Sunday, 10 March 2013

Lad Culture Takes Many Forms

This week, the National Union of Students published research that revealed that 50 per cent of study participants identified "prevailing sexism, 'laddism' and a culture of harassment" at their universities.

We all think of the proverbial lad as a lager drinking, working class, young man who thinks nothing of calling young women "fit" or "mingers" depending on their outlook on the girls in their vicinity. They have a casual attitude to sexism and no real respect for the opposite gender, making jokes about sexual exploits and female attitudes to sex. They tend to have a small group of friends who they share their views on women with, usually loudly in the bar, and the group will sing songs such as get yer tits out for the lads to any group of girls who they think they might do just that.

But to limit lad culture to that kind of demography is to miss the whole problem with sexism. The problem exists in any given group consisting wholly, or almost completely, of males. This could be a house-share, a project group, a society, or just a group of friends.

You might read that and look to university sports teams and say that's the breeding ground for lad culture, and indeed the NUS report singles out sport as an area of concern, but in my experience you couldn't be more wrong. Athletic Union teams support each other and that includes support for women's teams amongst their male counterparts. Indeed, from my experience, there's far more of a problem with the senior female team members applying peer pressure and humiliating the younger female members, than sexism or pressure from the men.

Having said that, my experiences are of post-1992 and plate glass universities. I can absolutely see that in some universities, in particular the old red brick universities, that the lad culture is prevalent and has been instilled in the sports clubs. This, however, links back to my previous assertion that you shouldn't limit lad culture to the working class lager lout, and instead apply it to the "traditional" middle class white student. This is, I believe, the root of the problem. Those men who's status feels threatened by high-achieving women, especially in fields which have been dominated by men for many decades.

One of these areas is, ironically, politics; in particular the political mainstay of debating. We all know about the farmyard setting for Prime Minister's Questions, and the male dominated shouting in the chamber; why is all that noise made? Simply to try to drown out and intimidate some female MPs? God forbid that they might actually have an opinion, or be educated enough that they might "show up" the men. Frankly, whether you like her or not, Thatcher is one of the only female politicians to break the trend, one of the reasons why she became PM.

You see a mini version of this at many university debating clubs - again, the mainstay of the middle class student - where it isn't too often you see a woman on the panel, outside a debate on feminism. Where you do have a female panelist, it won't be long before you have some sort of thinly veiled insult thrown at her, often in the form of challenging her intelligence or knowledge in the field. Something along the lines of "you won't know about this because I've studied the area", implying that there's no way a women would be able to understand the arguments. The purpose of the comment is to unify the room (usually a majority of men) against the woman on the panel, and has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter at hand.

You might say that's not lad culture, but in my view it is the very definition - men grouping together in anti-feminism, and often sexual objectification of women. In order to be accepted as part of the group, new members take part in the same culture and eventually the same casual sexism becomes part of their daily life. You could see a young man who is perfectly pleasant on his own, but when he's with the group he displays the same attitudes so as not to become an outcast.

What we see as lad culture in the student bars starts in the traditionally middle class clubs, both sporting and political. Young people, and particularly young male students, look up to their peers, and if their peers have sexist tendencies then so will they. Take away the lager, add in the whiskey and the real ale; take away the sports team, add in the political positioning. It is a culture, a culture of sexism in men, what I would define as lad culture.

NUS have called for a summit on lad culture. If the terms of reference doesn't include those that don't immediately spring to mind then such a summit will have missed the real underling problems. You can read the NUS report "That's what she said" on their website.