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Uni Lad & Why Every Man Must Fight The Trivialisation Of Rape
Luke Turner , February 1st, 2012 13:17

After a Twitter firestorm, misogynist website Uni Lad has closed itself down. But, argues Luke Turner, we must remain vigilant for its belittling of rape

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Ah, the young male. Full of vigour and hormones and spunk, lively of thought, energetic of mind. Half of the population was one, once, including me - it is as a retired youth that I have been so depressed and angered by the Uni Lad farrago of the past couple of days. Since Tuesday evening, the internet has been lively with disgust and outrage aimed at Uni Lad, a website that claimed to have 8,000 visitors a day, and has 70,000 "likes" on its facebook page. The most offending article, called 'Sexual Mathematics' concluded thus: "If the girl you've taken for a drink... won't spread for your head, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported," it chortled. "That seems fairly good odds". And the final addendum "Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying surprise".

Yesterday, the site posted a mealy-mouthed Facebook apology for this worst offence, only for the comments beneath it to be filled with a torrent of charming young men (writing under their own names, it should be noted) posting such vignettes as "just a bit of rape banter" (four likes) "9/10 people enjoy gang rape, who ever complained needs to check statistics" (59 likes). Depressingly, it's not just the lads themselves coming up with this repellent trash. One apparently female Facebook user wrote "Rape = surprise sex" (39 likes), another comes up with the customary accusation in this situation "girls complainin [sic] about this article are probably closet lesbians and guys complainin [sic]are probly [sic] small dicks who cant [sic] get a girl to even look at it"

Uni Lad has today closed itself down, replacing the site with a static page saying they're "certainly going to be cleaning up our act" before a future relaunch. Having read a fair few of their articles before the site went, it's fair to say that if they were to remove all the offensive articles, they'd be left with precious little left. Articles advocating hunting out drunk women who seemed "innocent" and "vulnerable" were two-a-penny. No doubt the disappearance of the site will see their readers honking off about liberal PC lesbian witch hunts. I for one will be very surprised if the Uni Lad site that emerges in a couple weeks will be a place of high discourse, discussions of how to acquire the finest linens at a reasonable price, and exhortation to clean-limbed, improving exercise. In fact, their shop is still very much a going concern. There, you can buy t-shirts (see above) emblazoned with slogans like "Keep Calm & Carry My Beer", with its uncanny echo of our Prime Minister David Cameron's "calm down dear" outburst in the House of Commons last year.

It is a struggle, as a young male, to reject the boorish, misogynist identity that society throws upon you. It begins with gender conditioning in infancy, and continues through the musty locker rooms of secondary school, where "gay" becomes pejorative and the physical prowess and macho fronting are the keys to popularity. This is heightened by anything from, say, Lynx adverts, to certain strands within music, to the behaviour of professional footballers, to now being just a click and a typing flurry away from tube after tube after tube of pornography. We're biologically programmed to be obsessed with sex, after all. It's a powerful, dangerous force, a drug almost, that all men battle. As men, we must try and be honest with ourselves, and explore our sexuality, of whatever hue, in a way that is respectful to ourselves and others. Sexuality is a very private emotion, but public braggadocio all-too-easily twists it into something else. The danger with Uni Lad is how blase it, and its users, seem to be in their attitude to rape and violence against women. What Uni Lad terms "rape banter" is dangerous because it not only normalises the act, but brings that normalisation into the sphere where men like to brag and boast. The chauvinist bigots then deploy, as they always do, the great fig leaf of free speech.

Rape is a weapon. As research by Amnesty International and others have shown, it is used by soldiers in warfare from ancient history to Sudan to Libya as a means of subjugating the territories they move through, perhaps as a means of lashing out after suffering intense trauma. Male energy when cornered, defeated, insecure and powerless becomes twisted, unpleasant and violent.

In the United Kingdom, unemployment for 16 to 24-year-olds currently stands at 20.3%. With future prospects bleak and (if these Uni Lad users are indeed students) debts on the rise, this vile outpouring of anger directed at women (who academically continue to do far better than men) is arguably a manifestation of this frustration, lack of self-belief and positive identity.

The selfish, aspirational, fame-obsessed contemporary culture that equates fame and money with meaning and therefore attraction to the opposite sex, is what has created a climate where a site like Uni Lad can apparently thrive. It's a similar mindset to the grab-what-you-can attitude that we saw in the nihilistic materialism that inspired some of those involved in last summer's riots.

