This article appears on The Huffington Post.
Let’s talk about lads. Specifically, lad culture.
Call it what you like, say what you want about it, but it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s just plain misogyny and sexism, with stereotypical, age-old notions of masculinity at the core.
A damning critique of a sub-culture, you might think, but consider this: lad culture is not a sub-category. It is the whole. It reaches out to all males, and tries to tell them how to act.
Lad culture is patriarchy, taking its values and making its sons Frankenstein’s monsters of cobbled-together cultural expectations.
In seeking to define themselves so strongly, men oppress women. Like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology. The female sex is the most ‘obvious’ abode of feminine traits, all that masculinity does not stand for, therefore women must be suppressed. Similarly, men cannot be anything but masculine, because that would be feminine, weak, ‘gay’.
But ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are not concrete, separable categories. We do not exist independently of one another. What affects one inevitably affects the other, and as such lad culture and the sexism which drives it is degrading to us all.
In many ways, it’s identical to the female stereotype of pink-kitchened housewifery. It is the existence of check-box standards for what it takes to be a man: being a property owner, the breadwinner, a sports fan, enjoying a good pint, owning a suit… from the legal to completely arbitrary, all through history exists a cut-and-dried definition of masculinity and manliness.
It is the other half of the double standard: girls are meant to be alluring, but chaste. Boys are meant to get out there and sleep with every girl they can, as perfectly illustrated by that classic programme, Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents.
In one episode, two of the young men featured were attempting to have sex for the first time. The programme portrayed them as ‘failed lads on tour’ as they didn’t achieve the coveted one night stand. The stepfather interviewed at the end of the holiday said that he was ‘proud’ of his stepson, for being ‘capable of taking part in laddish behaviour’.
This is a prime example of lad culture in action. Individually, the members of the group were nice people, but they seemed consumed by pressure to define themselves by the notches on their bedposts. This is little wonder: the programme and the stepfather’s spiel together exemplify the kinds of attitudes handed down in and by society.
But men aren’t without agency. At any age, they can learn to resist, no longer feel they need to look or act a certain way, and stop displaying the external behaviours. But that doesn’t render lad culture harmless. If left unchallenged, what’s more difficult to change are those internalised notions of how society is structured, the idea that the sexes have different parts to play, and men are on top. It runs much deeper than pet names, groping or sandwiches.
I don’t agree with men’s rights activists, but they are right to a degree in saying that lad culture, masculinity, is oppressive to men. But it’s not just lad culture, and not just men.
The norms of masculinity, dictated by patriarchy, are oppressive to everyone: male, female, gay, straight, cisgender, transgender, young or old. It’s an issue in a world which has no norms but still peddles them to its people and forces them to fit moulds that ultimately don’t exist.