In Australia today, the definition of mateship can be boiled down to: friendship, loyalty and equality. But that equality has quite a narrow scope. In fact, in almost seems like they don’t really mean it. As it was for female convicts, equality for… some.
- Can a migrant be a mate?
- Is a queer your mate?
- Do you refer to women as mates?
- Do Indigenous people identify with the idea of mateship?
Subtracting these large swathes of Australia society from the equation leaves kind of a sad little group of mates; straight, white, cis men. But they’re mostly good blokes, right?
Saying someone is a good bloke excuses a litany of bad behavior in politics, the media, professional sports, the military etc. In these environments, the rituals of mateship are enacted through acts of male bonding which include both objectification of and hostility toward women. It might sound confusing that attraction and antagonism can co-exist, yet sexual objectification is not only about desire, it’s about dehumanisation.
The behavior of the good bloke can descend into larrikinism which champions womanising, drinking and violence in the form of brawling with other men. And maybe giving your woman a fat lip when she’s being a smart-aleck.
The ways in which Aussie masculinity rejects the ‘other’ (be it women, queer people, people of colour etc) through acts of mateship, shows that masculinity defines itself by what it is not. And it is definitely not female or gay. These behaviors must play out repeatedly in order to constantly reinforce male-ness. Which points to the brittle state of masculinity in general, as well as the ways it is interwoven with domination and control over others.
Maybe maaaaate! needs to be retired. The ideals of friendship, equality and loyalty are as pertinent than ever to Australian identity, particularly if a fair go is to be extended to those who have traditionally been marginalised. But the concept of mateship, and all it represents, belong in the past.