Ah, University. Three years of Pro Plus, unfeasible deadlines and flat pound pints in the SU. Happy days. Where once school filled you with nameless dread, University was a gleaming bastion of openness, new ideas and experiences. You emerge older and wiser, trembling hands clutching a degree and a slender grasp of the big wide world. Perhaps you’ve made friends for life or met the fellow you‘re going spawn with. Perhaps you have contracted scurvy from a dubious diet of Super Noodles and crisps. Whatever state your brain and health was in, you would have no doubt been aware of the jolly ‘lad’ culture that floats about in the background of day to day life.
But what, pray, is wrong with this? Lads are harmless, no? Vigorous young fellows fresh from the snuggly womb of their home towns, teeming with hormones, impotent energy and a rampant, sex drive sated only by brief yet rapturous post-club fumbles. Ah, the cheeky scamps, reeking of Lynx and fried breakfasts, bless ‘em.
Perhaps you had little to do with them. You may even have exchanged pleasantries in a corridor without note. Or maybe they were more pertinent – maybe you unwittingly attended a sports team night at the Union and happened upon them braying loudly and gyrating their sweaty crotches in your direction of an evening when all you wanted was a cheese toastie and a pint. Oh. Perhaps you encountered them drunkenly straddling inebriated cheerleaders on a dance floor sticky with spilled Sambucca and other, far more sinister substances. Perhaps you were among those cheerleaders and now feel a faint sense of disgust?
They may have grabbed your bum as you waited for a drink, attempted to look down your top or made reference to your hot, hot, gash in an endeavour to chat you up (true story). This would all be uttered in the name of ‘banter’ of course – no harm done. Yes, Uni is a place to let rip in a way that you probably never will be able to again, and for the most part your questionable and ‘legendary’ – my god, don’t you just hate that word – antics will blur into hazy, fond memory. Former lads may even feel shame. But no harm done, right?
Recently, however, the ‘lad culture’ of the UK’s Universities has been pushed into the harsh light of the public eye due to the so-awful-it’s-almost-parodic website, UniLad.com. It has mercifully been taken down, due to a medley of offensive articles which not only demean their female counterparts completely, but frequently make light of sexual assault in a staggering variety of inventive ways. Despite the site’s owner posting a feeble ‘apology’ on both the main site (which once used to post cheerful T-shirts bearing the slogan, ‘Keep Calm, it Won’t Last Long’) and their Facebook page, their followers haven’t taken this apologetic stance. In response to women who have taken it upon themselves to complain about the content – including victims of rape – the site’s members have done nothing but continue to belittle and demean, for the sake of ‘banter.’ To disagree with them is to have sand in your vagina, and provokes demands to return to the kitchen, all hiding under the cuddly blanket of ‘freedom of speech.‘ Ah, informed debate. Invigorating.
By all means, a lot can be gotten away with due to freedom of speech, I have always ascribed to the belief that if one controversial subject is funny, they all are. Laugh equally, right? But laugh from a distance. Laugh when you know a slight insinuation of something darker is not the sole intent. Language is ever-adapting. Now I know a lot of folk won’t agree with me, but take the word ‘frape,’ meaning to log into someone’s Facebook and change their status to something about them stinking of poo or whatever. HILARIOUS. Ahem. While the word originates from ‘rape’ there is no threat of your friend emerging from the computer, Ringu-style and attacking you. They have removed the dignity and order of your page and made you look stupid. That’s it. To compare the word ‘frape’ to a threat of something more sinister is pedantic at best. But that’s not the issue here.
The ‘banter’ on the UniLad site, however, isn’t this harmless (in my opinion) creation of dubious words. It is filled with genuine misogynistic threats towards women. Advice on how to take advantage of wasted freshers, identifying ‘slags,’ sharing stories about violent sexual experiences, girls crying – all to prove ‘laddishness.’ And for me, the most offensive thing of all? It isn’t funny. Not one jot. There is nothing funny about sexually violent language aimed at women – their classmates, friends and colleages.
‘It isn’t rape, it’s surprise sex?’ Ho ho, a classic.
‘Someone needs to change her tampon?’ Lololol, period jokes. Funny stuff.
‘She needs her backdoors smashing in, that’ll lighten her up?’ Haaa, harmless fun.
‘If I came across you I wouldn’t hesitate in raping you, I would have to kill you first though… so you didn’t struggle.’ ??? I don’t see how even the most base level, low IQ shit could find that funny. The others are a pretty far stretch themselves. This is a threat, not thrown about in jest but aimed squarely at a female facebook user who complained publicly on the site. A glance at the comments reveals a wealth of honking, sweaty ’lads’ posting similar things when female users post opinions.
At the time of writing, Facebook have done nothing about this. The site is still floating along quite merrily, with the corresponding UniLad website promising to clean up any inappropriate material. (It will then be even more of an empty wasteland surely?) While pages containing racist and homophobic abuse are frequently removed by Facebook, nothing has happened here. The volume of sexually violent language and the sick, congratulatory nature in which it is doled out is staggering, and the way the hooting idiots that populate the site rally around when confronted with an angry comment is pretty frightening in itself.
You’d hope that these guys would grow out of such actions and ways of thinking, but alas I highly doubt this is true. At sixteen I saw my classmates touching up drunken, scantily clad girls at parties, clutching bottles of vodka and pretty unaware. At twenty-three I experienced something slight but similar from a ‘lad’ with a good job, good prospects and a good upbringing. But I was drunk and asking for it, right lads? When I complained, who’s fault was it? Mine, of course. How dare I be drunk and sit next to a wasted, horny guy? I’ve lost count of the times similar things have happened to my friends, with varying consequences. A bit of ‘banter’ on the internet may seem innocent to a good proportion of the guys involved, but it serves to perpetuate an ongoing symptom in society that women are ‘asking for it,’ and when they don’t, taking it is all part of the banter.