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19th March 2013

NUS calls to end ‘laddism’ on campus

‘That’s what she said’ report draws attenion to the ‘lad culture’ invading all aspects of university life

An NUS survey has revealed that 50% of participants indentified “prevailing sexism, ‘laddism’ and a culture of harassment” at their universities.

The report, titled ‘That’s what she said,’ includes research from the University of Sussex, looking into campus cultures and the experiences of women students.

It aims to show that “’lad culture’ affects every aspect of student life, which means that everyone in higher education has a role to play in responding to this.”

Although women now make up the majority of students in higher education, the report finds that challenges and disadvantages still remain for women students and that statistical data does not necessarily reflect their experiences.

While most participants felt that ‘lad culture’ had not directly affected their educational experiences, the university experience was described as ‘gendered’ by many, especially within classroom interaction.

“I’ve been silenced in a classroom environment by someone who is one of the lads if you like, because I didn’t agree with something he said,” commented one participant. “He essentially did a repeat of what David Cameron did, the whole ‘calm down dear’ thing.”

“Even the teacher who was female didn’t challenge it. She just looked at her papers, shuffled them, looked really awkward. I knew she had heard, everyone had heard.”

Another participant said: “In lots of tutorials I’ve had lots of banter.  I do Politics and History and within that there tends to be a slight focus on feminist theory at some point. It’s always the time the lad comes out. It’s just like shit jokes and stuff like that.”

“For example, if you try to make an announcement in [a lecture], everyone will immediately start shouting stuff… Something along the lines of being a ‘shit feminist’ or something.  That kind of ‘another one of those man haters’.”

Tabz O’Brien-Butcher, Manchester’s Women’s Officer said that this was not uncommon: “I’ve had quite a lot of students come up to me complaining about sexism in the classroom.” But she explained that the problem was that a lot of students do not want to make official complaints because they are scared.

“I think it’s more of a problem in terms of other students doing the banter and the sexism but then teachers don’t crack down on it and they just ignore it happening in the classroom,” she said.

The report also looked at the more expected areas of ‘lad culture,’ including sports clubs and their initiations which it explains creates a ‘pack’ mentality and is encouraged by the consumption of alcohol.

A participant in the report explained: “It was the rugby night initiation and they stood on either side of the pavement so you had to walk through them, they were creating like a bridge thing with their hands, and they started shouting really loudly, in the main street, ‘U.G.L.Y. –she’s ugly, she’s ugly’ and I was just stood there.”

“I was actually quite upset about it because it caught me off guard and I wasn’t expecting it. I wouldn’t say I get upset very much but I literally ran off… it ruined my night, I went home after that.”

While admitting that the ‘lad culture’ on campus is bad at Manchester, Tabz did not think that it was any worse than other campuses.

“Because the union is separate from the AU, a lot of the initiation ceremonies that are very focused around banter and lad culture happens in the sports teams so maybe there’s a bit less [‘lad culture’] than universities who have the sports teams integrated into the union,” she said.

“But obviously I have heard of a lot of instances, especially around Welcome Week and freshers week that we need to crack down on.”

The link between ‘lad culture’ and sexual harassment and violence is highlighted by the report.

“I don’t know anyone, any of my female friends who haven’t had some kind of encounter that was harassment, whether it be verbal or physical since they’ve been at university,” said one participant.

The NUS have responded saying that the report results are “difficult to read” anf that it is “important to acknowledge that this is happening.”

“The extent to which ‘lad culture’ shapes student’s experiences on nights out is particularly disturbing. It does not seem possible to go on a night out without encountering ‘lad culture’ and the sexism and misogyny associated with it.”

To combat this emergence of ‘lad culture,’ the NUS have called for a summit of stakeholders to work towards creating a commission to develop a national strategy to respond to the issue.

The commission will be chaired by the NUS and will feature representatives from student’s unions and institutions, students sports and societies organisations, the student entertainments, nightlife and alcohol industries, and equalities and women’s organisations.

It will aim to “lay out a clear path to tackling ‘lad culture’ and creating a safer, more positive, more empowering culture on our campuses.”

Leading women have already shown their support for the research, including Diane Abbott, Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project and Polly Williams, Senior Policy Advisor, Equality Challenge Unit.

“It is important that the government and universities listen to what students are saying, and challenge any normalisation of sexism on university campuses,” said Abbott. “This isn’t about being killjoys, but about building a society where people can learn and thrive free from shame, harassment and abuse.”

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