the limitations of ‘lad culture’

I am a feminist woman who has dealt with more than her (un)fair share of sexual harassment. Yet I still feel like I am being gradually worn down by the term ‘lad culture’ being brandished as the cause of all sexism and homophobia on campus. Everyone has heard of the term ‘lad culture’ yet it is still aggressively mainstream. I believe that this is because lad culture is symptomatic of a greater problem rather than the sole issue itself. Replace ‘lad’ with the word ‘rape’ and here we have the real and depressingly huge issue. Rape culture sounds far more daunting doesn’t it? Yet it is the bleak reality which many universities are totally complicit in.

What is lad culture? We need to separate the more harmful activities within lad culture from the standard aspects of university life. Many people, when they hear the term ‘lad culture’ recoil and defensively enquire “Whats wrong with liking a drink and hanging out with the lads?” Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. However university’s tame attitude towards rape culture allows ‘drinking with the lads’ to fester into something worse. With no zero tolerance policies or noticeable awareness/implementation of these policies there is nothing to stop the harmless aspects of lad culture dangerously spiralling.

The most recent NUS report suggests that only 1 in 10 institutions have a policy covering sexist and discriminatory behaviour in place, while many suggested to the victims to resolve matters ‘informally’ as opposed to seeking help from their institution or the police. Evidently then, universities are still harbouring an alarming reluctance to tackle lad culture for what it is: a weaker strain of rape culture. Here is how I believe we can eradicate sexual harassment on campus:

1. Be Specific

We need to work out which specific parts of lad culture are harmful, then we must name them, then we must stamp them out. As a for mentioned, throwing the term ‘lad culture’ around usually has one of two effects on those it is aimed at. The first being that ‘lads’ who benefit from or enjoy the harmful aspects of lad culture will simply take the piss out of the term and carry on unaffected. The latter being that so-called ‘good lads’, who genuinely don’t act in a harmful way, are likely to feel accused and therefore alienated by it.

For example, one of the key harmful aspects of lad culture is a distain for femininity. Hence why dressing up as a woman, pink fishnets and all, is one of the most hilarious things a ‘lad’ could do. What about using ‘feminine’ girls as fodder to be fucked and chucked in order to impress the lads while simultaneously dishing out abuse to ‘unfeminine’ girls? This attack on the feminine is also responsible, I believe, for the prevalence of homophobia ingrained in lad culture. Due to stereotypes of gay men exhibiting ‘camp’ behaviours – otherwise known as classically feminine behaviours – any man open about his sexuality is inherently more feminine and deserving of the same abuse directed at women.

In this example, the specific problem within ‘lad culture’ is called toxic masculinity. In order to eradicate this particular aspect, we must devote time to understanding how it is learnt and then come up with specific strategies for toxic masculinity to be unlearnt.

2. Empower Those On The Receiving End

All too often the solutions to lad culture revolve around ignored poster campaigns and ineffectual pleading with perpetrators to please, stop harassing women. All the while, those on the receiving end of the harmful aspects of lad culture i.e. sexual assault are waiting patiently for this ongoing onslaught of harassment to end. This is not good enough.

Universities across the UK must introduce zero tolerance policies to sexual harassment (and any other form of discrimination/abuse). Once these policies are firmly in place, serious money needs to be invested in ensuring 24/7 awareness of them. Ramping up awareness of these policies will not only empower more victims to come forward: it will also be a gentle yet firm reminder to potential offenders that sexual harassment will never be tolerated.

Furthermore, universities must ensure the reporting process is sensitive and supportive. This means allowing friends to accompany the victim, BELIEVING THE VICTIM, and treating them with total respect and honesty. It also means treating students reporting sexual harassment from the LGBTPIAQ+ community with the same respect and dignity. In other words, a complete departure from the horror stories of ridicule and alienation that I have been pained to hear about in the past.

3. Take action

They’re called ‘zero tolerance’ policies for a reason. Why should a student who admitted to groping a fellow student be allowed to continue their education in the same institution as the person they assaulted? Why must the victim feel wary, on their own campus, of bumping into that person again? Zero tolerance sets a strong precedent: if one offender is kicked out of uni and reported to the police over a seemingly ‘minor’ incident, such as groping someone, then the campus dynamic is gonna radically shift so that potential/actual offenders are the ones who will be wary rather than their victims.

4. Engage

There are some people (namely but not always cisgender men) who heartily enjoy the benefits of sexism and lad culture, who do not want to see it go. These people are vile and I will not waste any time trying to change their minds. I believe that there is a strong majority of men who do want to help in the fight against sexual harassment on campus. I also believe that we shouldn’t paint these men with the same brush as the former. Doing so will only lead to their alienation from a cause that they would have otherwise been ready to help out in. We cannot let that go to waste.

Ask any woman who calls herself a feminist what the most helpful thing a man can do to be a good ally and she will say ‘call out his friends’. Instead of lecturing sports teams about what consent means, we should be engaging with them and teaching them how to call out their friends behaviour within the realms of lad culture. We need to work together rather than relentlessly taking the piss out of one another.

In conclusion, although  ‘lad culture’ is a useful term for paraphrasing a severe problem behind closed doors, I believe it’s practical use has become too vague and therefore limited. It is my current priority (as Newcastle Uni’s Gender Equality Officer) to pressure my Student’s Union into implementing and raising awareness of existing zero tolerance policies against sexual harassment. I am a firm believer that, instead of endlessly pleading with sports teams to stop binge drinking, sexual harassment can be eradicated through providing it’s victims with easy reporting processes, action against the offender in question and, most importantly, unwavering support.

