Lads will be Lads in Higher Education and even Youth Work? What's the Score?

A few weeks ago at the Youth and Policy History conference I offered a workshop, in which I revisited critically an article, ‘Working with Young Males : Towards an Anti-Sexist Practice’, written in 1981.  At heart it was a response to the remarkable flowering of feminist youth work at that time and the questions this posed for work with the lads. We had a stimulating discussion about the paper’s strengths and weaknesses, its absences and silences. In the end we agreed that the discussion needed to continue, but that it needed to be more firmly grounded in current practice.

Anti-Sexism conference 1980!

As I’ve been pondering the next step an interesting piece of research has recently emerged, entitled ‘That’s what she said : Women students’ experiences of ‘lad culture’ in higher education’. It opens by stating:

It seems that ‘lad culture’ is suddenly everywhere in
higher education. ‘Banter’ on social media; student
nights at the local club; initiations to join a sports
team – all seem influenced by an element of ‘lad
culture’. For many, this seems an unproblematic trend,
just a new way of structuring and understanding the
way students have fun. But there have also been
worrying accounts, particularly from women students,
about the negative impact and harm that ‘lad culture’
is having on their educational experiences and indeed
their lives more broadly.

Credit to sotontab.co.uk

For the moment I wonder if you might look at this research and see if it has any resonance with the world of youth work today. An early section attempts to define ‘lad culture’.

Described as founded upon a trinity of ‘drinking, football
and fucking’, contemporary ‘laddism’ can be seen as
young, hedonistic and largely centred on homosocial
bonding. This often consists of ‘having a laugh’,
objectifying women and espousing politically incorrect
views. It has been linked with the phenomenon of
‘raunch culture’, which has been theorised as an oversexualised
cultural form based on men objectifying
women and encouraging them to objectify themselves,
and which is associated with the mainstreaming of the
erotic industries and the normalisation of sexual
violence. ‘Laddism’ is also thought to be currently
gaining a great deal of social and cultural power, and
has been described as the template of masculinity for
contemporary young British males.

Read in full – That’s what she said report Final web pdf

For a contrary view Spiked accuses the National Union of Students of leading a ‘prissy war on ‘lad culture’.

This research is hardly neutral. The NUS commissioned academics from the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Sussex carry it out, among focus groups of 40 female students from across Britain. The report admits that ‘our findings cannot be classified as representative’, since most interviews were with middle-class ‘white, British undergraduates’. More strikingly, 76 per cent of respondents classified themselves as feminists. Contrast that to a recent survey that found only eight per cent of British women aged 20 to 24 called themselves feminists. This is straightforward advocacy research, designed to boost with a phony evidence base a prejudice that already exists among student leaders.

Any thoughts on the validity of the research and more broadly whether you think we should organise a future IDYW event looking afresh at work with young men would be much appreciated.

 


 

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