Last week, news broke that something terrible had happened on Melbourne’s public transport. It wasn’t violence, drug taking, or vomiting—these things happen constantly on the tram network and don’t warrant a mention in the news. Rather, some Year 10 boys from St. Kevin’s, an elite Catholic school, had let loose a chant. Not a Gregorian chant, mind, but a disturbing and offensive chant. Many publications took care to forewarn their readers, so wretched were the words. The Guardian implored viewers to brace themselves for ‘strong language’. Channel 7 went even further and refused to publish a transcript. Hopefully you, dear reader of this magazine, possess sufficient fortitude to endure the following:
I wish that all the ladies
Were holes in the road
If I was a dump truck
I’d fill them with my load
Within hours, this incantation had summoned the full destructive power of Australia’s commentariat. The ABC published an article that drew an equivalency between the students and Harvey Weinstein. A Channel 9 publication said that this chant would ‘provide the foundations for more violent acts’ like ‘rape and murder’. Twitter people joined in the chorus of condemnation, calling the boys a ‘potential group of rapists and domestic violence thugs’, a ‘misogynist cancer’ who displayed ‘contempt for women’ and so on. Online condemnation promptly manifested as real-world abuse. Reportedly, one boy from the school, who had apparently not even partaken in the chant, was threatened in the street by a stranger. Another lad, equally innocent, was spat upon.
Perhaps, for a truly despicable chant, some collateral damage could be expected. But is I Wish That All the Ladies really all that bad?
I have heard the chant. I have printed out transcripts of the chant. I have read the text closely and made notes in the margins. It is my learned opinion, having majored in English Literature at the University of Adelaide (where I graduated without distinction), that the chant is entirely without hatred. Rape doesn’t enter into it. There’s not an ounce of cruelty to be found. You can look for it but, just like ‘play it again, Sam’, or ‘elementary, my dear Watson’, or ‘Sola Scriptura’, you simply cannot find it in the source material. You’ll see what I mean if you embark on a close reading of the text; the sort of close reading that opinion-piece writers and Twitter-haters would have learned how to do themselves, had they too attended a private school.
First, note that the chant begins with the words ‘I wish’. Clearly, what follows takes the form of a profession of desire (channeling, perhaps, one of the Psalms that the boys no doubt sing as part of their Catholic schooling). It should go without saying, but since it has seemingly escaped the notice of so many, let us clearly identify that in beginning with ‘I wish that all the ladies were holes in the road’, the singer of the chant is not saying that all ladies are actually holes in the road.
If, conversely, it had begun ‘All the ladies are holes in the road’ then, certainly, a case could be made that the chant degrades women. As it stands, however, the text is describing the very opposite. For to wish is, by definition, to acknowledge that something is not so. One cannot wish to be eating a piece of cake while, simultaneously, actually eating said piece of cake.
The chant, then, a wish that ‘all the ladies were holes in the road’ is, tacitly, an acknowledgement of woman in the fullness of her personhood. Women are not holes in the road but it would, in some way, be desirable to the singer of the chant were both he himself, and all the ladies, spontaneously de-anthropomorphised.
Why does the poet long to devolve both himself, and that which he covets, to mere objects? The answer is found in the last line of the stanza. It is so that he [the dump truck/schoolboy] might fill ‘them’ [holes in the road/all the ladies] with his ‘load’ [cement/ejaculate]. But what is the deeper and elusive ‘why’ behind that? Why is he willing to suffer and inflict that indignity? And why does he lust after all the ladies, including, presumably, the misshapen, the disfigured, the elderly, and the diseased?
The progressive feminists, being sexual Rousseauians, blame the patriarchy: Man is born sensitive and woke, but everywhere he is encouraged to become a sexist pig. They argue that these privileged boys have been indoctrinated into a rape culture. That is the reason they scream vulgar polygamous aspirations aloud on public transport.
This might be a convincing argument, if not for the fact that, again, it isn’t in the source material. The ‘wish’ does not have a value judgement. It is not good, and neither is it bad. It is articulated merely as a statement of fact. If it were possible, the singer would sacrifice his own humanity, and the humanity of half the human race, in order to experience orgasm. That isn’t misogyny. It is a very sad depiction of male adolescent sexuality.
Teenage boys are under a nefarious influence. Not patriarchy, but biology. The St. Kevin’s students are grappling with something new and disturbing. They went to bed, not so long ago, as sweet and innocent children, and awoke the next morning to find themselves hot, sticky and shackled to a madman.
I Wish That All the Ladies is almost exclusively recited by pubescent, and recently post-pubescent, males. They are afraid of, and thus find humorous, an infinity of horrifying new urges. The chant, read carefully, is a lamentation. I wish that all the ladies were holes in the road!? In calling and responding, the chanters are reaching out for sympathy. They seek solace by offering up their vulnerabilities to one another.
In attacking these boys, at such a delicate moment in their development, we do them a great disservice. The critics, knowingly or not, are encouraging these students to be ashamed and fearful of their sexuality. They are encouraging the boys to become more, as it so happens, like their patron St. Kevin, who was so afraid of unchasteness that he drowned a woman. It would be better for us all, safer, even, were we all able to merely tolerate these brash, but ultimately harmless, young men.
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