We asked the boys of York what they thought of ‘lad culture’ and toxic masculinity
Because lads have real emotions and its about time they let them out
There's a surplus of figures to show that men are consistently more likely to commit suicide. The most shocking fact is that in 2018, the number of suicides by university students overtook that of the general UK population for the first time. No surprises, but most of these are male too.
As students, we know our universities don't give adequate funding to mental health services. It's easy to blame the lack of mental health support, but then why does the problem affect the demographic of male students the most?
Let's talk about "lad culture"
It's widespread at universities and has many components; misogyny, excessive drinking, egoism. However, one rather important side effect has largely been ignored – it forces boys to shun sensitivity and this generates toxic masculinity, which causes boys to limit their emotional range.
Boys are valued primarily on their ability to pursue "manly" interests, such as sports and drinking; both measures of competitive physical prowess rather than emotional depth. We mock boys for showing any signs of weakness, be that choosing not to drink much on nights out, or being emotionally expressive and thus "wet."
Through lad culture, we're teaching boys the destructive message that looking weak is shameful, and that "being a lad" and talking about feelings are mutually exclusive. Asking boys how they really are doesn't seem to be common practice within these groups.
By requiring boys to act in this way, we're cementing them into a suffocating trap of silence that forces them to be self reliant. This is often why boys don't seek help until they're at absolute crisis point, and by this point, the damage is already done.
Obviously, not all boys strive to be a 'top rugby lad' (the stereotypical prime of manhood at uni), and there are many other factors at work when it comes to boys not speaking out, but this toxic notion of lad culture permeates through all and we could be failing our boys because of it.
This is what the lads at York had to say about it:
Andre*, Sociology, first year
"Because not enough men have spoken up in the past, people don’t know how to respond to it, and the first response you get is the most important when you’re vulnerable.
When you try to explain your feelings as a guy, it can almost feel like you're being patronised for it, so it puts you off speaking out.
Using masculinity as an identity can be a coping mechanism, it's definitely a facade to hide behind. We need to break out of this and allow boys to feel what they feel."
Joel, English, first year
"With mental health, you can’t diagnose it black and white. It's a spectrum. Everyone struggles at some point, so this conversation needs to happen, especially amongst men.
I think a lot of boys find their identity through being masculine and pursuing goals that aren't their own, but rather collective ideas that have been imposed on them. As a Christian, I’m lucky to have my identity instead grounded in faith that doesn't change based on other people's opinions.
This idea of 'image' becomes harmful because it prevents us from speaking out. What's the worst that could happen from reaching out to someone? Men need to build that bridge and make those connections."
Connor, PPE, second year
"I last cried two whole summers ago. I thinks boys are ashamed to cry because its just something you never see openly, its not normal but it should be.
I think boys are taught to get over it on their own, it's not always a bad thing but you shouldn't have to deal with mental health alone.
The best way to help is to join societies, get talking to people and doing activities. Build that support network and be mindful of others in the group as well as yourself. Lad bants is great but there's definitely a fine line."
Aidan, History and Politics, second year
"If you’re just observing a group of lads, you’ll think they’re having a good time, there aren't any underlying issues. You don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors, and its easy to feel lonely in a group of friends.
Masculinity becomes harmful when it goes beyond this idea of being "strong" and into being "silent." There’s a stereotype that men should be resilient, we don’t need formal support. University is a big adjustment for everyone, being able to openly feel emotions shouldn’t be a big deal for guys."
James, Environmental Geography, first year
"The word "lad" doesn't need to have negative connotations, there are positive aspects of masculinity that we should build on rather than celebrating the negatives.
I've thought this a lot since coming to university but there’s always an end to the day. Instead of going into the next day writing over the slate of the last, just get rid of it.
Perhaps we should focus our attention to the things that will matter long term. If it won't matter in 5 years, don't spend 5 minutes on it. Reach out and build bonds with people."
Blake*, Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence, first year
"The limit I’ll reach before I speak about things is definitely more than what it is for girls. I’d go to a girl before I went to a boy for emotional advice. I think as boys, we should check in on friends rather than waiting for them to come to us.
When the prime focus of a group of lads is just to have a good time, it can make you feel isolated and unable to speak out if you aren't feeling great.
I think its better safe than sorry with speaking out. You’d rather know that you definitely don’t have a problem, than find out later that you do and its actually quite bad."
*It's interesting to note that some boys requested name changes or didn't want to appear at all in the article, as they felt embarrassed when asked to speak about their mental health publicly.
What's the benefit of lad culture anyways?
Instead of lad culture, we need a call out culture for everything that it stands for – toxic masculinity, sexism, the whole lot. Boys are more than how many shots they can do, or how many people they can pull. We're denying them the complexity of human emotions for the sake of a social construct and it's (quite literally) killing them.
Mental health shouldn't be gendered, and seeking help isn't shameful. It's time we overcame this archaic notion of boys bottling up their feelings to preserve their "manliness," because silence kills, and we desperately need to stop our boys from dying too young.
Speaking openly about mental health and your emotions won't make you any less of a man. It just makes you more of a human. All boys cry. It just shouldn't have to be in secret.
Boys, forget feeling like you have to "man up." Speak up instead.
Image credit for Entourage picture: York Parties Facebook Page