UniLad: when "banter" crosses a line

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Today's Twitterstorm of Hysterical Outrage concerns a website called UniLad. In typical Twitterstorm fashion, the site was actually taken down while I was in the process of writing this post, but here's the rundown on what's happened so far.

- Horrendously misogynist website runs post insinuating that rape is acceptable and to be encouraged.
- Woman challenges them about it. Retweets galore. Twitterstorm ensues.
- Offending post is taken down.
- Apology about "cleaning up our act" issued, made reasonably pointless by every other post on the site, photo on UniLad Facebook group etc.
- Twitterstorm continues.
- Offending site is taken down. Victory for the Thought-Policing Pitchfork-Wielding Twitter Mob. Sort of.

Almost a decade ago, I was an innocent sixth former, looking forward to going off to university and meeting lots of amazing new people who would be "more mature" and "have more in common" with me. Then I went off to university, and I met Unilad. Unilad was often the most 'popular' guy in the hall. He had a crew of identikit unilads. He was obnoxious and offensive, intimidating and pathetic at the same time. This was 2003; the word "banter" wasn't widely used and I think you could say that the UK was still experiencing the glory days of the lad's mag, before circulation figures started declining and titles started folding and Maxim was still in print and running articles entitled "How to cure a feminist". Sadly for lad culture, however, Unilad was doing a really good job of making feminists and activists out of the young women he targeted.

Unilad cracked jokes about my friend's appearance - and called me "ugly" when I told him where to stick his opinions.

Unilad groped me umpteen times on nights out and laughed in my face if I reacted.

Unilad wrote misogynist articles for the student magazine and responded with something about "stupid humourless feminists" when he was challenged about it.

Unilad put all his support behind a Playboy-themed RAG week.

Unilad made me feel like I was the one in the wrong for feeling uncomfortable about a social event being held at a lapdancing club.

Unilad stood in front of the stage at the union, leering, cheering and filming on his his phone as a young woman was goaded into stripping as part of a "dance contest" to win drinks, before she ran from the room in tears.

Unilad told my boyfriend to dump me so he could have some fun and stop having to hang around with a "bird" who was anti-porn.

Unilad made me really upset, then he made me really angry. The anger took on a whole new dimension when I found out that two of my closest friends had been victims of rape and I understood how this had changed their lives. These days I know that Unilad usually hasn't had the chance to form meaningful relationships with women yet, especially sexual ones. It's obvious from the way he talks about it - just look at UniLad Magazine's neverending posts on the subject. It's a bit tragic. But his mindset still persists on campuses across the country.

No wonder I found so many blogs speaking out about this sort of culture when I got understandably riled by all this and started looking into gender equality issues. There were a lot of young women about who felt the same and wanted to do something about it. And there still are. When I go to conferences and look at blogs, I meet - and read the thoughts of - young women who are having their own gender equality awakening because their eyes have really been opened by incidents like this and the fact they're still apparently acceptable. Of course it's not the only reason we come to feminism and activism, but it's a major concern among most of the young feminists you'll ever meet, because it affects us all.

For me, it happened in 2003 and you'd think things would have moved on. "Lad culture" wasn't the "in thing" the last time I checked. The majority of men I know - and the majority of the men I've spotted on Twitter talking about this today - have serious issues with it all. They don't want to be associated with it. But it's still around, and it still leads to straight-up regressive and vile websites like UniLad having nearly 70,000 "fans" on Facebook. Websites where every other post appears to be about rape - making jokes about it, attempting to dress it up with euphemisms and pretending it's "just a laugh".

Last week, when I came across UniLad for the first time, reading the famously deleted post "Sexual Mathematics". I was confused, because it seemed like the site was supposed to be all about the banter. All about the banter, yet strangely lacking in anything remotely resembling "banter", and instead full of the sort of stuff that no-one could actually find amusing. Mostly a lot of jokes about rape and sexual assault, if you're wondering. If you fancy letting yourself in for a treat, you can read the cached version of the post here. That is, of course, if you're up for reading such gems as:

"And if the girl you’ve taken for a drink happens to belong to the ’25%’ group and won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds."

Damn, I just love the stench of rape apologism. Especially deleted rape apologism that then becomes the subject of a half-arsed "apology" ("Sorry that people were offended. It won't happen again.") that's rendered totally pointless by the fact the site is crammed full of posts making jokes about raping women AND men, making unpleasant comments about the way women look at the same time as being apparently unable to refer to them as anything but "wenches" who need to "get back in the kitchen". Oh, the fact that posts with titles such as "The Angry Shag" end with sentences like this:

"To finish off, I doggy-style her head into the wall attempting to knock some sense into her."

UniLad's readers weren't happy with this "apology". Concluding that it must have been a woman who forced this apology from the site's creators, they're on fine form. "Rape the bitch," says one. "Fucking PC faggots," says another. We've even got "Slap a hoe like a true lad" and "Whoever complained should be raped". Doubtless all those comments are Just A Joke, from Average Guys Just Having a Bit of Fun. And let's not forget Average Girls Just Sticking Up for The Guys. The ones who say things like: "Girls complaining about this article are probably closet lesbians". Which, funnily enough, is the same sort of thing the UniLad account tweeted at the woman who started all this off by challenging them about that post.

