To celebrate the 1461's 60th anniversary, Dr. Martens is uplifting the creatives pushing the conversation forward – even during lockdown. Get to know Ben Hurst, the activist and advocate exploring what positive masculinity can look like.
In a world where “masculinity” has become synonymous with “toxic” Ben Hurst is doing the work to advocate for a kinder, fairer vision of gender. As the Head of Facilitation at initiative Beyond Equality, Ben goes into schools, workplaces and universities to create safe spaces for men to talk about mental health and gender equality. Rather than accept the status quo, one where women suffer disproportionate interpersonal violence at the hands of men and men themselves are faced with gallingly negative outcomes when it comes to physical and mental health, Ben is pushing for a more equal world for all.
Outside of his work with Beyond Equality, Ben is a speaker on topics such as positive masculinity, sexuality and, as the Co-Founder of D/ecology, facilitates conversations around decolonising shared spaces. Committed to the potential of positive dialogue, even when it can only take place in online spaces, Ben has used lockdown to continue his work empowering men of different experiences to express themselves and help make the world a better place.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martens 1461, we called Ben up over Zoom to discuss his Dr. Martens story, why discussions of masculinity must be intersectional and how he’s continued to advocate for change throughout the pandemic.
Great to meet you Ben! Tell us about how you’ve been continuing to advocate for the causes you care about during lockdown.
The main thing for Beyond Equality has been finding our footing in the digital space. There’s all these people who we would have had to travel up and down the country to have conversations with before but who we can now talk to on Zoom or FaceTime, which is amazing.
And what’s one thing you’ve learnt over the past year?
No matter who you are, you need to constantly be doing the work. It becomes very easy to see yourself as this enlightened being or like you’re ahead of the conversation and, actually, the work has to be done at home first. You need to do that before you can go out and change people’s lives. As an organisation, that looks like making sure our organisation is diverse and inclusive rather than just talking about that.
Lockdown, coupled with the events of the past year more broadly, have taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. With that in mind, why is it important for activists to prioritise self care?
Self care is super important — making time and space for the things you’re passionate about and enjoying your life. Not everything has to be super serious, joy is a radical act.
What do you mean when you say “joy is a radical act”?
If you live in the world as a person who faces oppression one of the key functions of that is to stop you from being happy to be alive, to stop you from enjoying life. Actually, the route of just existing sometimes and still being here is enough. This has been a really hard year and a lot of people have struggled in terms of their physical, mental and emotional health. We need to take a moment and pat ourselves on the back. It’s a political act to be waking up and turning up each day.
A lot of your work centres on masculinity so, tell us, what does masculinity mean to you?
Masculinity to me is something that is socially constructed. It’s a way of being: the norms, ideals, behaviours and attributes that we associate with men. On a personal level, I think masculinity means being who you want to be regardless of what that looks like and having the confidence to do that.
How do we push the conversation around masculinity forward?
The first and most important thing is just to start having the conversation. In the work that I do, I’ve found that a lot of guys have never had this conversation [about what masculinity means]. It’s about finding spaces where men are gathered and where they can engage in conversations. Just asking men what they think masculinity means, what they like about it, what they don’t like about it and what they could change if they could change anything.
It’s interesting that you made the distinction earlier between masculinity socially and what masculinity means to you, personally. Right now it feels like masculinity is seen as a monolith, even though there’s so much diversity across what it can be.
The culturally dominant form of masculinity that we see in the UK is not the same everywhere in the world. And it’s not the same everywhere in the UK, either. There’s a big difference between masculinity across different cultures, subcultures and identities. My experience of masculinity is really different to a white guy’s experience of masculinity. There are so many identities, so if you’re a man but you’re not cis or heterosexual or able-bodied, what does that mean? If we can broaden the conversation and consider everyone’s identities and the impact of all of those things on this construct [of masculinity], then we can have much better conversations.
With your work, you give men space to talk and heal — why is that a more effective way of tackling male violence and rage than a more punitive approach?
[The type of work we do] becomes preventive and that’s really important. Even within a punitive system, unless you do that preventative work then the outcomes will stay the same. Once you understand your own positionality, and the ways that you can move through the world, you can utilise that to make it easier for other people. The majority of people want to do good things and you start that by creating space for guys to grapple with ideas of power and privilege and patriarchy, as well as systems of oppression.
You’re often labelled a “change-maker”. Tell us, what’s one thing you would do to change the world?
Give everybody the opportunity to have a conversation that’s free of judgement. There’s a Rumi poem that says; “beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Giving people that opportunity to step back and think about things is a luxury that not everybody has — it would create a lot of change if we gave people that space.
As someone who often takes a stand for the things you believe in, what does Dr. Martens stand for to you?
It’s a brand for people who don’t follow the norm or the rules. I’ve always seen them as linked to ideas of rebellion, revolution and fucking up the status quo.
What’s your Dr. Martens story?
Dr. Martens has been really supportive of my work and that of my peers doing social justice work. I think they’re really good at sharing their platform and amplifying voices.
The 1461s you’re wearing right now have just turned 60 — are they looking good for their age?
They’re a constant classic. It’s hard to always be at the forefront of fashion and there are certain things we look back at and think “that’s timeless” and there are others that we think should never come back. The 1461s are timeless shoes, you can wear them with any kind of outfit. I’m wearing them with cargos but I’ve got some really nice high-waisted tapered trousers that I can wear them with for a funky 70s throwback. I can see, just like with my other pairs of Dr. Martens, that these are going to get a good wearing.
Loved getting to know Ben? Catch him on Dr. Martens Talking Tough Podcast, where he discusses self care, toxic masculinity and accountability, here
Stay tuned for more Activism At Home stories throughout the month of April. Shop the 1461 at drmartens.com.
8 April 2021