I think it’s maybe even a little weirder than that. Donny Donaldson, who understood far more than most about the submerged bits of the iceberg that is patriarchy, contributed a very interesting (disturbing?) insight in his writings about (male) prison sex. He said that “sharing” a victim (as in gang rape) was a deniable way for men with strong emotional bonds of friendship/loyalty to have sex with each other — without triggering their bedrock homophobia.
[If you’re momentarily gobsmacked by the idea that a man raping another man in prison could possibly be squeamish about homosexuality — yeah, I had that same reaction. But another of Donaldson’s insights, based on his close observation of prison life, was that most men who rape other men in prison do not defined themselves as gay; they define their victims as gay. To many men, sexual “straightness” merely means being the dominant (penetrative) partner in a sexual act, regardless of the gender of the submissive (receptive) person. So a man who rapes men is straight, and a man who rapes women is straight, but a man who is raped by other men is gay. Go figure.]
So it’s possible that these prep school rituals are not just the bonding of Us Men against Them Women, reasserting probative masculinity by the ultimate Othering of the female; and not just the bonding of shared criminality, knowing each other’s transgressive secrets, like little boys breaking windows together; and not just overexcitement or some kind of atavistic re-creation of the thrill of the hunt. It could also be a weird, backhanded way for straight men who are terrified of the very notion of homosexuality to have sex with each other, to participate together in a sexual act.
Donny makes this claim based on his experience of being raped by two men in prison, simultaneously; as he described it (iirc, it’s been a while since I read his brilliant but upsetting-to-read work), he was merely a connection between them. He was not really important: their deeper, passionate involvement was with each other and he was just an accessory or device to facilitate that connection.
In the Kavanagh case and others as described in the article, the primary interaction is between the men — observing each other’s sexual performance, egging each other on, laughing together. The woman seems merely a medium for this communion between two males — a prop, an accessory, not a social presence in their minds. Levi-Strauss (the anthropologist, not the blue jean guy) famously remarked (wtte) that in archetypical patriarchal culture, women are chattel property and goods to be traded, the medium of exchanges between men. L-S iirc intended this theory to apply to such institutions as dowry, bride-price, alliances by marriage, etc., but later feminists saw the parallels with “wife swapping” (note that we don’t call it “husband swapping”) or the “giving” of a prostitute by one man to another as a favour, not to mention the fundamental dynamic of street prostitution in which the pimp is almost invariably a man selling/renting goods to other men. If we allow that men may mediate sexual exchanges, as well as wealth exchanges, through women’s bodies, then Donaldson’s theory is compatible with Levi-Strauss’s theory.
Worth a thought anyway.