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Condemning ‘rape culture’ is something we should have done a long time ago.
A unique motion to prohibit lad culture’s darker side is being enacted by the Union Council. The proposer, Full Time Officer for Welfare and Community Tom Fox, had already motioned to confiscate lads’ mags from LUSU Central in August. Now, he and the WRC intend to teach boys that respect for women is not a simple cover and, more importantly, teach them to confront one another when sexual violence becomes a punchline.
Fox and his team certainly deserve our thanks. There remains much confusion over what constitutes ‘casual banter’ and what constitutes insulting, criminal behaviour. Although many groups are troubled by lad culture, the problem often arises when young men start competing to produce the most unsavoury stories they can about women. This is no more obvious than in the student website UniLad, where posts named “The Problem with Slags”, for instance, now trivialise and incite misogyny. But what stimulates that first misguided remark? The answer has led me to believe that, unfortunately, Fox’s motion is many decades overdue.
That’s What She Said, a report published by the NUS last year, describes lad culture as an obscure and abrupt development in higher education. Despite the new brand, female objectification is not something which student services have only just found out about. Anyone can argue that emancipation for young women was wanting after the roaring twenties, the industrial revolution, or perhaps even the Norman Conquest. The seventies, though, hosted the first genuine sexual revolution in Britain. This could easily have created a healthy, tolerant framework for women’s sexuality, but almost exclusively promoted male interests, instead.
Pornography has steadily been normalised. Magazines like Mayfair began recruiting younger women and pairing them up. The international circulation for Playboy Enterprises peaked just after pubic hair was introduced to centrefold spreads in 1971. What’s more, daily newspaper The Sun was bringing half-naked women on so-called “Page 3” to households in their thousands. This reduced women to their bodies, encouraging them to spend obscene sums on false nails, false eyelashes, and ever more specialist makeup. Any glamorous reputation that had once enticed models to the industry was dashed by growing links with organised crime and prostitution.
Until recently, even Goldman Sachs had invested in one company conducting sexual slavery. And yet, in the seventies, both organisations were administered entirely by men. Yes, female employment rates rose, but very few managed to escape menial jobs and almost none to match young men’s wages. From this zeitgeist came some very infamous lads, including Jimmy Savile, against whom over 400 sexual crimes were posthumously reported.
Nothing, however, can demonstrate ‘rape culture’ in the seventies more directly than the 1975 film by that very name. This groundbreaking Cambridge documentary showed that sexual violence was no isolated perversion, but genuinely institutionalised in places like Lorton Prison, where the misleadingly named convicts ‘Men Against Rape’ tried to justify their continuing crimes. The producers also combed the very latest novels, films, and songs for misogyny, including the record-breaking female body count in Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation Frenzy.
Despite the flagrant disrespect that has ensued – from indecent kitchenware adverts to macho hip hop – many students only considered a song by Robin Thicke to be the first worth tackling. Student life is where the comparison is strongest. The unluckier female students in the seventies, or “birds”, faced a more established lad culture. While the men ran tough-guy contests, many girls were coerced to go about public places nude and the resulting photos were roundly distributed in Rag mags. Worse, some departments forbade particularly “hormonal” women to sit exams.
Neither could women join financial or marketing clubs, because every single investor on the London Stock Exchange was a man. Our parents are adjusting to a labour market where trends like that are positively criminal, and this is no reason to revitalise lad culture from below.
Clearly, motions like Fox’s are an important step in overcoming prejudice towards women. But, while the English language fights to even provide an antonym to the word ‘misogyny’, I can’t help but wonder how many steps some people have to go through. Until we realise that ‘rape culture’ is more than just a generational failure, we can make no promises that Fox’s program won’t become, in his own words, another “one-year fad.”