There is a serious issue with the extent of what ‘banter’ counts for today writes Pádraig McCarrick.
I’m all for a bit of banter. Those that have heard our podcasts, or read some of my more tongue and cheek articles will know that on occasion, I do tend to lean on the more risqué side of things. But an incident that occurred last month on the website Unilad.com, not only crossed the line, but highlighted a serious issue within certain elements of the male 18-23 demographic that needs to be addressed immediately.
For those unaware of the incident in question, Unilad, is an online magazine based in the UK and aimed at male students. It incorporates various aspects of modern lad culture and from what i can find online, reads more like a bad copy of ZOO or Nuts magazine. An example of the article titles on offer include “The Blood Jizz Cocktail”, “The Vagina Vomit Bucket” and “Halloween: The Easiest Night To Get Laid?”. As misogynistic as they sound, the article that has caused such a furore that the National Union of Students has had the site shut down for “trivialising rape” was simply called “Sexual Mathematics”.
In the ‘article’, written by Oxford Brookes student Alex Partrdige, such quotes include “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.”. It goes on to say “Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying ‘surprise’.”
Further complaints include about it’s merchandise which sells t-shirts that say “Keep calm, it won’t take long”. While the Unilad site has since issued an apology, which refer to the tips as “flippant comments”, many, including myself have felt that those running the editorial have failed to understand the gravity of this so called ‘banter’. An apology on it’s facebook page was met with much abuse by male readers and many who commented on twitter and facebook in favour of the sites ban were met with much misogynistic and homophobic abuse and using the same type of excuses used by convicted rapists. The site will resume running next week.
This brings me to the crux of the matter. There is very little awareness of the gravity of rape amongst young males not only against women but against them and their peers. The lines between masculinity and misogyny are marred together in the name of ‘banter’ to such an extent that many believe that they are one and the same. In the same way, feminism is pandered off as an irrelevant movement, and those that strife for equality between men and women face ridicule.
While differences between men and women should be celebrated and a healthy sexual relationship between the two encouraged, equality and respect for both should not be traded off in order to do so. The misconception by many of these ‘lads’, that feminists are angry lesbians and that their worries about rape are nothing but overreaction, they should probably look at the statistics cited that 85% of rapes failed to go unreported. Among that 85%, male rapes against fellow males are included.
Rape awareness campaigns highlighting this issue have been grossly inadequate. In colleges and universities, where these attitudes towards women seem to be at their worst, campaigns highlighting rape are none existent. Of the five years I have spent in university, I have never seen a Students’ Union candidate make an issue of this or attempt to promote an awareness campaign. I may be wrong, but if I’m unaware of such efforts and i’ve been looking, it has hardly been effective to attract the attention of the people who clearly need awareness.
In Canada, The Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre in conjunction with the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women and the Ottawa Police Service launched a new campaign against sexual assault last May. Entitled “Don’t be that guy”, according to the OCEVAW the campaign, “Instead of placing responsibility for preventing sexual assault in the hands of victims, the posters appeal to potential offenders—speaking directly to them in their language”.
In Vancouver, In just six months after starting the campaign, Police have reported a fall of 10% in sexual assaults. While this is just the beginning, an approach like the one seen in Canada would do well in Ireland and the UK. Since the campaigns are primarily aimed at students of university age, Students’ Unions should be actively driving these changes, even if it is just on their own campus.
If we are to at all change the ‘banter’ surrounding the likes of Unilad and it’s contemporaries, a proper awareness campaign to discourage sexual assault must be undertaken. It must be free from the excuses that a girl brings it upon herself by the way she dresses or by walking home alone. Universities, in theory are there for people to broaden their horizons and develop their education in order to contribute to society. Over the course of a degree, we change for the better. Our attitudes develop and we become more mature and considerate adults. My only hope is that the folks at Unilad and their male readers can for once see beyond the banter and realise that rape is never funny and can never be joked about.
An open letter to Unilad can be found here. It’s a great read and sums the incident up better than I ever could.
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