Jackson Katz: Violence Against Women Is a Men’s Issue

Jackson Katz, an
internationally recognized educator on gender violence prevention among
men and boys, argues society must first transform how it thinks about
violence against women if it wants to prevent these acts from
reoccurring. "As a culture, Americans first must take the step in
acknowledging that violence against women is not a women’s issue, but a
men’s issue," Katz said.Photo courtesy Men Against ViolenceJackson Katz, Men Against Violence

"This is the foundation strategy for engaging young men and boys in
gender violence prevention," Katz told an audience of school
counselors, social workers, teachers, University of Iowa psychology students, social
workers, and community members at a forum in Iowa in April. "The first problem I have with labeling gender issues as women’s issues is that it gives men an excuse to not pay
attention. This is also the problem with calling them gender issues,
because the majority of the people in the status quo see gender issues
as women’s issues."

Katz is an educator, author and filmmaker and has been long recognized
as one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists, in particular
in the sports and military cultures. In 1993 he conceived and
co-founded the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Program at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society.
The multiracial, mixed-gender MVP program was the first large-scale
attempt to enlist high school, collegiate and professional athletes in
the fight against all forms of men’s violence against women. Today MVP
is the most widely utilized gender violence prevention program in
college and professional athletics.

Drawing upon his most recent book, "The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men
Hurt Women and How All Can Help," Katz shared some strategies with the
audience, providing them with what he hoped was a foundation they could
build upon in their professional and private lives. "My goal here today
is to give you some concrete strategies on how to approach issues
regarding violence against women and prevent gender-violence issues
among men and young boys."

Katz spent a significant portion of the session driving home his first
strategy and why a paradigm shift in thinking is imperative to the
prevention of gender violence. At the root of the problem is language
and how, historically, language has helped cement and legitimize how
people view gender violence.

Katz used race and gender to illustrate how, over time, language has
helped perpetuate and maintain the dominant culture’s dominance. "In
the United States, when we hear the word `race,’ people generally think
of African Americans," Katz said. "When people hear `sexual
orientation,’ they tend to think that means homosexual, gay, or
lesbian. When people hear `gender,’ they think of women."

"In each, the dominate culture is left out of the equation. This is one
way that dominant systems maintain themselves in that they are rarely
challenged to think about their own dominance," Katz said. "This is one
of the key characteristics of power and privilege and why the dominant
culture has ability to go unexamined and remain invisible."

Katz admits this is one of the key challenges he faces when working
with men, the dominant group in our society. Katz reminds the audience
that his focus is on men. "I hope nobody in this room is under the
delusion that this is sexist," Katz said. "I know women have made great
historical strides in recent history, but when we talk about the
dominant group in our society, we are talking about men. I’m also aware
that members of dominant groups have been strong supporters of
subordinate groups, but let’s not be naïve, for there have been members
of dominant groups who have resisted reform and responsibility."

Another reason why Katz has a problem with people using women’s issues
to describe violence against women is the issue of perpetration and who
is responsible for perpetrating these acts. "Take rape for example,"
said Katz. "Over 99 percent of rape is perpetrated by men, but it’s a
women’s issue?"

Kats said one underlying problem is that college campuses tend to focus
on the prevention of rape and sexual violence. "But the term prevention
in not really prevention; rather, it’s risk reduction," Katz said.
"These programs focus on how women can reduce their chances of being
sexually assaulted. I agree that women benefit from these education
programs, but let us not mistake this for prevention."

"If a woman has done everything in her power to reduce her risk, then a
man who has the proclivity for abuse or need for power will just move
on to another woman or target," Katz added. "It’s about the guy and his
need to assert his power. And it’s not just individual men, it’s a
cultural problem. Our culture is producing violent men, and violence
against women has become institutionalized. We need to take a step back
and examine the institutionalized polices drafted by men that
perpetuate the problem."

The third problem Katz has with using the term women’s issues has to do
with how deeply personal these issues are in men’s lives. "It is
estimated that 18 million women, children, and men have been sexually
abused in the U.S.," Katz said. "Think about all the men who love these
people and have been personally and profoundly affected by knowing that
their loved ones have been a victim of sexual violence. So don’t tell
me these are not men’s issues."

Katz’s second strategy for addressing gender violence demands that we
hold male leaders accountable, since they have the transformative power
within the institution to make change happen. "I come from a social
justice perspective that if you are a member of the dominant group and
you don’t speak up in the face of others in your group when they are
abusive, your silence is a form of consent and complicity."

Katz says the mainstream media should also be held accountable for its
silence in the realm of reporting on gender violence. "On the one-year
anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, the coverage of the event
was pathetic, not to mention the commentary was ridiculously
superficial," Katz said. "There was not one mention of men,
masculinity, or violence in their coverage, yet all of these school
shootings have been perpetrated by young men. The first thing we should
be talking about is the gender of the perpetrators, not gun control,
school security, and the school’s responsibility."

Moreover, Katz used Michael Moore’s documentary film, "Bowling for
Columbine," to help support his point about the de-gendering of
violence perpetrated by men. "Moore’s documentary about the Columbine
shootings won several awards, including an Oscar for Best Documentary,"
Katz said. "He makes a two-hour film about gun violence; however, he
doesn’t once mention the single most important factor leading to the
shooting: gender."

Katz points out a pattern that has evolved regarding how the media uses
passive voice and sentences when reporting gender violence. Using a
board in the front of the room, Katz helped make his point by providing
the audience with a concrete exercise to illustrate the power of
passive voice (see below).