But just as was the case after the riots last summer, let's not taint all of young British masculinity with the grotty emissions of the Uni Lad cohort. Hopefully this group of ignorant young men grow up and, looking back down that helpful new Facebook timeline, feel thoroughly ashamed. For the rest of us? It is surely the duty of all men to not be unafraid in objecting to, and fighting, this reprehensible website and its idiotic, small-minded opinions. Where misogyny is to be found, so too are its equally vile bedfellows of homophobia and racism. We, though, will be stronger. For all the users, 'writers' and followers of Uni Lad have is a miasma of ill-used testosterone and desperate, inchoate sexual frustration. Everything, in fact, that their pathetic witterings profess they aren't.

Liam A
Feb 1, 2012 8:35pm

I do not think the writers and readers of Uni Lad were any more likely to commit rape than any other man, I suspect it was all a joke to them, albeit "joking" which is not to everyone's taste. Writing in the style of characters which are easily mocked. But the issues raised in this article could be written about another site on my radar: Sickipedia. Themes of racism, sexism, paedophilia and general bad behaviour are rife there, and are explicity jokes of course. Like Uni Lad, it appears to have an overwhelming male (and British) user base. It gives a dark glimpse into the mindset of young men.

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Feb 1, 2012 8:50pm

What the fuck kind of bewildered-toddler-in-the-adult-world, "only sex I've seen is on a screen" twat would you have to be to think any of that shit was funny? The most optimistic thing you could say about these discharges is that they're too fucking dense and unsocialised to recognise how "saying the unsayable" is funny. As soon as they get out of the playpen they're in for a shock.
Guess what, lads: 95% of paedophilia goes unpunished! Put it on a T-shirt and add "I likes them odds!!!!" Legend!!11!!

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Benjamin Net an' Yahoo
Feb 1, 2012 10:02pm

"In fact, their shop is still very much a going concern. There, you can buy t-shirts (see above) emblazoned with slogans like "Keep Calm & Carry My Beer", with its uncanny echo of our Prime Minister David Cameron's "calm down dear" outburst in the House of Commons last year."

T-shirt slogans. That certainly is a growing concern. Also, it's bewildering how it uncannily echoes David Cameron's "calm down dear" outburst, and not the reams of 'Keep Calm and Carry On" memoribilia currently spilling forth from every souvenir and gift shop from Brighton to Bangalore.

This particular piece isn't a 'liberal PC lesbian witch hunt'; it's just lazy, slacker journalism rushed out to get hits off a trending Twitter topic.

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Jo
Feb 1, 2012 10:43pm

Mostly a good post although - as I've said on Twitter - I don't agree 100% with the 'men are biologically programmed to be obsessed with sex' bit. What, all men? No. Biology is not destiny (to use a hoary old saying) and the men in my life, whom I love and respect, are better than that; they're not mindless beasts beholden to bodily desires.

Anyway. On the subject of rape jokes, this excellent post from (sadly defunct) blog Fugitivus is absolutely on topic: http://www.fugitivus.net/2009/06/24/a-woman-walks-into-a-rape-uh-bar/ - recommended reading for everyone.

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Feb 1, 2012 11:36pm

Dear Unitards, I read your homepage:
"We would like to make a public apology as it appears that some of the content previously published on this site has caused some distress."

This is the kind of fudge even politicians know better than to come out with these days, and a measure of just how clueless you turds are. "Previously published" doesn’t really work, because there isn't any content *currently* published on your website – because you've had to take it all down, because the only time anyone noticed it was when you "bantered" an attempt to incite the mass perpetration of one of the most serious crimes there is. You fucking thick twats. It's clear you have foggy recollections of the grown-ups on television talking about footage that "caused some distress" after they'd shown wartime violence or starving children on the news or somesuch, and thought this phrase sounded dignified. But what you actually published was an impotent fantasy of *inflicting* something that goes a long way beyond "distress" onto other people. Not an account of horrors happening to and by unnamed people far away – *fantasies* about you, you sorry little gimps, and your cosseted readers attempting to damage other people.

