UN-masc-ING JACKSON

By on June 20, 2018

Ahead of his local appearance, gender justice warrior Jackson Katz dismantles masculinity and reassembles male responsibility

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The phrase “violence against women” is misleading, Jackson Katz often tells audiences. The author and educator is a prominent voice in the movement for gender justice. An honest description would be “men’s violence against women,” as the vast majority of crimes committed against women are by men. It is Katz’s mission to train men to take responsibility to end violence against women rather than tune it out as a “women’s issue.”

The Community Safety Network (CSN) is bringing Katz to Jackson to share this message. He will give a free presentation, “Men, Women, and #MeToo,” 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Jackson Hole High School auditorium.

Katz has worked extensively with athletes and recently was part of a congressional hearing that focused on sexual harassment in the service industry in the #MeToo era. Given that much of Teton County’s population is either involved with athletics or the service industry, his message is likely to resonate.

“Katz has been an inspiration for many years,” said Shannon Nichols, CSN’s director of outreach and prevention. “He’s given me new ways to think about the fact that change is on the horizon, and that each person can change their individual actions, the way we think, the way we talk, and most importantly, the way we act, to create a world that’s safer for people.”

On one hand, Katz seems a rarity. He is a well-known male advocate for gender equality in a field dominated by women, a former football player who minored in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

His violence prevention and education program, Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), is the first of its kind to work with athletic organizations and the military to end gender based violence. Among many other teams, he has worked with the New England Patriots, the Boston Red Sox, NASCAR, and the Marine Corps. The U.S. Navy has implemented MVP on bases across the world.

Katz has made several documentaries about sexism and the media and written 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.

As one of a few well-known males in his field, he is targeted by men who see him as a traitor. He’s been called a “pussy” and a “man-gina”; his critics say he’s been Katz-strated. These insults do not sting anymore but they can be “powerful in keeping a lot of men in place and conforming to the system,” he told Planet Jackson Hole.

The irony, though, is that the cultural dynamics that make violence against women so prevalent and that make it possible for him to be dismissed as a “pussy” hurt all men.

“The same system that produces men who abuse women also produces men who abuse other men and men who abuse themselves,” he said.

Men are more likely to be perpetrators of every kind of crime, from theft to rape, and are also more likely to hurt themselves. Katz pointed to suicide statistics: “There are 32,000 gun deaths in the U.S. each year, and two-thirds of those are suicides. The vast majority of those are men.”

Understanding why men abuse women requires questioning how violence and masculinity have become so interwoven. When men step up to intervene in gender based violence, they also step away from a system that hurts them, Katz said.

In that way, he explained, he is not at all a rarity, not fighting a niche cause. The cause for gender justice is for everybody, and it is one that generations of men and women have committed their lives to advancing.

For now, Katz challenges those who will attend his talk—especially men—to see themselves as part of this cause, a cause to which they have the ability and responsibility to contribute. Ahead of his Jackson presentation, Planet Jackson Hole sat down with Katz.


*****

Planet Jackson Hole: Most of the people who work to end gender violence are women. Why is it important for men to participate as well, and how does it also benefit them?

Jackson Katz: If you are a man and are committed to fundamental justice and fairness then you shouldn’t need anything more than that. You need to think about questions like, “Who are you and who do you want to be? …  do you believe in the golden rule?” If the answer is that you’re a man and you believe in basic concepts like equal justice under the law then you should be involved in this. Gender inequality is fundamentally wrong.

But there are ways that men are also beneficiaries. The same system that produces men who abuse men produces men who abuse other men and men who abuse themselves. It’s not one or the other, we care about women and we care about men, it’s not either or.

Men’s violence against women and against one another is all a part of the same system, and if you understand the ideology behind both you realize they’re pieces of a much bigger puzzle. Feminism is not anti-male. It’s actually at the cutting edge of helping men think about how the relationship between violence and manhood has harmed countless women and men. It gives us ways to think about ourselves that are potentially transformative and healthy.

