Lad culture is a club promoter asking young men to explain the details of how they intend to “violate a fresher tonight”. The crude misogyny that characterises it so conclusively courses through the response: ‘she’s gonna get raped’. Lad culture warns young women that ‘there are cages’ inside the club. It asks them how they are going to ‘survive violation’ tonight.
Lad culture is an aggressive phenomenon. We can call this perversion of ideas a culture because it has taken root in our society. It has grown through businesses and online groups which exploit lad culture to gain an easy following and a foolhardy market. It is a weed in a time of economic turmoil, and it has spread because it reinforces identities which we are still unsure about.
It has become institutionalised by organisations such as Tequila UK and UniLad. It is a culture built on pressure and intimidation. We are all prey to its influence, and every gender is a potential victim. Lad culture tells a man that by abusing a woman, he achieves masculinity, that he earns ‘points’. It leads women to believe that this abuse is normal. It has neatly and narrowly defined what it means to be a man, and what is acceptable for a woman. It conveniently scribbles out anybody who does not identify with a binary gender and who is not heterosexual. The LAD is a man who is expected to dominate at the party, in the bedroom and online. A self-defining man who does not fit this role is viciously rejected by those who identify as lads.
This pressure on men to conform to a role that both dominates and abuses women is dangerous and harmful. In lad culture, we are told that the normalisation and glorification of sexual abuse can be justified because it is funny. The phrase ‘she’s gonna get raped’ is supposed to be taken in jest, according to lad culture. But rape is not a game or a right of passage; it ruins lives. And while damaging to all genders, women are the target of the sexual abuse and violence that lad culture promotes. Sexual violence against men is indeed a severe problem as well, and lad culture pressures men to stay silent about these issues.
As the first term of this academic year draws to a close, it is worth reflecting on the impact our student community has had by facing up to lad culture and its machinations. We have successfully campaigned as rational-thinking, active and driven young people to root out this culture from our society; this culture which limits our freedoms – to identity, to speech, to sex, to safety, and from abuse.
On December 9th 2013, Leeds City Council met to to review Mezz’s license following the release of Tequila UK’s ‘Freshers’ Violation’ promotional video in September. The club’s license was revoked. The student-led campaign has already forced Tequila UK and other clubs to change the way they market their events. Now that the venue has lost its license, of course its customers will go to other venues; but these venues will have to recognize a boundary that was arrogantly ignored before. We have fought for this boundary, and when it is established, a small part of lad culture will wither away. It is up to us to decide what kind of society we want to build, and how culture will define it.