Working with the charity Past Equality, Ben Hurst visits colleges, universities and workplaces to induce a rethink of masculinity, holding males accountable in a constructive manner
Sturdy. Chief. Breadwinner. Penis. These are a number of the ways in which secondary college boys sometimes describe males when Ben Hurst engages them in a quickfire recreation of free phrase affiliation. Vagina. Kitchen. Make-up. Sandwiches. These are the frequent responses when he writes ‘ladies’ on the whiteboard.
Their solutions would possibly make you baulk. However the train attracts out the boys’ perceptions of gender “in order that we will deconstruct them”, says Hurst, who’s head of facilitation on the charity Past Equality. By offering workshops to boys and males in colleges, universities and workplaces, the charity goals to spark a rethink of what it means to be a person and thereby stop gender-based violence.
“I’ll then learn all of them out and ask, ‘why did you write ‘kitchen’’? If they will’t justify their response, their workforce loses a degree. “They may say, ladies have historically been anticipated to prepare dinner. After which we’ll have a dialog about that. The place does that come from? Who determined that in historical past?”
This icebreaker exercise encourages them to start questioning long-held myths about gender. How do they really feel about crying? Why is it ‘higher’ to punch somebody who embarrasses them, quite than speaking to them? Additionally they delve into male suicide charges and the variety of males in jail.
“We attempt to construct an image of what masculinity really means for us, and the way it disproportionately impacts everybody else,” Hurst explains. On the finish of a session, he asks teams what they suppose males are presupposed to be, and what ladies are presupposed to be, and whether or not that’s truthful. What would possibly they need to change about masculinity?
Seeing the “lightbulb moments”, when boys recognise that beliefs they’ve lengthy held as dogma are merely constructs, is “the enjoyment of being a facilitator”, he notes. For some boys, realising they will reject social expectations and paint their nails or put on make-up is an epiphany. “They really feel like they’ve been cheated; there’s this script they’ve been fed of who they’re meant to be.”
Hurst needs he’d had the chance to have these conversations when he was in school. Rising up, he didn’t match the mould: “I wasn’t into automobiles, I wasn’t into soccer. I used to be taking part in with my sisters’ Barbies.”
A religious Christian, he aspired to be a pastor and went on to review at a bible school. “However I used to be kicked out for having intercourse [before marriage] in my remaining 12 months.” Stints as a educating assistant adopted, earlier than he obtained a job with a charity educating intercourse schooling in south London colleges, the place he was tasked to develop a mission for boys on the best way to be a superb man.
This led Hurst to strategy an earlier incarnation of Past Equality for assist with sources, and he attended one in every of their volunteer coaching periods. “It was intense, the primary time I’ve been in a room filled with males the place we’re all really speaking. It was the primary time [I began to see the world] by means of the lens of intersectional feminism.”
For some boys, realising they will reject social expectations and put on make-up is an epiphany
Hurst volunteered for Past Equality for a 12 months, earlier than changing into employees, and now he additionally trains different volunteers to present workshops. “I believe I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing now, which is a pleasant feeling,” he says. He and his fellow facilitators will normally see a complete 12 months group of boys 3 times throughout an instructional 12 months for periods on masculinity, consent and wholesome relationships, and violence in opposition to ladies and women.
The overwhelming majority of boys welcome the workshops. And Hurst is delighted when he hears that pupils have felt capable of come out about their sexual orientation or gender identification afterwards. A few of the finest suggestions is listening to that the ladies really feel much more comfy, he says.
“They really feel extra comfy difficult the boys [about problem behaviour] they usually really feel extra supported by the boys once they do problem them.”
In 2019, Hurst gave a TEDx discuss titled ‘Boys received’t be boys. Boys can be what we train them to be’. Seeing change occurring in actual time, when he’s in a classroom filled with unruly pupils is what offers him hope for a greater future, he says. “Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job.”
This text is the second in a collection, to be printed this week and subsequent, about males who’re standing as much as assist finish violence in opposition to ladies.
Foremost picture: Sam Bush