An extremely rank list

Ranked lists are everywhere: the NYT bestsellers; 10 best holiday towns; best 10 cars; Eurovision; best Italian restaurants in Perth; top 40; best actor; best supporting actor. And on and on it goes.

So, what is wrong with the boys at the Anglican Yarra Valley Grammar School making a ratings list of the senior girls at the school, as they were caught doing this month?

I’ll tell you what: the judging criteria and who is doing the judging.

The judging criteria were: “wifeys”, “cuties”, “mid”, “object”, “get out” and “unrapable”. The judges were a pack of privileged, private-school, barely post-pubescent males.

The judging criteria did not include: caring nature; intelligence; resourcefulness; courage; loyalty; diligence; warmth; good humour; decency; or indeed any element of human character.

The criteria all pertained to objectified sexuality and none pertained to humanity, through which you get empathy.

In particular, one of the categories on the spreadsheet (which was posted on the social media platform Discord) was “unrapeable”. So, any young woman in the other categories by definition is “rapeable”.

From this ranking list it is a small step to the assertion of property rights over the objectified, to subjugate, rape, and control through violence.

The school is a private, selective, religious school. Religion over the millennia has been laced with misogyny.

Interestingly, violence against women and their murders has increased at the same time as the portion of students in Australia going to (mainly religious) private schools.

There is probably at least some causal relationship, but perhaps not as strong as the link between gendered violence, on one hand, and alcohol, gambling, low income and joblessness on the other.

The reaction of the school was typical of private schools. The two ring-leaders were expelled. Get rid of the problem. Clear off the trouble-makers and the students requiring extra (costly) attention. Have schools where students do not have to come into contact with the disadvantaged or anyone not “one of us”.

The religious schools want it both ways. On one hand, they want to impose religious criteria, including sexuality and belief in their particular god, when they select their students and staff. On the other hand, they want to accept public money.

It would be fine if it were a private club. People are allowed to invite whomever they want to attend the club or to be employed by it. But once they take government money, the government (the collective us) is entitled to impose conditions – conditions which meet our understanding of human rights and individual dignity.

Importantly, taking public money includes getting tax exemptions.

In a way, organised religion is no different from businesses that do not get tax exemptions. They provide goods and services (some bread and wine; promises of eternal life; entertaining sermons; a bit of spectacle; some refuge from the madding crowd; words of comfort in difficult times and so on). And they get profit from gifts and the offertory.

Waiters, bellhops and taxi drivers are required to pay tax on tips.

The Yarra Valley Grammar incident comes as the Government is dealing with some inconsistent expectations among voters on the religious front. Some voters want protection for students being threatened with expulsion because of their sexuality does not fit the mould propounded by the Bible, Koran or other religious texts and tenets.

Other voters are arguing that traditional religions are under systemic threat, pressure and discrimination because they feel they cannot freely practice their religious beliefs.

The latter is a pretty difficult argument to sustain in Australia in 2024. It is not, for example, like Northern Ireland in the 1960s, when Catholics simply could not get a job in the Belfast shipyards or many other businesses.

Yes, there are isolated incidents of individual violence against people practising or professing their religion. It was ever thus. But they can be and are dealt with by the criminal law. 

Most states have laws against discrimination on religious grounds for things like employment and tenancy. The question has become, should there be a similar federal law (as there is against racial discrimination) and what form should it take?

The trouble for the Government is that some proponents of such a law want it to include the right of religious institutions to dismiss staff from their health facilities and schools and expel students from their schools if they do not comply with all or some of their religious beliefs.

The irony is completely lost on them that for an institution which takes public money to dismiss or expel on those grounds is itself discrimination on the grounds of religion. And that is why it should not happen.

To the extent that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are protected in Australia, the practice of religion is already protected.

Religion does not fall into the same category as race, ethnicity, sexuality, and colour. People are born with those attributes and cannot shed them or acquire them, as with religion.

Indeed, the biggest threat to religion in Australia is people voluntarily shedding it, as every census reveals. Some of that is because of the appalling abuse of children that churchmen (and they are men) have engaged in. Much of it because people see religion as irrelevant. The threat is not from some organised anti-religious conspiracy.

On religious freedom, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appears to have learnt a lesson from the Voice referendum. He is not going there without the Coalition agreeing to the legislation. He is not going to fall into the trap of being accused both of not doing enough for religion and too much to protect students and staff and also of doing too much for religion and too little for staff and students.

He is simply not buying in to that lose-lose situation.

And there is no need to. Religious discrimination is a great big non-issue when compared to over-population; climate change; hospital waiting lists; housing; and as the Yarra Valley Grammar incident illustrates, violence to women.

Crispin Hull

This article fist appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 14 May 2024.

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