"Are you a dyke?" they asked. Because at the end of the day, next to "fat" and "not in the kitchen" it's the worst thing we can be.

Maybe they just need to grow up. Let's hope that when they do, they leave all this behind them. I wouldn't bank on it, though, because these attitudes stick around, They work their way into relationships and the way people treat women. I probably just need to lighten up, though, because it's all about the banter, right?


Craney said...

Thanks for this Hannah, shocking what some people want to 'joke' about!

The Social Mediatrix said...

I hate to use this scenario as a weapon, but I wonder how funny a UniLad will find it when one day his daughter, sister or best friend is made to feel the same way by a similar group. Or worse...
I made the mistake of looking at the Facebook group and was interested to see how many of the comments about the complaints assume that it was only women who complained. The pro-lads have turned it into a gender battle, showing an incredible disregard for the fact that rape is an issue for anyone, regardless of gender. Like sexuality, and eating disorders. They've not only stereotyped their female 'subjects', but their male readers as well.

Hannah Mudge said...

Exactly. The majority of those commenting on FB instantly jumped on the 'stupid birds who can't take the banter' bandwagon, backed up by a fair few women as well. I've just seen the token woman who contributes to the site tweeting about how the guys of UniLad are just normal blokes who have girlfriends who aren't bothered by it all. Really? Because if I found out that Luke was sitting online, writing puerile little stories about 'destroying wenches' and how 'all women are slags', telling women they deserved to be raped, I can't say I'd be that happy about it.

Emily Blackburn said...

Urgh, I hate this so much. I've lost count of the amount of times at uni that I heard horribly offensive things, followed by 'ha ha ha BANTER'. I wish I could drum it into their heads that if you need to offend and upset people in order to be funny, you're really not that funny in the first place.

When these 'lads' who apparently have girlfriends that they love and respect make awful rape jokes, I wonder if they're aware that they're contributing to a culture in which, if their girlfriend was raped or assaulted, there's every chance she wouldn't be taken seriously. I don't mean that in a 'wait til something happens to your girlfriend and see how you like it then!', spiteful kind of way, but more in a 'do they not realise their banter doesn't exist in a vacuum?' way.

I hate to generalise but I often think that women who back up things like this are doing it because of some kind of internalised misogyny. They don't want to be the easily offended, boring girl who can't take the boy's banter, so they go along with it all. Of course some of them are probably just horrible - as I said, I hate to generalise.

Sorry if none of this makes sense. I have a habit of losing all eloquence when things make me this ragey.

Clare said...

Thanks for a really interesting blog. I'm reading this as someone who went to university way back in the 1980s (showing my old age now!)- but I mention this because at that time it really felt that sexism was taken far more seriously than it is today. I think there's always a danger when you get older of beginning to believe that you grew up in a golden age and believe me I don't think I did! There's always been dodgy attitudes and behaviour, sexist music videos/lyrics, magazines etc but nothing like on the level there is today and I wonder whether this is simply a reflection of the expansion of the media or whether it's also about the increase in the acceptability of sexism.

Regarding the whole lad culture issue, I really believe that culturally it's helped to drag us back to a place where gender stereotypes are more rigidly asserted than 20 years ago. It's interesting that when Loaded magazine was launched in the mid 90s it justified its one dimensional view of women either in terms of 'irony' ( the it's not meant to be taken literally excuse )or 'honesty' (the - but what's wrong with fancying women excuse). (Both contradictory arguments but nevermind!) A few years ago The Guardian had an interview with the then editors of lads' magazines and one of them said something along the lines of 'of course we have alot of sexism in our magazine, it's there because the readers want it'. It struck me at the time that we had now moved to a situation where sexism had become such a non issue that the editors of this garbage couldn't even be bothered to lie about it anymore! (Needless to say the content of these magazines described in the article hardly depicted a society in which sexism was no longer a problem!)

It is great though to see that over the last few years more younger women (and men) are standing up to this culture. I think that sexism increased atleast partly because people stopped standing up to it.

Steve F. said...

As an American and mid-50's, I've been stunned again and again at the inhumanity of college culture - both in the US and UK. It continues to blow my mind how people - even immature college morons - can be this uncaring and insensitive.

Clearly there is some sort of detachment that means that "some bird" is always someone else's girl - that this couldn't POSSIBLY be their girl, their friend, their sister or cousin or neighbor.

It's the same moronicity (my made up word) that tells rednecks in the US that raping a gay teen with a bottle or a broom-handle or a baseball bat is appropriate, "because he deserves it, he's a &%$#ing fag."

It's articles like this that sometimes really make me want to get a gun, just to protect myself against these morons. It's tough to argue against that kind of thinking, sometimes.

matt said...

You just can't handle the banter love

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