Jackson Katz: Why We Can No Longer See Sexual Violence As A Women's Issue

Feb 1, 2019
Originally published on February 4, 2019 10:37 am

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Gender, Power And Fairness.

About Jackson Katz's TED Talk

Anti-sexism educator Jackson Katz refuses to see gender violence issues as women's issues that "good men help out with." He implores men to examine their privilege and their role in sexual assault.

About Jackson Katz

Jackson Katz is an educator and social theorist with a Ph.D. in cultural studies and education from UCLA. His work focuses on gender, race and violence.

He co-founded Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), a gender violence prevention program. Since 1997, he has run MVP Strategies, which provides sexual harassment and gender violence prevention/leadership training to institutions in the public and private sectors in U.S. and around the world.

He is the author of two books: The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How all Men Can Help, and Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

So when most men hear the term sexual harassment or gender violence, from your experience, what do they think that means for them?

JACKSON KATZ: Yeah, I think most men don't see these issues as their issues, even though the overwhelming majority of domestic and sexual violence is perpetrated by men. And a lot of men will say, these are problems. But they're not my problem.

RAZ: This is Jackson Katz.

KATZ: I run educational programs, gender violence prevention programs in colleges, in the sports culture, in the military, in schools, just looking at all the issues that relate to how gender - and, specifically, masculinity - contribute to men's violence, both against women and against other men and against themselves.

RAZ: So how did you - how did you first get involved in this work?

KATZ: It was as basic as this. I was living in a coed residence hall. And I remember feeling quite free to come and go as I please and being able to walk home from parties at 2 or 3 in the morning without really worrying about my personal safety. The women in my floor - on my floor had a completely different experience.

They were constantly worried about how they were going to get home, who they were going to get home with, constantly changing their plans based on, you know, safety issues. And I remember thinking, as a man, how would I feel if I had to worry constantly about my personal safety, and I couldn't come and go as I please? And I remember thinking I'd be ticked off.

RAZ: Jackson Katz picks up his idea from the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

KATZ: I'm going to share with you a paradigm-shifting perspective on the issues of gender violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, relationship abuse, sexual harassment, sexual abuse of children, that whole range of issues that I'll refer to in shorthand as gender violence issues. They've been seen as women's issues that some good men help out with.

But I have a problem with that frame. And I don't accept it. I don't see these as women's issues that some good men help out with. In fact, I'm going to argue that these are men's issues, first and foremost. Now, obviously...

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

KATZ: Obviously...

(APPLAUSE)

KATZ: Obviously, they're also women's issues. So I appreciate that. But calling gender violence a women's issue is part of the problem. This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves, which is to say the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance because that's one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection. And in fact, being rendered invisible, men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.

And I want to share with you this exercise that illustrates on the sentence-structure level how the way that we think conspires to keep our attention off of men. It starts with a very basic English sentence. John beat Mary. John is the subject. Beat is the verb. Mary is the object. Now we're going to move to the second sentence. Mary was beaten by John. We've shifted our focus in one sentence from John to Mary. The third sentence, John is dropped, and we have Mary was beaten. And now it's all about Mary. We're not even thinking about John. It's totally focused on Mary. Over the past generation, the term we've used synonymous with beaten is battered. So we have Mary was battered.

And the final sentence in this sequence, flowing from the others, is Mary is a battered woman. So now Mary's very identity is what was done to her by John in the first instance. And those of us who work in domestic and sexual violence field know that victim-blaming is pervasive in this realm. When we say things like, why do these women go out with these men? Why are they attracted to these men? Why do they keep going back? Why was she drinking with that group of guys in that hotel room?

But let's be clear. Asking questions about Mary is not going to get us anywhere in terms of preventing violence. We have to ask a different set of questions. The questions are not about Mary. They're about John. Why does John beat Mary? Why is domestic violence still a big problem in the United States and all over the world? What's going on? Why do so many men abuse - physically, emotionally, verbally and other ways - the women and girls and the men and boys that they claim to love? What's going on with men?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: So right now we're in a very complex moment where for so long, women have silently endured, you know, everything from humiliation, to serious violence and assault. And many prominent men have been exposed as perpetrators of all different kinds of abuse. But at the end of the day, there is a perspective that it doesn't matter what the act is. You know, abuse is abuse, and it needs to be called out. And that is complicated for some men, who say, well, different behavior should be treated differently and should be punished differently. What do you think about that idea?

KATZ: Let me just say, as somebody who does this work, there are differences. There are nuances. You can't just make categorical statements about forms of abuse. But all of it is wrong. Any form of abuse is wrong. But, of course, there's complexities. And what we're talking about here is changing social norms about what is acceptable 'cause I think that's really the ultimate issue here, is that so many of the problems that are surfacing are not just about individual perpetrators who are horrible men. And I think that's why Harvey Weinstein and, you know, Bill Cosby, while it was important that as high-profile men that their cases became, you know, sort of cultural touchstones, it also distorted the issue a little bit because their behavior is so awful that a lot of men could then distance themselves from them and say that guy's just sick.

RAZ: That's right. That's not me. Right.

KATZ: That's not me. I think that the real reckoning is not with the pathological individuals, but it's with the norms that have guided so many of us for so long. This came up Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I mean, a big part of the subtext of the Kavanaugh hearings was, how are we going to think about behavior from decades ago that was, in some cases, seen as normative in certain parts of male culture but is no longer being seen as normative? And how much are we going to retroactively hold people accountable for that behavior? It wasn't about whether somebody believed her or him. I think the vast majority people in the country believed her.

RAZ: Sure.

KATZ: But I think the split was between people who believed her and said that, as a result, his behavior made him unfit for the Supreme Court, and the other half of the country said, we believe her and his behavior is OK because even though it's not great, it's kind of like, that's just how it is, and get over it.

RAZ: So here we are, two guys. And - let's be honest - I mean, over the course of my life and I'm sure over the course of your life, you have heard other men speak disrespectfully about women. You've heard pretty vulgar things from other men. You may have said it. I may have said it in my teens. That's true. I mean, pretty much every man that you know and that I know has heard these things. Over the course of much of my life, that language, that behavior was around. And it's still very pervasive.

KATZ: That's right. One of the points that I often make to men is that you don't have to be perfect as a man to speak out on the issues of domestic and sexual violence and sexual harassment. Part of the process for men is to think about, OK, how have we contributed over the years, either through our silence or through our actions? And then how can we use whatever influence we have today in our own lives to get on the other side of that? And I think honesty works much better than self-righteousness. So for example, I never say that I have no sexism in my bones or I've never acted out in ways that are sexist. But I'm also going to say that I'm not going to stop speaking out on these issues just because I don't consider myself perfect. 'Cause there's no such person.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: That's Jackson Katz. He's an author and anti-sexism educator. You can see his full talk at ted.com. On the show today, ideas about Gender, Power and Fairness. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.