Feminist thinkers were at the cutting edge of having conversations about depression in men. Men and women have been informed by feminist thinkers who encourage thinking critically about the driving forces behind, for example, an inability to seek help—discussions renewed by events like Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. The men’s health movement is a growing consciousness of ways of thinking about how gender norms shape boys and men’s health outcomes—psychological, physical, emotional—and they credit the feminist leaders of the women’s health movement for creating the intellectual architecture and social and political framework and cultural beliefs about manhood.

PJH: So one of the impacts of this work is to help men be more connected with themselves and others, but sexual and gender based violence is also born of power and entitlement. Is it important to see both?

Katz: Yes, and the second part, entitlement, is really necessary to see. Some men who are interested in men’s emotional lives are in complete denial that there is also a political system where men have the vast majority of social and political power in the world.

When you start talking about power and privilege, you lose them because they just want to know how to improve men’s emotional health but they don’t want to go into the power and inequality. But you can do both. You can attend to men’s needs and acknowledge that men have enormous privilege and advantage in patriarchal structures that are deeply, deeply rooted.

And, this has to come from intersectional thinking. You can’t just say “men” as if there aren’t differences among men … some white working class men feel they’ve been left behind, and they see a wealthy white woman who has had way more economic privilege than they have and they hear the word “sexism” and it doesn’t feel like it applies to their lives. Race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status need to be marbled into the conversation

PJH: Since the #MeToo movement has gained momentum, I’ve had more and more conversations with men who are looking back on their pasts differently, wondering if they’ve done something wrong. They also seem nervous about relationships with women in the future, not sure if or how this movement will change things. Is this something you’re noticing, and what are your recommendations to men with these questions or concerns?

Katz: This is part of the process. I think we’re at the beginning of it. There’s no settled answer to the question of how do men move forward …  but this is not an individual problem. It’s not isolated to individuals going through their own process. It’s the role of educators, writers, and cultural leaders to have dialogues, to open up space and shake people up to the point of talking.

This is not about individuals coming to their own sense of what they need to do. We need to ask questions like, what is happening to men as a whole in the culture? And what role do men have in this work, how can men be partners to women in this work and not retreat into some sort of defensive crouch, how can men be partners and allies and supporters?

[Race is one analogy]. There is a difference between feeling guilt and responsibility. White people can feel guilty for white privilege, men feel guilty for being men …  but I don’t feel guilty for being white, or a man, or heterosexual, but I do feel a responsibility for being a white man in a racist, sexist, and heterosexist society. The question becomes, what can I do?

Something I tell men a lot is that you can make mistakes … and you will. You’re going to have part of your psyche that is deeply ingrained that still holds sexist thoughts. Unworking that is part of the process. I would never say I have these questions figured out. But I’m willing to work on it. There’s no shame in it. If you’re a man that’s been socialized in a sexist society, you learn normative behaviors.

Most men who have committed rape don’t know they’re rapists. A lot of guys think this is just how it is, this is how the world works, this is how it’s supposed to be. If they’re defensive, it’s because they never saw themselves as engaging in behavior that’s not normative.

But young men need to know they don’t have to start from scratch … there are so many men and organizations who have been working on these questions for decades, there is so much work that has been come before, but there are a lot of men that don’t know it exists. There are a lot of men  who say they don’t know what to do … but there are resources.

PJH: In previous PJH coverage, women who have experienced sexual violence have drawn connections between the culture of extreme sports and the sexual culture here. Risk-taking and extreme attitudes in one seem to trickle into the other. As someone who has worked a lot with athletes and the military, how do you begin to dis-identify these very male spaces with violence?

Katz: To those in places that attract high-risk behavior, like skiing communities, I would say that speaking out against sexism is more risky than participating in it. If you want to talk about men who have a high regard for people who take risks, it’s way more risky to turn to your friends if they say something sexist. It’s totally conformist and conventional to go along with the group and act like a sexual lout. That takes nothing special. It’s easy. Let’s put your money where your mouth is. It takes no risk to go along with something, it takes risk to resist.

We’re calling it risk-taking, but it’s about leadership. Are you a person who is a leader? Do you respect leaders or followers?

In the MVP program, we talk about the anti-high five moment. You get a high five for doing a great jump or in basketball for scoring a winning basket. You get high fives. But when your buddy is texting his girlfriend incessentantly to the point that he’s really trying to control her, know where she is all the time, if you say something to him about that, you’re not likely to get a high five. You’re more like to get, “this is none of your business.”

