What is meant by ‘lad cultures’ and how useful do you think this concept is to understand gender-based violence in university communities?
Lad culture is a set of hyper-masculine, misogynistic and sexist behaviours, that are often observed in student groups. The core activities which are involved in lad culture: drinking, sport and sex, are a key aspect in university living and they can cause an increase in gender-based violence in universities. In this essay I will look at what lad cultures are, examples of their occurrence in universities and how they can cause and help in understanding gender-based violence.
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The first piece of research done on gender-based violence in university communities in the UK was NUS ‘Hidden marks’, a survey done by 2,000 students. It found that 1 in 7 female students have been the victim of serious sexual assault or physical violence during their time at university. It also found that 12% had been stalked while studying. Furthermore, while they had been a student, 68% had been victim to one or more types of sexual harassment on campus. 16% of respondents had also experienced touching, molesting or unwanted kissing and over 1 in 10 were the victim of serious physical violence. Moreover, the victim usually knew the committer (NUS, 2010).
When looking at masculinities, we should see them as distinct from men as a social group. This is because some are more prevailing than others, and not all men embody the same forms of masculine behaviour, or any at all. This theory is ‘hegemonic masculinity’, first introduced by Connell, which is how some men claim power over others in society. Aspects of this masculinity are characteristics such as: violence, aggression, misogyny, muscularity, physicality and homophobia. This theory can be used to theorise lad cultures, as they tend to encompass these characteristics. However, this theory has been criticised for being overly simplistic and deterministic (National Union of Students, 2013, 9).
Neoliberalism can be connected to lad cultures. It has been stated that masculine behaviours have changed as a result of neoliberalist factors and developed into means of ‘consumerist sexualised audit’. It can be defined as a system in which economic values have substituted intellectual and political values, thus, competitive individuals have control in society. With increasing admission fees, universities have become competing markets, with students becoming consumers. Claims have been made that economic discourses which form scholars in universities, likewise establish sexual and social domains, thus endorsing lad cultures for students. In the 1950s, lad cultures originated with Playboy, which was long before student cultures appeared. It has been found that many forms of laddism were in response to the current social and economic conditions. The 1950s lad culture was seen as a way of defying the post-war ‘family man’ character that prevailed then. Arguably, lad cultures seen presently are because of the misconception of women are becoming more superior in society. They are therefore, the way that men regain their territory and power (Phipps and Young, 2015, 305-307). Similarly, Phipps (2016) looked at lad cultures being a response to gender and class. In working class men, it can be regarded as social bonding as a reaction to being controlled in alienated education systems. Conversely, elite, middle class lad culture could be a reaction to feeling oppressed as a result of a loss of their race, class or gender privilege. These ideas can help us to comprehend gender-based violence in universities as it shows that men may be being violent towards women so that they can retain power, territory and privilege and also to bond with other men as a result of being alienated.
A major way in which lad culture is associated with university life is the over drinking of alcohol; an important part of student living. It has been predicted on average students in the UK spend around £940 million per year on alcoholic drinks and more than one third of students drink above the suggested weekly units. Alcohol consumption can be connected to gender identity, with male students and predominantly those who play sports drinking the most (National Union of Students, 2013, 10-11). Dempster conducted a study on the drinking patterns of male students, discovering that the amount they drank, determined whether or not they were regarded as worth being labelled as a lad. Out of this group of men, those who drunk more, were more likely to be misogynistic. They were more likely to see women as sex objects and partake in behaviours such as groping of women in nightclubs (Dempster, 2009, 488). Conversely, Visser and Smith (2007) discovered the relationship between alcohol and masculinity is complex due to the range of characteristics including ethnicity, Religion and class that could result in people over drinking (Visser and Smith, 2007). From this we can understand how drinking alcohol in lad cultures can result in gender-based violence such as groping in university communities and that there is a peer pressure situation to drink enough to be worthy of being a lad. However, there are other factors which can cause men to over drink.
Sports clubs, namely rugby teams, are well known to promote lad culture in universities. Rugby societies are known to have traditions and initiations which are sexist and endorse lad culture. I am aware that the University of Lincoln Rugby Union society were criticised when it was discovered that the members had a group chat which they used to exchange photographs of girls that they had had sex with. Moreover, the members took part in a sexist competition known as ‘pull a cow’ where individuals would compete to have relations with the ‘ugliest’ woman. In different universities cases like this are commonplace. It was found by Muir and Seitz that subcultures in sports can be very influential and if members of the rugby team did not follow the team’s cultural codes, they faced exclusion, harassment and violence. The team’s cultural codes were predominantly homophobic and sexist, and sometimes violent (Muir and Seitz, 2010, 303-327). Looking at sports teams can aid us in understanding gender-based violence in university communities as it can seen how they can encourage sexist behaviours and gender-based violence and if member do not act in this way, they can be excluded.
A more recent case of lad culture in university communities was when a group chat including students from the University of Warwick was discovered. The chat contained rape jokes and threats aimed at females from the university. An individual composed the message: “Sometimes it’s fun to go wild and rape 100 girls” They then furthermore wrote that one girl who claims she had previously been raped is “simply not attractive enough for all those things to occur to her.” The member who said this is the individual that called the group: “Fuck women disrespect them all” (Jaswal and Aoraha, 2018). Those included in the chat were suspended, yet in January it was announced that the culprits will be returning to university this year. One girl who was a target of group chat, said that she on found out that the culprits would be returning to the university from a friend. She has openly talked about how what happened to her has negatively affected her university studies and mental health. This shows how many universities should put in more effort to challenge lad culture; they should hold a zero-tolerance position regarding sexual violence and harassment (BBC, 2019).
