Oxford University’s Good Lad Initiative has worked with men on campus (in particular in sports societies) since 2013, with an aim ‘to promote “Positive Masculinity”, and in doing so, to enable men to deal with complex gender situations and become agents of positive change within their social circles and broader communities.’ Undoubtedly a noble goal but is it actually working?
We’re all familiar with the “Lad culture” that Good Lad is trying to combat, and we all know the criticisms of “Lads” – they use sexist, racist and homophobic language under the guise of “banter”, they’re often the creepy guys in the club feeling you up, and they’re the ones shouting “nice tits!” as you walk down the street. Good Lad runs workshops aiming to try and turn Lads into ‘agents of positive change’ i.e. stop them being sexist fuck-trucks. This is a good thing to try and do, and I don’t want to knock the intentions of Good Lad at all, but…
Good intentions do not equal good practice. The initiative and the workshops themselves seem to be exclusively run by men, and when this organization deals with issues that mostly affect women, that’s kind of a glaring omission. It reeks of the ‘male feminist’ who is lauded for saying in simple terms what the female feminist has been saying for years. It’s the erasure of female voices and experiences in an event that is meant to be about them.
Good Lad’s website’s FAQ tries to justify this by saying “We feel that it is important to create an environment for the discussion of gender in spaces where these topics are rarely spoken about (i.e. in spaces without women).” So basically we’ve had enough of what women have to say about their own harassment! Now lets hear what men think!
They argue that the “Lads” Good Lads are trying to reach would dismiss a female voice, so any female-led workshop would fall on deaf ears but I don’t think this is good enough. Maybe instead of responding to the devaluation of womens’ voices by silencing them altogether instead they could, I don’t know, encourage Lads to respect and value what women say? In Oxford The Good Lads Initiative is placed above many similar women led groups tackling sexual harassment and assault on campus, and sexual harassment towards woman on Oxford Uni’s campus seems to have actually risen.
Despite their best efforts, Good Lads seems to be a workshop of meaningless praise where Lads are given a pat on the back and applause simply for turning up. Of course, my assessment could be complete nonsense but I’m not allowed to find out for myself since, as a woman, I’m not allowed to attend the workshops.