On his website, Jackson Katz, PhD, is described as "an educator, author, and social theorist". As an activist on the issues of gender, race and violence, Katz is, the website tells us, "a major figure and thought leader in the growing global movement of men working to promote gender equality and prevent gender violence". On The Ryan Tubridy Show, Katz shared with Ryan something that he says he often tells people when asked about men taking an interest in gender violence and the women in their lives:
"If all it took for men to get active on the issues of men's violence against women was to have women in our lives – especially women in our lives who have been, you know, negatively impacted, who have been sexually assaulted or abused in some fashion – if that’s all it took to get men to speak up and to, you know, get in the streets, if you will, then we’d have billions of men out in the streets. Because every single man that I know, every single man without exception, has women and girls in his life who have been assaulted by other men, who order their daily life around the threat of violence from men. These are global problems."
Katz – the first man to minor in Women’s Studies at the University of Massachusetts – is in town for an event organised by Women's Aid at Trinity College, Dublin on Thursday morning. Part of his work, he tells Ryan, is to examine why men don’t speak up more when they see or hear about violence against women and to try to change it so that more men do speak up. And strategies for preventing sexual violence and domestic violence have traditionally come at the problem from the wrong angle, according to Katz:
"Telling women or teaching women how to avoid situations of risk is not prevention – that's risk reduction. If you want to do prevention, you have to go to the root cause of the problem and the root cause of the problem is not girls and women."
A fundamental question that needs to be asked, Katz says, is why our culture produces men, in every corner of the world, who are physically aggressive to women and who feel sexually entitled to women’s bodies.
"Is that just genetically predetermined and we can’t do anything about it or is it about how we organise our societies and the belief systems that we instil in the next generation and the media culture and all the different forces that are at work that help to shape norms?"
Asking that large question leads to an even bigger question: how can we change all these cultural and societal forces to make them less violent, less sexist and racist? And that’s where the education of men comes in. Working with men and male culture is a big focus of Katz’s work.
"There’s a way to talk to men and male-dominated institutions that can invite them into the conversation, rather than indict them as potential rapists and abusers, and enlist men and everybody across the LGBTQ spectrum, the gender spectrum, the racial and ethics spectrum, engage everybody in the kind of work that we have to do going forward."
But back to the notion of "good men doing nothing" – the question of why men don’t speak out when they see other men being verbally or even physically abusive to women. Katz has an explanation for this behaviour:
"One of the reasons is that a lot of men are fearful of other men’s response. I think a lot of men worry that other men will think less of them, they’ll think they’re soft, they’ll think they’re virtue signalling or being politically correct, as opposed to what they’re really being, which is a person of integrity and often strength and even courage, because it takes self-confidence and courage often for a man – or a young man especially – when he sees something wrong, to say something."
Katz speaks with experience and insight and Ryan’s full conversation with Jackson Katz, which is a terrific listen, is available here. You can get more information about Katz’s work from his website. And you can contact Women’s Aid on 1800 341 900 and womensaid.ie.