Sussex researchers report on ‘lad culture’ at British universities

New research carried out by Sussex academics suggests that ‘lad culture’ is widespread at universities in England and Scotland.

The report – by Dr Alison Phipps and Isabel Young from the Centre for Gender Studies at Sussex – reveals that 50 per cent of the women who were interviewed during the research identified "prevailing sexism, 'laddism' and a culture of harassment" over their time as university students.

In light of the findings, the National Union of Students (NUS), which commissioned the report, has called on government Women and Equalities Minister Jo Swinson MP to convene a summit on ‘lad culture’ and develop a national strategy to address it.

The report, ‘That’s what she said: Women students’ experiences of lad culture in higher education’, was published on International Women’s Day last Friday (8 March).

In the report:

  •  ‘Lad culture’ was defined by participants as a group or ‘pack’ mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and ‘banter’ that was often sexist, misogynist and homophobic.
  • Respondents described university education as ‘gendered’ and cited issues such as the characterisation/status of particular subjects, classroom interactions, and negative attitudes towards feminism and gender-related topics.
  • ‘Lad culture’ was thought to be particularly influential in the social side of university life. Extracurricular activities and sports in particular were singled out as key sites, and it was reported that sexism in such environments could spill over into sexual harassment and humiliation.
  • Nights out were described as key spaces in which ‘lad culture’ was in evidence. Participants highlighted that nightclub promoters engaged in ‘lad culture’ as part of their business model.
  • For many participants, ‘lad culture’ had been significant in relation to their personal life. Many reported misogynist jokes and ‘banter’ circulating in their friendship groups which made them feel uncomfortable, and pressures to engage in profuse sexual relationships which made it difficult to establish and maintain commitments. Stories of sexual harassment and molestation were common, and there were also accounts of sexual violence.
  • Sexual harassment and violence were also very much related to ‘lad culture’. This included verbal harassment and ‘catcalling’, as well as physical harassment and sexual molestation. Groping in nightclubs was viewed by some as part of a ‘normal’ night out.

The research contains analysis of data from interviews and focus groups with 40 women students from England and Scotland, exploring how ‘lad culture’ affects every area of student life to a greater or lesser degree.

In a letter to Women’s Minister Jo Swinson, NUS’ Women’s Officer Kelley Temple wrote:

“The study found a worrying prevalence of ‘lad culture’ and the report will make uncomfortable reading for many of us - NUS and students’ unions included - when it comes to our own responsibilities. ‘Lad culture’ is a problem that needs to be urgently addressed.”

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By: James Hakner
Last updated: Monday, 11 March 2013