For nearly three decades, Harvard-educated author, lecturer and activist Dr. Jackson Katz has been one of the nation’s leading male voices against sexism and sexual violence committed by men against women. In his recent book, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, Katz argues that when it comes to rape and sexual harassment, it’s male behavior that’s the problem, and it’s men that need to stand up and take the lead on preventing rape and changing a culture that allows rape to occur. PW talked to Katz about men’s role in stopping sexual violence.
Why is it that sexual violence has historically been considered a “women’s issue,” and that it’s up to women to make things better?
I think that’s how dominance works. Just calling rape a “women’s issue” is loaded, and it’s part of the problem. Something like 99 percent of rape is perpetrated by men, but it’s a “women’s issue”? One of the predictable consequences of that is the onus for preventing rape is put on women. A big part of the work I’ve been doing is trying to redefine it as a men’s issue and get men to become more involved in this. We have to have this paradigm shift because the status quo for most people is thinking that rape is a women’s issue but that some good men speak out and support women. That still puts the onus on women, rather than people seeing this fundamentally as a men’s issue and mens’ responsibility to prevent it.
One of your points is that in addition to rape, there’s a litany of disturbing behavior that helps create an environment where rape is condoned, justified or excused.
That’s right. Many men will say, “I’m not a rapist, this isn’t my problem,” and yet will engage in behavior—catcalling out the car window at a woman walking to work or jogging, that kind of thing—that might fall short of rape but certainly helps support a culture where a small-but-very-real percentage of men are committing rape. A lot of guys get defensive and in some cases hostile to that notion because they want to draw this bright line between themselves and rapists, and they get angry at the mere suggestion that their behavior might be contributing to this problem. Here’s an example: Two guys are sitting at an outdoor cafe on a warm summer day in Philly, and a woman walks by dressed in a sexy outfit, and one guy says to the other guy, “Look at that.” Not, “Look at her” or “Check out that beautiful woman,” but “Look at that.” The word “that” immediately objectifies her, she’s not a person, she’s “that.” That’s a very subtle but very common thing. That behavior is on a continuum where rape is the extreme, but rape doesn’t come out of nowhere. There’s a culture that breeds it. Unless you believe males are born biologically programmed to rape females, which is ridiculous. It suggests men are not moral agents who make our own decisions, that we’re just beasts who have hormonal urges we can’t control. That’s one of the subtexts of the argument that women somehow “ask for it” because of what they’re wearing or how they’re acting—the idea is that men can’t control themselves, so it’s women’s responsibility to protect us men from our own impulses. Again, ridiculous.
How early do you think we need to start teaching males the right behavior and attitudes?
The earlier the better. This is about equality between the sexes. If rape is a tool of dominance and it helps maintain dominance, the more equality you have, the less violence you have. Rape is a form of violence and so therefore the more equality you have, the less violence. We can teach boys and girls that socially and legally, we’re working against rape in a culture that supports it.
Does that work feel like an uphill battle sometimes?
There’s no doubt it’s an uphill battle ... We have a long way to go, but there’s been enormous progress. Look at the U.S. military, a male-dominant institution that has taken steps over the past few years that are groundbreaking and transformative. I just spoke at an Army sexual-assault prevention summit in March, where there were lots of prominent military men talking about changing a culture that helps to support rapes and sexual assault and sexual harassment. They were talking about what men can do to challenge other men and make it unacceptable for men to be abusive toward women. This wasn’t happening five, 10 years ago.
What’s the best strategy for changing male behavior and beliefs when it comes to rape and rape culture?
The work that I do in the military, in schools, in sports culture, you gotta give men an opportunity to think through some of their attitudes and beliefs and behaviors and then come to a new understanding about what’s wrong and right. Roundly condemning men for holding beliefs that are widely held in part of male culture is not a very productive strategy. But at the same time, there do have to be consequences. What does it say to women when a guy can make an incredibly sexist, victim-blaming statement and not suffer consequences? If an editor of a newspaper made an incredibly racist statement about people of color bringing [violence] on themselves if they act a certain way, that they “must have been asking for it,” what would the response be? What’s the difference between racism and sexism as systems of oppression? There’s no difference, really.
The lies that enable sexual assault to be practically a rite of passage while growing up—1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are molested—are already everywhere, so deeply rooted in our culture you have to dig deep to yank them out. Staying silent has never helped a situation of sexual assault, ever. We say no. We say there is no better time to learn more and write more reality checks.