Beer, birds and banter: the darker side

By lad1

The thought that my time at Durham is coming to an end is a bittersweet one. But whilst I’ve had an amazing time and have met some incredible people, I hold a lot of contradictory memories.

Some of my first experiences here were unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. Within my first few weeks, I had already dealt with three false claims made by new male friends claiming to have slept with me; been carried out of a club over the shoulder of a stranger against my will; and had a guy undo my bra in the middle of Loveshack.

These kinds of experiences continued: most commonly, being constantly groped in clubs, something which all of my girlfriends also experienced. As a result many female students feel there is a particular culture fostered at Durham that disadvantages girls. This culture is known as ‘lad culture’, and is frequently associated in the media with similar stories of sexual harassment that female students endure whilst at University.

But, through the research I conducted for my dissertation on this phenomenon, I realised there is so much more to it. On the flipside of these stories are the male students, the supposed ‘perpetrators’ of the behaviour. I spent the other half of my first year looking after my male friends who had been forced to drink copious amounts of alcohol by their older peers and could no longer stand or even see. On one particular occasion I was watching whilst a good friend of mine was being forced to see off drink after drink when I realised he was getting close to needing an ambulance, so I stood next to him and began to pour his drinks on the floor when the older boys weren’t watching. Although the culture is one that fosters sexism and misogyny, a great pressure felt by many male students to conform to certain behaviour perpetuates it.

Don’t get me wrong, the culture is also a huge part of why Durham is so fun and there are a lot of harmless aspects to it, but it has a darker side. Harassment, sexual assault and physical violence are all things I’ve experienced, oftentimes from the people closest to me, which has really emotionally affected me and marred my time here. I know plenty of girls share similar experiences; one good friend even had a guy tell her boyfriend to “put her back in her cage” because she stood up for herself when she got groped. These sorts of encounters may have lost some of their shock factor for most because they’re so familiar (even though they really shouldn’t be), but what may not be such common knowledge is what I discovered in my research.

Many men feel a similar way to the female students. They are rejected, ridiculed, and excluded from social groups if they don’t conform to ‘laddish’ behaviour, or forced to take part in activities and behaviour they may not believe in in order to have friends. And others feel incredibly frustrated being labelled as terrible, misogynistic, violent lads when they aren’t like that at all. These kinds of guys are a lot more common than you may think, and aren’t just those who don’t play rugby or football. Whilst of course there are those that are sexist and encourage others to be pigs too, they are often few and far between.

The sad truth that underpins the experiences that girls like me have to endure is the pressure lads feel to live up to a ‘macho’, testosterone-fuelled stereotype that often sees girls at University as either inferior sex objects or beloved girlfriends, and little in-between. This pressure can be just as detrimental to male students’ experiences as to females’, as some respondents of my research revealed feelings of extreme depression as a result. This attitude that men feel pressured to conform to needs to be changed before both female and male dropouts rise to ridiculous levels – or depression leads to far more serious implications.

Guys need to be encouraged to be good lads by society and differences between the sexes need not be so naturalised and entrenched. Men and women are equal and University provides equal opportunity now more than ever, and so social life should be the same. However, tackling this culture needs to be done in a way that moves away from the accusatory stance it has been at for a long time. Blaming the ‘lads’ over and over is only going to make them feel defensive, and often they may not realise the result their actions have because they often have no negative intentions. In order to overcome the issues for both sexes I believe it should be tackled in an inclusive manner, properly listening to all ‘sides of the story’ as it were, because there’s always three; his side, her side, and the truth.

A collaborative effort would prove extremely beneficial – take note from ‘Good Lad Workshops’ (Google it), and NUS or University-led campaigns should be encouraged to educate students at the beginning of their University careers about the culture and how your actions affect everyone, in a way that is not patronising. It doesn’t have to be a case of girls against guys, because the culture affects everyone, including beyond University life.

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