When Jackson Katz, a former all-star high-school football player who in 1982 became the first man at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to earn a minor in women’s studies, speaks publicly about men’s violence against women, he is frequently asked in Q&As, “Excuse me, but I don’t know if this is too personal, but could you tell how you got involved in speaking out against violence?”
Whenever he hears this timid question, his first inclination is to not even deign to answer it, but instead he launches into a fervent explanation about why he is an activist against violence. “Women and girls I care about can’t even go outside at night to the corner store to get a soda without fear of getting raped,” says the Long Beach, CA, resident. “Instead of asking us why we’re doing something, ask the millions who are not why they are not doing anything.”
This belief that only a negative personal experience would motivate an anti-rape activist suggests either that most people are blind to the pervasive reality of violence against women or that, as a culture, we do not value women and women’s lives.
Katz will speak on “Wrestling with Manhood in a Violence-Driven Media Culture,” on Wednesday, December 3, 7:00 p.m., at Rider University’s Bart Luedeke Center Theater, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, and on December 4, 7:00 p.m. at Princeton High School’s Performing Arts Center. So eager is Rider to draw men, fathers, young adult sons, coaches, and teams to the December 3 lecture that they are holding a raffle for a Wii system — what a coup right before the holidays. For more information, contact Debra H. Levenstein, firstname.lastname@example.org or (609)987-8100.
While Katz acknowledges that for some men, the catalyzing event for their activism is because something happened to a woman close to them, this was not true of Katz. For him, it was his college studies. At the University of Massachusetts, where he graduated in 1982, he read about the women’s movement in a history class, and in an English class “a professor assigned women’s feminist literature that I had never been exposed to as a high school student. It was eye opening.”
Even more moving for him were class discussions about how pervasive the experience of sexism is in women’s lives, not just the actual incidence of violence, but the threat of violence that always hovers in the background. “The fear of violence by men is part of the daily reality of women in this society,” he says.
Katz remembers comparing his own experience to those of his female peers. He would not, for example, think twice about walking home from a college party at 2 a.m., which was certainly not true of the women living in his co-ed dorm. “Their freedom was much more attenuated,” he says, “and I knew if I was in a position where I constantly had to worry about being raped and had to live ordinary daily life around that fear, and was subject to indignities short of rape and violence every day, I would be ticked off if I was a woman.”
Realizing that his own position as a successful athlete gave him the confidence to speak out against violence and the gravitas to be listened to, Katz got started on what was to become a lifetime pursuit. In his sophomore year, he wrote a weekly column for the student daily about rape and about men’s responsibility to prevent violence to women. He also started a peer health educator program where men promoted sexual health, including violence prevention. And he attended Take Back the Night rallies.
After college, Katz moved to Boston, where he supported himself for years in a variety of low-paying jobs, including furniture mover, bartender, and counselor at youth detention centers. At the same time he was reading voluminously on the subject of violence in American society. At age 27 he founded Real Men, an antisexist men’s organization. From 1988 to 1998 this group distributed leaflets targeting men’s violence against women at Red Sox and Patriots games and at concerts, ran fundraisers for battered women programs, and sponsored panel discussions at colleges in the greater Boston area.
In the context of Real Men’s activities, Katz also started getting requests to speak at high schools, colleges, and other organizations in Boston. He was paid for a talk for the first time in 1990, but only a small amount.
In 1991 and 1992 Katz studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where his the research for his master’s degree in education focused on the social construction of violent masculinities through sports and media. While at Harvard, Katz made a proposal to the director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport and Society to create a program to train male high school and college student athletes to speak out against violence. Having seen how important his own status as a high-school athlete was in gaining other men’s respect and getting his foot in the door, he believed that athletes were well placed to contribute significantly to reducing violence against women.
Richard Lapchick, the center’s director, was himself a pioneer in combining sports and civil rights, and Lapchick’s father, Joe, a professional athlete and coach of the New York Knicks, was the first coach to sign an Afro-American to an NBA team and was also an organizer of the Olympic boycott against South Africa for its involvement in apartheid.
Lapchick was interested in Katz’s idea, and the two men wrote grant proposals and eventually received funding from the U.S. Department of Education to create the Mentors in Violence Prevention Program, 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. After receiving his master’s degree, Katz was hired to run and build the program, which he did until 1996, when he moved with his wife, Shelley Eriksen, to Oregon, where she became a sociology professor at Southern Oregon University. When she got another position at California State University at Long Beach, the couple moved to Long Beach, where they now live.
