About a year ago, I stumbled on an amazing TED talk by anti-sexism educator Jackson Katz talking about violence against women and why sexual abuse, rape and domestic abuse remain a problem.
According to him, we’re not asking the right question about the issue, which should be: “What’s going on with men?”
Yup, men. Not women.
The problem starts by when we label violence against women and sexual abuse as a “Woman’s Issue”. Doing so allows the perpetrator a good excuse to tune out. In fact, he says this is true to the word “gender”. When we hear that, we automatically think “women”.
And this is the same for other issues too. When we say “race”, we think of anything but “white” and when we say “sexual orientation”, we think “gay”.
He says, “In each case, the dominant group doesn’t get paid attention to. Right? As if white people don’t have some sort of racial identity or belong to some racial category or construct, as if heterosexual people don’t have a sexual orientation, as if men don’t have a gender. This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves, which is to say 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 invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us. And this is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence, how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.”
In this instance he demonstrates how we as a community have a dialogue around certain issues like women’s violence.
He shows a quick exercise that illustrates on the sentence structure level how the way that we think, literally the way that we use language, conspires to keep our attention off of men:
It starts with a very basic English sentence: “John beat Mary.” That’s a good English sentence. John is the subject. Beat is the verb. Mary is the object. Good sentence. Now we’re going to move to the second sentence, which says the same thing in the passive voice. “Mary was beaten by John.” And now a whole lot has happened in one sentence. We’ve gone from “John beat Mary” to “Mary was beaten by John.”
We’ve shifted our focus in one sentence from John to Mary, and you can see John is very close to the end of the sentence, well, close to dropping off the map of our psychic plain. The third sentence, John is dropped, and we have, “Mary was beaten,” and now it’s all about Mary. We’re not even thinking about John. It’s totally focused on Mary.
Over the past generation, the term we’ve used synonymous with “beaten” is “battered,” so we have “Mary was battered.” And the final sentence in this sequence, flowing from the others, is, “Mary is a battered woman.”
So now Mary’s very identity – Mary is a battered woman – is what was done to her by John in the first instance. But we’ve demonstrated that John has long ago left the conversation.
When I heard that it absolutely blew me away. I can see how as a whole culture we’re all doing it, women included. And that needs to stop.
According to Jackson, the biggest shift needs to start with men.
He says one of the powerful roles than men can play in this work is that they can say some things that sometimes women can’t say or better yet they can be heard saying some things that women often can’t be heard saying.
And this is so true all around for each and every one of us, regardless of whether the issue is gender discrimination or not, if you think about it.
“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” Dante Alighieri
He says, “We need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff, and standing with women, not against them, pretending somehow that this is about a battle between the sexes and other kinds of nonsense. We live in the world together.”
He adds that, “The same system who produces men who abuses women produces men who abuse other men. And if we want to talk about male victims, let’s talk about male victims. Most male victims of violence are the victims of other men’s violence. So that’s something both women and men have in common. We are both victims of men’s violence.”
This really got me thinking about all world issues, not just gender discrimination. If you think about discrimination be it race, religion or sexual orientation, all of us are guilty of this if we don’t use our voice to speak up against any type of stereotyping or discriminating dialogue.
We can have change, if as a peer group we speak up against it. If we show people that certain types of behavior is wrong and unacceptable in the peer culture, that they can lose status because of it, only then will the problem really start to stop.
Do not be a bystander, be a leader.
“In the end what will hurt us the most is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.
When it comes to men fixing the case of violence against women, Jackson says, “Now, it’s easier said than done, because I’m saying it now, but I’m telling you it’s not easy in male culture for guys to challenge each other, which is one of the reasons why part of the paradigm shift that has to happen is not just understanding these issues as men’s issues, but they’re also leadership issues for men. Because ultimately, the responsibility for taking a stand on these issues should not fall on the shoulders of little boys or teenage boys in high school or college men. It should be on adult men with power. Adult men with power are the ones we need to be holding accountable for being leaders on these issues, because when somebody speaks up in a peer culture and challenges and interrupts, he or she is being a leader, really, right? But on a big scale, we need more adult men with power to start prioritizing these issues, and we haven’t seen that yet, have we?”
And if you think about it, the same goes for any major issue the world is dealing with. If all powerful men and women at all levels of institutional authority and power can lead in a case for something and speak up for that change, it will change the paradigm of people’s thinking.
I would love to see more of that. And while we wait for leaders to do it, we can be the leaders in our own circle. Whether it’s among our friends, family or colleagues, we shouldn’t tolerate being silent when discrimination is in the room.
We have to be strong and unafraid to say, “That is not cool”.
You can watch Jackson Katz full 17-minute talk here. I highly recommend you do. It will cause a paradigm shift in the way you look at so many things on the conversations about discrimination be it worldly, in the media or within your own circle. Notice the dialogue around you.
And please share this with all the men you know, it might be a message they need to hear too.
So stand up for any kind of moral injustice. It will only serve us well and make the world a better place. Let’s do it together. 🙂
What are your thoughts on this? Please share your comments below!