Trigger warning for child abuse
My cheery holiday reading included this bleak account of the prosecution of seven Pitcairn Island men (of a population under fifty) for raping children. Amazingly, or not, one of their lines of defense was that they did not consider themselves part of the British Empire (this after decades of hanging the Queen’s portrait everywhere and welcoming the DoE and Lord Mountbatten as their own personal royalty in 1971) and that, consequently, they were unaware that forcing sex on pre-pubescent girls is wrong.
The “We aren’t British” defense was officially put down by Lord Hoffman, president of the Privy Council, in 2006: “I must confess that I have (ha ha), I mean (ha ha), seldom heard a more unrealistic argument (ha ha).” But it is also undermined at every point by the language of the defendants. It’s not only that they spoke English (as well as their own dialect, Pitkern.) It’s the English they used. A disabled man is nicknamed “Mento”. A coward is a “woos.”
That’s the English they speak where I grew up, in the arse-end of the British Empire. Matter of fact nearly everything about Pitcairn seemed familiar to me: the thongs and shorts and t-shirts, the bullying, the wives who invited all the journalists over in order to lecture them for three hours about their husbands’ innocence. And then never socialized with them again.
That’s how things were where I grew up. I got scolded by lots of wives exactly like those wives, for stumbling blindly towards the same kinds of socially unacceptable questions. I was bullied by men like the Pitcairn men. I wasn’t raped, lucky me, but I was groped.
I’ve fallen into the lazy habit of describing that Australia as a “bully culture,” one in which cruelty and meanness and dehumanizing behaviour were routine. Marks herself touches on something like this:
…a sense of inferiority, because they were from such a tiny, faraway place and felt sure that everyone else was better educated than them, and more sophisticated.
Australian exceptionalism is such a neat little just-so story, and it ties Rupert Murdoch up with a pink ribbon like a little gift, how festive! But it’s unfair to all the Australians who aren’t bullies, and don’t partake in that culture. And it conveniently lets me off the hook for all the ways in which I bullied other people.
And nice as it would be to think that I left the bullies behind when I got on a plane, it’s not remotely true. Geek Feminism exists because of the bullying that’s endemic to online culture. Dick Cheney is nothing if not the king of all fat complacent war-profiteering bullies who sleeps dreamlessly each night on impossibly-high-thread-count sheets. Murdoch may have grown up in Australia but his slavering toadies at News and Fox are drawn from the entire Anglosphere. So what am I talking about here? What is bully culture and where does it come from?
Robin Fox, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, says “Just because it’s isolated, and people are stuck there, doesn’t mean you get that outcome. If a bunch of Tahitians had settled on Pitcairn voluntarily with their pigs and their women, they would have set up a recognizable Polynesian society, and it would have been a different story.”
But it wasn’t a bunch of Tahitians, it was a bunch of English-speaking Westerners, and so what they set up instead was a recognizable…