In Guantanamo it's referred to as "enhanced interrogation" and in our own private schools it was known as "boys will be boys" until somebody started talking about "assault," "bastardization" and "sexual abuse" by the more powerful against the weak. Although the behavior being referred to is basically the same, the intent of the perpetrators is supposed to be taken into consideration. And, to spare the sensibilities of whatever institution (military, church or school) happens to be in nominal control, "bullying" is the catchall term that seems to be generally preferred. That it's an integral component of the process of making ruling-class men as Dr. Mike Donaldson of the University of Wollongong suggests is both startling and possibly illuminating.
That there's a University of Wollongong is perhaps startling in itself to someone who's gotten used to the United States being the center of the universe. But, once one's gotten over that, the description of the process (pdf) of developing hegemonic masculinity has a certain familiarity that can't be ignored.
ruling-class schooling of boys in boarding schools involves "sending away" and initial loneliness, bonding in groups demanding allegiance, attachment to tradition, subjection to hierarchy and progress upward through it, group ridiculing and punishment of sensitiveness and close relationships, severe sanctions against difference, brutal bodily discipline, and inculcating competitive individualism. Brutalization and "hardening" are essential to all these processes and are characteristic of ruling-class masculinity.
In practical terms, what the Convenor of Sociology Program, School of Social Sciences, Media & Communication is writing about
Bidura Children’s Court on December 20, 2000, heard a police statement in relation to charges of twenty-nine sex offenses against four Trinity students, then fifteen years old, who between April and September that year were alleged to have "subjected two fellow boarders to more than seventy five sexual assaults, including tying them to beds and raping them with wooden dildos and a saucepan handle" (Connolly 2000). The court was told of a collection of dildos made in the woodwork room and hidden under the mattress of one of the defendants. One such implement with which the victims were assaulted was called "the anaconda." "Victims had their arms and feet tied to bunks with school ties, belts or rope, as they pleaded to be released. One victim was wrapped in packing tape from his feet to his shoulders, then sexually assaulted. The bell for class rang and he was left to free himself. . . . The victims could hear people laughing during the attacks, . . . [and] witnesses often heard screaming from the dormitory," recounted the police "statement of facts" (Connolly 2000).
Another "younger victim, aged 14, said he was the subject of regular "indecent and physical assaults" by numerous students. On one occasion he was dragged into the Year 10 dormitory at lunch time and the accused rubbed his torso up and down continuously against the victim’s bottom. The second offender became involved and did likewise" (Connolly 2001b). There was no shortage of evidence. About 30 witnesses were to testify, with "up to a dozen . . . believed to be boys who were either victims or allegedly saw the attacks" (Overington 2001).
sounds a lot like what some of our esteemed Senators referred to as "hazing" when the assaults on Guantanamo were first exposed.
And the reaction of the school authorities also has a familiar ring.
The institution itself in some ways responded like a blustering, bullying schoolboy—but with adult ruling-class power and organization to back it up. It began by delaying, minimizing, and controlling the disclosure of the
wrongdoing. It attempted to cover up the incidents and denied the existence of an established tradition that gave rise to them. Then members of the school community began to play down the nature of the misdeeds. This was accompanied by downplaying their extent....
Leading to the conclusion that the
phenomena are indeed endemic to ruling-class boys’ schooling and are part and parcel of the production of the masculinity of the hegemonic, the making of boys into men of wealth and power.
But that's in Australia. Surely nothing like that happens here in the U.S. and initiations into secret societies like Skull and Bones are totally passeé. Are reports of lawsuits and money awards focusing on a few aberrant peculiarities or merely the tip of an iceberg? It's hard to know because the verbiage is inconsistent.
I used to think that the people responsible for the physical assaults committed against detainees under orders might end up suffering from a sense of guilt. But if "bullying" is as pervasive as it seems, doing it under cover of law may well be a well-ingrained routine.
It seems that because of our commitment to a classless society, we resist seeing behaviors in class terms and, as a result, have a tendency to ignore that the making of a ruling class involves some really morally degenerate behaviors, which we have every reason to abhor.
One has to wonder if the fact that 20% of the members of Congress are private school graduates is relevant to their apparent tolerance for physical and psychological abuse. Are U.S. private schools also incubators of hegemonic masculinity?