Lads, lads, alllll the lads!
I’ve spent the last two to three years trying to unlike, unfollow, and unfriend lad shit on Facebook. I’m working towards a newsfeed nirvana. A place of solace—free of Veitchy on Sport posts, ‘leg day’ jokes, and Cleavage Thursdays. But if Facebook has done anything for sociology, it’s proved that sexism continues to thrive in 2016. I can’t escape it and I don’t really call people out on it, which means I’m still very much a part of the problem.
Privilege is complicated. As a white, middle-class, able-bodied, cisgender male I’m aware that I’m among the most privileged group in society. This also means my opinions aren’t as readily dismissed. Guys might take me seriously. They might even listen to me, unlike the countless number of female writers who face abuse, patronising explanation, and gendered hatred from men just for doing their jobs.
There’s a new wave of ladness taking over Zuckerberg’s algorithm. It’s guys liking and commenting on new friendship notifications, namely when a male befriends a female. You know what I mean: “Male Friend and A Female are now friends. Yesterday at 21:33.”
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Here are some examples I’ve seen of guys commenting on a new opposite-sex Facebook friendship: “Would finger her”; “Defiantly [sic] a pornstar with that name”; “On to another one already @tag [every single male they know].” Phwoah! Chat!
The whole point is to draw attention to the new friendship usually for a few reasons. Firstly as a sign of acknowledgement. A “she’ll do” nod of the head as you sip your Tui at the rugby club. Secondly in a playful act of primordial jealousy; it’s to try and ruin your mate’s chances of having sex, or a romantic engagement, with the new female friend. The millennial-lad cockblock. Nice. Thirdly it’s to insinuate the two friends have slept together. Get around the bro, he may or may not have had sex! What a champ!
Whatever the reasons, it’s all just a bit of banter, eh?
It’s a trend that is at best obnoxious, at worst sexual harassment, and hugely problematic. From what I see, the befriended woman is never referred to by name or acknowledged as a human-being. She’s an object of amusement. Another one of your mate’s sexual prospects. It doesn’t matter who she is because any female is “fair game.” Chicks. 4 da b0iz. According to Kate, a librarian and English literature graduate, “it’s honestly the weirdest thing that there’s this conversation happening [on Facebook] about the befriended woman that she is supposed to be a silent observer to.”
“Guys commenting on new friendships about women they don’t even know just shows that all of the Facebook privacy stuff is kind of redundant.”
Imagine what it might be like when, every time you befriend a guy, your Facebook profile—i.e. your face, body, sexuality and gender presentation—becomes public property to be evaluated and commented on. Just because your profile picture and cover photo are available for anyone to see doesn’t mean you want hordes of dudes rating you from their man caves. Elise, a design major at AUT, said that “even though the guys’ Facebook comments are in good humour, it’s still annoying to be judged on exterior values.”
Imagine with every new male Facebook friendship all his mates infer that you’re sexually interested in him (which assumes the woman even has sex with men, or wants male attention at all). Elise added, “I hate that they [guys commenting on her Facebook friendships] just assume I’m a potential hook up; something disposable.”
A woman accepting you as a friend is not an entitlement. She’s not a possible conquest. There are countless reasons why two people of the opposite sex would become Facebook friends: platonic friendship, professional relationship, sheer politeness—to name a few. Romantic or physical attraction is only one. So settle down with the rampant sexual innuendos, fellas. Just because you’re keen by adding her, doesn’t mean she’s keen by accepting you.
Won’t she like the attention?
The women I asked certainly don’t. Emily, a law and arts student at Victoria, explained that on one of her new Facebook friendships, “another guy I didn’t know tagged a guy I’d slept with.”
“I felt awful.”
She compared the act to catcalling, though “the Facebook thing feels worse because the audience is so much greater.”
When asked about the Facebook trend Aesha, a geography graduate based in Europe, replied, “it’s getting old.”
“It’s shit when guys do it to someone where it isn’t obvious how they met and it could be a family friend or something. Like, the girl wouldn’t get the joke and wonder why these boys are taking the piss.”
But these women clearly just need to chill out and take a joke, right?
Nah, bro. Lad culture is harmful because it hides behind the defence of good-faith and humour. It’s all a bit of harmless fun, where casual objectification and sexism can be passed off as qual bantz. Man talk that women don’t understand.
Any expression of insult is dismissed as women being too sensitive, or overreacting. This evades the issue entirely, placing blame on women for their response or emotional reaction, meaning you can go back to your sweaty lads’ huddle without having to reflect on what happens outside of it. Just because you were joking around and didn’t mean to offend anyone doesn’t make you free from responsibility. There’s no wriggling out of this one, mate. You’re still being hurtful. Beatrice, working in journalism and communications, reminded guys making jokes about women that, “it’s also not funny if the girl isn’t laughing about it.”
Girls do it too, though!
Yep, they do, but to a way lesser extent. Judging from my newsfeed there doesn’t seem to be mobs of women armed with sexist one-liners and infinite supplies of @friend tags marauding every new friendship. Here are the only examples of women’s comments I could find: “Cute guys”; “<3 <3 <3.” While the essence is the same, in the sense of bringing awkward attention to the two friends, there’s no feeling of harassment and objectification. Hannah-Kate, a psychology and arts student, added that women joining in on the fad “might also in itself just be girls following suit: girls trying to be like the lads.”
I’m not trying to obstruct the continuation of species. Sure, members of the opposite sex befriend each other on Facebook and become romantically involved. Adding someone as a friend on Facebook can be a form of flirting and flirting is great—but it takes two. A pack of 40 dudes liking every post and recycling the same sexually aggressive remarks isn’t flirting. It’s creepy. Kate points out that “groups of dudes on Facebook are also intimidating.”
“You know that penetrating that dudebro group mentality to actually defend yourself, or the girl involved, is just going to be a waste of time.”
If you’re genuinely happy about a friend’s new Facebook friendship, like and comment away. But why is it always opposite-sex friendships? Why does it never happen when your mate befriends a guy? Maybe because that doesn’t adhere to heterosexual romantic tension. Because that would be, like, ‘gay’ or something.
Believe it or not, women actually exist outside of men’s sexual desires. Liking and commenting on new Facebook friendships at the expensive of degrading women is gross. On Facebook the intimidation and embarrassment is there for everyone to see. It’s a reminder that we live in a society that values women entirely on their looks: the same society that thinks “blue balls” is a genuine medical condition, or that Eve tempted Adam (even though they didn’t have apples in the ancient Middle East). Respect for others should come above bants with the boys. Women suffer enough day-in and day-out bullshit harassment as it is. Maybe think about how they feel next time a new friendship pops up on your newsfeed.