This academic year, people began to question the social and sexual norms which dominate the culture of British universities; to deconstruct norms which, when the year began, were still being allowed to dictate the narrative of the ‘ideal‘ sexual encounter, as well as the language and behaviour which exalts and legitimises it.

Lad goes out with his mates, chats up conventionally attractive girl in a club, conquers her through his indisputable laddish charm, takes her home, ‘gets some’. Ever since I have been at university, this has been painted as the highest form of love; the platonic ideal of getting your end away, according to what is commonly termed ’lad culture’. This narrative has been supported by a language and a set of approved behaviours which helpfully designate how a ‘lad’ should act, as well as what an attractive girl looks like, and how she should be looked at, with phrases like ‘getting some gash’ literally separating a woman into a set of body parts, serving as trophies or ‘notches on the bedpost’ for the triumphant, recently laid, lad.    

Has lad culture gone too far?Arna Roca's eyes

It is important to be clear when discussing ‘norms’ and ‘culture’, that we mean to question just that, rather than attack the men and women who engage in them. The way in which students actually enact these norms is complex and they themselves should not be demonised. The point is that regardless of the complexity of how individuals actually behave, these norms are the result of a pack mentality and, unless questioned, will continue to hover over us like a normative mushroom cloud in a nuclear winter of socially approved sexuality, the default narrative from which all other choices are an aberration.

Earlier this year, That’s What She Said, a report by the NUS and the University of Sussex, broke new ground in terms of being the first serious research by an official body which questioned the impact of the language and behaviour which lad culture dictates in British universities, and the view of sexuality it therefore promotes. The report has laid the groundwork for a more widespread consideration of the validity of these norms. Similarly the inauguration of blogs and Facebook pages such as ‘Unilass’ directly cater to ‘people who are sick of #LAD culture’.

People who have this year stood up to question the negative impact of ‘lad culture’ up and down the country might not necessarily perceive themselves as being part of this movement. Nonetheless their objections come about in the context of an attempt to deconstruct the perceived negative elements of ‘lad culture’. In March, a group of female debaters stood up against sexist comments which aimed to silence them by making ‘banterous’ remarks about their appearance as they spoke in the debating final at Glasgow University Union Ancients debating competition. They wrote articles, spoke on the radio, and organised an investigation into women’s experience in University debating, speaking out against the idea that this was ‘just a bit of harmless banter’.  More recently, the petition against jelly wrestling, regardless of what it achieved, was equally important in terms of someone having the bravery to very publicly question and deconstruct Cambridge’s drinking society culture in terms of how dominant social narratives inherent in their traditions seek to regulate the relationships between men and women; specifically in this case how men are told they should look at women.

These attempts to question either particularly harmful elements of lad culture, or lad culture itself, were met with a substantial backlash in the national press, telling those involved that they were prudes with no sense of humour, which probably indicates they’re onto something.

Regardless of backlash, questioning what we’re told to accept as the ideal sex life is important for everyone. I find it inherently contradictory that a culture which is so fixated on sex and ‘having a good time’ is simultaneously so prudish that it dictates a set of normative ways in which the deed can be done. Deconstructing the narrative of ‘lad goes out, lad gets laid’, isn’t intended to stop people having sex. It should help people to have better sex, in different ways. If you’re being honest with yourself, can you really imagine a ‘lad’ proudly admitting that he’s into the girl being in control, or that he likes getting with guys and girls - it’s called a ‘devil’s threeway’ for a reason - that he’s into being tied up, or that he fancies girls who are chubby, that he’s interested in people with no fixed gender, or anything outside of the norms of what is meant to turn you on, and talking about it openly and confidently, without being ridiculed? Being honest about harmless preferences shouldn’t make you weird, but it inherently does, where these preferences are automatically designated as a deviation from the norm. Sex should ideally be an open-minded negotiation between adults who fancy each other towards an act which brings the most pleasure to all parties. It shouldn’t be about scoring ’lad points’. 

Equally important has been the questioning of the harmful effects of the ‘banter‘ inherent in aspects of ‘lad culture’, and asserting that there might be a link between the normalisation of sexually violent language through ‘banter‘, the objectification of women, and rape culture. Not in the sense that we accuse all ’lads’ of rape and rape apology. Not only in the sense that obviously normalising sexually violent language and being slaves to a pack mentality can lead to potentially dangerous situations, or even just in the sense that constantly objectifying women in the sexual context might sometimes make their needs harder to empathise with, but also because if you don’t question a culture which designates men as being constantly ’up for it’, constantly on the lookout for a way to get laid, it makes it really hard for them to report sexual abuse by women. Because how can a woman abuse a man, when lads are ‘always’ up for it? Furthermore, objectifying and debasing the party who is ‘conquered’ in the sexual act makes the idea that a man would ever be put in that position by another man so shameful that reporting rape by other men is equally difficult. Dominant cultures need to be deconstructed and challenged so that we can look at the impact they are having on everyone involved with them.

A whole new generation of young people, now battling through their A-levels, are about to come to university. Hopefully they will no longer be greeted by one voice proclaiming that there is only one way to have fun. Hopefully, when they arrive there will still be a multiplicity of voices challenging and questioning those norms. Hopefully those voices will get stronger. If we want this to be the case, we have to be those voices. 

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