Originally published by Kidspot on 11 July, 2014
When my husband showed me the now infamous Todd Carney ‘bubbling’ photo I was in the process of pureeing and freezing a month’s supply of pears for my baby boy and didn’t pay it much mind. Just another rugby league player out on the town, too inebriated to direct his urine flow appropriately or clock the presence of a mobile phone, I thought. No big deal. So I was surprised when he was summarily sacked from the Cronulla Sharks for posing for a ‘lewd photo’. Granted, he has a bad history with alcohol and this latest incident was the last straw for his embarrassed club. But really, players across several Australian football codes have retained their jobs after engaging in much more disturbing behaviour. You can be charged with rape and still receive a pay cheque in some clubs – providing your on-the-field- and part-of-the-team attributes are considered valuable enough.
To me, Carney’s men’s room shenanigans are part of the culture of masculinity whereby (some) dudes get a thrill from out-grossing each other. You may have heard of the Soggy Biscuit game. Google it if you want the full details but let’s just say it involves masturbation, target practice, a savoury snack, and the loser having to eat something extremely yucky. The Carney photo also reminded me of a strange activity some boys in my high school engaged in while camping: filming (in full colour close-up) each other defecating in the bush. What the? As far as I know, women don’t seem to get a similar thrill from disgusting each other – unless girls’ nights out now involve the swinging around of used tampons and comparison of menstruation fluids, and I’m just not aware of it. Eww, right? So what is it about Australian masculinity that makes performance art with bodily liquids such a common phenomenon in men-only spaces?
Why do they do it?
I reckon these acts are a way of proving ‘manliness’ to other men. Australian masculinity is equated with physical bravery, larrikinism, mateship and the epic consumption of beer. Think Anzacs, Australian test cricketers of the 1970s, and Paul Hogan. A ‘top bloke’ has also been long-defined as the opposite of anything remotely feminine. This stems from early European settlement, when the perfect Australian man was considered to be one who toiled in the harsh outdoors or shearing shed, as far from the world of girly concerns like nice manners and domesticity as possible. Homes were for women; the great outdoors, pubs, and playing fields were for men. Those men who enjoyed theatre, tailored clothes and actual conversations with the opposite sex were considered highly suspect.
But now that a vast chunk of Australian men work in offices, live in cities, watch sport from the couch, and aren’t bumping off Germans on a frontline, the average bloke can’t easily display his Aussie manly props. So he might look for other means of doing so. Men are not inherently or ‘naturally’ prone to risk-taking, aggressive or violent behaviour, and nor do they crave a good war, but the myth of Australian blokedom is an enduring yardstick. Just as women monitor each other’s weight, hair, clothes and makeup, a lot of men police each other’s capacity to meet the Aussie male ideal, and feel they have to ‘perform’ this role for each other. Throw in excess consumption of alcohol and you have a recipe for some pretty unsavoury acts. Just ask your local ER doctor or nurse. To me ‘bubbling’ is an example of trying to prove you’re the most hardcore manly man who doesn’t give a stuff about social niceties.
How should we parent our sons to prevent this?
All this is harmless until, of course, someone is harmed. Andrew Johns said of the Carney sacking, “It’s silly … it’s stupid (but) he is only doing it to himself.” And I agree. The Cronulla Sharks lack perspective. Weeing in your own mouth is one thing. Participating in sex acts involving a bunch of other rugby players and a confused, overwhelmed young woman, is entirely another. The army skype sex scandal, nasty university college hazing rituals like forcing inebriated ‘freshies’ to drink their own vomit, and ‘Mad-Monday’ assaults on short-statured entertainers are on the same barbaric continuum as rugby player gang bangs. There are real collateral victims in such cases. I have no problem with men lighting their own farts, guzzling their own urine, or ejaculating on biscuits if they really must, but to hurt others in the process is not only ungentlemanly, but outright assault.
Right now, the most complex aspect of mothering my baby son is getting the consistency of those pureed pears right and dealing with a gazillion night feeds. But I know that he’ll be understanding language very soon. So I’m going to be hyper-alert to everything he hears about what it means to be an Australian man. As soon as he can talk, I’ll be encouraging him to question any statement he hears about what ‘real’ boys or men do (especially if it’s related to binge drinking) or don’t do, and I’ll be doing all I can to ensure that he will be confident enough in his masculinity that he won’t seek validity of it from others. With any luck, then, I’ll be spared seeing photos on the nightly news of him imbibing his own bodily waste.