Comment

Mitchell Pearce is part of a lost generation of men

To be honest, I can see where Mitchell Pearce, the rugby league star whose bad behaviour was exposed last week, is coming from. In fact, I might even be tempted to say I feel sorry for him.

Why feel sorry for wealthy young men whose idea of a good night out is to try to force themselves on women, simulate sex with dogs and urinate on couches?

Mitchell Pearce is responsible for his own behaviour, and too many of his generation accept that behaviour as normal.
Mitchell Pearce is responsible for his own behaviour, and too many of his generation accept that behaviour as normal.  Photo: Kate Geraghty

Perhaps the word is not exactly sorry. It's more like a recognition that somehow we have produced these men who exist in a group which places itself above everyone else.

We've produced them.

If the cliche goes that it takes a village to raise a child, then it also takes a society to produce young men with this degree of entitlement, to women's bodies, to utterly unacceptable behaviour, to money.

Pearce didn't just make himself and he is not one of a kind.

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Pearce is responsible for his own behaviour – he most certainly is – and too many of his generation accept that behaviour as normal. And we've accepted that behaviour too. The number of online comments about this case last week, which said that he was just at a private home and should have his privacy protected, was astounding.

And these young men observe this behaviour around them, see that it is often accepted – just boys being boys; and have continued to act this way, resolutely resisting any instruction.

We can provide all the education we can afford to men like Mitchell Pearce and all the other sad rugby league players, AFL players, cricket players and the rest.

But it's not working.

Pearce, it seems, is part of a lost generation of men. Not all of them wealthy, not all of them influential. But far too many of them think the rules don't apply to them.

The way Pearce behaved is not particularly unusual. Men get drunk and behave badly every single day. In every state and territory in Australia, each year, there are thousands of incidents of crime, such as indecent assault, other acts of indecency, other sexual offences. Those particular offences are much more likely to have been committed by men.

We know that from police reports – and those are just the ones who end up with charges. We also know that from our interactions on social media. Men are not just drunk and disorderly in their real lives; they also behave that way on social media.

So, we have some options.

We can decide that this generation of young men must adhere to strict curfews. Bedtime at ten and lights out not long after. We can restrict their access to drugs of all kinds but in particular, alcohol. We could decide on rations in line with the World Health Organisation's recommended daily limits. We could also insist on clothing which limits opportunities for bad behaviour.

I can't quite think of exactly what would work: perhaps metal undies or straitjackets. And how brilliant would it be if we could monitor every single interaction undertaken by young men. Or older men. We could have a two strikes and you're off the internet for ever. We could also have role models, because goodness, these men need it.

Sorry. These are jokes. Of course they are jokes.

But I have trouble believing anything will actually change unless we do something radical. And that radical thinking has to start early.

The struggle for our society is to bring up young men who value relationships and act respectfully, to women and to men. That will require a complete overhaul of the way we undertake parenting.

Catharine​ Lumby, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney and the gender adviser to the NRL, admits that "some people are education proof".

Which is dispiriting. But she also says that in the vast majority of cases, the kind of gender education undertaken in organisations like the NRL really does work. She and her colleagues completed research in 2004 and again in 2009 which showed the success of programs such as these. In particular, programs which included real world examples and used what Lumby calls an ethics based approach.

"It should never be about standing there and lecturing them, it needs to be peer-based learning, talking through their values," she says.

She too says we need to start early – we can't rely on parents though. She recommends putting these kinds of programs into schools.

Lumby brings me back from the brink of consigning all men to the too hard basket. But there is something to be said for sending all men, yes all men, to respectful relationships education. Maybe even starting at preschool, or at the very latest, in primary school.

I'm all for schools being about learning reading, writing and arithmetic but it's clear that relying on parents to bring up kids who behave well isn't working 100 per cent of the time. And if it's not, then we all suffer.

Deanne​ Carson, the head of Unique Sexuality Education, runs programs in primary schools.

"When I work with children, they have an innate sense of fairness and when you explore inequality based on gender, age or ability, they are quickly able to understand and support each other.

"For some children, it's a new concept because it is not being modelled in their homes.

"But it helps them articulate the way they want to live."

Start in primary school to prevent Pearces being Pearces. Or men being boys.

Twitter @jennaprice. email jennapricejournalist@gmail.com