A reflection on men and the “lad culture” in Britain
by Isaac Javier
I was sitting in an almost empty Wasabi in Leeds at around 8 PM, waiting for my friend to order his food. The place was quiet, and it’s near enough closing time as he comes and finally sits with me. As soon as he sits down, the first words he utters were “my 12”, our own Morse code whenever we see a fine piece of ass. As subtle as I can, I reach for my bag on my right side so I could look behind me without being too obvious. It was indeed a good piece of ass, worthy of bypassing my chicken teriyaki and my self-respect. After this, in some Guru Nanak -esque epiphany, I did some contemplating.
A little something about myself and where I am from: I was born in probably the most ‘Christian’ country in the eastern hemisphere. In turn, I grew up with some relatively concise and black-and-white sets of ideologies founded and formulated from the Bible. Consequently, we view women in the most patriarchal of ways.
In conforming to the traditions of the country, a lot of the prominent schools identify themselves under the Christian ethos which was taught and heavily implemented from one’s conception to the academic world to when they leave secondary school. By now, this gives you an idea on our outlook on women and sex in our formative years.
It was basically taboo as the “purity” of women and sex was emphasised. Essentially anything that does not go along with the systematic and patriarchal traditions was shunned – pre marital sex, polygamy, promiscuity, and homosexuality. Even with all the Bible double-talk, it was never the case that these principles were acted upon and evident in their society. If anything, all those things being taboo made the youth’s suspicion of it proliferate as sex is a common theme in one’s adolescent phase.
It was only right that the ‘lad culture’ which was [is] prevalent in this country came as a surprise to me when I moved here three years ago, a pudgy fifteen year old virgin.
One of the constant themes when defining ‘lad culture’ is the idea of it being a ‘pack mentality’ which perfectly encapsulates what it is. When we think of the word ‘pack’, we immediately find it synonymous with ‘wolves’ – because wolves travel in packs (duh). And wolves are also driven by the need to survive in which they accommodate to by hunting for food.
The compulsion to survive, much like wolves, that drives the subculture was initially born in the 90s in the rise of the new lad magazines (most notably, Maxim, FHM, and Loaded). Such magazines and forms of media depict these brand new ideologies which endorsed and encouraged the concepts of [hegemonic] masculinity and misogyny. This was a powerful idea that it was almost immediately absorbed by men – men that influenced an entire generation, and the next one. And these men became the foundation of the lad culture which we’re sitting on top of, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Masculinity, in particular, is important when thinking about the foundation of the lad culture. In sticking with the “wolves” analogy, you could say that it is simply nature taking its course. In the jungle, whenever the masculinity of a male is threatened, it retaliates often through hostility. In our society, the uprising of women and their increase in power and prominence threatened the then-inherent hierarchy of men being superior to women in every shape or form. This radical change was met with a violent reaction through the rise of the lad magazines which essentially used the media as an attempt to put women back in their place. The aim was to depict women as mere sexualised objects who will always be just that, and always be no more than second-fiddle to their penis-equipped counterparts. And it worked with immediate syringe-like effects, causing views to change and hierarchies to rebuild.
Although it is not directly connected, every male at one point in their lives got caught staring at a woman’s voluptuous features. There’s also the infamous stereotype of women belonging in the kitchen making sandwiches for men. Hypotheticals aside, it is literal in society that women are being viewed as objects. Women in nightclubs are being coercively groped, blatant sexism on university campuses, and the traditional catcalling in public- all of which born from the lad culture ingrained in society.
As an adolescent, it is often understandable to have a need to belong. This innate compulsion, whether we’re aware of it or not, often forces unconscious pressure on us men to follow trends and movements. An example would be losing one’s virginity. As a lad it is probably the most significant turning point in your life with the phrase “you’re a man now” being inseparable with the said act.
Growing up, sex is one of the most provocative topics which enticed our raw minds. We hear stories through our friends and in the streets which touches our inner curiosities and provokes us to be experimental from a very young age. There is also media in the form of films, TV shows, books, pornography which perpetuates sex in society, having a particular effect on the younger generation. All these and the unconscious influence of the laddism in our adolescent years pressures young men to lose their virginity as early as they can to feed their need to be “rated” which accommodates their need of belonging.
You could go as far as saying that we are shaped by what’s around us. If we surround ourselves with lads, we will become lads ourselves. It would be safe to say that males are pressured into laddism by who’s around them; a product of the instinctive need to belong, as solitude and isolation can only hold a man afloat for so long before he starts dying.
This is obviously not an accurate depiction of how men (lads) are. As, indeed, not all men are the same. At the same time of the female renaissance, came the concept of the “new man” which illustrated men who are open-minded, progressive, and in touch with their feelings. Think: if “laddism” was Loaded and FHM, “new man” was GQ and Esquire.
We make fun of women when we say that all they do is talk about their feelings, impulsively ignoring the fact that it’s something that men should learn from. There is the traditional tendency of men bottling up their feelings, which explains how, as a collective, they find it hard to talk about their emotions. This is harmful, for obvious reasons, as it was never innate to men that it was OK to not feel OK.
We still live in an era where, if a female child falls down and hurts herself, her mother picks her up and gives her a cuddle accompanied by a heartfelt “aww”. Whereas, if it’s a boy you’d get a “don’t cry” or “stop crying”. It’s been embedded ever since, what’s expected of a man – to “man up”. But what does it really mean to man up? To be a man?
Is it being dench and lifting weights? Downing pints? How many girls you’ve fucked? The size of your dick?
Of course it is. Popular culture and media depictions led to men trying to be comic book heroes rather than being real people. And like anything natural, we’re not the simple creatures we like to pretend to be. Because all this time we’ve been told – by our dads, and their dads, and their dad’s dad – that being a man is simple. But there comes a time when these archaic ideologies needs to change. We were taught that the more girls you’ve fucked, how toned your muscles are, the brands you wear, your drinking tolerance, makes you a “man”. And we do weigh what a man’s worth is based on that. We try to perceive to each other the next man’s worth based on outdated and petty expectations. There’s more to being a man – being a human, even. What it is, there’s no definite answer. Because we’re all different.