One of my main problems with the feminist reactions, which led to the student site taking down all its content, was that they did not seem to consider the views of the young men involved, or any young men for that matter. On twitter, Petra Boynton the sex educator/academic, made quite a meal out of how bad she thought UniLads were. She pointed out, rightly, that feminists were concentrating on the ‘rape jokes’ on the website and ignoring e.g. anti-disability comments, and posts that denigrated men’s sexuality.
But her conclusion that the site was ‘anti-men’ did not seem to be based on actually talking to men!
I DID talk to some men about Uni Lads. The overwhelming majority of those I spoke to thought the site was unimpressive, included some very nasty comments, and, as the blogger above says, its jokes were UNFUNNY. I agree with him and other men I spoke to, that ‘banning’ jokes about sensitive subjects such as rape is ridiculous and censorious. Especially when there are some very funny jokes around, about subjects including murder and violence.
Not so long ago I argued with a feminist blogger about this subject. Her view that rape jokes are always unacceptable annoyed me. Partly because, as you can see I said in the comments, as a ‘survivor’ of ‘intimate partner violence’ I have found the use of humour very cathartic. And if I can justify using it, why can’t anyone else?
So I liked the men’s more sensible comment that when it comes to humour, being funny, or at least competent at telling jokes, matters. And Uni Lads were not funny. One of the men I talked to, who is in his twenties and a student himself, did not defend the Unilads. But he did argue eloquently that maybe we should consider WHY men make jokes in this way, especially in groups.
‘I’ve seen many people, even the usually great Dr Petra, saying that they don’t need to understand ‘banter’ to know what the ‘lads’ are saying is disgusting and awful. That is wrong in my opinion. A big part of what banter is (or at least has been for me) is saying the unsayable. I have said things in the company of other guys which I don’t believe, and would never dream of saying in real life. That is sort of the point. The aim is to get a rise out of each other, or to out do each other. It is that horribly guilty pleasure of laughing at something you shouldn’t. The main problem is that Unilads made it public, and it slots right into a ready made feminist narrative.’
It sounds a bit more complex now doesn’t it, than just being anti-women, or even anti-men humour?
This person’s astute analysis reminded me of the work of Mark Simpson. He writes about how when men are in all male homosocial groups, which could be perceived as heading scarily towards ‘homosexual’ groups, they put a lot of effort into reinforcing their sense of being ‘men’. And heterosexual men at that.
But Simpson has pointed out how this attempt always fails. He explains that machismo is in fact incredibly camp. And, inspired by his idea for using the term ‘fag’ in place of ‘manly strap ons’ (e.g. Manfood manscara manbags) I came up with the term Fag Up.
So I think the Unilads Lads need to fag up. They have tried very hard to emphasise what big MEN they are, but have just come across as slightly pathetic. I don’t know if I think they should have taken down their content. I do think people who criticised them might have been a bit less shrill, and maybe even talked to them about their site, and their writing.
The fact is the scandal meant the Unilads got thousands of new followers on facebook and twitter and I expect it hasn’t dampened their spirits at all.
But maybe if they read this they will get the hint. And maybe the feminists will learn the art of nuance.
Well, a girl can only dream.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion.