Students who express conservative views no longer feel “safe” on our nations’ campuses. They frequently self-censor their opinions and have trouble finding forums in which they can freely express their ideas; you know, the kind of forums where they can really be themselves away from those pesky socialists, multiculturalists and… er… um women.
That, at any rate, is the lesson to be drawn from the revelation that University of Melbourne Liberal Club President Xavier Boffa wrote to a woman, saying he wanted to invite her to an event but hadn’t because “a couple of the guys were a bit uncomfortable about inviting a chick”.
This is rich coming from a political movement – and their cheerleaders in the media – who not only mock women for wanting “safe spaces” on campus, but expend petabytes of data complaining that the use of trigger warnings is “political correctness gone mad”.
But given that the future leaders of the Liberal Party aren’t robust enough to share space with “chicks”, perhaps Liberal Club events should now come with their own trigger warning for young male members: “Women Present”
You have to wonder what was going to be said at the men’s-only meeting that so concerned Mr Boffa, who also works for Victorian state shadow attorney-general John Pesutto. It must have been pretty bad if Mr Boffa felt he needed to bounce members of his own party.
The Young Liberal movement has of course attempted to distance itself from the whole affair, trying to present it as a mere blip. But the problem for today’s young conservatives is that these things keep happening with troubling regularity.
In 2014, as The Age reported yesterday, Facebook posts surfaced of University of Melbourne Liberal Club members describing women as “sluts” and Muslims as “degenerates”.
The then Club treasurer Stefan Eracleous described Germaine Greer as a “lying f—ing cum guzzling slut … and a union member” and went on to claim that she’s an unmarried atheist who doesn’t have children.
And it’s not just Young Liberals at the University of Melbourne who are unable to disguise their hateful views. Also in 2014, the then vice-president of Swinburne University Liberal Club Tim Dark was forced to resign after posting derogatory comments about gay people, questioning the gender of “butchy lesbians” and claiming that the possibility of gay marriage is “ruining” the social fabric of Australia.
The regressive attitudes don’t stop at women and homosexuals. In March this year, Kurt Tucker resigned as President of the University of Queensland Liberal National Club, after letting slip that had he been alive in 1930s Germany, he’d have been a Nazi.
“I openly accept I would be a Nazi Party member if this was 30s Germany, despite obviously opposing a lot of their core ideology,” he wrote on Facebook. “I’m political, and to succeed in politics, public service military or even industry, you had to be a NSDAP member.”
Mr Tucker later retracted the statements, saying “on reflection” he was “totally wrong”.
When you string enough blips together you start to get a pattern; a very ugly pattern of young men spewing racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia and yearning for safe patriarchal spaces where the targets of their bigotry are excluded.
You could put it down to the Trump effect but, as the record above shows, young Australian conservatives have been expressing such views for a while now.
One explanation is that these men are having trouble reconciling the contradiction that lies at the heart of modern conservative politics. That contradiction is bought about by on one hand, advocating upending the economy, and on the other hand, pretending that everything and everyone should carry on as before.
The modern conservative fantasy is that you can do away with, say, penalty rates, globalise the economy and shift to a service-based economy, yet the social contract based around the white patriarchal family middle-class existence will remain unchanged.
In such circumstances, it’s a tad difficult to maintain the notion that white heterosexual blokes are the natural centre of the social and economic universe.
For some of these young men, university is possibly the first time that they’ve realised that what they thought were the fixed certainties of social and economic life turned out to be, well, not as fixed as they had been led to believe.
Faced with any ambiguity about their own status in a fast-shifting world, young men who assumed they would one day be the masters of the universe cling to a fundamentalist form of masculinity on steroids.
To pass in this world and demonstrate their credentials, they perform a regressive masculinity: loathing women, LGBTI people and non-westerners. It’s a desperate attempt to impose a fixed point of identity in a world to which they are clearly having difficulties adjusting.
Or perhaps that’s overcomplicating matters. Maybe these young conservatives just express these views because doing so works for them.
Take Tim Dark, who was forced to resign in disgrace from the Swinburne Liberal Club in 2014. Clearly it didn’t dent his political capital. He’s currently a councillor for the Greater Dandenong Council.
Christopher Scanlon is Chair, Teaching and Learning in the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce at La Trobe University.