2.2.12

Pity the lad

It can't be easy, being a university student, or more specifically, a male university student. With the pain of lectures and studying, the absence of a reliable diet and stable home life, the option and the burden to have to solve all your own problems, and, of course, the dreaded student loan-imposed budget, all culminate in an environment that, were it not for the fun that uni offers these young men, would be overwhelming. Indeed, a study by Adrienne Katz of Youthworks Consulting has found that the male-dominated cultures at university are breeding grounds for depression and suicide 

Thank God, then, for 'banter'. The popular term given to harmless fun, often related to alcohol consumption, that makes an early lecture the morning after and a late night in the library before more bearable. 'Banter' became a popular term from my final years of school (in the now-immortalised manner of the 'Gap Yah' video) and was intended purely to indicate a good time, worthy of laughs. Maybe someone's housemate threw up outside Tesco. Maybe someone exposed themself. Maybe, even, someone ended up in gaol for the night. ULTIMATE BANTER. I know a bloke who went out for his 21st birthday, starting the night in a bar in Birmingham. He woke up in Durham. BANTER OVERLOAD. 

It seems that the more daring, dangerous and often illegal the act, the more banter it generates and the more prestige gained. This banter seems to be some sort of legendary lad currency that earns endless respect (rather like the moment in She's The Man when a character publically humiliates his girlfriend, and then dumps her, to the cheers and unending respect of his friends who declare him 'their idol'). Naturally the alpha lads are all now trying to out-banter eachother by suggesting even more ridiculous things to generate banter about. And in steps UniLad. Having previously 'joked' about sexual violence, womens' appearance, homophobia and disability, they unwisely chose to joke about the biggest buzzword of the day - rape. And that's where the banter went too far.

You know the story - you don't need me to tell you what they've just done in the name of banter - but in case you don't, read all about it here.

The backlash has led to the short-term closure of UniLad, in a bid to wait for the storm to die down before they can resume, in theory with a more stringent and sensitive editorial team, who will turn the tide on their current attitudes - summed up, I think, by a popular mantra that perpetuated my teenage male friends: 'football, drinking, girls'. 

This slogan, when weaponised, can go one of two ways. I was a victim of the teenage version; sidelined by a boyfriend in favour of the former two. I was fortunate, because at that stage they hadn't yet grasped the true implication of that statement - that women, like football and drinking, are passtimes, objects for their entertainment. This is something that UniLad, the bigger, pushier counterparts of my teenage self's male contemporaries, have grasped to astonishing effect. I am told that their site abounds with content regarding this attitude, towards women young and old, contemporaries, figures of authority. In my internet trawlings for more information for this piece, I came across mention of an unnamed Oxford fraternity which requires wannabe members to rape a woman. These are the sort of men who will eventually end up in the Tory party.

Of course, UniLad writers don't seem to see the problem with their jokes, because while they have physically matured, they are emotionally backward. A combination of drip-fed sexism from the media and a lack of good sex education on anything other than how to put a condom on a banana, plus a set of highly undesirable celebrity role models have led to a seething cesspit of nightmarish thinking that has manifested itself online in the form of UniLad and its deeply unsavoury Facebook group. 
My aim with this piece was NOT to come across as angry/desperate/lesbian/feminst, or a member of the so-called Banter Police, as most of the UniLad Facebook fans would no doubt name anyone who dares question their banter. The vast difference between our attitude and theirs is that we are taking their comments seriously. By joking about it, they have unconsciously highlighted our culture's crippling lack of awareness and sensitivity of the issue, and they are now being made accountable for something that most of them are too stupid to be aware of doing. There's no telling whether, in real life, the editor and his braying cohorts have this attitude to rape. Do they have younger sisters? Girlfriends? Female friends at all? How would they feel if these women fell prey to the attitudes of the 'lad'? I'm guessing that they haven't even considered it, placing the jokes they are making online in a completely different part of their mind from the fear that every person has of something terrible happening to their loved ones.

But, of course, by joking about it, we are supposedly finding a way to cope with it, but what we are really doing is desensitising it. A writer on Comment Is Free wrote a damning piece about UniLads before confessing that she herself would advocate a rape joke if told by her favourite comedian. I don't think it makes me an angry feminist lesbian type if I call out this double standard. If we've decided that rape is wrong, and should NEVER be desentised by anyone other than a victim finding a coping strategy, then how is it acceptable in any form?

Because this is about violence, and violence is wrong. We've accepted that violence against another human being is a terrible thing. And that's what rape is; violence, and a violation. And it's not just women that suffer, of course - rape is being used in warfare even today as a humilation and dominance assertion tactic by aggressive military. Rape is used to subdue and silence. The UniLads have made the mistake to think that it is about personal gratification. Is there any real sexual pleasure to be derived from a woman resisting and saying no? 

