Lads: Banter Rights

Ronnie Rowlands responds to Jack Rivlin's recent online article in The Telegraph


The Tab: a franchise of tabloid student news websites, started up at Cambridge University before establishing ‘branches’ at other universities such as Durham, Leeds and Exeter. It runs features on the best Cambridge ‘totty’ and informs us which university is the top uni for ‘totty’. The Durham Tab ran a story on the ‘most outrageous students in the country’, complete with a photograph of two sterling, scholarly chaps licking a woman’s nipples. When one Lancaster student criticised the Tab on its Lancaster Facebook page, the administrator of the page deemed him “probably a virgin and shit at football.” The headline of an article in the Bristol Tab, written by Tom Robbins, who is a man, bellows; “FEMINISTS: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG”, before setting the record straight and telling us that equality has been achieved because rape is illegal now. All in all, it seems to spend a lot of time defending and justifying laddishness.

It therefore comes as no surpirse to me that Jack Rivlin, who founded this franchise of detritus catalogues, has written an article in the Daily Telegraph, in which he gets dreadfully upset about a recent NUS report on the effects of laddish culture on women.

Its papal levels of grace start with the headline: “The prudes of the NUS hate boozy, popular ‘lads’. So what do they do? Smear them as rapists.” So, right away we know what the problem with the ‘enemy’ is. Prudes; people who are unreceptive of forthright sexual behaviour, and unwilling to engage in it. Now, my understanding of feminism is about as comprehensive as my understanding of the Karma Sutra, but even Jim Davidson would fail not to see that Rivlin is essentially dismissing women made to feel intimidated as uptight Mary Whitehouse types who don’t ‘get’ the ‘banter’.

He accuses the report of creating a ‘moral panic’, before warning lads that NUS ‘purists’ are out to get them.

“They seem to genuinely think they can reverse a millennia of violence and discrimination against women by forcing the football team to…start inviting the chess club to their socials.”

It sure is an odd way to interprate a report with a conclusion which doesn’t contain a single active verb, or any resolution other than to look into the issue further.

So, having told his readers that chess is WELL GAY, accused the NUS of creating moral panic and then attempting to create moral panic, Jack the LAD goes on. He is “only slightly exaggerating” when he tells us that the report is branding men who drink and have sex as ‘rapists’. He then utterly destroys the part of the report which claims that the extreme end of lad culture is entailing rape supportive attitudes and sexual harassment and violence, by admitting that there is an ‘unpleasant but minuscule fringe’ who exhibit this behaviour. “But that unpleasantness runs across society”, he adds. And he’s right – it does indeed run across our patriarchal, male-privilege dominated society.

The article goes on to claim that “slutdropping”, the act of picking up drunk women and dumping them at the end of town, has no ‘documented proof’ of ever occurring. And he’s right – there is no National Slutdropping Database from which we can extract figures. What we can do, however, is read documentation in newspaper articles. So why not look at, oh I dunno, the Bristol Tab, just to begin with?

Regardless of whether or not “slutdropping”, a term which caused trouble for our very own Sugarhouse when it promoted (and subsequently withdrew) a ‘Slutdroppers v Moshers’ night, has actually occurred, its existence as a ‘humourous’ male fantasy is problematic enough. Jack the LAD would do well to understand that rape supportive attiudes entail more than actually raping people. Boasting about ‘surprise sex’ is not rape, but it one example (of many) of a casual attitude towards the idea. Rape is not just down the alley with a knife, it is any sexual act without reasonable consent, and the latter is too often shamelessly dismissed as ‘not proper rape’ when it raises concerns. Swinging your dick with your mates and being ‘oi oi you shlaaaag’ around women might be banter to these people, but guess what, a lot of women aren’t ‘just moaning’ when they say that it’s demeaning and twattish.

And despite Jack the LAD’S shrill, self-justifying denunciation of the report, no one is trying to stop lads from drinking. No one is saying that having casual sex makes you a rapist. No one is saying that rampant numbers of sexual partners is wrong. What they ARE saying is that making your safety in priviledge known to women when you’re Doing Banter is oppressive, normalizing, and guess what; it breeds confidence in the idea that it is ok for men to make women feel uncomfortable, and to behave intimidatingly towards them, as though you have an entitlement to sexual interaction with them. Mainstream laddishness fosters and validates the idea that it is ok for men to berate women for their appearance, while many women feel that they must alter their behaviour to avoid such oppressiveness lest they are told that they are ‘asking for it’, and makes it easier for society to turn their heads to what is perceived as “not proper rape”.

So no, Jack the LAD, the misfits to whom you are offering guardianship are not being called ‘rapists’. You may say that the report is a “smokescreen that hinders us from identifying the real offenders”, but in actual fact, your defence of this behaviour, like a right wing comedian trying to justify his racist material as ‘just a joke’, is a smokescreen that hides a culture which normalises the oppression of women.


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