie".

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He, and others in his position, will have to do much more than punish those responsible. They have to disrupt the culture that made it possible.

Mr Russell owes it to the school's students, parents, teachers and past students to now face the media and publicly explain how he plans to do this.

Susie O'Brien is a Herald Sun columnist.

susan.obrien@news.com.au

@susieob