John beat Mary. (active)

Mary was beaten by John. (passive)

Mary was beaten. (passive)

Mary was battered. (passive)

Mary is a battered woman. (active)

"John has left the conversation long ago, while Mary evolves into the
active victim," Katz said. "This evolution of victim-blaming is very
pervasive in our society, because this is how our whole power structure
is set up. We start asking why Mary put herself into a position to be
beaten by John."

"If we really want to work on prevention, we need to start asking
questions about John, not Mary," Katz said. "We won’t get anything done
until we start treating these issues as men’s issues and shift the
paradigm at the cultural level."


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  • invalid-0

    Thank you for posting this. The issue of violence aganst women is a complex and important one. The idea of shifting the question from “why did she allow him to beat her” to “why did he beat her” is incredibly important.

  • http://toysoldier.wordpress.com invalid-0

    I find it rather sad that Katz presented gross misinformation in his comments. According to the most recent statistics 1 in 6 males will be a victim of sexual abuse by 18. Approximately 40% of those perpetrators are women. It is truly disturbing that Katz felt the need to deny male victimization, and even worse that he used a completely inaccurate stat–like 99% of all rape victims are female–to support what appears to be his tacit endorsement of sexual violence against males.

  • invalid-0

    Is that culturally and legally we have a really hard time defining rape. People’s definitions of ‘rape’ vs. their definition of ‘sexual abuse’ can be all over the place. Therefore, it’s really hard to compare a statistic of rape victims with one of sexual abuse victims. Depending on who is asking the questions and who is answering them, rape can be any number of things and sexual abuse can also be any number of things.

  • invalid-0

    Actually, Toy Soldier, Katz is quoted as saying, “Over 99 percent of rape is perpetrated by men, but it’s a women’s issue?”

    In case it needs to be broken down further for you to understand, he is saying that of all rapes committed (against both male and female victims), in 99% of the cases, men are the perpetrators. Since men are committing the vast majority of rapes (again, against both male and female victims), we need to reframe the problem as an issue of men’s violence, not women’s victimization.

    Try not to jump to conclusions about Katz’s motivation until you actually read and understand what he is saying. Because it seems that you are the one with the inaccurate statistics.

  • invalid-0

    Well, I found a statistic that says that 90% of rape victims are women which was obtained by the Bureau of Justice. As for the 1 in 6 boys being sexually abuse before age 18, I don’t think the previous statistic includes all types of sexual abuse, only acts that fulfill the legal definition of rape.

    I think women’s violence against men and women’s sexual abuse of males adheres to a different psychological profile and results from different causes than men’s. And I don’t think that women’s violence of men or sexual abuse of boys is a systematic or ingrained part of society like men’s violence is.

  • invalid-0

    I’m so glad to see Jackson Katz getting some attention. My husband and I attended a talk he gave at a nearby university. My husband was really affected by what Katz had to say and is in the process of reading The Macho Paradox. We have a four-year old daughter and for the first time my husband is seeing our male-dominated culture in an eyes fully opened way.
    I know he sometimes wants to stop reading because it’s discouraging to know the reality of the world our daughter and other girls will be facing as they grow up. I encourage him to keep with it though because he can help her prepare to face it only if he is informed himself.
    I just don’t understand why Katz isn’t more of a presence in the media. He has such vitally important things to say.

  • invalid-0

    First off, if Katz is going to talk about these issues, he needs to stop using euphemisms and start calling things what they actually are. He is stereotyping against males, no matter how you look at it. Even if all school shootings and spousal abuse are perpetrated by men, it does not make them men’s or women’s issues. These are societal issues. The media uses passive voice to report many issues. How about when America sends a peacekeeping force overseas? We are really sending a militant force into another nation to kill and oppress our enemies. We need to stop focusing on men and women in our country, and focus on what our country believes as a collective.

    Stop telling children that men are the dominant gender and this needs to change. Start telling them that everyone is equal, and that will make it true. If my son approached me about someone’s “sexual orientation” I would not say to him, “Some people don’t like fags but they’re ok in my book,” I would tell him it is ok for any person to love any other person. This man is foolishly supporting stereotypes while at the same time trying to destroy them, something that will never work.

  • invalid-0

    Growing up as a male in America, and knowing personally a victim of rape, I can say with utmost certainty that Katz is right when he says that we need to look seriously at the way we raise men and define masculinity in this country. It is absolutely disgusting the things that men still believe and the justifications that men use to abuse women physically, emotionally, or psychologically. Whether or not we have experienced these things firsthand, the current approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will not serve to change the underlying thought processes that many men still have. Whether most men acknowledge it or not, we are raised to believe in many of the archaic stereotypes that our fathers were raised with, that we should have some form of control over women, and that many women “ask” for the things we do to them. Ultimately, when we truly look at the pain and suffering this causes, we should all find some role in changing the way our society views “manliness,” both in ourselves and especially in the ways we raise our children.

  • invalid-0

    You seem to be forgetting there is a difference between sexual abuse and rape. I am not saying that Katz’s statistics are right, but I do not think he is endorsing sexual violence against men. Before you go off telling everyone how wrong he is, maybe you should get your facts correct yourself.

  • invalid-0

    This is headed in the right direction– inspite of the qualms. Let’s not trip over statistics and semantics so much, though. Where are the solutions? It is important to focus on perception but we need to, simoultaneously, take active roles in turning the trend. I would like to see men change the way they think about these issues. Let’s not tell men how to think differently… let’s help men learn to change their paradigm. Let’s facilitate.