I’m writing this for a number of reasons. First of all, I was watching an interview with comedian Stewart Lee about university funding and The Arts last night which got me thinking. Second, a friend of mine has been attempting to fight the good fight against the bastion of ‘banter’ (or, more accurately, the stalwart of sexism) that is the Facebook page ‘LADbible.’ Finally, after enjoying Reddit.com for over a year, I’ve recently become a member of the subreddit group ‘ShitRedditSays,’ which calls out posters from all over the site on misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic language and general bigotry. Some of the points I’ve read about the mindset of those who post that kind of hate speech (because, let’s face it, that’s what it is), tie in nicely with some of the ideas swirling around my head relating to ‘Lad Culture’ and the points raised by Stewart Lee.
In his interview, Lee posits that “the withdrawal of the [university] grant and the implication of student loans necessarily limits people that want vocational careers, and produces a generation of people who feel that the only purpose of education is to earn money.”  Signs of this are already in place and have been for quite some time now. Think about how often a news report on colleges and universities uses the term ‘Soft Science’ to describe Psychology and Sociology, or the now well-worn stereotype that those in Liberal Arts courses should get used to serving fries. If you go round a modern university campus and ask people why they enrolled, the answer will more than likely begin with “Because I wanted to get a career in…” rather than “Because I wanted to learn more.” The attachment of earning and the ‘value for money’ to courses in university has lead to a clear and well-enforced divide: Pick a course from a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and you’ll land a job, study a Liberal Art and you’re as good as flipping burgers or serving lattés already. This kind of mindset removes any inherent value to a course if it does not give the student any promise of financial gain at the end. Philosophy is looked down upon by both students and society as being a dense but airy subject where people sit and ineffectually think about ‘life’ – I recall the famous story in a newspaper where a question on a Philosophy paper was “Why was the chair on top of the table?” and the highest mark in the class went to a student who said “Because someone put it there.” – Which, for anyone who has seen a Philosophy exam paper, is of course is utter nonsense and completely made up. Even so, this subject, which was once the premier battleground of world-shaping ideas, has become the butt of jokes in the tabloids because of its liberal connotations.
The problem arises because, while there is no doubt that STEM subjects are intellectually challenging, they don’t encourage people to think critically. There is no way for them to access the mindset of challenging social hierarchies, questioning the culture we live in or to learn about social criticism. Tragically, this mindset appears to be reserved only for ‘sensitive’ liberal subjects, meaning those attempting to campaign for equality are already at a disadvantage by being painted as ‘too caring,’ ‘too emotional,’ or for guys, ‘too feminine’ and therefore their opinions aren’t rational (believe me, I’ve heard these arguments against me plenty of times). As a result, students entering STEM fields remain enrolled in our patriarchal society, not questioning it, but more likely enjoying the benefits it provides (because, let’s face it, if you’re complaining about inequality, then you should have picked a course that would lead to a real job ).
The STEM fields are incredibly male-dominated, with only three in twenty-five graduates in an Engineering course being a woman, only 20% of women who graduate a STEM course landing a job in a related field, and a woman’s self-esteem and confidence in their ability continually diminishing throughout their course solely because of their gender . Of course then, male students who are in this system of learning, encouraged to be there by a patriarchal and capitalist society and afforded all the privileges of said society, are going to embrace such a culture with open arms. This is where ‘Lad Culture’ comes from.
Rather than a campus of thinkers and readers who enjoy a toke and occasional night out to blow off steam, we have a university system inundated with men who have little time for intellectual thinking and conversation, who only want to learn to finish their course and get a job. This shifts the vibe of the campus to one which encourages massive nights of binge drinking and getting ‘rowdy with the lads’ for the want of a better phrase. The disdain with which the STEM culture looks at the liberal encourages an amplified reaction in the other direction, with sexist and racist viewpoints being excused as ‘banter’ to wind up and bait the ‘loony left’ and ‘sensitive’ liberals. Being the golden boys of a patriarchal capitalist society, they reinforce, exaggerate, but most importantly perpetuate the oppressive discourse set up by the culture that raised them. They do this while being told it’s right and those who are offended are wrong and ‘can’t take a joke,’ ensuring they don’t question why their ‘Lad Culture’ pisses some people off (after all, social criticism is for ‘sensitive left-wingers’ who are just bitter because it’s not a real subject that’ll land them a real job ). They are further encouraged by the emergence of ‘Lad’s Mags,’ such as Nuts orZoo, catering to this culture through the objectification of women, sweeping generalisations about genders, homophobic and transphobic rhetoric. These magazines, with covers that differ little from softcore porn, normalise such behaviour even further – their uncensored place on our newsagent stands galvanising a ‘Lad’ attitude even further.
But by far the most dangerous enforcer and normaliser of ‘Lad Culture’ is ‘The LADbible’ and similar Facebook pages. Such pages are a perfect and terrifying example of what happens when a patriarchal and capitalist society dissuades young men away from a liberal, conscientious mindset, essentially tells them that they will always be right and that their privileges are a birthright, and then leaves them to regulate themselves. Rape culture and domestic abuse become amplified sources of endless jokes and hilarity, women are objects to be judged no matter what (you treat a woman as a human being, you’re either ‘whipped’ or ‘gay’), racism okay as long as it’s a ‘hilarious’ stereotype that’s ‘funny ‘cos it’s true,’ so on and so forth. I could go on, but this is the ugly face of ‘Lad Culture’ that anybody reading this will already be familiar with.
The problem here though is that due to the influx in male STEM students and the universities need to cater to them, ‘Lad Culture’ is becoming the default setting in UK higher education. Men enrolling in liberal courses which encourage critical thinking are often finding themselves sooner indoctrinated into the ‘Lad’ mindset, joining in with the ‘banter’ of their friends and regarding what should be a fantastic educational opportunity and chance to expand one’s own mind as just another hoop to jump through to get a piece of paper that’ll mean a job. I once overheard a fellow Literature student on my course say “I’ll just make up some bullshit about women not being equal, we all know Feminism is what [the lecturer] wants.” Nowadays, university is just a holding pen for these young men, encouraged to carry on being misogynistic, told that it’s just another step to a career and that conscientious thinking isn’t a ‘valuable’ skill; all this because we were told that a career and money matter more than an academic mind. And you know what the scary part is? Because the STEM ‘Lads’ are deemed more employable, soon we’ll have ‘Lads’ making laws, leading and being in control.
Misogyny breeds misogyny, bigotry breeds bigotry.
(Also, good on qu and her boyfriend for attempting to educate LADbible on why ‘smashing’ a woman probably isn’t a good idea.)
 Obvious sarcasm
 More obvious sarcasm.