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.

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Ed Reckless: He Hit A Woman and it Matters

Over 3500 people have signed a petition calling for Ed Reckless to stand down as Loughborough’s new Student’s Union President. These people have signed because Reckless hit a woman and was banned from his own SU after doing so. It is simply laughable that he was even able to run for the position of President. Conversely, it is terrifying that he was actually elected.

There are varying responses to this campaign demanding his resignation. Aside from the mass of supporters, who amazingly think that hitting a woman should not be rewarded, there are two other main reactions. The first is easily the most abhorrent. This is the voice of the proud Reckless voters: who knew he had committed an act of violence against a woman yet voted for him anyway. These voters should be hanging their heads in shame yet they brandish their knowledge of his offence like a badge of honour. Need I produce anymore evidence that universities are harbouring sexist attitudes other than this? Men and women students alike are defiant in their decision to vote in a man who hit a woman and this attitude needs to be addressed.

Unsurprisingly, Ed Reckless is a white man: he is, by definition, in possession of a degree of privilege that women of all ethnicities and men of minority ethnicities cannot attain. Would his staunch defenders be so vocal if it was a woman in the same position? The second common response relates closely to the aforementioned question of gender: these are the people who agree that Reckless should resign but on the grounds that violence towards ANYONE is enough to warrant his dismissal. I agree with this response entirely and would support the petition regardless of the gender of the person he hit. However I personally find the ‘it doesn’t matter that she was a woman’ stance quite derailing.

Ed Reckless hit a woman. Notice how radical I’m being by omitting the word ‘allegedly’. If the Loughborough Student’s Union saw fit to ban him due to his offence then we can be quite sure the offence took place. Furthermore he has never denied committing this offence – rather he assured potential voters that it ‘allowed (him) to learn and move on from (his) mistakes’. Brilliant. In one sentence he deems the woman he hit as his ‘mistake’ and also as a learning curve for him. The slap to the face she received only existed to aid Ed Reckless’s personal development. This rhetoric supports a wider culture of stripping women of their agency: a culture where we exist as stepping stones for men’s personal and professional improvement.

Here’s why it matters that he hit a woman:

1) Violence Against Women is happening epidemically across universities The NUS ‘Hidden Marks’ survey conducted in 2014 found that 1 in 7 women students had been the victim of violence or sexual assault. Not only has Ed Reckless committed an act of violence against a woman student he is now in the position of REPRESENTING women students at Loughborough University. Violence against women is a specific problem that Student Unions should be combatting not rewarding. By allowing this man to run for election, Loughborough Students Union has sent out the message that violence against women will not be taken seriously. What kind of message is that for students who may be experiencing domestic violence/ the victims of male violence on campus?

2) The perpetrators of violence against women are rarely punished

Ed Reckless is a rarity in that he is one of the few who have actually been punished for committing an act of violence against a woman. Loughborough Students Union had the opportunity to take a real stance against violence towards women yet they let it pass them by. They had the chance to make a real example of Ed: Here’s what happens if you hit a woman – you get banned from the union and have a career prospect denied from you. A pretty meagre punishment really, but enough to send out a strong message. It is a situation which bears resemblance to the sickening case of Ched Evans. Both are men who have been found guilty of committing a crime and both are men who are defended by people refusing to accept their punishment. Just as signing Evans to your club perpetrates rape culture: allowing Reckless to be President perpetrates a culture where violence against women is trivialised and, in this case, rewarded.

3) The vitriolic misogyny unleashed in defence of Ed

The internet has long been a breeding ground for violent misogyny and the case of Ed Reckless is no exception. Indeed the Epinal Tab wasted no time in declaring anyone who supported the petition a ‘feminazi’. Ah yes, because wanting gender equality is comparable to, you know, genocide right? The fact that the Woman’s Officer at Loughborough (who I absolutely adore) is even having to defend the petition is a striking indicator of the sexism that is rampant and accepted as part of university life.

I’m going to finish by reflecting on the various lessons learnt from this debacle. Ed Reckless has seen his violent behaviour rewarded through his right to campaign and due to the fact he was elected: his behaviour has been validated. He learnt that hitting a woman is not actually the end of the world and his career prospects were not (originally) marred by his violent behaviour. Students at Loughborough and across the UK learnt that even if you hit a woman, your institution will still grant you privileges. We have seen a culture of violence against women and sexism on campus be reinforced.

The victim learnt that being punched in the face wasn’t enough to stop her attacker achieving success and that her Students Union didn’t care enough about her to stop him from campaigning. However, thanks to the efforts of the Loughborough Women’s Officer, she will have also learnt that she has over 3500 supporters who are whole-heartedley on her side and believe that violence against women must never, ever be accepted in NUS institutions.

To show your support please sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/loughborough-students-union-reckless-is-as-reckless-does-a-call-for-ed-reckless-to-stand-down-as-loughborough-students-union-president