What image springs to your mind at the mention of the term “lad”? Possibly a beer drinking, catcalling, sports fanatic whose drunken antics rival those of certain high profile sports stars. Being a lad is all about pushing boundaries and getting up to no good. Boys will be boys, right? But when will the fight to prove one’s masculinity end? What happens when harmless “banter” starts to bully or offend others? What if it becomes sexist, racist or homophobic?
The fact that making light of sexual violence and issues of consent is becoming more acceptable, even trendy, is reflected in the media with songs such as ‘Blurred Lines’ breaking sales records. Such attitudes are being blamed for the increase of sexual harassment across UK university campuses. Unfortunately, lad culture has become a mentality that is accepted by male and female students alike. It is also being described as a backlash to feminism, but that is a whole new chicken-or-the-egg argument. It could equally be that feminism is a backlash to lad culture.
So has it gone too far? Men have enjoyed competitive drinking for years, so it is hardly surprising the recent social media trend NekNominate became so widespread. The short-lived fad, involving people filming themselves downing pints, contained increasingly unappetising cocktails of substances, before nominating a friend to do the same.
The peer pressure on the nominated to surpass the “manliness” and daring of their nominator has been blamed for people taking the challenge too far. Soon deaths of otherwise healthy young people started to be linked to the game. This is an instance where lad culture negatively impacts the lads themselves but what about women? Well, my experience at university has taught me that it’s okay to rate women out of 10, okay to call girls “conquests”, and okay to have pictures of page three women in the kitchen of our flat; because it’s all just banter isn’t it? Apparently it’s also acceptable for cowardly men to grope women as they walk by in a club before disappearing into the crowd so they are powerless to do anything about it. The Students’ Union has a zero tolerance policy towards matters of sexual harassment but the clubs in the city centre certainly don’t.
Even so, lad culture has created problems within our university this year. Just look at the inappropriate presentation given by an individual of the men’s football team during a joint social with a dance society. It included jokes about drink spiking and sexual assault and encouraged “pulling” girls with poor self-image. The big question is this; How are we, as a university, going to tackle lad culture throughout our campus so that next year’s freshers can feel safe and secure while enjoying the drunken haze that is Fresher’s Fortnight?
Laura Carter, our elected Women’s Officer for next year, plans to tackle lad culture head on by making freshers aware of the Union’s policy as soon as they cross the threshold into the university: “I believe all freshers should be provided with information as to what the zero tolerance policy entails and how it affects them. Hopefully the result of sharing this information will deter those from carrying out inappropriate behaviour and for those people who do experience inappropriate behaviour, it is stated clearly that the Union will take such matters very seriously.”
Laura also plans to introduce Good Lad Workshops first trialled at Oxford. These workshops are designed for male students in leadership positions such as society presidents and sports captains. Their website claims that by encouraging men to think about issues such as peer pressure, sexual harassment and consent they will encourage responsible masculine behaviour: “Our workshops focus on issues relating to consent, masculinity, peer pressure, power and responsibility. Instead of casting men as potential perpetrators who just have to learn to obey the law, we promote the idea of “positive masculinity.”
At the end of the day, we need to dispel this boys-will-be-boys attitude so that a culture of tolerated peer pressure, facetious banter and sexual harassment does not continue to thrive. Students also need to feel confident enough to report inappropriate behaviour. This year’s first years deserve the best fresher’s experience Cardiff can give them, and lad culture simply doesn’t fit into that.