Lad culture (also laddish culture and laddism) was a media-driven, principally British and Irish subculture of the 1990s and early 2000s. The image of the "lad"—or "new lad"—was that of a generally middle class figure espousing attitudes typically attributed to the working classes. The subculture involved heterosexual young men assuming an anti-intellectual position, shunning cultural pursuits and sensitivity in favour of drinking, sport, sex and sexism. Principally understood at the time as representing male opposition to feminism, the discourse around the "new lad" represented some of the earliest mass public discussion of how heterosexual masculinity is constructed.
Lad culture peaked around the turn of the millennium and can be seen as going into decline as the market for lad mags collapsed in the early 2000s, driven by the rise of Internet. Nonetheless, the stereotype of the lad continued to be exploited in advertising and marketing as late as the mid-2010s and the term "lad culture" is still occasionally used to refer to collective, boorish or misogynistic behaviour by young heterosexual men, particularly university students.
Though the term "lad culture" was predominantly used in Britain and Ireland, it was part of a global cultural trend in the developed English speaking world. The title of a 2007 book by the gender studies academic David Nylund about USA Sports Radio, "Beer, Babes and Balls" mirrors the three stereotypical interests of the "lad." The American term Bro culture is clearly closely related, though originated around two decades later than "lad culture" and therefore needs to be understood against a different cultural context.
In popular culture
Lad culture did not emerge organically as with earlier British male sub-cultures such as the mods of the 1960s; rather it was a media creation. The term "new lad" was first coined by journalist Sean O'Hagan in a 1993 article in Arena. The concept was developed and sustained across a diverse range of media: there was a literary component - lad lit; it was closely associated with the musical style brit pop and with certain television shows and stand-up comedians; a number of glossy, violent films in the later 1990s were also popularly linked to lad culture. Most important in shaping and popularising lad culture, though, was the lad mag a new style of lifestyle magazine for young, heterosexual men that became suddenly popular in the mid-1990s.
The television sitcom Men Behaving Badly. Bottom, Al Murray's Happy Hour and They Think It's All Over were television programmes that presented images of laddishness dominated by the male pastimes of drinking, watching football, and sex.
Lad culture was strongly associated with an ironic position. The strapline of the leading lad mag Loaded was "for men who should know better." The BBC in a 1999 review called "Our Decade: New Lad Rules the World" identified that one of the key concepts associated with lad culture (alongside curry and foreign stag weekends) was "anything being acceptable if its "ironic"." Humour in lad mags and in television comedy was a major element of lad culture: the ironic position allowed comedians to both identify themselves as opposed to and, at the same time, indulge in racist, sexist and homophobic jokes.
Part of the ironic position can be seen in relation to the term lad itself. Despite the ubiquity of lad culture in the media of the 1990s there was no expectation that real, individual men would seriously identify themselves as lads: to do so would be to invite ridicule. This was a form of distinctively British class play: middle class - or aspiring middle class - men were playing at being working class. A National Union of Students report in 2012 stated, "Ideas about humour and the notion of irony are often used in order to minimise [the] negative aspects of ‘lad culture’. For instance, Beynon discusses how uncensored displays of masculinity during the 1990s were deemed by those involved to be ironic by their very nature. He highlights how the magazine Loaded consciously reduced working class masculinities to jokes, interest in cars and the objectification of women, and dismissed criticisms as humourless attacks on free speech which failed to see the ironic nature of the representations."
Oddly, the lad was both ironic and authentic. Irony was the lad's defining behaviours but the lad himself was often presented as the authentic form of masculinity. For example GQ in a press-release from 1991 wrote, "GQ is proud to announce that the New Man has officially been laid to rest (if indeed he ever drew breath). The Nineties man knows who he is, what he wants and where he's going, and he's not afraid to say so. And yes, he still wants to get laid."
In gender studies
Though always principally driven by the media, the concept of the "lad" or "new lad" was widely discussed at the time as a male backlash to feminism and changing gender norms. For example, the writer Fay Weldon claimed in 1999 that, "laddishness is a response to humiliation and indignity ... the girl-power! girl-power! female triumphalism which echoes through the land".