In 1997 Katz founded Long Beach, CA-based MVP Strategies, which specializes in providing gender violence prevention education and training for men and boys in schools, colleges, the United States military, and small and large corporations. He serves as MVP’s director. Also in 1997 he started directing MVP-MC, the first worldwide gender violence prevention program in the history of the United States Marine Corps.
In 2000 Katz’s first video, “Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity” came out, followed in 2002 by “Wrestling With Manhood” with Sut Jhally, and in 2004 with “Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies, and Alcohol,” with Jean Kilbourne. In 2006 he published a book, “The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help.” Study guides are available with the films.
Katz grew up in Swampscott, Massachusetts. His natural father, a sociologist at Boston University, died at 37, when his mother pregnant with Katz. His mother was a teacher of early elementary school and later became the assistant director of a social services agency. His stepfather was a truck driver and carpenter.
Currently a doctoral student in cultural studies and education at the University of California, Los Angeles, Katz continues his message, whether to teens or adults: he believes that the greatest responsibility for instituting change rests with men in powerful positions. “The burden should not be on the shoulders of boys in high school and college men,” he says. “This issue is for men in positions of leadership in the culture. With great power comes great responsibility.”
Katz’s goal in his work is to define men’s violence against women as a fundamental issue of social justice. “It is a much deeper and more pervasive problem in our culture — not just a problem of individual behavior or psychopathology.” This violence, he says, reaches far beyond the domestic realm and is intimately tied to most other social issues, including crime, homelessness, HIV AIDS, poverty, and environmental issues.
“A huge percentage of boys who commit anti-social behavior, whether gang or otherwise, come from families where they were exposed to and traumatized by violence,” says Katz, adding that this is also true of most prison inmates. These men, he says, “were traumatized as boys and externalized their pain, which is one way we socialize boys, whereas girls who are abused and traumatized are more likely to become self-abusive.” Many men who were victims of violence, he adds, also self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.
Violence also plays a role in many divorces. Today more women are able to leave abusive men because they have the economic means and social support to do so. Those who do not have an economic cushion, however, often become homeless, where they are even more vulnerable to abuse.
In addition Katz says that in many parts of the world one of most common sources of HIV/ AIDS transmission is men who have sex with prostitutes, refuse to wear condoms, then have sex with their wives without telling them — another not so subtle form of violence against women.
Katz is careful to point out that the abuse of women does not stop with the women themselves, but rather permeates to the whole family. Men who are abusive to their wives or girlfriends are in the majority of cases also abusive of children, says Katz. “Even if he doesn’t lay a finger on the children, if he is abusing the mother, he is abusing the children.”
To make significant change in the realm of violence against women, however, Katz believes that men must accept this as their own issue. “So many people think of these as women’s issues that some good men help out with,” says Katz. “My work is about shifting the paradigm.”
To stop the violence against women that permeates our society, says Katz, men who have authority and power by dint of their leadership positions need to be educated about these issues and then figure how to use their influence to educate other men and serve as role models. All men, says Katz, need to break their complicit silence and start to speak up. “Most men are not abusive but most have not spoken up and challenged other men who are.”
Katz likens the silence of nonviolent men to that of white people who don’t challenge friends and relatives who may tell racist jokes or act in racist ways. “Isn’t silence complicity?” he asks.
It is not just out of concern for women that Katz issues his call for action to men at all levels of society. “It is also out of concern for other men and boys,” says Katz, “and our responsibility to boys means we need to challenge men’s violence. How do we expect our sons to challenge other boys’ abusive or sexist behaviors or grow up to be men of integrity if they don’t see adult men challenging sexist behavior?”
“Wrestling with Manhood in a Violence Driven Media Culture”, Rider University, Bart Luedeke Center Theater, Lawrenceville. Wednesday, December 3, 7 p.m. Lecture by Jackson Katz, author of “Macho Paradox.” For men, fathers, young adult sons, coaches, and teams. Free. Raffle for a Wii system. Co-sponsored by Jewish Family and Children’s Services. 609-896-5033 or www.rider.edu.
Also, Thursday, December 4, 7 p.m., Princeton Regional Schools Performing Arts Center, Princeton High School, 151 Moore Street. Free.