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23rd October 2019

Breaking down lad culture at university: a conversation with Good Lad Initiative

Lad culture is intimidating, but the Good Lad Initiative creates a space to discuss the negative impacts and instead consider positive masculinity
Breaking down lad culture at university: a conversation with Good Lad Initiative
The Good Lad Initiative Photo courtesy of GLI

Lad culture on university campuses is a topic that has become increasingly prevalent in media conversation over the last few years, particularly coinciding with the rise of the #MeToo movement, and it’s an issue that needs to be addressed when even simple things, like walking home at night as a woman, can make you feel vulnerable. With statistics like the fact that 1 in 7 female students have experienced sexual assault whilst at university, it’s hard not to tense up when a group of lads walk past you. The Good Lad Initiative (GLI) hopes to breakdown this harmful lad culture by facilitating conversations with men about topics surrounding these issues.

GLI started in 2013 by students at Oxford University and is currently opening up a branch in Manchester. I had the opportunity to chat with Matt, the lead facilitator in Manchester, to find out more about what these promising workshops offer. GLI runs workshops for a range of age groups from secondary school to workplaces to facilitate these potentially uncomfortable, yet important, conversations.

University workshops focus on “lad culture within university,” and “sets up spaces to break that conversation down.” They aim to engage men with conversations about positive masculinity and gender-stereotyping, and question the idea of what it is to be a ‘man’.

Matt described these workshops having three main strands. Firstly, sex and relationships – how hook-up culture links to sexual harassment and, importantly, talking about friendship and intimacy. Another aspect is banter surrounding lad culture and the impact of language used along with the tendency to exclude and discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. Finally, male mental health is discussed and the importance of self-care, community care and creating safe spaces to express yourself.

These are spaces only for men and run by male facilitators, who are volunteers.  I’ll admit this separation based on gender reminded me of sex-education in primary school – however Matt said that in feedback participants have said “this is the first time we’ve ever been able to have that conversation”. It does make sense –  I’ll happily talk about my period to women I’ve just met, but I rarely talk about it to men. The reality is that often we’re more comfortable talking about certain topics with those who have similar experiences to us, who tend to be the same gender.

And I’ve put in far too much emotional labour over the years having these conversations with lads in my life. Matt acknowledges that men need to be “held accountable as female rights groups have been working for decades”. It’s definitely time that men took some of the responsibility and initiative to educate each other so that we can work together to promote gender equality in future.

These workshops are adaptable and will go at the pace required. The aim is not about telling men how to think, but “about creating the space to allow them to be engaged in conversations”. These are conversations where they avoid blame and judgement to encourage participants to talk more openly. Matt started at GLI as a volunteer facilitator and participants often seem “like they’ve been waiting [for a space like this] and they’re ready to engage,” which I’m reassured to hear.

GLI has been running successfully for six years and the content has been changing and developing alongside – initially these workshops were a chance for men to reflect on who they wanted to be as a group of lads, and as individuals. GLI have said that now they offer more variety in their workshops with “conversations about men’s health, racism, homophobia and the experiences of being a young man today,” as well as the talking about hook-up culture and drinking.

Through these workshops GLI hopes to equip men with the confidence and knowledge to continue these discussions with their peers regardless of gender, not just with other lads.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, and facilitating these workshops apply on the GLI website to find out more about what is involved and the training provided. No experience is required, instead GLI are “looking for people who are passionate about this conversation.”
Also head to their website 
if you would like to find out more about booking a GLI workshop for your university, society or organisation.

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