One of the greatest fears that permeated our neighbourhood in the late Fifties was the prospect of being depanted. This involved being humiliated in front of everyone by having your pants pulled down to the laughter and mockery of all. As a nine or ten year old I’d never seen a depanting or known a depantee, but the histories of former victims loomed large in my mind.
It was not a fear known by the girls in the neighourhood because it lived only in the world of the local boys: a ritual inflicted upon the younger, weaker, less popular ones. Looking back on this terror I see it as a form of sexual violence living on the low end of the rape continuum: a projection of raw power.
It reminds me of a term that I learned in my early adolescence: “black-balling” – another bone-crushing humiliation that consisted of several boys holding down another while ink, oil or some other substance was poured on the hapless victim’s genitals. The murder of that boy’s soul would then be spread around the school where he would be re-victimized by laughter and mockery. In those days it seemed like a terrible stigma from which you could never recover.
I’d only heard stories of others on whom the violation had been inflicted, but the stories were enough to raise its spectre when threatened or harassed by the older, bigger boys in school.
A few years back I heard a story which was told about Michael Landon. It seems that when he was a young lad with long hair, some toughs assaulted him because of it. It seems they viewed his hair as feminine and decided to teach him a so-called lesson: While a few of them held him down, they poured hair remover over his genitals: a ritual castration.
From where in our experience did this sexual violence emerge? How could ten, twelve, thirteen year old boys be infected with such a mean and heartless behaviour? Where, in those days, were the men with chests who could purge those toxic teachings, lead us out of that pathological form of masculinity – and where are they now?