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John Doran
Feb 2, 2012 1:06am

In reply to Jo:

I think if you take what Luke says in the context of the full paragraph: "It is a struggle, as a young male, to reject the boorish, misogynist identity that society throws upon you. It begins with gender conditioning in infancy, and continues through the musty locker rooms of secondary school, where "gay" becomes pejorative and the physical prowess and macho fronting are the keys to popularity. This is heightened by anything from, say, Lynx adverts, to certain strands within music, to the behaviour of professional footballers, to now being just a click and a typing flurry away from tube after tube after tube of pornography. We're biologically programmed to be obsessed with sex, after all. It's a powerful, dangerous force, a drug almost, that all men battle..."

You'll get a clearer picture of what he's saying. That biological programming is only one facet of a much bigger picture. This is the problem with invoking gender essentialism at the drop of a hat. He hasn't said that anyone is a "mindless beasts beholden to bodily desires".

If I wanted I could get quite upset about your suggestion that there's something wrong with young men having a "healthy" or "normal" (a euphemism for strong) sex drive. But I'm not going to as I've read everything you've said and built up a picture of what your overall point is. A strong sex drive does not equal wandering palms or worse...

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The Niallist
Feb 2, 2012 2:03am

UNI LAD is an anagram of UNLAID

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The Niallist
Feb 2, 2012 2:22am

"Realize that to him, rape is conceptual, even when it has really happened, even when it is real. Wonder if he has raped, without knowing it, because it was just a concept."

This is the heart of the problem. To most men, rape is not a threat they have to deal with in their everyday lives, it's not a reality they have to live with or think about. It's abstract, they assume it won't ever happen to them. Thus it's ok to joke about it.

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John Tatlock
Feb 2, 2012 4:13am

In reply to The Niallist:

I don't accept that this is a perspective that most men hold. At least, that strikes me as a large claim you'd have to substanntiate.

The Unilad-type lads are, I think, a fringe minorty. Certainly, if I'm to regard them otherwise, I'd need to be persuaded. I can't see a good reason to automatically concede the field to them on the basis of a shit website and a bunch of t shirts.

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Naomi Mc
Feb 2, 2012 11:43am

This is brilliant stuff. It's also really important for men to challenge this in the same way that white people have to challenge racism. I've written on the Uni Lad saga and inevitably got a load of people calling me humourless, misandrist and, rather amusingly, a fascist. This is the standard response. We all need to take some responsibility for standing up against this backlash. And you make a really important point about men defining their sexuality and masculinity rather than having it thrust upon you. Challenging sexism benefits both men and women.

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Stew
Feb 2, 2012 12:16pm

As someone else mentioned, I think there is a sociology of sick/gallows/dog humour, which is common where people aim to shock each other and say the most offensive and socially taboo things, just to freak out their audience, but where within the context of the joke everyone is aware and comfortable that the teller is not representing their own views, and most likely has the opposite views e.g. where doctors and buses joke about their patients. I think it's important not to go overboard in censoring this kind of joke too much. The forum mentioned in this case though just seems like it is people who actually are willfully ignorant pricks who might actually be at risk of following through with some of their vile shit, and who we as a society need to worry about.

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Feb 2, 2012 12:52pm

In reply to Stew:

i think the problem with that is that the people who make these jokes don't have the skill of contextualising it properly - its like the oft-quoted misunderstanding of al murray by the majority of his audience. what you're left with is, as you say, a load of ignorant little dorks who haven't the brain or sophistication to make distinction between whats acceptable in the real world and what isn't . as a 33 year old mature student, i can say that the word "banter" as a catch-all for any type of nasty shit has gotten really old.

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tenbenson
Feb 2, 2012 12:52pm

In reply to :

oh, this was me...

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Toby
Feb 2, 2012 1:11pm

The normalisation of rape is a weird one, that's very true. And the culture of making it a woman's responsibility not to get raped rather than a man's responsibility not to rape is even odder - after all, you wouldn't run an anti-racism campaign that tells black people to keep away from white people so they don't get abused or attacked.

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Maria Harvey
Feb 2, 2012 1:14pm

Excellent article.

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Ugeine
Feb 2, 2012 2:42pm

This really made me chuckle!

Excellent article.

I've sat around circles of friends and heard the off repeated 'it's not rape if you shout surprise' cliche and the following guffaws of idiots.

In my experience, these people tend to have absolutely no wit, and to them 'saying something funny' and 'saying something politically incorrect' is the same thing.

