Lad culture (also laddish culture and laddism) is a British subculture initially associated with the Britpop movement. Arising in the early 1990s, 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 involves young men assuming an anti-intellectual position, shunning sensitivity in favour of drinking, violence, and sexism.
Part of "the postmodern transformation of masculinity ... the 1990s 'new lad' was a clear reaction to the 'new man' ... most clearly embodied in current men's magazines, such as Maxim, FHM and Loaded, and marked by a return to hegemonic masculine values of male homosociality". At a time when "men saw themselves as battered by feminism", one could also consider that "laddishness is a response to humiliation and indignity ... the girl-power! girl-power! female triumphalism which echoes through the land".
Lad culture grew beyond men's magazines to movies such as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and to the TV sitcom Men Behaving Badly.Bottom, Al Murray's Happy Hour and They Think It's All Over are television programmes that present images of laddishness that are dominated by the male pastimes of drinking, watching football, and sex. These are presented as being ironic and "knowing" (the masthead of Loaded is "for men who should know better").
The rise of the new lad coincided with a backlash against feminism by both men and women, and in particular against the figure of the new man as "one who has subjugated his masculinity in order to fulfill the needs of women ... this passive and insipid image". At a time when "the stereotypes for men attentive to feminism were two: Eunuch, or Beast",--and when women were increasingly feeling that "new men are fine in the kitchen, but who wants them in the bedroom?"--the "new lad" image offered "a space of fun, consumption and sexual freedom for men", as well as "a refuge from the constraints and demands of marriage and nuclear family".
Contrasting the two gender constructs, Tim Edwards, a sociologist at the University of Leicester, describes the new man as pro-feminist, albeit narcissistic, and the new lad as pre-feminist, and a reaction to second-wave feminism. The new man image failed to appeal to a wide readership whereas the more adolescent Lad culture appeals more to the ordinary man, says Edwards. Social constraints also meant that "it is easier to be a lad rather than a new man in most workplaces".
However, Edwards also points out that lad culture men's magazines of the 21st century contain little that is actually new. Noting a study of the history of Esquire, he observes that there is little substantially different between the new man Arena and GQ and the new lad Loaded et al. Both address assumed men's interests of cars, alcohol, sport, and women, and differ largely in that the latter have a more visual style. From this he infers that "the New Man and the New Lad are niches in the market more than anything else, often defined according to an array of lifestyle accessories", and concludes that the new lad image dominates the new man image simply because of its greater success at garnering advertising revenue for men's magazines.
Lad culture has attracted criticism from feminist circles. For example, Germaine Greer critiques it in her 2000 book The Whole Woman; while Kira Cochrane asserts 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".
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.
The word "ladette" has been coined to describe young women who take part in laddish behaviour. It is 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 "lad" is also used in Australian youth culture, however it is used to refer to an underclass criminal subculture that 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.
It is also sometimes used in Canada to refer to (primarily) university-aged men and young adults in a similar fashion to the British usage, with an emphasis on beer drinking.