by Emily Landgraf
Normalizing gender violence and exaggerating gender stereotypes are important problems in American society, according to an authority on the subject.
Jackson Katz, author of the book The Macho Paradox, spoke in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater on Wednesday, Dec. 3.
Katz is an educator, author and filmmaker. His work is in the field of what are historically considered “women’s issues,” which are gender violence issues like sexual assault and domestic violence against women.
At the beginning of the lecture, Katz first explained to the audience his three problems with using the term “women’s issues,” or even gender issues, to refer to issues of gender violence. The first reason that Katz stated was that the term gives men an excuse not to pay attention. The term women’s issues, and even the term gender issues, implies that these are issues that only affect women.
According to Katz, tuning out is a big problem. His work is to look critically at the traditional definitions of manhood and masculinity in society. Katz pointed out that men, as the dominant system in society, are often reluctant to look critically at their privilege, which is characteristic of most prominent groups.
“When I say that men are the dominant group, I hope there’s nobody here … deluded into thinking that we have equality of the sexes in 2008,” Katz said.
He acknowledged that women have made enormous amounts of progress in society throughout the past 40 years, but he also said “we are nowhere near equality of the sexes.”
Katz’s work to root out gender violence will help achieve the equality that he believes society currently lacks. To do this, the way society defines manhood and the way boys and men are raised and socialized must be examined critically, according to Katz.
The second problem he has with using the term women’s issues has to do with who is perpetuating the majority of gender violence. Katz made the point that when educating men about this subject, it must be made clear that the majority of men are not engaging in gender violence, but that the majority of those guilty of gender violence are men.
Katz stated that a typical response from a man when confronted with these issues is defensiveness. Most men are “good guys”: They don’t rape or abuse women or hit their girlfriends.
“I think we need to raise the bar for what it means to be a good guy in the United States in 2008; just saying ‘I’m not a rapist’ is not particularly impressive to me,” he said. “Just saying ‘I don’t beat my girlfriend’ is not something guys should be getting high fives for.”
The third problem Katz has with using the term women’s issues is that these issues are as deeply personal to men as they are to women. Many men have daughters, sisters, girlfriends, female friends and coworkers who have been victims of sexual abuse. Many men also have been victims of sexual abuse. These are not issues that concern only women.
Therefore, Katz said these issues should be called men’s issues. According to Katz, that is the only way to shake people up and make change happen. Men in positions of power need to confront other men about sexist behavior for any real progress to be made, he said.
After explaining his problem with using the term women’s issues, Katz utilized clips from his film Tough Guise and another film called Mickey Mouse Monopoly to illustrate the impact of mass media on the definitions of masculinity and femininity, as well as sexist behaviors in society.
“The media is the great social norming force,” Katz said.