Richie Hardcore reveals how his abusive past helped his crusade against toxic masculinity

The mental health campaigner opened up about influences and past experiences which triggered his interest in helping others.
The mental health campaigner opened up about influences and past experiences which triggered his interest in helping others. Photo credit: Supplied.

Dedicated to making a difference to social issues affecting communities around New Zealand, Richie Hardcore knows personally how toxic masculinity can shape lives. 

He grew up with family violence and it's his experiences that form the basis of his passion to raise awareness, prompt discussion and inspire change. 

"At an emotional level, I know what it's like to be a scared little kid and an angry teenager," Richie told Newshub. 

"My father used alcohol to cope, and at times was abusive towards my mother.

"Things got better when my Dad went into recovery, but then he relapsed when I was a teenager. I would intervene when things got aggressive and he started putting my mum down and then I would have physical altercations with him. 

"When you're young the instability just seemed normal, but in hindsight it was pretty traumatic. I remember a few times where the cops would come around and take my father away. 

"For the second time, he got sober again, he went to rehab, went back into recovery and our relationship started healing."

It impacted his understanding of the world and his own relationships, becoming things he had to work through as an adult and now underpin the work he does today. 

He avoided teenage binge drinking or drug dabbling and hasn't drunk alcohol for more than a decade, associating the consumption of any substance with negative connotations. 

He is fortunate, he says, to have been deterred from heading down a path of emulating similar behaviour patterns. 

Richie Hardcore reveals how his abusive past helped his crusade against toxic masculinity
Photo credit: Supplied / Richie Hardcore

"I did drink but it was like literally four or five times a year because I remember being 15 years old and my friends started getting wasted but I didn't want to."

As a teenager, he gravitated towards 'Straight Edge' - a movement associated with the American hardcore music scene. It was an offshoot of punk rock and, in the late 1990s, bands would sing about social issues, environmental protection and sobriety.

"It really gave me a space to develop healthily and, on top of that, I had martial arts as well, I became a competitive fighter all through my 20s and early 30s and that, too, gave me an arena to work out my frustrations and have good role models."

His persistent work with organisations like the Ministry of Health and White Ribbon New Zealand have led to him being recognised as a leader within sparking and steering discussions around violence towards women, alcohol and drug use and the effects of porn on young people. 

He has since repaired his relationship with his father. Richie says he knows that pursuing this work publicly means, at times, he has to address his past. 

"I've talked to my Dad a lot about what used to happen and I've asked him if he's okay with me talking about my childhood in public.

"My father said, 'Yeah, if it helps other people, I am happy for you to be honest.'"

It sparks a relevant message from Richie: "I think that's something that we have to remember, too, people do change and people are products of their own environment and their history, that doesn't excuse negative behaviour in the past.

"Just because you've made mistakes or been violent, it doesn't even mean you're a violent person.

"When he was sober my Dad did his best and taught me important lessons about how to learn from his own mistakes and that emotions aren't a bad thing.

"I'll always remember my Dad said to me 'it does a man good to cry'."

Now in his work as an educator, Richie draws on his past sporting success in Thai boxing - where he was a New Zealand and South Pacific Champion - to relate to men of different ages and social backgrounds.

One of the biggest issues behind family violence are the stereotypical ideas that society is taught about being a man, he says. 

"It's not about telling men them that it's 'bad to be a man' or 'it's bad to be into sports'.

"Research tells us one of the best ways we can stop men's violence towards women is by reframing those old-fashion stereotypes about masculinity about what it means to be a man. 

"If we allow boys and men to be vulnerable, flexible in their behaviour, express feelings and not lock them in that socially prescribed role of strong, tough provider or ladies' man, they're less likely to act out.

"When you put people in a box and prescribe behaviour that no one can healthily fit into, they'll eventually explode. 

"In our culture for many violence is still socially accepted as a problem solving tool. In some circles men aren't encouraged to back down from confrontation or to talk about things that upset or challenge them. This means that, in our country, often wives or girlfriends get hurt. And it's young men make up the bulk of our suicides, fatal road accidents and our prison population." 

Speaking to students across New Zealand and Australia, he is regularly contacted by teenagers reaching out with confronting stories about the adversities they face. 

Richie Hardcore reveals how his abusive past helped his crusade against toxic masculinity
Photo credit: Kelvin Cheung / FMSS

Richie has 'professional supervision' to help process what he sees and hears; he also visits a psychologist which gives him an objective space to unload the work he is doing, and get guidance. 

"I have really good mentors. People who have been doing this for a long time," he says. 

"It's important because this is a complex and contentious field.

"It's always evolving and you want to make sure that it's not opinion but facts which are outlining the work," he said. 

Richie is on the board at White Ribbon, often speaking to the research team there. 

White Ribbon has outlined eight different actions to ignite a positive change and they are encouraging all men to choose one which resonates with them. 

"Even if it's someone who has not ever been physically violent, but has been controlling, overly jealous, possessive, or emotionally hurtful, we encourage them to take ownership of their past actions, that's an important first step.

"A lot of men grow up in a culture which applauds violence and they become violent in their own relationships, which isn't an excuse for their behaviour.

"At White Ribbon we talk about how any relationship must be equal and both people must nurture and support each other. We break down the stereotypical roles of men and women that we know to be problematic."

On Sunday night Auckland's Harbour Bridge will light up during a free event to celebrate the efforts made by communities so far to spur change and continue raising awareness on family violence. 

Richie is calling for other men to join him in his fight to see change in the set ways of the cultures around the country.

"We have a crisis for men and that means that women and children are getting hurt too. We need to allow men to be better men."