The 90s. Butterfly hair clips and bucket hats were all the rage, Betty Spaghetty and Polly Pocket were the ‘must have’ toys, and the Spice Girls’ songs boomed from radios up and down the country. The first episode of Friends was aired, the first website published, and the first Harry Potter book hit the shelves. Yet it was also the decade when the ‘new lad’ was born. Endorsed by the rock ’n’ roll stars of Oasis, a hyper-masculine subculture of casual sex, excessive drinking, heavy smoking and sexism downplayed as ‘good banter’ erupted in Britain. The testosterone-fuelled hedonism of the boisterously macho ‘new lad’ is encapsulated by the manifesto of guitarist Noel Gallagher — he wrote that ‘my laws would be: smoke where you want, drink what you want, whenever you want. Get the age of consent down. Legalise drugs’. It is this mindset that has had overwhelmingly negative repercussions: laddish behaviour has become the normalised model of masculinity in this country.
‘Laddish culture’ has led to a crisis in universities where alcohol-fuelled misogyny, homophobia, harassment and violence is commonplace. Shockingly, in a survey of 4,491 students and recent graduates across 153 different institutions 70 percent of female students reported that they had been a victim of sexual violence. Yet only 6 percent reported their experiences to the university or the police. (National Consultation conducted by Revolt Sexual Assault, and The Student Room, 2018) The most common locations on campus were halls of residence, social events, and university social spaces. It is especially prevalent on sports clubs’ nights out where acceptance and integration often necessitate cat-calling, slapping girls’ bums, or crude sexual jokes ‘for the banter’. Those that refuse to partake in this blatant misogyny and predatory behaviour are labelled ‘gay’, another outright and unacceptable form of discrimination and abuse.
The harassment, intimidation, assault, and abuse which have proliferated as a result of this ‘lad culture’ are frankly sickening. We must debunk widely-accepted myths about sexual assault — it can happen to any woman, the perpetrator is usually not a stranger, and perhaps most significantly there are many ways we can help prevent sexual violence. We must not shy away from this violent culture and assume that we are powerless to exact change or that others are responsible for the elimination of this appalling behaviour.
Social media movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have encouraged women to share experiences of sexual harassment of social media, and national campaigns such as Revolt Sexual Assault are fighting to give a voice to survivors of sexual violence. These high-profile campaigns are fundamental in not only supporting those who have been assaulted, but also in exposing the extent of the issue which must be dealt with. Another important scheme which has sought to address at the root of ‘laddish’ culture and its intersection with sexual harassment is the Good Lad Initiative (GLI) which seeks to cultivate positive masculinity.
The workshops arranged by the GLI have been attended by over 1000 men, since 2013, primarily members of Cambridge and Oxford University sports teams, and focus on issues such as consent, sexual harassment, peer pressure and banter. This initiative highlights that men must be considered part of the solution in overthrowing ‘laddish culture’ and, together with women, must seek to tackle this issue head on.
It is important to recognise that it is not solely men who are to blame (and who are responsible) for this ‘laddish’ culture which has encouraged and normalised discriminatory comments and aggressive behaviour. The rise of the binge-drinking, loudmouth ‘ladette’ in the 90s who shunned the conservative model of femininity is to blame, at least in part.These taboo-busting women (often photographed looking a little worse for wear in a crop top, with a bottle in one hand a cigarette in the other) endorsed and normalised binge-drinking and the hedonistic lifestyles of their male counterparts, the ‘lads’. That said, changing drinking habits alone will not eliminate sexual assault — only 38 percent of sexual assault cases are under the influence of alcohol (Office for National Statistics, 2017). We need to change the mentalities which underpin lad culture, not just behaviour. We need to educate the teenagers of today about consent, respect, and tolerance. We must work to increase men’s confidence to act against these ‘laddish’ stereotypes, and harness the camaraderie often association with ‘lad culture’ for good causes. Fundamentally, what it means to be a ‘lad’ must be redefined.