Meet the Good Lads: Teaching rugby boys about consent and proper banter

They’re showing lads how not to be laddish


Oxford rugby players are being transformed into refined young men after being sent on hour long courses to boot sexism out of uni.

Behind it are the Good Lad initiative, including Emma Watson’s ex Matt Janney, who are tackling misogynistic initiations, sexual harassment and conducting proper banter.

By teaching positive masculinity, the boys want to improve the way they behave and plan to break out of Oxford and into a uni near you.

Critical Philosophy finalist Nik Kirby was one of the founders of the initiative back in 2013, and is now chair of the board and its acting Chief Strategy Officer.

He told The Tab: “We’ve all been part of sports teams, all male groupings and educational institutions and have been part of that world where there’s sexist banter.

“Everyones getting pissed and engaging in a whole lot of laddish behaviour.”

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The Good Lads show their support for the #heforshe gender equality campaign

Australian rules footballer Nik decided something had to change and set out to fix the behaviour of lads around him.

He said: “It started from discussions that I was having with some friends at the pub about how to circulate messages around.

“Positive masculinity messages were not reaching the groups we worked and played in, especially in sporting groups.

“Men were put on the defensive, and felt like they were being accused of something they were not sure they were part of.

“They just felt disengaged with that conversation about sexual harassment.

“So our whole idea was how to make men have this conversation and make it more positive and productive.”

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Nik presenting a Good Lad workshop

Good Lad is not the only group trying to put an end to sexual harassment at Oxford, but they’re the only team making waves in the changing rooms.

CEO Dave Llewellyn was in the rugby blues and Nik also played cricket at Oxford, so they were able to recruit a whole host of sports players on board.

Nik said: “We didn’t see it as a replacement for the other great works that’s going on – particularly the Oxford sexual consent workshop.

“Instead we wanted to reach men who don’t normally have this type of conversation into the fold.

“In one sense, it did come because one of us, Dan, the vice captain of the rugby blues had been invited to help design the sexual consent workshops in Oxford.

“He just thought ‘I wish all my mates would go to this, but I just can’t see how I can get them to this workshop.'”

Unlike other sexual consent meetings and discussions, the Good Lad workshops were made compulsory for all of the rugby players at Oxford.

Nik said: “That was a decision made by the Oxford rugby club. They decided all their clubs who were playing in their competitions should go along to these workshops.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s coming from the rugby club and associated clubs.

“It’s really good for their players and the reputation of rugby in universities.

“I think the only difficulty is just getting people to organise rooms. It’s been a hassle but that’s just the nature of university bureaucracy.”

The Good Lad Initiative is a mix of Oxford students, recent graduates, academics and old boys who have stayed involved with the organisation.

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Good Lad hunk Matt Janney

Their most famous member is Oxford rugby centre Matt Janney, who made headlines after dating Hermione herself, Emma Watson.

Nik said: “Matt was involved up to this year but is leaving Oxford this year. He’s shown continued interest in helping out with our schools programme.

“He got involved about a year ago and wasn’t there at the very beginning.”

Positive masculinity sounds like a good thing, but how exactly do you become a Good Lad?

Nik explains: “The idea of the workshops is not to teach or tell any man what to do in any situation.

“What we do instead is offer them an alternative framework so they can make up their own decisions that they can live up to.

“When men are having conversations they’re encouraged to take another idea of ‘what do I have to do, are there rules and regulations here?

“These are the obligations that I owe to women and therefore my only job is to obey those rules and stop harming women.”

Rather than telling boys how to behave and laying down a set of rules, the Good Lads prefer to talk more personally about what’s appropriate.

Nik said: “This method is not optimising – it’s about what the minimum standards are.

“It doesn’t really kick in when people are stressed and gets people to focus on what they can get away with rather than the value of what they can do.

“Why don’t we just have a completely view now – what type of man do you want to be?

“We don’t try to answer that question, we do try to get the men to realise that whatever they answer it’s going to be some version of trying to be a good man.

“We say if you want to be a good guy, what kind of things does a good guy try to do.

“Good Lads look for positive benefits, try to weigh them up and achieve the best outcome for everyone.

“What you see as being a good person – this is far more likely to stick with you – we call that positive masculinity.”

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A Good Lad event with activist Tony Porter

After graduating Nik is set to return to Oxford as an academic in critical philosophy, even giving lectures in the subject.

And far from keeping it Oxford exclusive, you could be seeing a Good Lad workshop at a uni near you soon.

Nik said: “We’ve already run workshops in around ten universities all up around the country.

“We’re already looking to sign a long-term deal with Oxford Brookes and we’re having repeat clients in York and hopefully in Durham.

“LSE and Exeter have also had workshops, and we’re discussing doing workshops with Cambridge.

“At the moment we’ve got a lot of demand from a lot of different universities.

“We’re trying to work out how best to expand, through a kind of chapter-like process or a centralised hub.”