The NUS recently published a study on Lad Culture, whereby some troubling consequences of the ‘phenomenon’ were revealed. 50% of participants identified “prevailing sexism, ‘laddism’ and a culture of harassment” at their universities. The study also led to the call for a summit in which to take further action. Although no clear answer to problems such as sexual harassment have yet been signalled, I decided to investigate just how relevant the issue was to our very own university.
At first a glance, it can seem easy to ignore examples of ‘Lad Culture’, attributing them as just ‘banter’ or the effects of one too many drinks. However, the NUS identified the normalisation of laddish behaviour as one of the more troubling aspects, showing it to be so ingrained that it becomes easily accepted as the norm. So what may seem like a drunken chant, an inappropriate comment or joke – or even a ‘cheeky’ grope – may actually stem from a more damaging cult of behaviour.
Of course, it may seem as if I focus on a limited set of examples that take place in one environment. However, it has been identified that alcohol-fuelled environments – particularly sport socials – are key contributors to examples such as these, which may play a part in the assimilation of greater incidents of sexual harassment and violence.
In my appeal for opinions and examples, I spoke to a woman who, like many others, was left feeling confused and offended after being “grabbed round the ribs” in a particularly popular nightclub. She identified her later uncertainty as she wondered whether, even after confronting the man, her protest had made any impact or whether she sounded “like a crazy woman”. She also highlighted the harmfulness of the tendency to take such instances for being forgivable and even expected due to the environment. This struck me as fitting right into the patterns discerned by the NUS, in which individuals often feel powerless in speaking out against relatively harmless examples such as these.
Other troubling examples within our own university include the recent Soton Tab poll to rate election candidates by attractiveness, and, more worryingly, the case in which friends rallied to free an assistant bar manager who had raped a Southampton student.
I also spoke to VP Welfare Beckie Thomas about the issue, who said:
I think one of the biggest problems that occurs as a result of lad culture is the acceptance of sexual harassment. SUSU are currently working to create a campaign to educate people, and to encourage people to realise they should report it if they experience or witness it. Within a lad culture, people often feel pressured to drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol; this is something I’ve been looking to tackle. I have been looking at the number of events we put on that are not focused around alcohol, because I want to ensure that people know there are fun alternatives to a night out drinking!
So it seems as if clear measures are being taken to both raise awareness about, and alleviate the pressures to partake in, ‘Lad’ behaviour. Whether these actions can go so far as to make students fully aware of the dangers of normalised behaviours – and what’s more, make them want to change – is of course, another (unfortunately less likely) question.
Of course, I have to acknowledge that this seems a weighted view against Lad Culture, but apparently more people are more vocal about the dangerous side to the phenomena than those defending it. This is not to say that people don’t privately champion it, and undoubtedly many partake in it, but it is interesting to ponder the reasons why they may not want to be identified as publicly defending it.
Whilst deeper questions still surround Southampton Lad Culture, such as when simple jokes become ‘harmful’, or how we can tackle the issue, it does seem apparent that our own university culture is no exception to the perturbing results found by the NUS. From here on in the path is not clear, but it seems we need to ask the question: Should we ‘man up’ and take the joke, or is it time for change?