You know, like Top Gear.

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Samuel Palin
Feb 2, 2012 3:33pm

I find what Uni Lad Mag published, and particularly their behaviour towards Sarah McAlpine when she called them out on it, reprehensible.

However, I don't entirely agree with your thesis. A couple of things:

1) I don't think homophobia and racism are 'bedfellows' of misogyny. Is there some evidence for this assertion?

2) The parallel with the riots is a weird one. I don't think misogyny has much in common with 'nihilistic materialism' (an apt phrase re the riots, incidentally). To say that lets Uni Lad Mag off lightly.

Young men are no doubt impoverished and uneasy about their futures (just like young women); but does that really manifest as sexual violence? This isn't a war, and these boys aren't waging war (at least not consciously). They are making abysmal jokes.

You say that our materialistic culture has created this environment - I think this environment long precedes materialism. Male sexual violence is can be blamed on many things - biology, religion, the military, etc. - but not being unable to afford consumer goods, especially when we're talking about generally privileged university students.

It's not about fame. It's not about aspiration. It's not about Nike trainers or the graduate careers market.

It IS about what the Internet has done, firstly in bringing into the open conversations between males that may otherwise not have been publicly aired (sad, but true), and secondly deindividuating them, making them feel they can get away with voicing awful things.

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Simon Price
Feb 3, 2012 7:51am

Excellent piece, Luke. The one bit I disagree with is the implication that watching porn equates to a "boorish, misogynist identity". I mean, I disagree with that very strongly indeed. The gag about rape being "surprise sex" is one I first heard from a well-known stand-up comedian a few years ago. I wish I could remember who it was (Google isn't helping me), but it wasn't one of the usual shock-jock suspects (Frankie Boyle or whoever), and I remember being shocked that it wasn't condemned at the time, and indeed was merrily repeated by males and females alike.

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Luke Turner
Feb 3, 2012 9:29am

In reply to Simon Price:

Hi Simon, am posting this here as well as on my personal FB as I think it's an interesting aspect to the debate and I wanted to clarify: I wasn't trying to say all pornography was bad (I'd be a flagrant hypocrite if I did), more that there is now access to a never-ending torrent of it, some of which is violent.

BDSM, voyeurism, S&M and so on are, if dealt with correctly, extremely healthy and enjoyable sexual practices, but they need to be approached the right way, and with trust, thought, intelligence and respect. My argument is that the vortex of easily accessible muck is addictive, can be debilitating, and may well desensitise or negatively influence the thought patterns of some users.

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Stephen Collins
Feb 3, 2012 9:59am

In reply to Luke Turner:

‎"university from 97-00, I don't think I ever heard anyone treat rape lightly" - exactly; here's the thing; it's new, and it's very real. I remember the tone of culture/youth culture in the 90s was specifically anti-fascist, anti-sexist, an...ti-jock. Though I was getting most of my ideas from the music press at the time (thanks mr price et al), I do feel that the general tone of public, ahem, 'banter', shudder, was less misogynistic. And when this casualisation of language gets into campus culture, it's very dangerous indeed. I'm not convinced that porn isn't connected to it. Call me a puritan but I can't square the happy-healthy libertarian idea of porn with the way people laugh about rape these days. It seems more than coincidental that the two have occurred simultaneously.

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Feb 3, 2012 5:42pm

In reply to: Benjamin Net

So just because this happened to trend on twitter, anything said on the topic is "lazy, slacker journalism" and not at all important? You have no idea how refreshing it was to me that people even CARED about this as widely as they seemed to. To have it addressed and condemned on a widely-read music site is fantastic. That means it's reaching people.

Your dismissal of the T-shirts smacks of the old "it's just a joke/song/movie/TV show" excuse. These things are all part of popular culture. These things subtly inform what we decide is acceptable in day-to-day life. This "you belong in the kitchen/make me a sandwich" crap cannot be ironic when it's this ubiquitous (and when the misogyny that spawned it is still alive today).

