We need to talk about Lad Culture. I know, I know, I don’t really want to either. Yes, as a female undergraduate I experienced enough unwanted attention during Freshers’ week to last me a life time, and, yes, it made me want to smash some things up when I was told it was just ‘lads being lads’ (and I’d just moved into my student house and I only had one plate, so I couldn’t even do that.) But still, let’s talk about it.
Recently, everybody from the Guardian to the Tab seems to be weighing in on the issue of Lad Culture on University campuses, and frankly, it’s just getting confusing. Even putting aside the fact that most of the journalists denouncing Lad Culture sound like they haven’t stepped foot on a University campus for years, there’s a surprising lack of agreement over what Lad Culture actually is. This means that any research into how to tackle this hugely important issue is getting lost in the semantics. Even when Lad Culture is brought up in conversation with other students, male and female, it’s clear that the term can cover anything from drinking games and inappropriate banter to “that one time my mate vomited off the balcony”, and even incidents like the Freshers’ week poster displayed by Cardiff Met University showing an image of a t-shirt which read ‘I was raping a woman last night and she cried’.
So let’s call a spade a spade and start saying what we really mean. I’m not really objecting to the rugby lads having a bit too much to drink, I’m not really judging an over excited fresher for vomiting everywhere (that would be a bit hypocritical after all), and I definitely don’t have a problem with consenting University students enjoying their new found freedom with whoever they like in whatever position they choose. What we should be objecting to is a culture of competitive drinking which too often seems to come hand in hand with sexual harassment and a shocking ignorance about where the boundaries of consent and ‘harmless fun’ actually lie. That’s not ‘Lad Culture’, that’s Rape Culture.
Using the term ‘Lad Culture’ as an umbrella term without identifying the real issue means that it is all too easy to dismiss any type of ‘laddish’ behaviour as equally ‘harmless’, or, my personal favourite, ‘just lads being lads’. By buying into the term ‘lad’, which suggests a kind of boyish mischief or naughtiness, we’re failing to acknowledge the very serious, very ugly side of the culture. We’re also encouraging people to brush off sexual harassment as though it’s an annoying but unavoidable aspect of University life, or some harmless fun on the part of a few ‘lads’, and we’re making it hard for victims to call out this kind of behaviour without feeling that they’ll be criticised for ‘ruining the fun’ or being ‘too uptight’.
We have to begin to treat the really problematic aspects of Lad Culture as an individual problem – a Rape Culture which is beginning to thrive on University Campuses and among groups of young people where there is never enough education or conversation about consent and respect. Only then will we be able to talk openly about these issues without seeming to implicate (and therefore alienate) any specific groups, and without any ambiguity about the severity or nature of the problem that needs to be addressed.
So, I know that you don’t really want to talk about this. I know it’s easier to ignore it, or to laugh it off, but calling out rape culture for what it is is so important for everybody that is affected by it. By collectively raising our voices to name and acknowledge this horrible, uncomfortable phenomenon, we have the power to begin to tackle it.
Raise your voice.