Jackson Katz Challenges Gender Violence Rhetoric

Sarah Cornett

Nationally recognized gender violence prevention educator Jackson Katz visited Whitman Wednesday, Nov. 13 night. He lectured to students about the dangers of de-gendering language when talking about men’s violence against women.

Sophomore Shireen Nori introduced Katz as an “educator, author, filmmaker, cultural theorist and gender-violence preventer” who has written multiple books and produced documentary films unpacking mainstream dialogue about gender violence.

Earlier Wednesday evening, Katz held a workshop designed specifically for men. Sixty-five male students attended the event. Katz discussed how men can work on calling out their friends when they hear sexist or inappropriate comments and the responsibility men have in working to eliminate cultures of violence on all levels.

Addressing a packed Maxey Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., Katz deconstructed popular language when talking about women, naming media outlets such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh for perpetuating role reversal with labels like “feminazi.”

“Women over the last couple of decades who had the temerity to speak up to challenge male power get called names for their efforts and shouted down,” said Katz. “It’s called ‘kill the messenger.'”

Men use terms like “feminazi” to make themselves the victims, Katz said, reversing the significance of what’s actually happening in gender violence.

This language altering extends to other aspects of gender. By using the passive voice, Katz said, women are made the focus of gender violence rather than men. He wrote a sequence of sentences on a chalkboard during his talk that illustrated the same concept, but the significance is altered by the passive voice. He began by writing “John beat Mary” and extended that to “Mary was beaten,” a statement that makes her seem responsible for the violence and shifts the focus away from the perpetrator.

This idea is the focus of Katz’s popular book “The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help,” which is required reading in a number of Whitman classes. Sophomore Ellen Ivens-Duran read Katz’s book in Social Problems, a sociology class, last year.

“There were a lot of overlapping themes [in the book and the talk], but I think I benefited from seeing how he had updated those views since the book was written,” she said.

Still, the demographic divide in the audience was clear. Before he began, Katz pointed out that a clear majority of the attendees were female. Ivens-Duran said this disparity was also present in her class last year.

“I do wish that there had been more men in the class in which we read his book and that there had been more men in the room with women while we were having that conversation,” she said. “Because while Katz is an enthusiastic feminist, having cross gender dialogues is I think as important as having male educational seminars.”

While focusing mostly on the language of gender violence and sexism, Katz discussed ways to change the culture of gender violence and the rhetoric surrounding it. One of the things he is most known for is the “bystander approach,” an idea that he says can help change the way people think about things like street harassment.

“The question is, what do the other guys do when their friend makes a sexist comment? What is their responsibility?” he said.

Their reaction should promote positive change in a way that only friends have the credibility to do, he said. He closed by inspiring students to resist the pressure to not challenge sexist norms.

“Isn’t your silence a form of consent and complicity when you don’t act out or say anything?” Katz said.