TED Talks are no stranger to feminist discussions. But last year, one of the most influential and moving feminist discussions surrounding male violence was had, and it came directly from a male. Jackson Katz has a PhD and is a male leadership coach in Northern America. He believes that he has pinpointed the real issues at the heart of adult male violence against women, girls and boys across the world.
The issue, he argues, lies in our syntax and our engrained construction of sentences that change the power and leadership roles in issues of violence. He states that men are responsible for changing other men, and that perpetrators of adult male violence don’t require sensitivity training. Violent men are actually in desperate need of leadership training.
Katz first point of discussion was the way in which our everyday language twists to focus on the woman. Whilst women may be the victims in issues of violence, the problem itself doesn’t lie with women, it lies with men. So why are we calling violence, harassment and abuse “women’s issues”? Why are they even issues for women to solve? If we evolve the way we discuss these issues, we can see clearly that conversely, adult male violence and abuse are male issues that affect grown women, boys and girls.
However, we live in a society where the focus is on “battered women”, associating violence and the victim, but not the perpetrator. Our cognitive sentence structure focuses on understanding the victim, but that can’t effectuate change in the perpetrator. Victims are not responsible for preventing violence because it’s simply not possible. The easiest and most direct solution is to understand the perpetrator. Yet this is not how our society seem to function for the most part.
Katz explains that the majority of violence against women in the world is caused by men. Simultaneously, the majority of violence against men is caused by men. But when we fail to say “John battered Mary”, and switch it to “Mary was battered”, we revoke the sense of female accountability, breaking the connection between the problem and its cause. The cause is also ironically the solution.
This brought Katz to his second point, and one that is arguably the catalyst to social attitudes surrounding adult male violence. When looking at perpetrators, it is not simply a matter of someone needing to be made more sensitive or kinder. It’s an issue of leadership. Where males sit in silence or even actively laugh along at depraved jokes, sexist attitudes or facilitate the violence of their peers, they continue the attitude that “men can be violent” as opposed to someone being a “violent man”. Society tend to assume that violent men are horrific, inhumane creatures who fail to lead normal lives. However, what we fail to realise is that many men can love others and maintain normal, functioning lives, whilst partaking in acts of violence.
As Katz points out, if a group of heterosexuals were having a discussion, and one said something homophobic, it is now a culturally accepted for heterosexual people to interject and stand against the bigot. By no means does this mean that we have resolved issues of sexual discrimination. However, undoubtedly, there is an overarching acceptance that it is shameful or unacceptable to perpetuate discrimination or violence against someone based upon sexuality. Why have we not yet reached this stage with feminism? Why is it that the majority of men would not consider themselves feminists, and feign from disagreeing with sexist conversation?
If men choose to be leaders, and consider violence to be a male issue, then a sense of social responsibility and a deeper sense of understanding can take place. Where the focus of finding a solution identifies the perpetrators, men can begin to take ownership of the issues. Men don’t have to be born into a culture where other males live and think in a certain way. We shouldn’t have to raise sons in a world where it’s not socially acceptable for them to be a feminist. We can change that world if men assume leadership of the issues now and accept their level of both authority and responsibility within the issue of adult male violence.
Let’s make violence a “male issue”.
WORDS BY CYNDALL MCINERNEY. If you feel disempowered, consider an aspirational female mentor to assist you in achieving your career-related goals.
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