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It has been found that the LGBT+ community, in particular transgender students, experience the negative results of lad culture as well as women. Mat Wilkie, a transsexual student, stated how ‘lads’ on campus would say that transgender people are mentally ill and attention seeking. Also, he recounted how he has been told to kill himself many times and has been physically assaulted. Universities often do not regard homophobia and transphobia as being related to lad culture. Nonetheless, lads are using their gender and sexuality to privilege themselves and disregard other groups (Young-Powell and Gil, 2015). In 2011, the NUS conducted study on the experiences of LGBT students and staff in higher education. It was found that 90.2% of LGB students have come out to their friends in university. However only around two thirds had come out to lecturers or tutors due to fear of discrimination. Moreover, 15% of LGB and 34.8% of transgender students fear that they will lose financial support from their parents if they come out (National Union of Students, 2011). This shows us how LGBT groups can be targeted and feel unsafe and discriminated against in university communities and highlights how they are also susceptible to gender-based violence as a result of lad cultures.
Nicholls (2016) did a study using ethnography and interviews at a Rugby Union club in the North East of England. She criticised the concept of lad cultures for homogenising men as an unchanging category; finding that men do have agency. She also argued that not all aspects of masculinity are problematic and that men grow out of the problematic aspects. Furthermore, it was found that so men use banter to challenge sexism, they can use humour to question and reverse sexist insults that they believe are problematic (Nicholls, 2016). Moreover, a study by NUS from 2015 found that lad culture does not completely oppress all women. The study criticised what they called a ‘sexual panic’ discourse, stating that individuals criticise lad cultures and are actively involved with discussions. It discovered that the respondents acknowledged problems that surrounded lad cultures, however they argue that a ‘sexual panic’ is not represented (National Union of Students, 2015). Similarly, Dempster (2009) found that lad culture can also have a detrimental effect on men.
The concept of lad cultures is useful to understand how and why gender-based violence occurs in university communities and thus can help organisations tackle it. However, universities can find it very challenging to defend student’s wellbeing because the majority are adults, and usually live and socialise together. Legally, universities have an obligation to guarantee their students are able to work and live in an environment that is safe (YouGov., 2015). In the Equality Act (2010) it also states that they should encourage equality, eradicate discrimination and nurture positive associations amongst groups. It is hard to achieve this, since most students are adults, meaning should have freedom and autonomy (Equality Act 2010). At the University of Lincoln, there are procedures and policies which aim at confronting lad culture. They gave training on ways to tackle misogynistic behaviours through the programme ‘Get Savi’ in 2014. Students were taught about gender discrimination and ways to be confident while challenging language or behaviours that are sexist and may cause unsafe circumstances (Lincoln.ac.uk, 2014).
In conclusion, I have found that lad cultures are a large part of university communities, particularly in sports teams and gender-based violence is also commonplace. I found that being a part of a sports team and drinking large quantities of alcohol often result in sexist behaviours and sometimes gender-based violence from harassment and groping, to rape. However, not all men do act this way, as they do have agency and, lad culture does not oppress all women. The concept of lad culture and theories surrounding it are useful to understand gender-based violence in university communities as they help us to see why people act this way, how it causes violence and thus helps to find ways of tackling it. Gender-based violence and lad cultures are now much more widely talked about and universities are trying to fight back against it, however there is a long way to go and that they need to have a zero-tolerance stance against it.
- BBC (2019) Warwick Uni rape chat: Victim’s disgust over decision to let students back early. BBC. Available from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-47072323 [accessed 30th April 2019]
- Dempster, S. (2009) I drink, therefore I’m man: gender discourses, alcohol and the construction of British undergraduate masculinities. Gender and Education, 23(5) 635–653. Available from https://eds-b-ebscohost-com.proxy.library.lincoln.ac.uk/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=132b8a90-a7c8-4a0b-b539-ee817599360a%40sessionmgr102 [accessed 22nd April 2019]
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- Jaswal, R. and Aoraha, C. (2018) Named and pictured: The Warwick boys who made rape jokes in their group chat. The Tab. Available from https://thetab.com/uk/warwick/2018/05/09/named-and-pictured-the-warwick-boys-who-made-rape-jokes-in-their-group-chat-28615 [Accessed 20th April 2019]
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- National Union of Students (2013) That’s What She Said: Women Students’ Experiences of ‘lad culture’ in higher education. Available from http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/49011/1/That%27s_what_she_said_full_report_Final_web.pdf [Accessed 18th April 2019]
- National Union of Students (2011) The experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans staff and students in higher education. Equality Challenge Unit. Available from http://www.ecu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Experiences-of-LGBT-staff-and-students-in-he.pdf [Accessed 5th May 2019]
- National Union of Students (2010) Hidden Marks A study of women students’ experiences of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault. Available from https://www.nusconnect.org.uk/resources/hidden-marks-a-study-of-women-students-experiences-of-harassment-stalking-violence-and-sexual-assault [Accessed 20th April 2019]
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