Published on February 25, 2014 | by Sophie Smallshaw

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NUS holds summit to tackle ‘lad culture’

Staged image of woman with gag over mouth reading 'everyday sexism'

The founder of The Everyday Sexism Project told attendees that the fight against lad culture is a united battle. [Flickr: Bryony Harwood]

Almost a year since the publication of its investigative report That’s What She Said – Women students’ experiences of ‘lad culture’ in higher education, the National Union of Students (NUS) returned to London for the NUS Lad Culture Summit.

The event took place at London South Bank University and featured an array of speakers, including Laura Bates (founder of The Everyday Sexism Project), Girl Guiding UK and Lucy Holmes (founder of the No More Page Three campaign).

From misogynistic jokes and ‘rape banter’ to pressures to engage in sexual behaviour and heavy alcohol consumption, the term ‘lad culture’ has gained significant attention over the past year as many students have flooded to sites such as Facebook and Twitter to report cases of campus sexism.

Research by NUS found that 50 per cent of responding students had identified “prevailing sexism, ‘laddism’ and a culture of harassment” at their universities.

Opening the event NUS Women’s Officer Kelley Temple emphasised that ‘lad culture’ disrupts the education of both female and male students and is a “real issue on campuses”.

Power

Temple told the attendees: “You have the power to make real change on your campus on this issue. More people are seeing it as their responsibility that we have a campus atmosphere that is good for everyone.”

She called for a “zero tolerance to sexual harassment, advertising campaigns and rules around training sports captains. We need to change democratic structures to guarantee women are represented at university and in unions.”

Bates, whose Everyday Sexism website allows readers a platform to share stories of sexism, addressed the audience with some examples of extreme cases of lad culture at play including: “A circulated email encouraging students in Oxford to ‘spike a female fresher’s drinks’,” and “a student club night in Leeds releasing a promotional video that encouraged students to ‘rape a fresher‘.” Bates also noted that Freshers’ Week in particular is when sexism is most present and tolerated at student events.

“The idea of banter is a very clever way of silencing the problem; it’s much harder to protest against sexism and rape culture. It’s a veil that lets people hide,” Bates explained.

Support

Students and graduates flooded to Twitter to show support for the summit and discuss the rise in ‘lad culture’.

University of London graduate and ULU Women’s Officer Susuana Antubam tweeted: “Universities are often more concerned about their reputation than the welfare of affected students. This needs to change.”

Colum McGuire, current NUS vice-president and University of Kent graduate, also expressed the importance of male participation, tweeting: “Men are affected by lad culture too. The solution is feminism. That’s why I work with, listen to, and am led by women.”

Whilst speakers and participants at the summit drew a noticeably larger female gathering, both the NUS and Bates have made it clear that the fight against campus sexism is a united battle, with Bates also noting that not all victims of ‘lad culture’ are female, and that not all those involved are male.

“Be the person who speaks up about consent. Be the male student who stands up to his peers. Be the bystander who steps in and helps the victim. Be the friend who supports the rape victim. We can change this, but we have to do it together,” advised Bates.

 

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