Jackson Katz: Violence against women—it's a men's issue (1)
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. (Applause)
Now obviously, they're also women's issues, so I appreciate that, but calling gender violence a women's issue is part of the problem, for a number of reasons.
The first is that it gives men an excuse not to pay attention.
Right? A lot of men hear the term "women's issues" and we tend to tune it out, and we think, "Hey, I'm a guy. That's for the girls," or "That's for the women." And a lot of men literally don't get beyond the first sentence as a result. It's almost like a chip in our brain is activated, and the neural pathways take our attention in a different direction when we hear the term "women's issues." This is also true, by the way, of the word "gender," because a lot of people hear the word "gender" and they think it means "women." So they think that gender issues is synonymous with women's issues. There's some confusion about the term gender. And actually, let me illustrate that confusion by way of analogy.
So let's talk for a moment about race. In the U.S., when we hear the word "race," a lot of people think that means African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, South Asian, Pacific Islander, on and on. A lot of people, when they hear the word "sexual orientation" think it means gay, lesbian, bisexual. And a lot of people, when they hear the word "gender," think it means women. In each case, the dominant group doesn't get paid attention to. Right? As if white people don't have some sort of racial identity or belong to some racial category or construct, as if heterosexual people don't have a sexual orientation, as if men don't have a gender. 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, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us. And this is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence, how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men. And I'm going to illustrate what I'm talking about by using the old tech.
I'm old school on some fundamental regards. I work with -- I make films -- and I work with high tech, but I'm still old school as an educator, and I want to share with you this exercise that illustrates on the sentence structure level how the way that we think, literally the way that we use language, conspires to keep our attention off of men. This is about domestic violence in particular, but you can plug in other analogues. This comes from the work of the feminist linguist Julia Penelope. It starts with a very basic English sentence: "John beat Mary.
That's a good English sentence. John is the subject. Beat is the verb. Mary is the object. Good sentence. Now we're going to move to the second sentence, which says the same thing in the passive voice. "Mary was beaten by John." And now a whole lot has happened in one sentence. We've gone from "John beat Mary" to "Mary was beaten by John." We've shifted our focus in one sentence from John to Mary, and you can see John is very close to the end of the sentence, well, close to dropping off the map of our psychic plain. 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 -- Mary is a battered woman -- is what was done to her by John in the first instance. But we've demonstrated that John has long ago left the conversation. Now, those of us who work in the domestic and sexual violence field know that victim-blaming is pervasive in this realm, which is to say, blaming the person to whom something was done rather than the person who did it.
And 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? What was she wearing at that party? What a stupid thing to do. Why was she drinking with that group of guys in that hotel room? This is victim blaming, and there are numerous reasons for it, but one of them is that our whole cognitive structure is set up to blame victims. This is all unconscious. Our whole cognitive structure is set up to ask questions about women and women's choices and what they're doing, thinking, and wearing. And I'm not going to shout down people who ask questions about women, okay? It's a legitimate thing to ask. But's 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.
You can see where I'm going with this, right? The questions are not about Mary. They're about John. The questions include things like, 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? Why do so many adult men sexually abuse little girls and little boys? Why is that a common problem in our society and all over the world today? Why do we hear over and over again about new scandals erupting in major institutions like the Catholic Church or the Penn State football program or the Boy Scouts of America, on and on and on? And then local communities all over the country and all over the world, right? We hear about it all the time. The sexual abuse of children. What's going on with men? Why do so many men rape women in our society and around the world? Why do so many men rape other men? What is going on with men? And then what is the role of the various institutions in our society that are helping to produce abusive men at pandemic rates? Because this isn't about individual perpetrators.
That's a naive way to understanding what is a much deeper and more systematic social problem. You know, the perpetrators aren't these monsters who crawl out of the swamp and come into town and do their nasty business and then retreat into the darkness. That's a very naive notion, right? Perpetrators are much more normal than that, and everyday than that. So the question is, what are we doing here in our society and in the world? What are the roles of various institutions in helping to produce abusive men? What's the role of religious belief systems, the sports culture, the pornography culture, the family structure, economics, and how that intersects, and race and ethnicity and how that intersects? How does all this work? And then, once we start making those kinds of connections and asking those important and big questions, then we can talk about how we can be transformative, in other words, how can we do something differently?
How can we change the practices? How can we change the socialization of boys and the definitions of manhood that lead to these current outcomes? These are the kind of questions that we need to be asking and the kind of work that we need to be doing, but if we're endlessly focused on what women are doing and thinking in relationships or elsewhere, we're not going to get to that piece. Now, I understand that a lot of women who have been trying to speaking out about these issues, today and yesterday and for years and years, often get shouted down for their efforts.
They get called nasty names like "male-basher" and "man-hater," and the disgusting and offensive "feminazi." Right? And you know what all this is about? It's called kill the messenger. It's because the women who are standing up and speaking out for themselves and for other women as well as for men and boys, it's a statement to them to sit down and shut up, keep the current system in place, because we don't like it when people rock the boat. We don't like it when people challenge our power. You'd better sit down and shut up, basically. And thank goodness that women haven't done that. Thank goodness that we live in a world where there's so much women's leadership that can counteract that. But one of the powerful roles that men can play in this work is that we can say some things that sometimes women can't say, or, better yet, we can be heard saying some things that women often can't be heard saying.
Now, I appreciate that that's a problem. It's sexism. But it's the truth. And so one of the things that I say to men, and my colleagues and I always say this, is we need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff, and standing with women and not against them and pretending that somehow this is a battle between the sexes and other kinds of nonsense. We live in the world together.