Opinion: Predatory culture is not just an accident

Boys' club: "The pipeline of sexism starts early and continues all the way through to the boardroom."
Boys' club: "The pipeline of sexism starts early and continues all the way through to the boardroom."

Anyone following the recent spate of stories about sexual harassment and exploitation of girls in Australia's elite schools and universities might find Tuesday’s allegations of "a toxic culture of harassment and predatory behaviour" at Macquarie Group eerily familiar.

Up-skirting, "alpha-male culture", "predatory behaviour towards a female staff member" and stalking are among the claims made in a letter from lawyers planning a class action against the investment bank.

An ex-Macquarie staffer claimed a former stockbroker cut off a woman's ponytail at the office. "He put the hair on her desk, right in front of her. She was so shocked she didn't say anything," they said. 

The Macquarie Group told Fairfax Media that it takes all allegations of inappropriate behaviour very seriously and denied that any current staff members were involved in any of the allegations.

It's difficult to imagine a modern workplace where men could assault women and it's not just seen as normal behaviour, but a "funny story" to tell around the office. But perhaps looking at the path these men take to get to such positions might explain how it might happen.

When the "young sluts" Instagram account set up by boys from Brighton Boys Grammar was reported in the media last year, headmaster Ross Featherston said the school was taking the matter very seriously. The Age reported at the time that "a Melbourne mother who spoke out in disgust... told Fairfax Media that she received a threatening phone call from an 'old boys' club' parent'."

When boys from Melbourne Grammar were filmed rating girls on a scale of one to 10 and being told not to bring anyone under a seven to the end-of year-formal the following month, headmaster Roy Kelley said the school was taking the matter very seriously.

When a series of group sexual assaults at Trinity Grammar in Sydney was exposed in 2000, the school hired a public relations firm to divert the media reporting to an issue of "bullying" – rather than the systemic rapes of children, watched and applauded by large groups of students. Four students eventually pleaded guilty to various offences and were given good behaviour bonds.

These schools are feeders for elite colleges like St Paul's College at Sydney University, infamous for its pro rape Facebook group. The five students suspended from ANU's John XXIII College for posting photos of women's breasts and rating them on Facebook were all from elite private schools in Victoria and NSW.  

Despite how "very seriously" all these matters are taken by executives releasing media statements, sexism and entitlement seems entrenched in schools and universities for the privileged elite.

And where do the boys and young men go after their expensive educations? Merchant banks, prestigious professionals, corporate leadership and politics.

Education and wealth is no protection from sexism. The pipeline of sexism starts early and continues all the way through to the boardroom.

Whatever the results of the investigation into the allegations about the Macquarie Group, it would be a mistake to believe such cultures are rare or that they happen by accident. They're taught in the homes, schools and universities of the wealthy and the trickle down effect of attitudes, if not the entitlement itself, might be stronger than we imagine.