Sam Hassan explores two working class British subcultures and the forms of masculinity associated with them, ‘Lads’ and ‘Roadmen.’

Lad masculinity is expressed in figures like Dapper Laughs, Al Murray and media outlets like The Lad Bible and Uni Lad. It has been described as a lifestyle founded upon drinking, football, fucking and fighting, and is expressed in football terraces, pubs, clubs and university campus life. Roadman masculinity is associated with celebrities like Big Shaq and Skepta, and the masculinity it espouses is elucidated in Grime and UK drill genres of music, revealing similar foundational tenets to lad culture; girls, violence, money and substance use.

Outlining the similarities and differences between the ideal Lad and the typical Roadman, we can see the ideals and aspirations these subcultures provide for working-class men.

Heygate Estate, in Elephant & Castle in London | Photo: SomeDriftwood, CC BY-NC 2.0 (Flickr) 

Something both masculinities share is the socioeconomic environment they emerged in, the working class milieu of British urban areas, including council estates, fast food restaurants, pubs and the streets themselves. They are repetitive and bleak environments, void of natural beauty, mental stimulation and economic opportunity, especially considering recent cuts to youth centres and selective banning of music like UK drill, a creative outlet for young males. The ubiquity of ‘no ball games’ signs in council estates demonstrates how restrictive these environments are.

Both Lad and Roadmen masculinities hold hedonism as a value, the reality being drugs offer an escape for the young men, alcohol for the Lads and marijuana for the Roadmen. Of course all types of substance abuse are rife amongst working class men, as predictably are mental health issues. Moreover, suicide rates suggest that these people are the least able to deal with such struggles.

Of course this provides a sense of belonging and security in numbers, vital for young people from difficult backgrounds. Yet it also encourages groupthink and heavy peer pressure.

‘Roadmen’ | Photo courtesy of Sam Hassan

The two masculinities share a primacy of homosocial relationships, evident in each groups vernacular. Expressions like ‘my boys’ or ‘lads’ speak to that sense of belonging, and supporting a football team allows the lad to connect to something much bigger. For roadmen, the ‘gang,’ bros’ and ‘gs’ are all synonyms for groups of male friends. Of course this provides a sense of belonging and security in numbers, vital for young people from difficult backgrounds. Yet it also encourages groupthink and heavy peer pressure. There is pressure to be violent, use substances, engage in a high frequency of sexual activity and reject committed relationships, engage in criminal activity and neglect educational effort. Essentially, there is a desire to avoid anything perceived as ‘feminine,’ leading young men with the choice to be rejected by their peers or conform and inevitably face consequences.

Following from this, another shared value is extreme sexism towards women. The only acceptable interaction with women is on a sexual level, with conversations regarding the opposite sex being sexually oriented. Media such as Lads Mags reflect this by being centred on women’s sexual appeal. In areas that Lad masculinity operates in – university campuses, football terraces and pubs – a similar objectifying approach to women is prevalent, their worth discussed in terms of physical attributes.

‘Lads’ | Photo courtesy of Sam Hassan

Similarly, Roadman masculinity elucidated in grime and UK drill music presents sexual interaction as the only acceptable interaction between women and men, with no sense of emotional vulnerability allowed. Again if we look at the language espoused by these two subcultures, ‘slut,’ ‘slag,’ ‘tramp,’ ‘sket,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘jezzy’ do not begin to cover the range of derogatory terms towards women, and Roadmen vernacular deems any relationship with a woman ‘cuffing’ (handcuffing), showing their extreme hostility to emotional involvement. 

Partly this has to do with a desire to avoid anything perceived as feminine, but also to do with the heavily materialistic and superficial values espoused by both masculinities, an indication of their close relationship to mass consumer culture. The Roadman holds up money and material possessions, particularly cars, designer clothes and jewellery as their ultimate aspirations, plus the consumption of lavish alcohol and large quantities of weed. Moreover, despite not caring about girls, they see their interest in them as a demonstration of masculinity, with a focus on superficial aspects such as being ‘lightskin,’ having a ‘big back’ etc. In lad masculinity, possession of money, cars, designer clothes and consumption of large quantities of substances are also aspirations, as is having sex with the largest amount of women, again focussing on their superficial value and revealing the consumerist mind-set. 

Nevertheless, differences lie in the homosocial aspects of each masculinity. Lad masculinity is very comfortable with homoeroticism, taking juvenile delight in showing genitals, feigning homosexuality and being overly physical with one another, though homophobia is still pervasive. Roadman masculinity on the other hand is much more intolerant and uncomfortable with homoeroticism, even the suggestion of homosexuality is seen as a severe insult and certainly not a topic for humour. Thus, the acceptable boundaries between roadmen are much more rigid.

Moreover, the roadmen masculinity derives value from rebelling against existing structures, taking pride in accumulating material possessions through illegal means, such as drug dealing and theft. Figures like Pablo Escobar are an aspirational figure for the roadman. The criminal aspect of roadmen is furthered by the way their engagement in violence is presented. Although violence is an integral to Lad masculinity, famously seen in football hooliganism, the Roadman’s engagement is conceptualised in terms of gang conflict, presenting it as more criminal in the public imagination.

Yet, I’m sure to the people involved violence is violence and it feels the same. 

Cover Photo: Kyle Glenn (Unsplash)

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    Sam Hassan is English and spent the past year living in Jinan teaching English at a Foreign Language School. He graduated from University College London in September 2015 studying history. He is now back in London and spends his time travelling, writing and making music (https://soundcloud.com/sininigenie). He is a participant in the Battersea Arts Centre Young Producers of the Year programme.

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