But we talk about what it takes to do that even if I don’t get immediate support or congratulations. It’s about reframing the guy so that he’s not some soft guy who is being too politically correct but who is strong and who has the courage of his convictions and is willing to speak even when it’s uncomfortable. It’s evidence of strength and leadership qualities.

What I talk about with athletes and teams is that in these peer cultures, your responsibility is not just to women, but to your teammates, your peers. This is the bystander approach: you see a guy harass a woman. Let’s say you care about him, but he’s a guy who, when he drinks starts to cross lines like grabbing women in the bar. When you see him acting like that you kind of walk away because you don’t want women to see you with him acting like that because it’s kind of embarrassing. But you continue to go out with him and drink with him.

You’re enabling his behavior. You’re letting down the women who are the targets of that violation, you’re letting him down as a friend. It’s harming him. He’s engaging in behavior that could have negative effects on him. He could lose a scholarship, or be charged with sexual assault.

But also, what’s your responsibility to yourself? If you see someone doing that and you believe in justice, isn’t your behavior inconsistent with your sense of self as someone who would speak out when they see injustice? How does it comport with or how is it in tension with your sense of self?

And finally what is your responsibility to your team or the group or company? If this person is acting in that way, he is a representative of this team, this organization, and when you speak up you are speaking up for the group.

PJH: When you work with men what are some of the barriers they feel to intervening in the ways you describe?

Katz: They feel like if they do take a stand on issues that are seen as feminist that that’s somehow going to be betraying the brotherhood. There are men who will say that … I do think that men have this sense that if they do stand with women they’ll be seen as traitorous. We should reframe them as strong men. And a lot of men have been bullied by other men, sexually assaulted by other men, policed by other men into boxes of manhood. Those systems that produce those dynamics into male culture are very similar to what women feel … It’s an act of strength and integrity even though some men will see you as being traitorous or white-knighting. It’s powerful in keeping a lot of men silent, and in place, and conforming to the  system.

One of the advantages of  getting to middle age is that I don’t really care what other people think about me. Although I didn’t at 19 either. I personally was a really good athlete and a really accomplished football player. So what were guys going to say about me? That I was soft? A lot of the men I worked with early on who were traditionally successful in sports or the military, you realize the value system is kind of skewed to say the least. You have that experience in sports culture and you look back on it and realize there’s a lot of really abusive behavior and a lot of men who gain status from athletic accomplishments who might not be well-functioning human beings.


*****

Sometimes, it can be hard to imagine making change. Those like Katz, who push for a reimagination of norms, for a different understanding of masculinity, can seem somewhat fringe. But, Katz reiterated, there are many normal parts of life now that were only made possible by the feminist movement. For example, it is unthinkable that an unmarried woman would not be able to have a mortgage in her name, Katz said, but historically, that was not the case. Pushing to change property laws around gender required people who could imagine different gender roles.

“There are dozens of things that now seem commonsensical but were originally feminist interventions that were the result of legal and intellectual work,” he said. Feminism is not about some individuals pushing an agenda, it is and has been responsible for the “broader transformation” of society.

In that way, though men’s violence against women has always and will continue to impact so many people, there is hope for change. It requires education, engaging in difficult conversations, getting curious rather than defensive, and imagining an alternative. And it will take everybody.

That is something from Katz’s message that resonated with CSN’s Nichols. “We can all be agents of change,” she said. “It’s not difficult most of the time, but it is a choice.” She sees that Jackson Hole is ready to engage in these conversations in “honest and positive ways. And we’re ready to see some accountability that has been lacking for so long. Accountability doesn’t necessarily mean justice, that every person who has made a bad choice will be punished, but that we’re expecting different behavior in the future.”

 

“Men, Women, and #MeToo,” 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Jackson Hole High School auditorium. A picnic begins at 5 and the presentation is at 6. The event is free.

Katz will also speak at a CSN fundraiser 9:30 to 11 a.m. Friday at Teton Pines. To purchase tickets for the fundraiser or reserve a free spot for Katz’s Thursday talk, visit csnjh.org.

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