Q&A with a Leading Male Voice Against Sexual Violence

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 15 | Posted Jun. 22, 2011

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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.

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Comments 1 - 15 of 15
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1. Anonymous said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 01:49PM

“Katz is a misandric bigot that believes in collective male guilt and seeks to shame all men for the actions of a few. "Getting defensive" is an appropriate response to someone attacking you based on the circumstances of your birth (ie; your maleness.) His "Look at that" example is laughable, and exists as an argumentative tool to associate normal men with rapists in order to cow and silence them. By grouping such behaviors with rape using the 'spectrum' concept, he seeks to control male action to a massive extent; after all, who would want to support rapists, eh?

Katz claims he wants to shift the onus from women and on to men, as reflects his prejudice. Men as a group have no responsibility in regards to reducing rape other than individual men not committing such crimes.”

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2. A said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 02:29PM

“awww, poor men. Can't take responsibility for their own actions, or each other. Or feel shame!”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 02:40PM

“regardless of the attitude "I can wear whatever I want on the street", females must know this is a prescription and invitation for trouble. Get real. Nobody gets to do everything they want (retards excused).

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4. Anonymous said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 04:18PM

“When 9 out of 10 perpetrators of rape (in our "1st world" culture, as well as in other so-called "3rd-world" cultures0 are MEN, yes, there is a collective responsibility to shift this trend. Rapes are not occurring in dark allies where women are being accosted in their mini-skirts by dangerous strangers; in fact in this country, one of the most advanced "civilizations" in the world, 1 in 4 women in America are raped, typically by their acquaintances, and typically in their own homes. So, yes, if women are to assume the burden of NOT being safe in the company of the statistical majority of their male counter-parts, in an androcentric culture, men should likely have to assume the PREVENTION of these heinous acts by their cohort. This is not about "male guilt;" this is about EMPOWERING men to respect themselves, respect women and raise future generations to break the cycle of violence.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 06:05PM

“You know what? I was raped, and I wasn't "dressed like a slut" or "inviting it" - I was wearing sweatpants and walking home from the library. Most of the women in my support group weren't dressed provocatively. The circumstances surrounding their rapes were banal, not the perverse seductions so many men seem to imagine.

Men rape children and the elderly; they rape mothers and sisters and daughters. Accusing us of "acting like whores" makes you sound like a monster. If your mother were raped, would you accuse her of thinking she could wear whatever she wanted, and tell her she was probably inviting trouble? How would you feel when her rapist's lawyer tried to convince the jury that she was begging for it?”

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6. Anonymous said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 06:05PM

“Some of the above comments are unbelievably disrespectful and backwards.

Men as a group have the major role in reducing rape, considering most rapes and sexual assaults are committed by men. Normal men, like you, are condoning rape culture by arguing that women bring rape upon themselves and that it's not your responsibility to change your behavior or mindset.

Considering your views (and probably your actions) towards women, of course I'd want to cow and silence you, and control your behavior to a massive extent.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 08:44PM

“I've been no more disrespectful towards Katz than he is towards the men whom he 'teaches'. Indeed, as I'm maligning him for things he's actually done, rather than merely for the misfortune of being a man, I'm being much fairer than he is.

Considering I've not made known my views towards women, perhaps you should stop speculating about my character and trying to smear me. Talking about "my actions" is particularly odious. And of course you'd like to control my behavior, the kind of bigot that rants about 'rape culture' is invariably illiberal and hateful.

The myth that 1/4 women will be raped at some point has been debunked a great many times, it would behoove you to stop repeating such falsehoods.


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8. Anonymous said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 08:45PM


Some individual men have poor attitudes towards rape, as do some individual women. "Men" as a collective, do not have any responsibility to end rape any more than women as a group have a responsibility to end infanticide, or black people have a responsibiltiy to end violent crime. Only those who actually harbor such thoughts or partake in such actions have any need to change themselves.

Besides which, it's not my responsibility to change my behavior of mindset because I don't consider my attitudes towards rape to be flawed. Barring the imaginings within your head, I've not condoned one word of victim blaming, nor would I.”

