Let’s make a resolution in 2020 to go beyond caring. Resolve to be more open to learning about the critical and persistent issue of violence against women and the role we play in creating a positive, productive path forward.
The other day a friend told me about a conversation he had with a man upset that his employer was requiring all employees to go through training on respect, diversity and healthy interactions in the workplace. He complained the training focused on supporting women and other marginalized people and targeted white, heterosexual men. The training annoyed him because he felt it did not apply to him, pointing out that he’s not abusive and is accepting of others.
According to educator, filmmaker and author Jackson Katz that mentality is a trap that prevents us from truly exploring the problem and searching for solutions which he discusses in his TEDx Talk, “Violence against women – it’s a men’s issue”.
Katz said that it is amazing how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about domestic and sexual violence; a subject that is centrally about men. Katz explained it this way, “The dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance, because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered nearly invisible in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us.”
Katz suggests we first change our collective focus from the victim to the perpetrator and from that perspective begin to ask questions that might help us gain traction in the effort to end violence against women and children. He suggests we change how we talk about violence. Instead of a statement that features an invisible perpetrator, such as, “Mary is a battered woman,” we might rather say, “John beat Mary”. The focus is on the perpetrator and his actions.
Furthermore, we tend to ask why Mary stayed with an abusive partner, or what she did to make her partner angry, or in the case of sexual assault we ask about what was she wearing, drinking or doing to make the perpetrator rape her.
Katz suggests we ask different questions such as, “Why does John beat Mary? Why is domestic violence still a big problem in the US and worldwide? Why do so many men abuse physically, emotionally, verbally, and other ways, the women and girls, and the men and boys, that they claim to love? Why is that a common problem in our society? Why do so many men rape women in our society and around the world? Why do so many men rape other men? What is the role of the various institutions in our society?”
Katz said men can play a positive role in this work, but more men need to be onboard who have the courage and strength to stand up and speak out. Men become active bystanders who ‘interrupt’ a distasteful joke, comment or victim-blaming to create a peer culture in which the abusive or inappropriate behavior is considered unacceptable. If men and boys who act in sexist or harassing ways toward women and girls lose status in their peer group, then we might see positive cultural change.
There are many men who care deeply about these issues, and have for decades. Katz encourages men to go beyond caring to really make a meaningful impact. “We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women and not against them,” Katz said.