Submitted by: Kaya Gromocki
Whether it’s coverage of students going to a Freshers’ Week bar crawl wearing offensive T-Shirts, or “jokes” like ‘It’s not rape if you shout “banter”’, we hear of harmful examples of ‘lad culture’ all too frequently.
Recent graduate, Kaya Gromocki, examines its root causes and how male students can – and should – tackle it, for their benefit as well as everyone else’s.
What is ‘lad culture’?
Let’s start with a definition: lad culture is defined by the NUS as a pack mentality in activities like sport, heavy alcohol consumption and ‘banter’, which is often sexist, misogynistic and homophobic.
It’s fair to say that it has established a strong presence in the social side of university, and it’s not just men that are to blame – women are often just as likely to peer pressure others into binge drinking and let sexist behaviour go unchallenged.
“MEN CAN PLAY A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN DAMAGE CONTROL”
At uni we’re often so immersed in lad culture that it can be hard to distinguish between something that originates from a prejudiced belief, and what’s just a bit of fun.
Male students can – and often do – unconsciously perpetrate it, but they’re also negatively impacted by it, especially as they’re probably less likely to be taken seriously if they object to something. But, luckily, they can also play a significant role in damage control.
Nobody wants to be a fun sponge.
People who speak out about abusive or sexist behaviour are often silenced, being told they don’t have a sense of humour. This is no different at uni, where many people fall victim to lad culture, and yet the fear of being told we can’t take a joke is often enough to stop us calling it out.
Historically, challenging bigoted banter has seen society progress for the better – it’s the reason you can no longer tell a woman to ‘get back in the kitchen’ without being told where you can go yourself, whereas twenty years ago, people – including women – may well have laughed along. We constantly evolve our attitudes towards what is acceptable, and our humour changes accordingly.
So how do we know it’s worse for women?
It comes as no surprise that, statistically, women are much more likely to be the victims of sexist behaviour. It’s something evidenced in much research, like a study carried out by the NUS which shows that one in seven female university students have experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time at university.
“IN 994 RAPE CASES OUT OF EVERY 1000, THE PERPETRATOR WALKS FREE”
Of course, there’s a scale – behaviours associated with lad culture exist on a continuum. There are undoubtedly a lot of people who might be guilty of humming along with a sexist chant on a bus to a Freshers’ night, who are otherwise respectful to women. But if we dismiss some actions as trivial or harmless, we can unwittingly contribute to greater acceptance all the way along the scale of sexist behaviour.
Consequently, we have a culture in which women who come forward about sexual assault are victim-blamed or treated with mistrust, shown in figures from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): a mere 344 sexual assaults out of every 1,000 are reported to the police. This means about two thirds go unreported. And even when they are reported, in 994 cases out of every 1000, the perpetrator walks free.
The idea that women lie about these experiences is a total myth: figures from the FBI show that only 2% of rape reports are falsely given – a handy statistic for boys to repeat to their mates, if they’re looking to help debunk the myth that girls lie about rape.
Also, a government study shows that one in five girls and one in ten boys report going further than they wanted to in sexual encounters after drinking. And sadly, when things do go wrong and the victim is female, she may find that 30% of people believe that she is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk at the time (Amnesty International).
Things are, without question, worse for women.
Lad culture on nights out.
The club environment can be a minefield for ingrained sexism, and women often feel judged for the way that they dress and experience unwanted sexual contact.
“CLOTHING HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SIGNALLING AVAILABILITY FOR SEX. A SHORT SKIRT COULD SIMPLY MEAN ‘I LIKE THIS COLOUR’ OR ‘IT’S WARM OUTSIDE”
An Amnesty International Poll found that 26% of people believe that a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she is wearing clothing that is perceived to be sexy or revealing. And this figure relates to the most serious incidents, so the number of people with this view is actually likely to be higher when it comes to sexual harassment like catcalling.
The same NUS study that showed the level of sexual assault at university also identified that nearly 70% of female university students have experienced verbal or non-verbal harassment in or around their institution. Guys can help change this attitude by remembering that, in the same way that they dress in the clothes that they like and feel good in, so do girls. Clothing has nothing to do with signalling availability for sex. A short skirt could simply mean ‘I like this colour’ or ‘it’s warm outside’.
When it comes to the end of a night out, many people continue the fun at home in the form of one-night stands. This is all well and good, apart from the fact that girls often find themselves doing ‘the walk of shame’ while guys get to enjoy a ‘victory dance’.
This is such a damaging notion, and boys can help stamp out lad culture by understanding that sleeping with lots of people isn’t a reason to judge a girl. This attitude was highlighted in a study by Cornell University which revealed that women who have lots of sex are shunned for being ‘easy’, whereas men with a high number of sexual partners are viewed with ‘a sense of accomplishment’. Guys can end this double standard by not buying in to it.
You can’t buy girls with vodka (or anything else).
Another idea that lad culture encourages is that buying girls drinks obligates them to you, which can be seen in the study ‘You Owe Me’. It presents a series of scenarios involving a date which ends with the man raping the woman, and the cost of the date and the way the bill was split was varied. Both male and female students were asked to respond to several statements.
“A CONVERSATION, A DANCE, A KISS, OR SEX, CANNOT BE PAID FOR WITH VODKA AND COKES”
The study found that men, more so than women, felt that when a man has paid for an expensive date, both people should expect sex. When the cost of a cheap date was split, men also felt more strongly than women that an expectation of sex was justified.
Interestingly, when the date ended in rape, there was more blame assigned to the rapist when he had split the bill. What this implies is the idea of a financial transaction at the heart of it all – that if a man spends a lot of money on a date, his expectation for sex is justified.
For men trying to emulate the behaviour of an old-fashioned gentleman, it can be hard to understand why buying girls drinks has anything to do with sexism or lad culture. And it doesn’t have to. It only becomes an issue when there’s an expectation of something in return.
All in all, guys that want to avoid perpetrating lad culture can help bust out-dated dating habits by investing their time and genuine interest, not their cash.
Because a conversation, a dance, a kiss, or sex, cannot be paid for with Vodka and Cokes.
Being a spoilsport or spoiling the sport.
Sexist and homophobic chants make a regular appearance in Freshers’ week. These chants have had much media attention in recent years, with the University of Nottingham gaining bad press when its first years were recorded being led in a chant which included the words ‘now she’s dead, but not forgotten, dig her up and fuck her rotten’.
Lyrics which don’t exactly endorse equality and respect between men and women, quite apart from promoting necrophilia.
“MALE STUDENTS CAN HELP BY LETTING PEOPLE KNOW THAT THEY WON’T BE LABELLED A SPOILSPORT”
Games and rituals are a great part of Freshers’ week; they help sports teams to bond, and people to meet. But when male students feel these events are taking a prejudiced turn for the worst, they can help someone in the room who might be feeling targeted by simply voicing their concerns, letting people know that they won’t be labelled a spoilsport, and in fact, it’s lad culture that’s spoiling the sport for everyone. Both male and female students might also want to try a mixed gender sport, which creates a team based on equality, rather than notions of masculinity or femininity.
Confronting sexist behaviour passed off as ‘banter’ when you see it can be scary, especially when it’s coming from your friends.
But if guys are brave enough to call out their mates on sexist or homophobic behaviour (just like they might about any other taboo topic) then trust me, everyone will soon find something else to laugh about.
Kaya Gromocki is a recent graduate with an MA in Literary Linguistics and a 1st Class BA in Creative and Professional Writing, from The University of Nottingham. She’s a passionate intersectional feminist who also enjoys inventing veggie recipes, drinking gin and tonics, and cuddling every dog she comes across.’