Recently, a report was published by the National Union of Students discussing lad culture in universities. Survey results revealed that sexual harassment and violence were 'very much related' to lad culture. The report stated, "Groping in nightclubs were viewed by some as a 'normal' night out" and banter was described as "Often sexist, misogynistic and homophobic." The report followed the NUS' survey in 2010, which revealed 68% of students had been the victim of one or more incidents of sexual harassment on campus.
Correspondingly this month, Glasgow students boycotted their university union after it failed to respond appropriately to two of its female students being heckled with sexist and demeaning remarks during a university debate.
I don't want to respond to this issue with a feminist rant, condemning the male species and demanding the removal of all Action Men from toy stores lest they put ideas of testosterone-fuelled rage and Y chromosome domination into five year old boy's heads.
As a female student who has been at university for just over seven months now, I want to look at the issue with fresh eyes; a nineteen year old girl observing and reflecting on her personal experience. Is this report an accurate summary of how lad culture affects students at university?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
Boys wear the label 'lad' like a badge of honour. Certain male students find great honour in being dubbed a 'lad', either due to the ability to drink copious amounts of Stella from a beer funnel or 'pulling' in a night club. This attitude has spilled over into female student's social circles as well, with 'ladette' behaviour being seen by some as even more outrageous and sexualised than the males. In 2009, the number of women fined for drunk and disorderly behaviour had risen by 30 per cent ('Rise of 'ladette' culture' The Telegraph, 2009).
Sometimes 'laddish' behaviour is harmless, when simply winning a game of Fifa can earn you the title. Other times it causes upset and embarrassment, with some students even dropping out of university as a result.
My personal experience of sexist behaviour has ranged from a group of men walking past my friends and I, muttering, "Mate, you need to go for the one with the really tight ass" to being sexually harassed in a club. The latter has resulted in my male and female friends becoming so indignant and angry on my behalf that it's been all I can do to stop a fight breaking out. I can truthfully state that being groped in a club is an occupational hazard. It's likely that at some time during the night you will be touched inappropriately without your consent at least once.
This is not acceptable. There shouldn't be girls who reach the end of a semester and say, "Well I was only groped four times since last month. I've beaten last semester's record of three cases of sexual harassment and a request to show the football team my breasts."
The infamous' Uni Lad' website is a perfect example of the lad culture in full swing. The homepage contains a disclaimer from the editor which says,
"Take a step back for a second and ask yourself, "Is this article serious?" The humour is in how absolutely inappropriate and outrageous the "advice" is, it's the idea that men are these boorish animals to whom advice like this is actually useful. It's taking the piss out of the entire (normally female targeted) magazine industry which dispenses lifestyle advice and sex tips...
Students love articles that don't take themselves too seriously. The site isn't out to offend, it's to give them a break from the heavy stories in the mainstream news and to have a laugh." - Alex, Editor."
This seems a vaguely legitimate justification. Ian Hislop must be kicking himself at missing such a golden opportunity for satire. Then you stumble upon a link entitled 'A Medley of Minge.' The opening lines of this 'humorous' piece are as follows:
'You walk into a crowded house party. Look around.
There is a cornucopia of potential clunge awaiting you.
'She's likely to be really insecure because she knows she could be much fitter, so she'll appreciate your attention enough that you'll definitely get a blowjob. And chubby insecure girls are REALLY good at blowjobs. They've spent ages being too shy to get out their vajayjays, resorting instead to the good old cock-sucking move of desperation. Also, all of them at some point have probably had a bit of a self-induced vom, so their gag reflex is probably shot. Hello deep throat!'
You can grasp the general tone of the piece.
I don't hate this website because I have no sense of humour. I hate this website because if you re-worded parts of the article you would have something resembling a personal statement in a brothel. The 'Uni Lad's' defence - 'It's just a joke LMAO" - is unlikely to stand up in court.
With club nights such as the 'Pimps and Hoes' Carnage bar crawl in Sheffield in October last year and the continuing stream of misogynistic jokes appearing hourly on the Uni Lad's Twitter feed, it is clear the issue is not confined solely to universities. With almost laughably derogatory articles at the fingertips of anyone in possession of a smart phone, computer, or it seems, a ticket to Carnage, is it any wonder that incidents of sexual harassment are so common at universities, where some students are only one Tequila shot away from forgetting their own names?
One of the other issues stemming from such behaviour is the continuing normalisation of misogynistic attitudes towards women, due to having easy access to sexist content. Its progressively tolerable place in young people's culture belittles more serious crimes such as rape.
If we are to address the issue, I feel we must ask the fundamental question of why certain individuals feel this type of behaviour is acceptable. Perhaps it is the easy access men have to porn from a young age, whether that is online or in magazine form. Not only does this set men up to have ridiculously unrealistic ideals in a woman's physique, but it makes magazines such as Nuts or FHM as acceptable a reading material as The Observer. This can only lead to sexist behaviour on the street being deemed acceptable as well.
Young people are always going be under pressure to conform to a certain behaviour or opinion. This affects both male and female students. Whilst lad culture is not practised by every student, its existence is disrupting some individuals lives and well-being.
We need to begin at the heart of the problem - the idea that sexist behaviour is humorous and acceptable - and make clear the frightening connotations of 'Uni Lad's' behaviour.
In the NUS report, one student described the inability to even walk down the street without some of her male peers lining the road, making a bridge "with their hands ... shouting ... 'U.G.L.Y. - she's ugly, she's ugly'."
I don't think we can label this as 'just a bit of banter', do you?