Gemma Styles | Contributing writer | Saturday, 12 September 2015

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Gemma Styles: It's Time To Redefine The Lad

The Debrief: With a whole new season of freshers about to head to uni, there's never been a better time to tackle Lad culture at universities once and for all..

As was reported on The Debrief this week, Secretary of State for Business, Sajid Javid, has written to universities across the UK requesting that they set up a task force to investigate sexual violence against female students. Not simply looking to implement new safety procedures, Javid is calling for a total ‘culture change’ and wants to help put a stop to ‘lad culture’ in our universities.
 
There's a good reason for this - figures from the NUS Hidden Marks survey last year showed that one in seven women experienced a serious physical or verbal assault while at uni and over two thirds experienced verbal or non-verbal harassment like being groped or having comments yelled at them. And the saddest part of these statistics is how unsurprising they are. Thinking back to my own time at university in Sheffield I can instantly recall several incidences where Lad culture directly affected my closest friends - and me. 
 
One time that sticks out in my memory was a horrible experience I had in a club with some knobhead who did not understand the word no. Or the words ‘leave me alone’, ‘stop touching me’ or, eventually, a firm shove and ‘GET YOUR F*CKING HANDS OFF ME.’ None of this actually worked and in the end as he carried on trying to grope me until I pulled an Eastenders moment and chucked my drink in his face out of sheer desperation. 

I got thrown out. And he carried on being a complete reprobate with his laddy mates. My blood still boils.
 
As far as I can tell, being a ‘top lad’ is essentially based on being really great at BANTER, having an amazing ability to squeeze in a cheeky Nando’s and a tendancy to be a complete tosspot to women at any opportunity - and universities seem to be a breeding ground for it. 

Some campuses have schemes in place already to try and tackle this, such as transport home for female students, so they don’t have to walk home across campus from the union at night. But I think we need to put out the fire, not just hand out bandages, right? It’s not just universities, but our culture at the moment massively emphasises the importance of women protecting themselves and often seems to miss the underlying issue that women are at an accepted, sustained risk of violence or sexual assault. How can we carry on with this being the case?

Being online hugely enriches university life. Aside from all that important studying you’ll be doing (yes mum got it), you can meet people before you get to halls, organise socials, nurture relationships and of course stay in touch with the real keepers once you leave. But there's a downside too. Social media and websites have done a lot to encourage the online ‘lads’ that their sexist behaviour is not only acceptable but bloody hilarious. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I've seen a 'harmless' rape joke being passed round on Twitter - SERIOUSLY, WHO THINKS THAT'S FUNNY?

The fact is, young people grown up online now, and that misogynistic bile spreads all too easily. So we need to think big - which is why a charter on ending stereotypical lad culture for UK universities could pave the way and set a good example that could spread much further, given the right support.
 
I don’t think the guys you’d call ‘lads’ at uni are necessarily all bad. You can be on a sports team, enjoy going out and getting hammered and shaving off Rory’s eyebrow – without also drunkenly screaming profanities at every girl you meet on your way home from the pub. If you want to be young and stupid and drunk then – to be honest – it doesn’t really bother me. But why does that kind of lad have to go hand in hand with the ones who find it funny to grab a girl’s arse as she walks past in a crowded bar, or pin her against a wall and grab her boobs? It’s time to redefine the lad – and preferably make him into someone we actually like.

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