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Lad culture: 'We need to tackle masculinity head-on'

This is not to slap down men as a whole, but to encourage a more positive type of society, writes Stephen Todd.

Stephen Todd Community and Youth Work graduate

THE MULTIPLE MEDIA reports we have seen in the last few weeks have opened our eyes to the fact that “lad culture” permeates every walk of Irish society, and it’s time we had a discussion publically about such behaviour.

We call it banter, or craic, but there’s something more toxic and damaging at work.

Testosterone filled dressing rooms

Any young man who has played sports, and has experienced a testosterone filled dressing room, knows exactly what I’m talking about; whether you care to acknowledge it or not is your own business.

It’s that palpable embarrassment when the lads know you’re a virgin, or when they make fun of an individual’s penis size in the shower. It’s the questions after the weekend gone by as to whether or not you “got the ride”, or if the woman you had met that Saturday night was willing to perform oral sex.

Either way, intercourse or otherwise, the terms “slut” or “tramp” were bandied about, always in a distinctly derogatory tone.

I don’t for one minute claim to be whiter than white in this regard, or beyond criticism. I’ve seen, and been a part of these conversations in my early teens, but I’ve grown out of that in later years.

A social norm

This is not necessarily because I was sexist from a young age, but rather that I grew up in a culture in which it was a social norm – and that’s the problem.

The Whatsapp messages that emerged from the Belfast rape case were nothing short of shocking, but for those of us who’ve been in such dressing rooms, we weren’t necessarily surprised. Thankfully some of the details of that case have been the catalyst in sparking a wider conversation around sexual consent, but has it spoken to a deeper malaise that exists, particularly amongst the group dynamics of young men? Not in my eyes.

I believe the conversation needs to go further than just consent, and dig down deep into the type of society we currently live in, and the role of young males within it. As a young man, I feel it is incumbent on me to speak out in an attempt to address such culture, and in attempting to eradicate it we must bring young men along.

I know this isn’t the cool thing to say, nor will I be popular with those who feel that men are constantly in the spotlight, but men need to emotionally mature, and that need transcends multiple generations.

We need to tackle masculinity head on

The emergence of a story around the displaying of a “rape list” in a Cork school was nothing short of frightening, and the fact that the young people involved felt it was an acceptable thing to do speaks to a wider societal issue.

Young people partaking in such acts are rightly condemned, but to publically persecute these young people does nothing to cut the roots of the issue. In fact I’d argue that it does nothing at all when you fail to address a culture in which they grow up, arguably knowing no different.

There is a responsibility on parents, teachers, community leaders and politicians to speak about such a culture in a way that is conducive to learning, and in a way that does not isolate any particular demographic. The public conversation around “lad culture” must be had, and I hope that all those in positions of influence would exert their views as to why this is damaging for women and men alike.

This is not to slap down men as a whole, but to encourage a more positive type of society in which “toxic masculinity” isn’t as much as a concept.

Having studied and worked in the area of young males’ mental health, and having experienced issues with depression and anxiety as a young man myself, the only way is up. Mental illness and “not being man enough” are intrinsically linked.

We need to tackle masculinity head-on, and turn it into something which I, and young men as a whole, can be proud of.

Stephen Todd worked with young “at risk” males for six years, and graduated from NUI Maynooth in 2015 with a BSocSc in Community and Youth Work. While in Maynooth he conducted research on the link between masculinity and young males’ mental health. He is currently working as a political adviser, but is writing in a personal capacity.  

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About the author:

Stephen Todd  / Community and Youth Work graduate

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