We teamed up with our good friends over at Nike to help bring a spotlight to the unsung heroes who are creating real change in the world. We sat down with Ben Hurst, who is an avid activist and educator on toxic masculinity. From working with schools and workplaces to affect change with The Good Lad initiative to delivering a TEDx talk.
Hear what he has to say on starting meaningful conversations, understanding the patriarchy (and its flaws) and becoming an accidental activist.
Tell us a bit about what you do, and how you got into it.
I am the head of facilitation and training at the Good Lad Initiative which is a job title that I made up (they originally tried to call me the lead facilitator but that’s trash), but it basically means I run lots of workshops in schools, universities and corporate spaces engaging men and boys in conversations about masculinity and gender equality.
I’m a facilitator, public speaker, often a host and compare, mentor and manager and loads of other things. I basically ended up here by accident because I’d originally studied for my degree in applied theology and youth work but I got kicked out of bible college because I had sex and ended up working in education for a few years.
What is the one achievement you’re most proud of?
I’ve hit a lot of milestones this year career-wise but giving a TEDx Talk was always something that was on my bucket list so I’m super proud of that! It was such a cool experience and it’s meant that thousands of people have heard the message that we believe is really important. I would also say that I’m super proud to have started going to therapy in the last year because there’s so much negative stigma around seeking help and talking about your feelings – especially as a man.
Who inspires you?
Honestly, my inspiration comes from people I know in real life; my parents for one, my old boss, my friends, my sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins and the list goes on! I look at the people around me and they give me strength to believe I can make a real impact in the world. I’m also inspired by great activists and authors who have left legacies of social change, people like MLK and Malcom X, bell hooks and Angela Davis.
What keeps you motivated to keep trying new things and pushing conventions?
I get bored easily so I hate subjecting anyone else to anything that’s boring. That means that I’m constantly finding new ways to say the same things and keep people engaged in conversations that I have every day. But it also means that I get to be super creative and spend a lot of time making stuff up even though there are always examples of how to do things.
What would you say to someone that is wanting to try to make change in the world, but doesn’t know where to start?
Start where there’s a need. Do whatever your hands find to do and you’ll figure the rest outI would say if you want to change the world and be seen to be doing it, that’s probably a different ball game. I spent a good few years working in silence and honing my skills before anyone paid very much attention, but those years were some of the most impactful in terms of the work I did.
Why it is so important for you to speak on subjects like toxic masculinity and getting men involved in gender equality?
For me, the reason that this work is so important is because gender equality is not a women’s issue – patriarchy (a system which prioritises maleness and masculinity over femaleness, femininity and functions as the set of standards and expectations that men are held to, which they use to judge one another and are also judged by) is disproportionately negative for women and non-binary folk, but through my years of work, I’ve learnt that it ain’t that great for men either. It manifests itself in a lack of emotional literacy, in physical, emotional and sexual violence, in risk taking behaviour, in poor body image, in poor mental health due to stress and, in some parts, a lack of self-actualisation, in homophobia and in transphobia, as well as a myriad of other ways. Men are trapped and suffering at the feet of a system that was built to give them an advantage.
What’s the toughest part about going into schools, colleges, universities and talking to boys and men about these subjects?
I would say the toughest part is the first 20 minutes of any conversation. Convincing someone that you’re on their side, that you’re there to listen and not to tell them that they’re wrong, and convincing them that you’re just another guy and not a teacher or an authority figure is super challenging but if you can do it well then the conversations are dope!
People are desperate to speak their truths and most people don’t want to have a negative impact on the world so creating space for them to speak their truth and explore what better outcomes might look like is worth an awkward 10 minutes listening to everyone talk about the team they support or their favourite band or what super power they would have in an imaginary world!
What’s the best and worst thing about being an activist?
The best thing about being an activist is the opportunity you get to really look at yourself and the world you live in. It’s nice to be able to give the guidance I wish I had when I was young.
Working with people is tiring but for me, personally, it’s the most rewarding type of work. The worst thing is the early mornings and late nights! I’m not a morning person so being up at 5 to get on a train across the country is not a massive win. This work can be super emotional and super draining but I’m learning to put things in place to make sure I’m looking after myself.
Watch Ben’s TEDx talk and see what he’s up to on his instagram page.
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