The press frequently presented the new lad in opposition to a slightly earlier media construct, the "new man," who supposedly eschewed traditionally male interests as part of his feminist values, a man who "has subjugated his masculinity in order to fulfill the needs of women .." and has a "passive and insipid image". Both the "new lad" and the "new man" were - it was always implicitly assumed - heterosexual and cisgender.
Many feminists were robust in their criticism of lad culture. Naomi Wolf stated: "the stereotypes for men attentive to feminism were two: Eunuch, or Beast", in the New Statesman, Kira Cochrane argued that "it's a dark world that Loaded and the lad culture has bequeathed us". Joanne Knowles of Liverpool John Moores University wrote that the "lad" displays "a pre-feminist and racist attitude to women as both sex objects and creatures from another species".
An article in Frieze magazine proposed a psychoanalytic reading of the new lad phenomenon:
"Laddism.. ..pretend[s] to be endearingly naughty.. ..Women, faced with lads, are supposed to raise their eyes to heaven in mock despair, thus becoming matriarchal figures who grant their grudgingly but secretly amused blessing (‘boys will be boys!’) to the sealed male world of laddism. As a heterosexual construct, in which men become little boys with adult desires, and women become their passive but sexually available mothers, laddism is straight from the darker chapters of a psychoanalyst’s hand-book.."— Michael Bracewell, "A Boys own Story", Frieze Magazine (1996)
Other writers saw less new about the lad. Nylund, in his 2007 "Beer, Babes and Balls" discussion of parallel developments in American popular culture, identifies "a return to hegemonic masculine values of male homosociality". Other writers observed that social constraints simply meant that "it is easier to be a lad rather than a new man in most workplaces". Meanwhile, the lad could be seen as the ongoing reaction to a far older perceived threat from women to men's freedom, one that predated feminism: the lad image was "a refuge from the constraints and demands of marriage and nuclear family".
A study by Gabrielle Ivinson of Cardiff University and Patricia Murphy of the Open University identified lad culture as a source of behavioural confusion, and an investigation by Adrienne Katz linked it to suicide and depression. A study of the architecture profession found that lad culture had a negative impact on women completing their professional education. Commentator Helen Wilkinson believes that lad culture has affected politics and decreased the ability of women to participate.
The UK's largest student union warned in a 2015 study that universities were failing to address the issue of lad culture, with almost half (49%) of all universities having no policy against discrimination due to sexuality, or anti-sexual harassment policies.
Related terms and uses
The word "ladette" was coined to describe young women who take part in laddish behaviour. Ladettes are defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as: "Young women who behave in a boisterously assertive or crude manner and engage in heavy drinking sessions." The term is no longer widely used.
The term "lad" is also used in Australian youth culture to refer to the Eshay subculture which is more similar to the chav or football casual subcultures, rather than the middle class student subculture the term refers to in the United Kingdom. Australian lads wear a distinctive dress code, consisting of running caps and shoes combined with striped polo shirts and sports shorts. They frequently use pig latin phrases in conversation, for example "Ad-lay" to refer to a fellow "Lad". Lad-rap is a growing underground hip hop scene in Australia.
- "Where once men represented the invisible, unmarked norm of human existence and experience, today they are hyper-visible as a gendered group, with academics, marketing executives, journalists and others devoting considerable attention to masculinity or masculinities." Gill, Rosalind (2003), "Power and the production of subjects: a genealogy of the New Man and the New Lad", in Benwell, Bethan (ed.), Masculinity and men's lifestyle magazines, Oxford, UK Malden, MA, USA: Blackwell Publisher/Sociological Review, pp. 34–56, ISBN 9781405114639
- "Our Decade: New Lad rules the world". BBC News. 8 March 1999. Retrieved 11 March 2022.
- Nazaryan, Alexander (2013-07-09). "Nobody Wants to Buy Maxim: How the Lad Mags Met Their End". The Wire. Retrieved 19 Dec 2021 – via The Atlantic.
