Friday, 22 May 2009

Masculinity and the NRL scandal

Today's Sydney Morning Herald has an article by Miranda Divine, drawn to my attention by a reader, on the NRL scandal (for my overseas readers, be prepared to be scandalized - some years ago a married football player had sex with a very young woman while away on a match, with a dozen of his mates looking on with their pants off), arguing that the whole thing is a beat up by those who want to attack the concept of masculinity.

Give me a break!

I'm all in favour of asserting proper gender roles, and recovering the idea of manliness. But I can't see how a group of rugby players indulging in group sex can possibly be upheld as an example of such an ideal!

Quite the contrary, as Annabel Crabb suggested a few days back in the same newspaper. Indeed, her comments have some resonance in the context of the clerical abuse scandal, so are worth taking a look at.

Do the perpetrators get it yet?

Commenting on the media coverage, she says:

"How intriguing it is to watch an insulated community, whose members have been behaving a certain way in private for many years, struggle with the realisation that most people view that behaviour as deplorable."

She goes on to point out the analogy in Britain with the MP expense claims scandal, but I think the insight similarly has wider resonances:

"At Westminster, the atmosphere is rife with tears and cheques, as politicians publicly repent of their avarice and deliver stricken personal apologies to the cameras.

In their eyes, you can see something similar to what we saw this week from Matthew Johns: desperate remorse, tinged with bafflement.

"But everybody was doing it," you can almost hear them wail to themselves, although of course they are too well briefed to claim that excuse in public."

Playing the emotions

She goes on:

"One group was guilty of scamming, the other of "bunning"....

But the behaviour pattern is rivetingly similar.

The psychology of groups; always a fertile area.

In a quiet way, the psychology of individuals was worth watching this week in Canberra, too.

Politics is full of carefully calibrated emotion.

There are times at which politicians publicly smother their anger and annoyance.

Think Kevin Rudd on Thursday, as he clapped on a hard hat and grinned for the cameras holding a shovel with Nathan Rees, a man on whom the Prime Minister would almost certainly prefer to use the shovel quite differently.

And there are times at which politicians amplify their anger.

Think the Ruddbot's recent press conference on people smuggling, his human speech simulator going at warp speed to come up with vocabulary of sufficient outrage.

The result was a sort of quasi-human gargle of wrath: "They represent the absolute scum of the earth … they should rot in jail and, in my own view, rot in hell …""

Manliness or homosexuality?

In an earlier piece Ms Crabb goes through what happened in the NRL case and has this to say about it:

"Let's say it out loud: it's the gayest thing ever.

And these are the same blokes who can't wait to climb into dresses for stunts on The Footy Show. Don't think we're not putting two and two together.

So come on, chaps.

If you want to get together and celebrate your oiled, toned bodies in the celebrated Greek tradition, then go ahead.

Just leave the ladies out of it, will you, and do us all a favour?"

Well actually, as Catholics we'd rather they didn't do it all. But I think she has called it for what it is, and Miranda Divine is just way offbeam.


Ms Divine's complaint is that while the initial criticism of the player concerned may have been justified, subsequent reactions, such as banning League players from visiting schools aren't. The problem is that, just as in the Church, the wider ramifications of the story haven't been adequately tackled as yet. None of the players involved except Johns have actually come forward for example.

Is there an element of media beatup about the whole thing? Of course there is. Does the attack on team sport fit in with the feminist agenda? Perhaps. Are some of the alleged victims just out to destroy the Code/Church? Sure looks like it.

But there is an underlying reality about all this stuff. The Rugby League code, like the Church, needs to get its act together and deal with the problem seriously. Or continue to take the consequences.


Louise said...

I haven't quite worked out what the Feminists are thinking though. Granted that any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, still there are those who believe everything is okay if people consent.

I had read that the young woman concerned had consented in the action. She later changed her mind, presumably because she rightly felt degraded. Why did she feel degraded? Because the act was degrading. That is, regardless of "consent" there is an objective reality here.

But on what grounds do the proponents of "consent" condemn this incident. I don't get it.

Terra said...

I agree with you on the inconsistencies of the feminist position on this.

As far as I could gather from the commentary, the young woman MAY have consented to sex with Johns - I don't think she had anticipated the presence of the rest of the team. And there are certainly several sins piled on top of each other in this case, each one worse than the other...

Cardinal Pole said...

"But I think [Ms Crabb] has called it for what it is, and Miranda Divine is just way offbeam."

Terra, I think that you might have misconstrued Mrs. Devine here. Far from defending the bun (indeed, in the column of the previous Thursday she gave by far the best condemnation of it that I've seen, condemning it not just for the lack of consent but for its intrinsic immorality, and exposing the madness of feminists like Ms Lumby and Ms Albury in the process), she was just defending contact sports against those, such as some feminists, who might argue that the very nature of these games is a contributing factor to scandals of this sort.

Terra said...

I don't think I've misread her at all Cardinal. Yes she takes the opportunity to take a few swipes at feminists aimed to get a certain constituency on side.

What she doesn't seem to accept is that there is a systematic problem with this particular code. She seems to think this is a one off incident to which we are all overreacting. But the evidence suggests that in fact it does represent an example of a deeply entrenched attitudes and behaviour that has gone largely unaddressed up until now. Media Watch for example had an item this week noting that the same team employed a stripper before a game in order to incentivate them - a story that was completely buried by the media at the time.

And that is why people are reacting with demands Ms Devine finds outrageous such as that Johns' name his teammates, sponsors rethink their support, schools ban NRL players from visiting classes and mothers rethink which code their children should play in. Such demands do not, in my view, represent zealotry but that the code take the issue seriously.

If feminists do have the agenda Ms Devine suggests, then the NRL has played right into their hands. But my view remains that the media frenzy over this more reflects a bit of compensation for having turned a blind eye for years to atrotious behaviour.

Cardinal Pole said...

"What she doesn't seem to accept is that there is a systematic problem with this particular code."

Actually, the question of whether or not there is a systemic problem with rugby league football is not the focus of the opinion piece in question; rather, she sets out to refute the possible allegation that violent sport, by its very nature, might lead to such a systemic problem.

Think of it by analogy to the present crisis with the U.K. Parliament. Mrs. Devine is saying that (hypothetical) feminist attacks on R.L. are like saying that the Westminster system is at the root of the corruption; if there is a systemic problem in R.L. (and I agree with you that there is), then Mrs. Devine just argues that this is not to be attributed to the very nature of violent sports.

"She seems to think this is a one off incident to which we are all overreacting."

No, she notes that

"the Johns story [is] the latest in a long string of such scandals"

and that

"Sex scandals are their ["their" referring to "rugby league and other violent contact sports"] weakest points."

And, as I said, Mrs. Devine regards the public/media response as an over-reaction only to the extent that it seeks to lay blame with violent sports and masculinity.

I'm sure that if you e-mailed Mrs. Devine she'd be willing to clarify any difficulties that you raise.

Terra said...


Ms Devine provides absolutely no evidence that people were arguing that it was all inevitable given the nature of the sport!

She hypothesizes that what she sees as an overreaction is due to this feminist agenda - I don't agree and I don't think she has made her case. All she provides is an appeal to ideology. The fact that her ideology is on the face of it appealing to us is not enough!

A far more plausible reason for the strength of the reaction is that everyone in the media knew there was a problem but failed to act - and now they are making up for it.

Frankly I think the reaction would be the same - and has been the same - in any number of spheres where people who are held up to us as role models (such as priests) fail to live up to the image they project publicly.