A few months ago an article appeared in Concrete, UEA’s student newspaper, called “Lads, you’re an affront to feminism”. It led to a lot of discussion on both the feminist society Facebook page and the paper’s own online comment section. The article managed to attract attention from both critics and defenders of lad culture and within a few days one of Concrete’s editors had posted on our Facebook page asking if anyone wanted to write a response article. Being one of the world’s lazier humans I missed the submission deadline and quickly forgot about the whole thing; but since last week’s topic was lad culture I thought that my response could be shamelessly recycled as a blog post.
Just as a quick disclaimer the tone of the article might be a bit different to what it might have been were it originally written for a feminist blog. An article in Concrete would have been addressed to lads just as much as to those of you who are already feminist converts. But I hope it still comes across that I originally wanted to write more of a clarification and evolution of the original article, rather than a straightforward attack. Here it is.
So we’re all aware of the fact that recently there’s been a lot of discussion in the media and online about lad culture and its impact on university life, work life, the universe and everything. Sites like Unilad and Truelad claim around 8,000 hits a day and articles on lad culture are being written in both national and student newspapers; providing enough food to keep a family of comment section trolls well fed through the winter.
So what exactly do we mean by lad culture, and isn’t “culture” a little bit of a grandiose term? If I was a lad could I apply for dual citizenship? Do these people have any cultural holidays? Did I miss the episode of Human Planet where David Attenborough told us all about them? Is our ethnic minorities officer paying attention to their needs? To be honest I doubt most of the people who read articles on Unilad would consider their status as a lad something worthy of putting on a census form, so calling it a culture is a very strange way to characterise what is already quite a strange phenomenon.
Before I started to write this I obviously had to have a browse through Unilad and frankly what I found was both intensely creepy and weirdly hilarious. There were a good few minutes where I was pretty sure I’d been redirected to some kind of spoof website which was mocking the lad stereotype. Are there actual human beings reading articles called “lost in translation, the difference between lad brains and girl brains” and “Fifty Shades of Grey? Target acquired: Milfs.”
There are apparently grown up men who will sincerely read this stuff, men who’ve evolved to have thumbs and have the ability to read. If this is what lad culture is, surely it was invented by people so wholly lacking in self-awareness, that they don’t know Harry Enfield and Al Murray have been mocking their entire persona since before they were tall enough pick Nuts magazine off the top shelf.
But if we take a step back from gleefully tearing apart lad culture and look at the kind of bizarre standards that young women are supposed to live up to elsewhere, it’s apparent that circumstances aren’t much better. Let’s compare the articles on Unilad with those from a female-oriented counterpart, Cosmopolitan.com for example. A quick browse will bring you such heart-warming articles as “Are your co-workers making you fat?” “Is booze making you fat?” and of course the burgeoning question of our generation, “Is your man a sexy sleeper?”
Why, it’s nearly enough to convince you that a minority of people working in the media are writing articles aimed at caricatures of men and women that teach us that we have to live up to bizarre gender standards while at the same time viewing members of the opposite sex as an alien species. Perhaps Unilad’s idea that all men should be lager-marinated sex daleks is just as ridiculous as Cosmopolitan’s idea that all women should be skeletal shoe-craving nymphomaniacs whose hair follicles stop at their necks.
In all seriousness, there is a caustic standard being pushed upon a lot of men which encourages them to think of women as lesser beings, but the way people are going about fighting it is all wrong. For one thing we shouldn’t be telling women that it’s their responsibility to be strong and independent Amazonian warriors and fight back against the big bad men. Telling an oppressed group that it’s their sole responsibility to stand up against their oppressor is like smashing someone in the face with their own fist, shouting “Stop hitting yourself!” Instead we, and the media that represents us, need to stop treating these “lads” like they’re mindless gorilla men and the only way to stop them is a social revolution. This is one large problem that consists of many small acts. Putting an end to lad culture can be as easy as once in a while telling your friend that his joke wasn’t funny, or that maybe the girl he thinks he’s chatting up genuinely isn’t interested. It’s not a case of going to war with a culture; it’s a case of saying “come on mate, now you’re just being a dick.”