A report into lad culture at university has revealed half of students have experienced "prevailing sexism, laddism and a culture of harassment", with some even dropping out as a result.
Sexual harassment and violence were found to be "very much related" to lad culture and included verbal and physical harassment, as well as sexual molestation. The report, published by the National Union of Students (NUS), also found "Groping in nightclubs was viewed by some as part of a ‘normal’ night out."
"Lad mentality" was found to be particularly prevalent in sport, centring around banter which was described as "often sexist, misogynist and homophobic". In sports and other extra-curricular activities, there were reports of sexism transgressing into "sexual harassment and humiliation".
One student, who responded to the NUS survey said: "“It was the rugby night initiation and they stood on either side of the pavement so you had to walk through them, they were creating like a bridge thing with their hands, and they started shouting really loudly, in the main street, ‘U.G.L.Y. – she’s ugly, she’s ugly’ and I was just stood there.
"I was on the phone, I just didn’t expect it, and maybe if I had been dressed like I was today, but I was dressed up, and maybe that’s what they had to do, pick out the girl who was on her own, but there was a whole group of them, of rugby lads shouting it on the main street, and it was mortifying.
"Some of them then saw I was a bit upset or taken aback as I was on the phone and so one of them was like ‘ah it’s just a joke’ and I was like ‘well it’s not a joke, because you just
humiliated me on a night out when there’s loads of students about’… and I was actually quite upset by it because it really caught me off guard and I wasn’t expecting it, I wouldn’t say I get upset very much but I literally ran off… it ruined my night, I went home after that.”
Nights out were described as key spaces which lad culture was evident, with even nightclub promoters engaging in the culture as part of their business model to attract customers.
In a recent interview with The Huffington Post UK, the NUS' women's officer Kelley Temple voiced her concerns about the prominence of lad culture on campus.
"If men can't grope women in clubs, they're more likely to progress onto rape," she was once told by a male student council officer. She blamed universities for not taking sexism seriously enough, adding: "Because of the success of a lot of feminists, it's become a lot acceptable to become openly sexist. But it hasn't disappeared, it hasn't gone away, it just manifests itself so it becomes a lot more covert and it exists under different guises and forms.
"One of those forms is "banter". What that is, when you try and apply humour you can say 'Oh but it's just ironic, I don't really mean this'."
The online magazine UniLad is often used as an example of the often misogynist culture. The student publication was forced to pull an article in 2012, which joked: "If the girl you've taken for a drink... won't 'spread for your head', think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds. Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying 'surprise'."
During the research, another respondent said laddish behaviour made them avoid certain places and talking to males on their own, if if they considered them a friend, while one added: “I don’t know anyone, any of my female friends who haven’t had some kind of encounter that was harassment whether it be verbal or physical since they’ve been at university.”
The NUS report, published on Friday, found: "For many participants, ‘lad culture’ had been significant in relation to their personal life.
"Many reported misogynist jokes and ‘banter’ circulating in their friendship groups which made them feel uncomfortable, and pressures to engage in profuse sexual relationships which made it difficult to establish and maintain commitments.
"Stories of sexual harassment and molestation were common, and there were also accounts of sexual violence."
"I think that’s the misconception, that they’re these rough lads from rough backgrounds who have no respect for women, well they’re not, they’re everywhere, they’re in all parts of the country.”
- student interviewee
Kelley Temple has now called for women's minister Jo Swinson to convene a summit on lad culture.
In a letter to the MP, Temple wrote: “The study found a worrying prevalence of ‘lad culture’ and the report will make uncomfortable reading for many of us - NUS and students’ unions included - when it comes to our own responsibilities. ‘Lad culture’ is a problem that needs to be urgently addressed."
“In lots of tutorials I’ve had lots of banter… I do Politics and History and within that there tends to be a slight focus on feminist theory at some point. It’s always the time when the lad comes out. It’s just like shit jokes and stuff like that. For example, if you try to make an announcement in [a lecture], everyone will immediately start shouting stuff… Something along the lines of being a ‘shit feminist’ or something. That kind of ‘another one of those man haters’.”
- student focus group participant
Diane Abbott MP, shadow public health minister, added: "It is important that the government and universities listen to what students are saying, and challenge any normalisation of sexism on university campuses. This isn’t about being killjoys, but about building a society where people can learn and thrive free from shame, harassment and abuse."
The 'that's what she said' report follows the NUS' 'hidden marks' survey in 2010, which revealed 68% of students had been the victim of one or more incidents of sexual harassment on campus.
"In first year there were definitely club nights which were advertising this image of slutty girls… trying to have this image of girls who are going to put out whatever, using them as bait for the guys to come."
- student participant
The recent research analysed data captured in interviews and focus groups with 40 female students from England and Scotland.
Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, supported the report, saying: “The new research from the NUS confirms and reiterates themes that have arisen again and again across hundreds of young people's entries to the Everyday Sexism Project.
"Young women report being bullied, harassed and belittled, with sexual jokes and threats punctuating their experience of higher education.”
“There is no place for a diversity of attraction. Because as a pack you have to have the same mentality because otherwise you are not a pack. It kind of feeds in. You get shit from the other members of your group if you get with someone who they consider to be ugly. You get teased or other stuff. So it’s very narrow minded as to what a woman is.”
- student respondee
Jo Swinson has been contacted for comment but has not yet responded.
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