The case of UniLad makes me wonder how far we've actually come from the days of Mad Men, which featured a famous incident of what is called 'grey rape' - Joan Harris raped by her husband. Joan, like women of the day, put up and shut up, and carried on. Nowadays, women put up and shut up (as UnILad pointed out, 85% of cases go unreported) but more down to submission, fear and stigma, not because they have no-one to talk to. Later in the series, a character calls her up on her appearance, wondering why, if she wishes to be taken seriously in the workplace as a worker, she walks around looking like she's trying to get raped. An irony, of course, since she already has been. A woman is judged on her appearance in a way that a man never is, or has not been, because of the way society has been founded. Women who appear beautiful, and appear fertile, are the fortunate prospects for the family. Fertility has now been replaced by 'fitness', and family prospects have now been replaced by the right to be leered over by Loaded-reading, Stella-swilling juveniles. And women are told is proper by magazines like Cosmo (which are more damaging to the feminist movement than any number of Page 3 girls) that a woman is placed on earth to please a man, and should perform accordingly. In place of the lady, we have the 'ladette', supposedly a positive reaction to the empowerment of women but what is really a protection measure by women tired of being objectified. We don't know if, as the name suggests, their 'female lad' attitude extends so far as the objectification of their sex. Though, if the one female writer at UniLad is anything to go by, this is up for debate.

The 'lad' culture, however, has values -  arising from the '90s in a reaction to the rise of the 'new man', who respected women and was an upstanding member of society. A perfect demonstration of the '90s-style lad is popular youth tv antihero James Cook, from Skins. Beer-swilling public menace that he is, with the words 'Jack the Lad' tattooed proudly on one bicep, his free-living, hard-partying attitude is no doubt the blueprint for laddish activity promoted by UniLad and their ilk. But, as anyone who watches Skins knows, Cook is a damaged individual with a terrible background, but also, thankfully, has morals, principles and values when they count. 

This is why, in a strange way, I feel sorry for the UniLads, and I also have hope for them. When I first read their tweets, blogs and 'apologies', I was initially outraged at their brushing off of the serious accusations with derogatory comments. But now, when I re-read them, I see their surliness, their sulkiness, and their absolute refusal to understand what they did wrong, for fear of having to do that one thing teenage boys hate to do - own up. (Also, from reading the personal blog of one of the UniLads and finding him refer to the act of '[raping] on a girl', I can only conclude that they aren't the brightest sparks, either) They have messed up. They potentially face exclusion from their universities, their employability and credibility has been dented. Their parents are having to read about them in The Sun. Every person in the country knows them as people who hate women, who think rape is funny, who think disability is funny. And, as yet, they haven't done anything to convince us otherwise. They've effectively ruined their own lives, without even realising it yet. The girl included. I'd be more inclined to liken these lads to Jay from The Inbetweeners than Cook - lewd, rude and crude, prepared to talk the talk for the benefit of his compadres, but terrified of real life, utterly clueless with women, socially awkward and, in the crucial moments, sweet and caring.

I happen to know a male student who is fond of the phrases 'lad' and 'banter', considering 'lad' to be the highest form of praise that he can offer. Of course, I know full well that he doesn't hold with the more extreme views of UniLad. He is a caring young man; considerate, gentlemanly, and respectful of views and of women. He has done what, for all their banter, the lewd Peter Pan-types at UniLad don't want to do - mature. When the UniLads  eventually emerge from their primordial ooze of old curries and soggy copies of Nuts, they may take a look at the storm they created from a different light. 

Or, of course, they may end up in the City, on the editorial team at Loaded, or in government. Fingers crossed that they don't. 

(For further reading on the UniLad fallout, I recommend these pieces by The QuietusA Storm In A Teacup, We Mixed Our Drinks and AWOT.  I'll add more as I find them.)


Disclaimer - a few people have commented that I appear to indicate that coming across as an angry/lesbian/feminist type is a bad thing. My reasoning behind this is as follows - as I state in the piece, the UniLad team use these insults as buzzwords by which to dismiss a woman's argument. By presenting a piece that not only avoids too much anger but essentially feels sorry for the lads, I was hoping that they might find it harder to dismiss. I do not believe that this type of woman exists, but they seem to, and I am attempting to do my bit to demonstrate this as fallacy. 

4 comments:

  1. Brilliant blog! I agree - their so called 'banter' is as damaging to young men as it is dehumanising to women. xx

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  2. What is an "angry feminist lesbian type"? Why is it a negative thing to come across as?

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  3. Ah, thank you Troll - I was waiting for this to pop up. It was a term that is popular among the UniLad crowd that they brand people with to subsequently dismiss their arguments. By avoiding it, I intended to increase the chance of them reading my post.

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  4. If, as you say, many of these lads will go on to be Tory members, there's little chance of their parents reading about them in The Sun.

    I kind of feel that as the world's population spirals out of control such attitudes more or less develop on their own, unquashably, through sheer weight of numbers. And the supposed subtext of irony prevents any kind of organized, systematic response - more's the pity...

    Ben.

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