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Spacious Specious
Feb 3, 2012 8:58pm

In this discussion, it is important to remember that men can be sexually assaulted as well. With the caveat, of course, that it is nearly always men doing the assaulting.
I can’t speak for the culture of the UK, but in the States it is common for men to joke about the prospect of being sexually assaulted by other men. In the United States, it is a given that being raped is simply an additional portion of the punishment received by being incarcerated. It is difficult to conceive of a more vile form of sexual assault; that of prisoner-on-prisoner rape, and yet hilarity abounds around this topic. Even our elected leaders take a break from ramping up US incarceration rates to snicker publicly over the forced sodomization of any hapless marijuana salesman. Many of these fine Christian politicians wish to incarcerate men simply for being homosexual – demonstrating the fantastic disconnect from reality that we have come to expect.
I find this publicly “accepted” form of humor considerably more alarming than that of some internet tribe too adolescent for me to bother investigating.

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bluff charge
Feb 4, 2012 6:00pm

Benjamin Net an' Yahoo - That this UniLad bullshit is trending on Twitter means the majority of people find it profoundly unacceptable. Cause for hope, then, as opposed to cause for abject despair over the widespread misogyny and trivialisation of a social ill; something with the power to ruin, utterly, the lives of those it touches.

This article is neither lazy nor a publicity cash-in, but even if it was there cannot be too many articles denouncing cunt-portals like UniLad. I hope Twitter is alive with anti-rape sentiments forever. So fuck UniLad, and fuck you and your obnoxious cynicism.

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Andrew K
Feb 4, 2012 7:22pm

In reply to bluff charge:

I would have to disagree. Twitter and peers such as Tumblr are constantly filled with slut-shaming, jokes that trivialize rape, and the general discourse around how a woman that doesn't "put out" is denying something that is owed to a boyfriend or date.

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Kim
Feb 7, 2012 8:50pm

Any number of factors have lead to this kind of thing - the tendency since about 1994 to over-emphasise rather than challenge the polarisation of the sexes, the situation of a society where technology advances at a rate impossible to keep up with while other things argubly more important are allowed to regress (people are allowed to be overtly anti-intellectual and anti-progressive but if they're not on facebook they're a saddo), the British unease about taking matters seriously and elevating our national sense of humour above everything else, an unwillingness to understand or even acknowledge the importance of feminism, the saturation of sex talk/images to the point where mere discretion is mistaken for repression. Really though what's to be made of a website where the common aspiration is to become Robin Askwith?

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anon
Feb 8, 2012 8:03pm

I can barely believe that the writer was so foolish as to take a website such as this seriously... Certainly none of those that posted on it would have! Do you really believe for one measly second that any of these people would genuinely have been prepared to commit or ignore actual rape, or that they ever would have defended it outside of a joking context? People read comments like this and laugh, nobody takes them seriously! I'm sure I'll get the standard barrage of replies from uptight individuals saying 'this can never be funny' or equivalent, but this is only true if you take the meaning seriously. I can hear this humour and laugh, I'll admit to that thoughtcrime, but I oppose and despise rape just as much as anyone who will read this. If the humour is likely to offend or hurt you, don't read the page. Trying to get rid of all internet content you don't like, or censoring all squeamish internet material is as controlling and repugnant as SOPA and PIPA would have been. It also won't work, this will always go.on.

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Heather
Feb 12, 2012 3:32pm

In reply to anon:

Anon, take 5 minutes and read "Why Rape Jokes Are Never 'OK'" and then think about the comment you've just posted.

http://www.menspeakup.org/why-rape-jokes-are-never-ok

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anon
Feb 14, 2012 9:28am

In reply to Heather:

Not convinced... the summary at the end effectively boils down to 'in the author's opinion, if you don't hate what the author hates, you love rapists', which is no argument at all, really.
And if the rapists are sufficiently mentally twisted to believe this anyway, witch-hunting anyone who can laugh at this kind of humour isn't going to stop them. The study had already said that they believed all other men were rapists, this was unconnected to jokes about rape. The only connection made was conjecture by the author and that whole section of the article began with an 'it's very likely that' statement. Again, this is an argument founded on no secure basis. The figure quoted was disturbing, but not drawn upon. This does not even remotely provide an excuse for anybody to take control of or censor the Internet in any way and the fact that this site has been taken down in such a way sets a very dangerous precedent indeed.

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Chunkalicious
Feb 14, 2012 10:00pm

Don't ever visit Sickipedia, fellas. Your heads will explode.

