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'Lad Culture' and Sexism - An Undeniable Link?

30/04/2013 13:43 BST | Updated 29/06/2013 10:12 BST

My personal experience started when I turned down a teenage boy in my AS Level History class. I was sexually inexperienced and despite all the outer confidence I displayed I was genuinely frightened of participating in any acts with a boy I knew did not love me and one I did not back. On top of this, the boy also had a girlfriend, who he claimed he had cheated on many times before so one more girl would be of no difference. In his words: "It's not cheating if they don't find out".

This boy was infamous for being sexually promiscuous; I think it was his mission to sleep with every girl at the school before he left. Having known the boy since he was nine, I believe that, as many young, pubescent boys do, he searched for an identity he could assign himself. It all seemed rather self-constructed, as if it would let him be more accepted into society if he was a Lothario who conquered many women. He didn't seem as if he was genuinely addicted to sex.

I turned him down several times, especially as his proposals tended to be acts around the school, something I was definitely not prepared to do. Because of this, he eventually grew very distasteful of my presence. I was high achieving in the subject we shared together, History (Which I now study at University) and perhaps that frustrated him. I probably annoyed him like Hermione annoyed everyone in Harry Potter; I tried to answer every question the teacher asked and always had something to say. It was my favourite subject and I wanted to participate as much as possible. I was no wallflower, and I stuck out even more as the only female History student. There was one more, but she was in a different set; the school had chosen to do this as they thought it would be beneficial to have girls in both classes.

I was then, quite an active participator in class discussion. Gradually though, I found myself being shot down by this boy for 'being a woman'. I was told regularly that my opinion did not count because of my gender, and that women weren't relevant in history and therefore I was not relevant as an historian. I was persistently told I shouldn't be in a classroom, but in the kitchen, making them all sandwiches. This happened in nearly every single fifty minute history lesson, of which there were six a week, for several months. Often I was shouted at to shut up, merely because I was female. The responses of the other students and teachers were disappointing. The boy at the centre of the abuse was popular, extroverted and the rugby team's star fly half.

Two of the boys in the class were quiet and more introverted. They were probably too intimidated by this boy to say anything, but they did not join in. Another two boys were more extroverted, but were so caught up with the 'Lad Culture' that they found it amusing. They weren't the perpetrators, but they initially could not see why it was so offensive because they did not understand how the very modern phenomenon of Lad Culture could be sexist, because in modern England sexism didn't exist! It was just a joke, banter, to them, and I should have also seen it the same way.

For some time I pretended I did see it as a joke. Finally the teachers; the female teacher was generally stricter, and as such managed to shut them up quicker. The male teacher, however, was so desperate to be accepted by a bunch of seventeen year olds he was more lax and let it happen.

The tables in the classroom were arranged into a circle to encourage discussion. It eventually got to the point where I came into the classroom and there was one table removed from the circle. I was ordered to sit there by myself, when the boy and the other two then placed their shoes on my desk for me to clean. As a woman, that was what I was supposed to do. I laughed and put the shoes on the floor, and then tried to move my table back. When I was shouted at, I just resigned myself to the fact I was going to have to sit there. I was too afraid to walk out and make a scene because the boy was already making my life hell. He was friends with many of my friends and was already starting to ostracise me from the group. I felt that if I kicked up a fuss it would be problematic.

I eventually revealed what was happening to my father who then went into school to see the Head of Sixth Form. He was so outraged that the school had let this slip by and demanded something was done. The boy had been involved with other incidents of sexist bullying and was generally not being a suitably behaved student. Other parents of girls had been in to see the Head of Sixth Form to complain about his abuse towards their daughters. I was then asked to meet with the Head of Sixth Form myself, who asked what I would like to do next and whether or not I wanted to see him expelled. The school recognised that he deserved to be punished, but because this boy was the son of a teacher, they were too scared to make the decision. They wanted to lump the decision onto a seventeen year old girl so that they could point the finger at me if his father kicked up a fuss. I was not brave enough to express my desire to see him expelled because if I did I feared I would face even more abuse for expelling a boy who, in the eyes of most of the male population at my school, was just being a 'lad'. The whole situation seemed to shake this boy enough to get him to stop, by and large, and he was begrudgingly thankful that I had not let the school expel him, although it would be over a year before he actually apologised and we reconciled.

The 'banter' that the boys of my school year dealt out did not fade away. It was less directed at me because I was apparently, in the words of another boy: 'An oversensitive bitch with no sense of humour', but I saw it continue to happen with many girls. What shocked me was the way the girls did not seem to mind. They poured themselves over these boys, forgetting that they were intelligent sentient beings that did not need the acceptance of these young men, but the culture that was fostered at my school forced them to think that way. I myself was only seen as not an object when I started dating a boy in the year above; the only way I wasn't perceived as just a lump of desirable meat was by being possessed by a man. The school's ultimate reaction was to move me into the other class for my final year. This class was remarkably more mature, and the presence of the other girl was a good buffer against any sort of 'banter' either of us were occasionally subject to. The reaction was ultimately avoiding the issue rather than tackling it. I am not sure if anything has happened to tackle the problem since I left.