Recently in The Conservative Woman, Laura Keynes blamed feminism for lad culture. Her argument is that the ideology promotes risk-taking, on the premise that safe behaviour leads to social ostracism. Such risks include, she argues, going along on “crew dates”, wherein male sports teams get a female first year drunk and order her to dance or strip. Keynes claims that feminism is why the target will not say no.
“Women against feminism” use this argument often. Many feel that, under feminism, traditional femininity is condemned; that a woman is not allowed to put her family before her career, aim to be a housewife, wear makeup or shave her legs. Instead, a woman is encouraged to be promiscuous. But this point is based on a misunderstanding of feminism.
Feminism is not about condemning femininity, but about challenging anyone who requires it in a woman. In a society that judges women by how well they fit an impossible gender ideal, a woman who does not participate in basic feminine acts like shaving her legs is considered less of a woman. This essentialism is what feminism fights against. It strives to give women, and men, options unrestricted by norms. It values freedom of choice, whether one chooses to be feminine, promiscuous or anything else.
This is why feminism does not reward or condemn stripping to please a man. One of the core issues it addresses is a woman’s right to her own body; if she wants to put it on display for others, that’s a choice she is entitled to make. The problem is that there is risk associated with the act of, for example, stripping. This risk exists because the majority of people don’t respect her right to her body, and see nothing wrong with using it for themselves.
There shouldn’t be any risk in walking home in the early hours of the morning, dressed for a night out. There shouldn’t be any risk in getting drunk with a group of older men. But because there is, a woman must avoid all situations in which she is vulnerable. While reasonable measures should be taken, the responsibility for any crime must ultimately fall on the perpetrators. Nobody deserves to be a victim.
“Lad culture”, conversely, promotes a damaging view of women. Women are not entitled to control over their own bodies; they are there to serve a man’s purpose. Lad culture values women via sex and sex appeal, and demands use of them to validate masculinity. Boasting about numbers of bedded women, or first years pressured into stripping, become acceptable activities. The woman’s agency is ignored, or worse, overridden. Feminism is, therefore, the antithesis of lad culture – not its creator.
Ultimately, Keynes’s article is based in a contradiction. She criticises feminism for attacking women when they should be challenging the real problem: the societal pressures that work on them. Yet in turning her article to a criticism of feminism, she leaves the issue of lad culture behind, and with it, the real problems they signify. The women who are pressured into crew dates are not the problem; the problem is that male students are free to target them, are not sanctioned or punished for their behaviour, and haven’t been taught that this is an unacceptable way to treat another human being. This last crucial lesson is one that feminism teaches.