- "The Death of British Lad Culture: What Does It Mean For Branding? - Branding Agency London". Underscore Branding Agency London. 13 May 2016. Retrieved 13 March 2022.
- See eg James, Abbie (14 March 2021). "It's time to stop normalising uni 'Lad Culture' and realise it's part of the problem". The Bristol Tab. Retrieved 26 March 2022.
- Nylund, David (2007). Beer, babes, and balls: masculinity and sports talk radio. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780791472378. Nylunds's pun on the word "balls" also nods to the homosociality that was often remarked on as a major under-current in lad culture.
- "Google Ngram Viewer: Ladette, New Lad, Lad Culture, Bro Culture". Retrieved 8 March 2022.
- McCombe, J. (2014). “Common People”: Realism, class difference, and the male domestic sphere in Nick Hornby's Collision with Britpop. Modern Fiction Studies, 60(1), pp. 165-184. doi:10.2307/26421708
- Edwards, Tim (2006). Cultures of Masculinity. Routledge. pp. 39–42. ISBN 0-415-28480-5.
- "Health: Lad culture blamed for suicides". BBC News. BBC. 17 October 1999.
- See for instance, Chiasson, Dan (9 August 2004). "The literature of Maxim". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 13 March 2022.
- Phipps; Young (2012). ""That's what she said: Women students' experiences of 'lad culture' in higher education"" (PDF). NUS/University of Sussex.
- Conde Nast, Jan 1991, quoted in Gill, Rosalind (2003), "Power and the production of subjects: a genealogy of the New Man and the New Lad", in Benwell, Bethan (ed.), Masculinity and men's lifestyle magazines, Oxford, UK Malden, MA, USA: Blackwell Publisher/Sociological Review, pp. 34–56, ISBN 9781405114639
- Weldon, Fay (1999). Godless in Eden. HarperCollins Publishers. p. 61. ISBN 9780007395026.
- Pamela Abbott; Claire Wallace; Melissa Tyler. An Introduction to Sociology: Feminist Perspectives.
- Knowles, Joanne Nick Hornby's High Fidelity (2002) pp. 16, 39 ISBN 0826453252
- Tim Adams (23 January 2005). "New kid on the newsstand". The Observer. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 20 November 2009.
- Wolf, Naomi (1998). Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle For Womanhood. Random House of Canada. p. 222. ISBN 978-0-679-30942-0.
- Cochrane, Kira (23 August 2007). "The dark world of lads' mags". New Statesman. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008.
- Dr Joanne Knowles in Nelson, Kristina (2004). Narcissism in High Fidelity. pp. 19, 372. ISBN 0595318045.
- Bracewell, Michael (1996). "A Boy's Own Story". Frieze Magazine. No. 29. Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
- Samantha Holland, Alternative Femininities (2004) p. 29 ISBN 1859738087
- Genz, Stéphanie; Brabon, Benjamin A. (2009). Postfeminism: Cultural Texts and Theories. Edinburgh University Press. p. 142. ISBN 9780748635801.
- "Lad Culture and Boys' Confusion about Behaviour" (Press release). Leicester, England: The British Psychological Society. 2001-06-28. Archived from the original on 2007-03-11. Retrieved 2006-10-18.
- Gates, Charlie (2003-07-11). "Lad culture forces women to quit: RIBA-funded study looks at reasons behind profession's high female drop-out rate". Building Design. Vol. 1587. p. 3.
- Wilkinson, Helen (1998-08-07). "The day I fell out of love with Blair". New Statesman. Vol. 127. pp. 9–10.
- Joe Williams (27 July 2015). "British universities failing to tackle homophobic "lad culture"". PinkNews. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
- "Ladettes enter dictionary". BBC News. 12 July 2001.
- Sacha Molitorisz (7 January 2010). "Tribes of the Sydney". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
- Barker, Rei (2014-11-28). "Is Lad Rap Ready to Save Aussie Hip Hop?". Noisey (music by Vice). Retrieved 4 July 2016.