Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll probably be aware of the furore surrounding the trial and verdict of the Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison.
I’m not going to go into details of the case, as that has already been covered extensively by the likes of the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, Irish times etc. You can find all the information you need on their websites.
Nor am I going to comment on the not guilty verdict, as that has also been discussed at length on the #suemepaddy/#ibelieveher/#ibelievehim hashtags and other variations of those.
What I do want to discuss is the prevalence of lad culture, especially among young people. Although not guilty in the eyes of the law, the rugby players’ conduct and their WhatsApp messages are a prime example of that.
Lad culture, machismo, male entitlement, whatever you want to call it, is something that almost all women will have come face to face with at some point in their lives.
The references to “sluts”, “spit-roasting”, “pumping” and various other “banter” on that WhatsApp have shocked a lot of people, but that is sadly how a lot of young men talk amongst themselves. None of that “locker-room talk” surprised me.
At university I spent a lot of time among guys. I had a large friendship group of boys and girls, and in the first few weeks the boys were on their best behaviour, careful not to say things that might offend us and apologetic when they said anything boorish about women.
As time passed, everyone got more comfortable and the boys started to treat us almost as fellow lads. It was…eye-opening to hear the way they spoke about the opposite sex.
I got to hear far more than I ever wanted to know about the anatomy of girls they’d slept with. One was referred to as “easier than a w*nk” (despite the guys sleeping around as well). There was loads of talk about “sluts” and porn (“that chick got destroyed”) and rumours about spit-roasting.
I’ll never forget what one guy said after a few drinks – “My ultimate fantasy is to f*ck a girl so hard she ends up in hospital”. That comment will always stay with me.
Those guys weren’t rapists or monsters, and did not stand out in any way from the rest of the student population. They were normal boys from a mix of working and middle-class backgrounds, with sisters and female friends and in some cases, girlfriends. Often they were nice and a good laugh. Most of them are now engaged or married and have decent jobs.
At the time it was easier to go along with their “banter” and laugh it off as “boys being boys”. None of the other girls seemed to have a problem with it, so I put my discomfort aside. I doubt I’m the only woman having experienced this.
Back to the rugby players…people are now saying “it’s over, let’s move on”. But it’s not that simple. The case exposed this toxic culture that most of us have experienced, but that we push to the back of our minds as a coping strategy.
When it’s laid bare, literally in back and white, we’re forced to confront it, as well as and all the uncomfortable feelings that come with it. We’re forced to think back to all those not-quite-rape-but-dodgy encounters when we reluctantly consented, either because we were guilted into it or it was easier to go along with things than make a fuss. We’re reminded of every time we’ve been slut-shamed, treated as a piece of meat, grabbed and harassed. And it makes us angry.
You can see the anger and frustration in the street protests. It’s there on the women’s faces, in their chants, on their placards.
It’s time we were listened to. It’s time to address lad culture and have serious conversations about mutual respect and consent.