Being ‘Easy’

TW: reference to rape and graphic depictions of sex

‘Other girls aren’t like you are they?’ whispered the Tory before he proceeded to brutally fuck me four times and request that I leave. ‘You’re like a bloke when it comes to sex aren’t you’ muttered the socialist, after he explained to me that gender roles are the product of capitalism. Ever since I heard what the word ‘slut’ meant I wanted to be one. I wanted to be the worst thing you could call a woman – and revel in it. I wanted to take back the power, reclaim if you like, my right to sleep with whomever I wanted.

So I slept with anyone who wanted it, like Emma Stone in Easy A, except I followed through and didn’t charge. I have a ring and a t-shirt that both say ‘slut’ on them. I wore them proudly (still do) and delighted myself at the discomfort it aroused. I knew that this discomfort was rooted in the fact that the word ‘slut’ did not belong to me. It was the possession of my peers who could hurl it at me to shame me and put me back in my place. It was the property of a society, which would control me with it in order to silence me and refuse my sexual liberation. Well fuck that, I was gonna have the best time, I was gonna be a feminist icon like Courtney Love; legs spread and arms open.

That’s all very well isn’t it? Be a slut – do what you want etc. But I realised that my power was limited, in my easiness I became a blank slate for whichever man asked first to project himself onto me. I have a strong memory of the night I went out in ma freakum dress, wearing red lipstick and feeling like a feminist goddess – only to go home with a rugby player who, in an attempt to normalise his urgent need to fuck me up the arse, informed me that ‘any man who does not like anal sex must be gay’. Or the time when I was handcuffed to a bed post and suddenly enquired to my visitor ‘are you a feminist?’ to which he replied: ‘of course not babe, don’t worry’. So I find myself gritting my teeth, repeating this is empowering, for fucks sake this is empowering, I am using him to objectify myself over and over in my head till I believe my own bullshit.

“Christ, you’re actually enjoying this aren’t you?”, gasped by ex boyfriends best friend with incredulous delight after he decided to use my hair as a lever while he rammed his dick in and out of my mouth at a mechanical rate. How on earth he managed to decipher any enjoyment is beyond me. I should point out that this was all consensual; I may have been misguided or fucked up but I said yes. Of course there were times when I said no, and sex happened to me anyway. Some have suggested my easiness made me ‘fair game’ as if having regular sex with different men somehow made my body public property to be used and disposed of at will.

I said earlier on that I slept ‘with anyone who wanted it’ and that, right there, was my fatal flaw. I never stopped to ask myself whether I wanted it too, I bet half the time I actually couldn’t be arsed. Sexual liberation is only liberating when you allow yourself to exist freely within or outside of labels. I will always find the word ‘slut’ empowering: it holds great strength for me, however it is my label. A label that only I can apply to myself. As soon as I acted out the role of the ‘slut’ that individual men fantasised about, I started losing grip of my autonomy at an alarming rate.

Of course sex is never just sex. Tracy Beaker once told one of her mates (CBBC, c’mon) that her heart had been broken so many times, it was half sellotape. Granted, her heart was probably broken for different reasons than mine, but that phrase still resonates with me. What I’ve learnt is this: openly being a slut has also opened up masses of vulnerabilities in me that have been exploited by people I could have loved. I wasn’t sexually free on my own terms; I was like play dough being moulded into whatever shape by carefree children. Except, a lot of the time, I was a fifteen year old girl being tossed around by older men.

I don’t know why I’ve written this blog post to be honest; it’s lazy, self indulgent writing and yet it is important to me. Being a slut is important to me. And while reclaiming the word slut is not high on my agenda as a feminist activist; it is high on my agenda for coming to terms with who I am and making peace with myself. Being ‘easy’ is actually really hard: you learn to embrace the ephemeral, the temporality of those who are important to you. You get humiliatingly rejected by people who you don’t care about anyway then shamelessly used by people you would die for.

The resolution is a simple rejection of people who make me feel shit about myself. I have no obligation to fuck anyone but I am allowed to have consensual sex whenever I want. This is where the beautiful word ‘no’ comes in.

Jeanann Verlee writes:

Learn how to say “no.”

Cram that word inside your mouth,
the whole thing, make sure all of it
gets in there. Let it walk on your tongue.
Practice with it in the mirror, push it
out, make faces, learn to love the salt
and bitter of it. Teach it to perch on your lip,
buzz, collect pollen from your sugary gloss.
Make it swarm between your cheeks.

Then, when the days come (there will be
many) where he pushes too hard, speaks
too sweetly, when the hand at your thigh
draws a thump in your stomach, when
the bitch gremlin inside whispers ‘it’s not
worth the fight,’ says you can barter
for your worth tomorrow, when your ribs
shrink, when he unfurls his Almighty Smile,
when four come at you at once, when
you love someone else, when the bar
is closing and your name becomes ‘Take
What I Can Get,’ when the girls hate you
anyway, when you want him until the burn
if only he wore a different face–

pull back your lips, bare the teeth you have
sharpened to their perfect points, flick
your stinger tongue, set free your swarm.

Be a slut. Do whatever YOU want.

disclaimer: the socialist who thought I I was like a bloke when it came to sex IS NOT the socialist I’ve been hanging out with lately 🙂

Next blog post: A Review of Germaine Greer at the Harrogate Theatre (1 ticket available if any1 wants to get spangled with me)