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Jackson Katz Offers Ideas for Stemming Family and Sexual Violence
Thursday, October 26, 2023


When a mass shooting occurs, such as last night's mass casualty event in Maine, commentators are quick to spout off about mental illness or the ease with which Americans can purchase assault rifles.

But what if it were girls that made up the bulk of the shooters in a world where currently 99 percent of the mass shootings are committed by men?

“They’d be saying, ‘What’s going on with the girls?!’ ” Jackson Katz told a roomful of police officers, school officials and community health workers at a workshop organized by The Advocates Wednesday morning. “Girls have the same mental health challenges, the same access to guns, but why are so few shootings done by girls?”

Part of the problem springs from the differences in how we socialize boys and girls, said Katz, who writes about gender violence in such books as “The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help.”

“We’re not doing that well,” he added.

Instead of saying, “We need help,” boys tend to react to the traumas inflicted on them by setting the world on fire, while girls tend to turn inward and hurt themselves.

Much of the violence by men has its roots in the family, said Katz. The child who cowers in the closet while his father rages against his mother is not a witness to violence but a victim.

Sixty percent of mass shootings, which started on a broad scale in 1998, have a domestic violence component. And family violence and sexual violence also figures into gang violence and substance abuse.

“Violence that happens in the family doesn’t stay in the family,” Katz said. “The young men who carry out the shootings do so because, ‘I’ve got to be a man.’ ‘I’ve got to take back control.’ ‘No one’s going to pick on me anymore.’

“Their act of violence is an assertion of manhood,” said Katz, noting that most of the shooters had been bullied and ostracized.

“But when was the last time you saw CNN and others interview those who work in the domestic violence field?” Katz said.

There has been a failure of leadership when it comes to addressing men’s violence against women and others, Katz said.

In the 1980s it was still legal in six states for men to rape their wives. And until 1995 the definition of rape in military was carnal knowledge with a woman, not his wife, against her consent.

The domestic and sexual violence movement led by women has shifted things, Katz said. And some men are stepping up. Among them, Australian Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison who ordered his troops to “get out” if they weren’t willing to respect their female counterparts.

Morrison was addressing soldiers who had posted sexually demeaning comments about women on Facebook.

“Everyone of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our Army and the environment in which we work,” he said. “If that does not suit you, get out!”

Katz said there is an unfortunate narrative sweeping America that addressing historic roots of problems like racism in America is being done to guilt trip people. Americans need to distinguish between guilt and responsibility, he added.

“It’s ridiculous to feel guilty for who you are,” he said. “I was a born a man—that’s who I am. But I feel a responsibility for addressing issues. And, as a man in a world where men perpetuate incredible suffering on people, I feel the need to speak out not because of guilt but responsibility.”

“To say, ‘I don’t abuse women so this is not my problem’ is like saying, ‘I don’t burn crosses so I have no responsibility to address racism.’ ” 

We often have the idea that it’s always “those people over there” that perpetuate violence. But, in reality, the typical perpetrator is not so different, Katz said.

In fact, the typical perpetrators of sexual assault do not see themselves as rapists or as committing a crime. A third of the women under 40 in the United Kingdom have been strangled by men who have been taught by pornography that strangulation is part of normal heterosexual sex.

Dealing just with individuals, asking ‘What went wrong with him?’ is like playing Whac-A-Mole when you really need to look at the broader picture. And the conversation needs to go public, Katz said.

Men also need to figure out how to be better leaders when it comes to gender violence, Katz said.

One way to become better leaders is to learn how to respond when you see someone being assaulted or hear a derogatory comment about women in the locker room, said Katz, who introduced bystander education through his Mentors in Violence Prevention in the early 1990s.

Men are more likely to speak up and tell someone, “We don’t treat people like that,” if they think others in their group share their values, Katz added.

“So, talking about these things helps,” he said. “Have these conversations. Build them into educational settings. Built them into leadership programs.”

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