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9. aww, poor men said... on Jun 22, 2011 at 09:32PM

“as I woman I am happy to accept responsibility for telling you, anonymous, that you're a flaming troll.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jun 23, 2011 at 11:23AM

“"It's not my responsibility to change my behavior of mindset because I don't consider my attitudes towards rape to be flawed."

If a stranger picks a woman's pocket and hands you her wallet before running away, are you responsible for giving it back, or do you get to keep it?

Even the claim you're trying to make, that you're just an innocent bystander, places you in the same odious moral position as the people who passively watched the brutal murder of Kitty Genovese. And worse, the reality is that you can't count yourself as an innocent bystander. You directly benefit from the privileges of safety, power, freedom, and representation afforded to you by our society. Since our society finances your privileges in part through the work and contribution of women, it is obliged to offer them an equal share of safety, power, freedom, and representation. In claiming an unfair share as your own, you have made yourself a parasite.”

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11. Rocza said... on Jun 23, 2011 at 12:44PM

“When you say "that", you are creating an object, rather than addressing a person. When you don't view someone as a person, it is easier to assault them, rape them, kill them.

Our military has done extensive research in to this, because they discovered in the World War II era that most people don't actually like to hurt one another. Post-WWII, the military began doing psych research into the most effective ways to dehumanize, in an effort to increase soldier's kill rate. The most effective thing, by far, was to train soldiers to think of the people they are fighting as "it" or "that", rather than "he/she/they/people."

Kill rates went spectacularly through the roof.

Apparently it's not so laughable a concept, after all. At least, given the fact that it's how our military has been training it's soldiers for over 50 years.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Jun 28, 2011 at 12:41PM

““regardless of the attitude "I can wear whatever I want on the street", females must know this is a prescription and invitation for trouble. Get real. Nobody gets to do everything they want (retards excused)."

So should I get to rape the guys working on the house down the street from me? Cause they haven't worn a shirt all week, so that probably means that they want me to force them, no matter what they say, right? Cause not wearing a shirt is totally slutty. Oh really? That argument doesn't work for men? huh. interesting.”

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13. Nathaniel Borek said... on Jun 28, 2011 at 12:49PM

“All the articles about rape culture in the last issue were well presented, needed, and welcome in this city as far as I am concerned. It is very unfortunate that people who have never had the experience of being raped find it hard to understand that rape is not a sexual act on the behalf of the victim. It is very unfortunate that people who have never had experience being raped, or experience with loved ones confessing that they were a victim, also find it hard to believe that being a victim of rape isn’t a “welcomed”, “invited”, or “desired” experience. I would be absolutely amazed and appalled if there were any rape victim that would suggest that they dressed or acted a certain way because they wanted to be raped.


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14. Nathaniel Borek said... on Jun 28, 2011 at 12:50PM

“One thing bothers me just as much, if not a little more, than the unfortunate blame that is placed on rape victims: the placement of these articles in Philadelphia Weekly. Being a man I agree with Dr. Katz that men need to be participants in the awareness of and fight against rape culture. Though I do not agree that men need to be the majority that bring about change. Being a man and a victim of rape (as an adult), I believe that this problem needs to be addressed and spoken about equally, by men and women, victim or not. All that said, I am glad these articles were written, but it seems hypocritical of the people at Philadelphia Weekly to quote Dr. Katz referring to a hypothetical conversation to address objectification: “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.”


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15. Nathaniel Borek said... on Jun 28, 2011 at 12:51PM

“In every issue of Philadelphia Weekly (that any man, woman, or child can pick up for free) there are advertisements showing half, if not completely, naked women and men with stars or black boxes over their eyes with print that says: “HOT SEXY BABE”, “lust reigns supreme”, or “Beautiful Blondes! Busty Brunettes! Ravishing RedHeads”. An add that features a naked person with their face blurred or covered does the same thing the word “that” did in Dr. Katz’s hypothetical conversation. It turns a person into an object, a sexual toy or receptacle. While these articles were very informative, they seem at odds with the way Philadelphia Weekly does business.”


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