I was initially motivated to write this piece as a response to the controversy over an anonymous post on a Facebook page, “UW Crushes,” associated with students at the University of Wyoming that read “I want to hatefuck ___ so hard. That chick runs her liberal mouth all the time and doesn’t care who knows it. I think it’s hot and it makes me angry. One night with me and she’s going to be a good Republican bitch.” While the outcome of this storm has been problematic due to legitimacy concerns over who posted the offending comment, the story prompted me to visit the current debate over “LAD” culture in British and Northern Irish universities.
“LAD” culture is the persistence and glorification of sexist behavior. LAD culture allows and encourages the proliferation of slutshaming websites, rape as humor, sexual harassment and humiliation. The National Union of Student’s recently released a report titled That’s What She Said: Women Students’ Experiences of Lad Culture in Higher Education and defined this culture as “a group of ‘pack’ mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and ‘banter’ which was often sexist, misogynist and homophobic.” While not all male students who participate in drinking and/or sport are sexist, misogynist and homophobic, to be “one of the guys,” it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid it.
When I talk about “LAD” culture, I talk about a cultural acceptance of sexism and misogyny. These include comments on Facebook, tweets, a snide comment in the bar, groping and wolf whistles on the streets. The “LAD” isn’t to blame for this behavior; it’s supposedly just men being men. The stories and behaviors discussed on social media are particularly worrying as they are glorifying and championing rape and sexual violence on a very basic level. Northern Ireland’s biggest component of this is the Facebook group “Holyland LAD.” The Holyland’s are a group of streets in Belfast, mainly occupied by students due to its proximity to the city’s universities. The Holyland tag comes from the streets which are named Palestine Street, Jerusalem Street, Cairo Street, etc. This area has always been a hotbed of controversy considering the high student occupancy in the area, but this is something different. A recent story on the Facebook page recounted the rape of a young woman and it was liked by hundreds of people. But, this was not an attack on male students; in fact, the Holyland LAD Facebook group seems to have a much support from women as it does men.
The link between social media and the persistence of sexism is nothing new, but the last few years have seen a rise in Facebook groups and Twitter feeds glorifying an ethos that encourages one specific idea of masculinity. This masculinity normalizes sexual harassment and objectifies women to the extent where the lines between what behavior is dangerously sexist and what isn’t are blurred. In the US, the most recent examples of this are the Steubenville case and the Scandale Fritz case.
It has been suggested that the rise of LAD culture is creating a surge in feminist societies in universities. In the UK, the National Union of Students has raised the issue at recent conferences and released reports in an attempt to acknowledge the situation and work toward a solution. In the US, the ‘Know Your IX’ campaign is pushing to educate students about their rights under Title IX. With this information, those affected by rape and sexual violence will be able to take action and advocate for themselves when confronted with sexism and misogyny at College or University. If these rights are not secured by schools, students are encouraged to file a complaint against their colleges with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights — the idea being that when forced with this kind of legal action, schools will become more proactive.
The question remains: are things getting better, or worse? Is this surge due to the increasing awareness of feminism and the growing respect given to Gender & Women’s Studies departments in higher education, or is it a reaction to the more sinister acceptance of sexism?
Whatever the answer to that question, feminist students (both male and female) are finding it harder and harder to call out blatant sexism and participation in the de-legitimization of rape and sexual violence.
Some are calling the outcry at LAD culture over-reactionary and fail to see the problem of the proliferation of these attitudes. They are a problem for a very simple reason. When it becomes okay for a man to rape without repercussions and receive a hero’s worship on Facebook for doing so, it blurs the line between what is harmless banter and what is very harmful action. It makes the statement that a woman’s body is up for grabs no matter what. It aids in the objectification of women. It minimizes sexism into nothing but a joke to report back to the lads.
The recent reports from the National Union of Students (NUS), ‘That’s what she said’ (2012) and ‘Hidden Marks’ (2010) reveal just how much these attitudes are affecting women on UK campuses. 68% of respondents stated that they had been subjected to one or more incidents of sexual harassment on campus. This sexist mind-set is becoming more and a common part of social life in university campuses.
There are male-oriented student groups out there willing to tackle this trend, including Oxford University’s Rugby Club which launched its GoodLAD campaign and has “committed to providing workshops for their players, which aim to redress the attitudes towards women that university rugby clubs are often accused of having.” This is a self-described move to “remodel masculinity.”
Labour MP Diane Abbott, shadow Public Health Minister, recently spoke about mass unemployment and Britain’s lasting recession as creating a crisis of masculinity in Britain. This crisis is creating a “hyper-masculinity” with characteristics of homophobia and misogyny that involves “a celebration of heartlessness, a lack of respect for women’s autonomy; and the normalization of homophobia” it’s clear that this LAD culture isn’t restricted to our universities. Prime Minister Cameron was called out a few years ago by his “calm down dear” comment to female MP, Angela Eagle. It goes all the way to the top.
There is a hum of sexism vibrating just below the surface of British culture and it’s getting louder.
But, when we call out a Facebook comment, it is the first step toward eradicating rape culture. When we no longer tolerate sexism on social media, we make it less acceptable for the “hey baby” comment on the street, for the continuation of the pay gap, for the double standards in media representations in beauty, and most of all, for rape and sexual violence.