“Patriarchy creates insecure broken men. So they run around projecting their insecurities on other men and women.”
Beer, bantz ‘n’ birds. Harmless enough, right, just boys being boys, no? Every woman I know, never mind every feminist I know, would disagree with that. Lad culture encourages grown men to behave like exceptionally stupid, boring, misogynistic teenage boys. But there's been plenty written already about lad culture and why it's bad; if you scratch under the surface of laddish activities such as ‘neknominations’ and Punch4Punch, in the words of Emeli Sande, I heard a boy say please don't hurt me.
Lads are lads because they feel they have to be. The society that has produced them has feminised insecurity and has taught young men that to be anything less than an uber-confident alpha-male is weakness, and weakness is not good. You might as well be, well, a woman.
The idea that to be a 'real man' you have to consistently prove your masculinity is not a new one, but it is one which is all the more obviously ingrained in the minds of young men today, with the wherewithal to share their feats of 'manliness' with the world through social media.
The death of young father Tommy Main this week as a result of a game of Punch4Punch, following numerous deaths at a time of heightened popularity of neknominations, highlighted how destructive and in several cases, fatal, the compulsion of young men to prove their manhood can be. But where does this compulsion originate?
The root of the problem can be found in traditional patriarchal assertions about a man's place in the world. In an IPSOS Mori research survey released on Monday, when asked how far they agreed with the statement 'the role of women in society is to be good mothers and wives,' in all 21 countries surveyed, more men than women agreed with the statement.
Britain came off perhaps better than expected in the poll, with 23% of women and 25% of men agreeing with the statement, compared to 35% of women and 38% of men in the United States and at the top of the table, 67% of Russian women and 79% of Russian men in agreement. However, the poll reflected a British society that still sets considerable store by stereotypical gender roles. Indeed, the absence of a question which asked the respondents whether they considered the 'role of men in society to be good husbands and fathers' was conspicuous by its absence.
Germaine Greer's view of differing attitudes towards what the 'role' of men and women in the world still rings true today, 15 years after The Whole Womanwas published.
“As women do all the work in human reproduction, so they have always done most of the work required for human survival,” Greer wrote.
“While the male hunter-gatherer strolled along burdened with no more than his spear and throwing stick, his female mate trudged after him carrying their infant, their shelter, their food supplies and her digging stick.
“Women have been conditioned to believe that men's work is harder and more stressful than theirs, which is a con.” We may no longer be living in times where a family had to build their own home from scratch and catch their own food every day, but in terms of how we see men and women, seemingly little progress has been made.
The biggest problem is that growing up in family settings where their mothers do all the cooking, all the cleaning and all but the easiest chores, boys learn two things. Firstly, they learn the fallacy that there are some things which are just not 'men's work'. Secondly, they learn that to be 'real men', they have to prove it. The easiest way to prove it, of course, would be to put in a fair shift around the house, but because of the first thing they've learned from their upbringing, that doesn't happen. So they have all this energy pent up inside them which they need to let out- but how? And so lad culture was born.
In a video published on American website Upworthy a couple of months ago, coach and former NFL player Joe Erhmann said: “The three most destructive words any boy hears when he's a kid is when he's told to “be a man.””
Dr Michael Kimmel added: “We've constructed an idea of masculinity [in the United States] which doesn't give young boys a way to be secure within their own masculinity- so we make them go prove it all the time.”
Although the video relates to the issue of male insecurity in the United States, only a complacent fool would claim that the problem is one which is prevalent solely on the other side of the Atlantic. If we're talking gender stereotypes, this is the worst. Boys are strong and fight, girls are weak and cry. Completely untrue and hugely destructive to both boys and girls, men and women. And we're back where we started, really. How to break the cycle?
Feminism. Most men are scared of feminism. The only ones that aren't are feminists themselves. I only stopped being scared of feminism once I started to break past my ideological barriers, got out of my comfort zone and engaged with the ideas around it.
For feminism isn't just about 'women's issues' (and if I was Prime Minister for a day and could pass one Bill into law, it would be to remove that term from the English language), it's about equality and empowerment, and young men need it as much as young women do. Because, only by moving past the idea that you're meant to behave in a certain way because you have been assigned that role by virtue of your gender can you start to broaden your horizons and start to feel comfortable and secure within yourself. We as a society have feminised insecurity, have reinforced gender stereotypes for both boys and girls and, as a result, have failed both young men and young women. Let's stop failing each other, let's start challenging preconceptions and let's succeed as a society.
By Alex Shilling