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90s Lad Culture Was Beautiful

What started as a progressive movement where men, and women, could be their beautiful, imperfect selves, attracted these same people. Because the freedom to be yourself is all well and good unless you're a pr*ck. If you're a pr*ck, be someone else.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.

As a boy in the early 90s, there seemed to be two options for manhood. On one hand you had the chauvinistic, 70s-style pub bores. Your friends' dads, half-joking about how their nagging wives wanted them to get the shelves up before the mother-in-law came to stay. On the other, you had 'new' men, in touch with their feelings, sensitive, unafraid to cry, but no less dull to a teenage boy.

Girls seemed bored of both. Feminism had shown up the chauvinists as outdated and offensive, and whilst it was lovely to have men who shared the washing up and were sensitive and cried a bit, let's face it ladies: sometimes you just want to be taken roughly up against the wall of Choices Video.

So lad culture came along and do you know what? It was great.

Because 90s lad was very different from the lad of today. 90s lad arrived when many of the battles for sexual equality had been fought. The previous generation's gender roles seemed ridiculous, and all my male friends took it as read that women could and would do the same things as us. At the same time, us boys were free to be ourselves. We could go to the pub, go to the football, get drunk, pull women in clubs with no expectations. Men were free from the constraints of political correctness, and equally no longer felt the pressure to be the detached silent breadwinners of previous generations.

In general it benefited women too. Girls drank pints with the boys and watched the World Cup in the pub. They were ladettes, they had girl power. Yes, of course it wasn't perfect and change doesn't happen overnight. Women who slept around were still denigrated by many for example, but there was progress.

Lads were carried into the millennium on a wave of culture, sport and optimism. Britpop. Euro '96. New Labour. Blur at Mile End and Oasis at Knebworth. Gazza's dentist's chair. TFI Friday. A big wheel by the Thames and a tent built on an old gasworks. And then it began to unravel.

Because like all good things, lad culture got hijacked by the arseholes.

I remember going to see the comedian Jim Jefferies, and being stunned by the crowd. Whilst my friends laughed at the absurdity of his non-PC, faux-misogynistic humour, at least 50% of the audience seemed oblivious to the irony.

What started as a progressive movement where men, and women, could be their beautiful, imperfect selves, attracted these same people. Because the freedom to be yourself is all well and good unless you're a prick. If you're a prick, be someone else.

In recent years being a lad has become shorthand for the type of people WKD adverts are aimed at. The obnoxious 70s pub bore for the new millennium.

Take lad pin ups of the different eras. Gary, Martin Clunes' character in Men Behaving Badly, was a lovable fool. Crass and brutish, yes, but with a kind, wouldn't-hurt-a-fly nature. Archetypal 90s lads like Paul Gascoigne and Chris Evans had a boyish sense of humour, warm and most importantly, inclusive.

Fast forward to the modern day and high profile lads are the opposite - the school bullies, picking on the weakest in society. Jeremy Clarkson. Dapper Laughs. Punching producers and threatening rape. It's alright though, it's just a bit of bant, eh lads?

It's easy to knock lad culture, but don't judge it for what it became. At its best, laddism liberated men to express themselves, allowed women to behave as badly as the boys, and contributed to one of the most exciting cultural periods in living memory. It's had its day, but it was beautiful for a while.

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