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Alex Gibson
Feb 15, 2012 12:48pm

It's hardly controversial to suggest that the imagery one chooses to orgasm to repeatedly may go some way towards conditioning of sexual responses *lights blue touch paper and stands back*
Great article again and yes it is of paramount importance that men challenge misogyny themselves.
In reply to debate about financial inequality leading to higher rates of sexual violence, this is actually a documented trend but irritatingly I can't remember or find where I've read this, thinking it might be Naomi Klein. Patriarchy and rape culture are insidiously and pervasively combined with capitalism.

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CF
Feb 16, 2012 12:45pm

Brilliant piece. This kind of "humour" is nothing new - it's not a product of the modern world, just a continuation of the kind of frustrated and misplaced post-adolescent machismo that's probably been going on in football pavilions and SU bars for decades. The difference here is that it's not some sweaty overgrown child boasting about how he could "make a mess" of the girl standing at the bar - this is fairly ignorable; idiotic, yes, but ignorable. What's dangerous here is the fact that UniLad ossifies this kind of attitude by presenting it as a norm to a huge following of young people who have obviously no comprehension of how serious and upsetting rape can be. The majority of them are yet to understand what it means to make light of something like this, and until then pass it off as "harmless banter", pursuing it no further than as gutter humour. UniLad presents itself as a humour-based site, but it also offers advice in the style of the kind of men's magazines that would give out "pulling tips" as well as articles about Hollyoaks babes and "how to iron a shirt" - but this is largely regulated and wouldn't stoop so low as to advocate rape, even jokingly. The real risk comes when people are guided into thinking that rape is okay - that everyone does it, or that even bragging about it is acceptable or attractive.

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anon
Feb 18, 2012 9:30pm

In reply to CF:

I don't see how you seriously believe that people are being 'guided into thinking that rape is okay'... this is simply not so! These jokes, within the context in which they are usually made, *are* harmless (sure, if some news site makes a great fuss about it (as has happened here) some people who otherwise would never have found it will take offence, but that's really not the fault of the people making the jokes!)
In my experience, those that use this kind of humour, or who are often around such people, are never led into such a belief as you have suggested: ask yourself, how many people do you actually know who have such conversations, and do you really know what you're talking about when you make utterly condescending blanket generalisations about them? Or is it just nice to sit on your high horse for a while and make some shallow observations based on a warped perception of people you don't even know and can't be bothered to engage with because you know most of the people reading the article will probably share your snobbery and agree with you?

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my opinion, please sir!
Feb 21, 2012 3:05pm

i personally think that nothing should be off limits or else were sectioning things, but we live in england and we like to be prudish, yeah those jokes arent funny, so what, theres shit loads of crap nobody should read out here in the unreal world of the internet but were reading it nonetheless. there are some jokes on rape that i believe are funny, such as george lucas and spielberg raping indiana jones in south park... it's funny! it's devastatingly true as well.. we're all animals we aint getting any cleverer despite what we choose to believe, and by gum by golly if we cant laugh at how stupid we are then we only end up crying alone... johnny thunders

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viv
Feb 26, 2012 1:17am

Well done for a great article and a relief that so many men are outraged by the unilad attitude to women that seems to be getting more and more vile. For some reason sexism is acceptable in a way homophobia and racism isn't and this urgently needs to be changed. The unilad rape incitement is hate speech and should be treated as such by the full force of the law in the same way as it would if this were a facebook page inciting violence against another because of their colour or sexual orientation. This would go a long way towards instilling the message that sexism has no place in our culture in tandem with racism or any other mindless discrimination.

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dumbbaby
Feb 26, 2012 12:32pm

You boring, whingy cvnt.

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mr_x
Mar 5, 2012 10:45am

Porn has casualised a lot of behaviour that previously would have been regarded as extreme and the internet has just made it okay for people to reel off their prejudices more or less unchecked. And that's been in progress over the last ten years, before the recession kicked in. Sexual mores/acceptability has changed a hell of a lot. Just look at all the articles about group sex being more common with teens, gangbangs, etc etc. Again, nothing new, but it def wasnt mainstream before.

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Chris
Apr 2, 2012 10:05pm

In reply to Jo:

I don't think the guy who wrote this piece agrees that men are programmed to be obsessed with sex either. If you look at how he wrote that statement, i think he was talking tongue in cheek about how society views men.

'We're biologically programmed to be obsessed with sex, after all.'

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